Play Store Further Limits Loot Box Sales

Tia Winter | 3 June 2019

The controversial loot crates that have long been a topic of contention in the video game industry have now received another big blow, this time from tech giant Google.

According to a recent report from tech blog Android Police, Google’s Play Store has updated its policies – and more specifically, the policies that relate to publishing games featuring loot boxes. The move has come mere weeks after a US senator introduced a new bill that will clamp down on the contentious virtual boxes.

As noted by the aforementioned report, the Play Store’s new loot box policy states that all apps offering “mechanisms to receive randomized virtual items through purchase” (i.e. loot crates) must clearly disclose players’ odds of receiving those items before any cash purchases are made.

Virtual Crate Debate Rages On

Play Store’s new, stricter policy on loot boxes has been introduced at a pivotal time in the argument surrounding the mechanism. It has long been debated whether or not the crates foster gambling habits – and potentially addiction – among children and underage video game players, and at the moment, this debate is as intense as it has ever been.

Loot boxes are virtual containers that can be bought for real money in a video game. They have the potential to award players with random modifications and in-game items that could assist or improve their performances. However, while some of the items awarded could be of help, some others do not offer the same qualities. The purchase of loot crates in video games is considered to be a form of microtransaction.

Gaming Industry Fighting New Bill

Last week, Republican Senator Josh Hawley implemented the new Protecting Children from Abusive Games bill, which calls for a blanket ban on pay-to-win microtransactions and the sale of loot boxes in games that are oriented towards minors. The legislation has been given bipartisan support from Democrats, which has improved its chances of making it through the various legislative hurdles it now faces.

In the meantime, Senator Hawley has applauded Google Play Store’s new loot box policy. He has noted in a public statement that the tech giant should take further measures against unscrupulous game suppliers and force publishers to “keep pokies machines out of the hands of children.”

The video game industry, on the other hand, is fighting back against the restrictive new measure. The Entertainment Software Association says that the legislative draft is flawed and full of inaccuracies, and has noted that many countries have already determined that loot boxes are not tantamount to gambling.

Additionally, the trade body has also noted that it is looking forward to sharing with Senator Hawley the tools and information already provided by the industry to keep the control of in-game spending in the hands of minor players’ parents.