Apple cracks down on loot boxes in update to App Store review guidelines

App Store on iPhone 8
App Store on iPhone 8 (Image credit: Luke Filipowicz /iMore)

Loot boxes made big headlines in 2017 when EA released Star Wars Battlefront II and received a huge amount of backlash for including a very robust loot box system that made player progression painfully slow for gamers who didn't spend money. There was a big uproar in the gaming community, EA's stocks took a hit, and an international conversation started about the morality and implications of loot boxes in games.

Now it seems that Apple has jumped into the fire by updating its App Store review guidelines that will affect developers that want to make free-to-play games with a loot box system.

Apple's new stance

The App Store Review Guidelines (opens in new tab) are set by Apple to ensure the apps that are making it on to the App Store are up to their standards, and these rules get updated over time.

In the most recent update, Apple included this provision:

"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."

This move appears to be about transparency and (to some degree) protecting consumers. You can make the argument that knowing the odds (particularly how slim they may be), will decrease the incentive to purchase.

There is a growing number of people who feel loot boxes are gambling and should be treated as such. The randomized nature of loot boxes that have the potential to give you a very good in-game perk can make them quite appealing. Some countries have even been talking about labeling loot boxes as gambling, meaning games that include loot boxes would have to follow way stricter rules and wouldn't be allowed to be sold to minors.

Free-to-Play is commonplace on App Store

Free-to-play games that use systems like this are a dime a dozen on the App Store. Heck, some of my personal favorite games that came out this year — Fire Emblem: Heroes, The Elder Scrolls: Legends, and Star Wars: Force Arena — all have a loot box reward system. It's a very common revenue model for a lot of developers and it's massively successful.

Although the EA debacle was a little bit of a different beast — paying $60 bucks for a game that includes a loot box system didn't sit well with people — free-to-play games iPhone and iPad games on the App Store face a lot of the same criticism on loot boxes.

What's your take away?

This is a huge ongoing debate in the gaming community right now, and I want to know your take on the situation! Do you think loot boxes are evile or are you fine with them? What do you think of Apple's new rule concerning Loot boxes? Let me know in the comments below!

Luke Filipowicz
Staff Writer

Luke Filipowicz has been a writer at iMore, covering Apple for nearly a decade now. He writes a lot about Apple Watch and iPad but covers the iPhone and Mac as well. He often describes himself as an "Apple user on a budget" and firmly believes that great technology can be affordable if you know where to look. Luke also heads up the iMore Show — a weekly podcast focusing on Apple news, rumors, and products but likes to have some fun along the way. 

Luke knows he spends more time on Twitter than he probably should, so feel free to follow him or give him a shout on social media @LukeFilipowicz.

  • I boycott all freemium games, period. I don't have a single on on my phone. No matter how cool a game might look, I avoid it. Now, I do have games that include IAPs, particularly ones for content, like Pinball Arcade, but not ones for consumables. I also have games that start free, like LEGO Star Wars and Guitar Hero, but where you purchase the full game in app. Again, I have no problem with that (except for the lack of family sharing that way). But I refuse to deal with timers, repairs, fuel, etc. When I want to play a game, I want to play a game. I'm willing to pay for that. I hope that things start to trend more towards The GRID: Autosport (my favorite game) and away from Real Racing 3.
  • Fair enough. Ultimately, it comes down to consumer choice. I have free-to-play games on my phones that I absolutely adore. My favorite ones seem to find that fine balance of having loot boxes but not stalling player progression too much for people who don't pay. I have pumped a bit of money into certain games like Fire Emblem: Heroes and The Elder Scrolls: Legends, but probably over the course of 6 months (give or take) never more than $20. I believe developers have the right to earn money, and it's clearly easier to get people to download your game if it's free to start rather than having to pay upfront; however, I'm not sure loot boxes aren't a little predatory in nature. I'm not sure I have fully formed an opinion on the subject.
  • The problem with loot boxes is twofold. First, that if you pay for the game you should get access to the game and reasonable features, including progression, from the upfront payment and playing normally (i.e. not grinding for hundreds of hours). Second, they give random rewards and encourage people to gamble more and more. Most of us can be reasonable, but that reward mechanism can be very addictive and damaging to some. to me, they're unethical. Want to make money? Provide me the game and a handful of content for free, the rest for an IAP. You can even sell more levels for additional IAP if you're decent about it (first purchase gets you the basic levels, another gets a side mission, etc).