App Store Games Now Required to Disclose Loot Box Odds – Will it Shift the Market?
Loot Box drop rates have become one of the most controversial topics in the gaming community. Since the official release and implementation of a Chinese law that forced game developers to reveal the drop rates of items in loot boxes, industry leaders from the across the globe have been forced to examine these loot boxes from a legal standpoint.
Authorities in the United States, Belgium and the UK have all begun their own investigations in whether or not loot boxes constitute gambling – and if they aren’t, whether (and how) a game should disclose the statistical probabilities of loot box items.
Apple Requests Loot Box Odd Information
In anticipation of external agencies forcing Apple to change their regulations surrounding loot boxes in the apps in their online store, Apple has updated the App Store Review Guidelines. Apple’s latest update is forcing all applications that have loot boxes to disclose the exact drop rate odds for each item. Apple’s decision to require developers to declare odds advances an already heated discussion on loot crate and gambling. Apple has now become a precedent for lawmakers and government agencies to force major gaming corporations to declare drop rates and even classify such activity as gambling if such agencies wish. Apple’s move arguably influences PC, Xbox or PlayStation gaming brands to review their own practices and hopefully change how their loot crate systems are presented. Many game titles have instituted in-game crates to entice players to purchase items, in-game bonuses and cosmetic enhancements for playable characters. These crates help drive sales – especially so in freemium titles – and keep players engaged with the game.
In 2018, it’s quite hard to find a multiplayer or mobile game that doesn’t have a loot crate or mystery box element to it. The thrill of opening up something to reward all the time you’ve spent in-game is exciting. Take Riot’s League of Legends for example. League of Legend’s “Hextech Chests” are obtained through mastering a champion or through purchase. These chests contain in-game items such as Champion Shards, Essences or Gemstones. Unlocking champions that players don’t have is one of the biggest draws for these chests. Players are restricted to certain champions unless they are able to unlock others. This inability to play certain heroes means that players do not have access to powerful champions who would potentially increase their chances of victory. Essentially, limiting champions means lesser chance to win. What some call lack of transparency from Riot isn’t as surprising an approach, as their sales depend on players buying chests and keys. Players, especially more inexperienced ones, are at risk of overspending when organizations like Riot don’t disclose the odds within their chests either.
Odds and Transparency
The concept of disclosing the odds of item drops isn’t new as many games have been communicating such odds to their players for years. One facet of the gaming industry that has been disclosing the odds in their games are online casino games. Casino games have been forthcoming in the classification of their games as well as informing clients on the odds of winning in each one. This not only aids in players’ knowledge of odds but it creates a more transparent relationship between player, game developer and operator. Looking at a list of casinos available to play online shows a focus on transparency in terms of how things work, game odds as well as offers such as bonuses in this industry, which often take the form of many different incremental steps. A case in point is the concept of the playthrough requirements associated with free casino bonuses. Certain casinos will give a player free money to spend on their games, but in order to ensure the feasibility of this deal, casinos will ask the player to play through that sum a certain number of times before being able to withdraw it. Whether a casino clearly states the playthrough requirement – often in the form of 25x or 30x – is a similar consideration to disclosing loot box odds: players appreciate knowing what they’re getting for their investment in time and/or money.
While in many of these cases, it’s applicable legislation that requires online casinos to disclose the odds and return to player (RTP) of each game on their site, there are two takeaways here. Firstly, players of such games welcome this information, which helps build trust with the operator – a trust that is even more important when real money is involved. Secondly, the aforementioned authorities’ decisions on loot boxes in games such as Hearthstone and League of Legends seems to imply that at least in some countries, loot boxes seem to be close to being considered gambling. Indeed, some argue that since there is no way for players to use their in-game skills or expertise to influence the outcome of a loot box and real money is involved, loot boxes are only dependent on odds, and thus constitute gambling. On the other side of the debate, the argument goes that loot boxes are optional and the number of loot boxes that can be acquired in-game does depend on the skills of each player, at least in titles like Fallout Shelter.
Blizzard Forced to Disclose Loot Box Odds in China
Another company whose loot crates have been scrutinized publicly in a number of publications, including Kotaku and Forbes, is Blizzard’s Overwatch. Overwatch is one of the first companies in the esports gaming industry to be forced to publicly disclose the odds of their chests. After China passed a law that forced any game with loot chests available in China to disclose the odds of getting each possible type of item from the chest, Blizzard was forced to comply if it wanted to remain available to its Chinese player base. In a public announcement, Blizzard produced the statistics for each rarity drop on their Chinese OW page.
The recently announced drop rate statistics for Overwatch loot crates surprisingly had less of an impact than Blizard’s Hearthstone did. Hearthstone, another Blizzard title, is a collectable card game where you build decks based on the cards you collected from packs. Hearthstone’s statistics, which were forcibly announced at the same time as the Overwatch odds, shocked players when they found out the odds of getting rare, epic and legendary cards. Those odds were not in the favor of Hearthstone fans as their rare drop rates were substantially lower than Overwatch. It’s unclear if this forced transparency from Blizzard has helped the community and external agencies and how exactly it influenced their views of loot boxes as a system, but it seems to be the right step for building relationships with players.
The biggest reason that loot crates are being scrutinized is for the safety of the players. Regardless of the game that you play, the knowledge of what you’re doing is the most important thing. Whether it’s the warning before you play Super Mario that discloses the chance of seizures in a certain level, the trigger warnings that notify players that sensitive or graphic material is ahead or the warnings to play your Xbox games in a well-lit room; all these warnings serve to protect the player. Disclosing the odds in loot crates gives the player knowledge of their chances of success. Putting players isn’t always the case with big gaming corporations, but it is integral to ensuring the longevity and success of a game.