Everyone knows how expensive video games are to buy, but when it comes to playing games on your smartphones the pricing is a little different. Often the most successful mobile games are free to download but then within them are items that can be bought for real money.
Thanks to so called ‘loot boxes’ (and endless other ways players are tempted into handing over money) you can often come away having sunk a lot of cash into a game that was just meant to be a bit of harmless fun.
But now Apple is changing the rules about how these are permitted to work.
Announcing an update to its guidelines, the tech giant has said that games available from the app store will have to be more transparent about what customers are paying for.
So instead of offering loot boxes with completely unspecified contents, game makers will have to let players know the odds of getting particular items in the boxes.
What is a loot box?
In short, a loot box is a virtual box within a video game that will house random rewards of varying importance and value. For example, power-ups that can dramatically alter your chances of winning the game or providing you with new characters or items.
They are paid for either via a points system (accumulated during play) or by paying money.
The statement said: “We want to provide a safe experience for users to get apps and a great opportunity for all developers to be successful.”
“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.”
In addition, customers must be informed of this before they buy the boxes, not after.
Experts have long said loot boxes were controversial because they amount to a covert lottery for players who are tempted into buying them with no idea of what they will get in return for their money.
Controversy around the technique reached fever pitch when it was revealed just how heavily they would be used within the blockbuster game Star Wars Battlefront II.
Although the UK’s Gambling Commission said the boxes did not come under its control because the rewards they handed out were only usable in the game, in Belgium, legal officials have said they want to ban the ‘loot crate’ monetisation schemes, around concerns that it too closely resembles gambling.
While in America, a state representative wrote on Reddit about how he believes loot boxes “prey upon and exploit human psychology” in the same way as casino games.
Chris Lee said: “These exploitive mechanisms and the deceptive marketing promoting them have no place in games being marketed to minors, and perhaps no place in games at all.”
The latest game to use them extensively was Star Wars Battlefront II, which is played by both adults and children.
The guideline updates also focused on the issue of children downloading expensive apps on their parent’s accounts, Apple said: “We have lots of kids downloading lots of apps. Parental controls work great to protect kids, but you have to do your part too. So know that we’re keeping an eye out for the kids.”