Apple's App Store Review Guidelines is the law of the land of the App Store. Inside this document you'll find everything you can and can't do inside Apple's walled garden, and over the years Apple has modified it to stay on top of new trends on the App Store. If something problematic is popping up, it usually doesn't take them too long to add an official rule to the guidelines so everyone is on the same page. Well, it seems the recent "loot box" drama of Star Wars: Battlefront II which set the internet on fire might have caused Apple to institute an official policy before they face a similar PR disaster of their own.

Per section 3.1.1 on in-app purchases, Apple has added the following bullet point:

Apps offering “loot boxes” or other mechanisms that provide randomized virtual items for purchase must disclose the odds of receiving each type of item to customers prior to purchase.

Basically, the App Store now operates on the same level of some Asian countries which have laws on the books about loot box (or gacha) mechanics. If you're buying something random, you need to know your chances of getting things. Historically, Apple's policies have favored consumers, and forcing developers to show that the cool hat you really want out of that loot crate only has a 0.001% chance of being there when you open it is pretty consumer friendly.

It'll be interesting to see what if any impact this has on the popularity of gacha mechanics in mobile games. Scratch off lottery tickets have the odds printed on all of them, and it doesn't seem to stop anyone from buying them. I suspect this will be the same. Regardless, once Apple starts enforcing this new policy, I'm sure it will be eye opening to see just how rare getting anything good in games that lean on this style of monetization actually is.

  • abazigal

    How do we know the odds printed are even accurate to begin with?

    • Eli Hodapp

      If you're operating some free to play game making a million dollars a day and Apple asks you to do something, you do it. There's no benefit in lying about this. You have a 1 in 300,00,000 chance of winning Powerball, which is a widely known fact to anyone who plays, but that doesn't stop people from lining up to buy tickets. This will be the same.

      • Michael Gevins

        Unfortunately that doesn’t apply to scratch off tickets, which operate more like loot boxes than powerball.

        With powerball there are a fixed amount of numbers in an arranged order, so buying all of the combinations of those numbers makes winning 100%.

        With scratch off and loot boxes, the odds reset each time you get a new one. Thus buying 100 of an item that gives a 1 in 100 chance might give you 1 win or 100 wins or no wins.

        It’s gambling. Your gambling on whether a box has said item. If app makers aren’t careful, that My Little Pony game may be limited to 18 years of age and older. Companies are walking a fine line and they know it.

      • Nightxx

        Why are you even comparing lottery tickets to make believe items that virtually cost nothing.

    • Raymond

      I assume it is to legally bind them?

    • Thomash Lee

      If players suspect the dev/publisher lies about the odds, they may file a complaint with the actual attempts they have performed compared to the nominal odds provided. When sufficient users report the issue, the dev/publisher would act before the intervention of the store admin, which is what happned to the gacha scandals of Granblue Fantasy and Dragon Ball Z Dokkan Battle.

    • Kisai

      You don't, but Apple can audit the code if it's something client-sided if they REALLY want to. If it's a server sided mechanic, obviously they can't, and someone would need to sue to have the actual coding/tables presented to prove it.

      In reality, it's not that different from gachapon(capsule) machines in Asia, or UFO Catcher's (claw machines), or slot machines. The only difference is what is paid out. There are ways the owners of these machines can cheese the odds in their favor without actually changing the odds. For example with the UFO Catcher, they can pack the toys in so that the claw can't actually pick any of them up, and they can be programmed to drop things frequently.

      With software, it's all a black box when the code isn't public, and thus it also lets developers advertise a 1% chance of winning the X prize, but what they don't tell you is that 1% chance is only possible on certain CPU configurations, or while on battery, or some other hardware-specific situation that will be true even less of the time, and less common while playing games.

      The real solution requires that these prizes not be random, and instead have fixed distribution tables, so that once all the "best" prizes are won, players will quit trying for them, instead of hoping to get it when there is zero chance of it.

      But I digress, single-player games should not have gacha/loot boxes in them. Period.

      • Eli Hodapp

        Any game that has any kind of community behind it (and substantial spending, which would make this a concern) is going to have people figuring out the odds and double checking stuff. The amount of research that has gone into fans figuring out the percentages of Hearthstone packs and other games is seriously borderline ridiculous. If the odds are wildly different from what the developers are stating, people will eventually figure it out.

        Keeping in Apple's good graces for featuring and all the other benefits that come with being under their wing is far, far more valuable than fudging your gacha numbers.

  • GalDrogo

    👍🏻👍🏻 Apple Inc

  • #Bonk3rZ

    I don't get it. The usual practice is to buy loot boxes (or treasure chests, character portals, xyz creators or whatever) with ingame currency. Just stay with that (or go back to it) and absolutely nothing will change ...?

    • Thomash Lee

      Because in-game items of mobile games usually don't have reselling value in reality, this will dissuade dev/publisher from making dreadfully low payout rate because the players would refuse to buy the lootbox knowing mathematically how much money they would need to pour into the slot machine to get the rare item they want, unlike actual slot machine in casino in which the payout rate is legally undisclosed.

      • Eli Hodapp

        Displaying odds doesn’t stop people from gambling. They actually made the powerball odds way worse, and that was publicized everywhere. What happened? More people than ever bought tickets.

      • Alan Baldwin

        I think the point is that no one is selling "loot boxes" on the app store, they're selling the premium currency. It sounds like a loophole, but I'm curious if people get away with it.

      • Eli Hodapp

        I think that’s what Apple means by “or other mechanisms.” It makes the definition of what must be disclosed quite broad.

      • Thomash Lee

        Powerball as well as other national lotteries ain't comparable because the prize is actual cash, and lot of it. People are willing to bet that one chance even when they know how meteorologically slim the odds are.

  • GreatWizard

    Interesting how it will effect hearthstone packs. They might move to their chinese model of selling 5 gold, and gifting 40 packs with it.

  • GalDrogo

    IIRC China has a requirement for these % to be stated in black and white. Prolly has got something to do with that. Might as well make it standard if you are going to have to do so for one country.

  • Dok Rak

    The problem is many games like CSR2 use a "random" system that isn't random and some items never drop for some users. The developer uses a system that encourages purchases and every player has his own odds system.

  • Michaelbacon

    I like it. Sounds like a great idea.

  • Shoes

    "once Apple starts enforcing this new policy"

    I think it would make a great follow-up article to see who is the first to implement this. There are a few games that I rarely play anymore due to their loot box shenanigans and I'd love to see the numbers behind it.

    I imagine this will involve time and updates the publishers/developers may not want to spend. With Hearthstone being one of the largest I wonder if they'll wait until they're forced to do it, or be proactive.

    • Sindre

      A very popular game named Idle Heroes already discloces all the odds in their game 🙂 Probably wont be the last either.

  • Wizard of Odyssey

    UGH I guess I should know better than to try and use a link in a Disqus comment.

    WHAT I WANTED TO SAY WAS, it seems like the USA is way behind the rest of the world with this issue.

    Search wikipedia for "loot box" and read all about the rules in other countries.

  • Aurizen

    We may finally see some better rates...

  • Sam sandy

    keeping new and existing customers informed of evolving best practices as the new year unfolds, thanks for the post.