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Apple revises rules for 'loot box' apps

Tim Maytom

Apple has made a small but crucial update to the language of its App Store guidelines, one that could have massive repercussions for some of the biggest games and apps on the market.

The change states that all games must disclose the odds related to items earned from so-called 'loot boxes' or other mechanisms that provide randomised virtual prizes - a popular method for rewarding players with in-game items, content and more.

Loot boxes are often earned either via in-game achievements and play, or by paying real money through in-app purchases, and give users a randomised chance at earning beneficial or cosmetic in-game items. Among the popular games that use them are Blizzard's Hearthstone and Supercell's Clash Royale.

The mechanism has faced increasing scrutiny this year, with console games like Star Wars Battlefront II coming under fire for the extensive use of loot boxes to access in-game content. The topic even drew the attention of politicians in the US, with one calling the game a "Star Wars-themed online casino" and calling for greater regulation. Electronic Arts, the publisher of Star Wars Battlefront II, eventually re-worked the game, reducing the reliance on loot boxes.

Under Apple's new rules, games available on the Apple App Store must tell players "the odds of receiving each type of item" and the information has to be disclosed prior to purchase.

In the notes for the latest update to the App Store guidelines, which included many other changes and tweaks to Apple's rules, the tech giant stated that "the guiding principle of the App Store is simple - we want to provide a safe experience for users to get apps and a great opportunity for all developers to be successful.

"Apps are changing the world, enriching people's lives, and enabling developers like you to innovate like never before. As a result, the App Store has grown into an exciting and vibrant ecosystem for millions of developers and more than a billion users. We hope these new guidelines help you sail through the App Review process, and that approvals and rejections are more consistent across the board."