After the loot boxes controversy, when some countries banned this mechanic from being used in games, Google announced (on May, 30th 2019) new rules to improve kids protection. Now, developers must follow a few recommendations in order to launch games and apps on Google Play/Android. 

This set of measures doesn’t affect kids directly but protects them from some actions considered abusive that are subtly present in games, such as loot boxes. 

Among the new rules published by Google, the one about loot boxes says that apps that offer purchase mechanisms with random prizes (loot boxes) have to disclose in a clear way the chances of receiving these items before the loot box is purchased.

Displaying this information makes it easier for users to evaluate whether it’s worth buying loot boxes or not. The same measure regarding loot boxes was taken by China and South Korea. Some games implemented this change last year already, before Google’s notice. 

In addition to the loot boxes measure, the other one Google is going to implement is that developers need to make sure the app doesn’t appeal to a kid audience, even if unintentionally. Google ensures that it “double check your app marketing to confirm this and ask you to make adjustments where required.”

What Does That Change in Kids’ Protection?

With these new rules, kids will be less exposed to some abusive practices within the games and apps in the Google Play store. Loot boxes will continue to exist in some games, but they will disclose more information for kids and parents to decide if it’s worth buying them. 

It’s important to be present when your kids are buying an app or making in-app purchases, to participate in the purchases and explain how they work. 

Kids are also going to be more protected in the stores. Many apps and games that are not for kids use figures, colors and elements that attract a younger audience. 

As of September 2019, non-kids apps will undergo evaluations in order to keep them from calling children’s attention. This measure protects kids from apps that are not made for them and, consequently, from being exposed to any inappropriate content the apps may have. 

Again, the presence of parents or responsible adults when kids are using apps or navigating on app stores is very important and can’t be replaced by any protection measures taken by companies. 

Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony Are Also Going to Change Their Loot Boxes Policies

Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft are working on a new loot boxes update for PC and console games. The confirmation came from Michael Warnecke, the ESA’s (Entertainment Software Association) Chief Counsel of Tech Policy. 

According to Michael Warnecke, Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony have taken on a commitment to the ESA and are going to release on their platforms a new policy about paid loot boxes by the end of 2020. The new policy is going to require the disclosure of how rare each item is and how likely it is to obtain the random items from loot boxes. 

Remember the Loot Boxes case:

The notion of probability and of identifying the real odds of winning something is a complex skill

Not all kids are developed to the point of being able to evaluate whether it’s worth buying a loot box or not. In fact, most adults are also not prepared to evaluate this as well.

Other Publishers That Have Promised to Change Loot Boxes

ESA’s main game publishers are also going to adopt similar policies to the ones developed by Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony to give more information to consumers. 

ESA released a list of associated companies that are also going to change their loot boxes policies. Blizzard, Bandai Namco Entertainment, Bethesda, Bungie, Electronic Arts, Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony Interactive Entertainment, Take-Two Interactive, Ubisoft, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, and Wizards of the Coast.

On the Fence

Some publishers didn’t commit to making any changes.

They are: 505 Games, Capcom, CI Games, Deep Silver, Disney Interactive Studios, Epic Games, Focus Home Interactive, Gearbox Publishing, GungHo, Intellivision Entertainment, Kalypso, Konami, Magic Leap, NCsoft, Natsume, Nexon, Rebellion, Riot Games, Sega, Square Enix, THQ Nordic, Tencent, and Marvelous.

Fortnite’s Epic Games stated that, in the beginning of the year, Fortnite’s team made a change in the game that showed which items the user would win before opening a paid loot box (which, in this case, is a llama). They also claim to be committed to changing the policy around loot boxes in all Epic Games’ games.  

THC Nordic stated on Twitter that they haven’t made any commitments to ESA because none of their games have loot boxes – nor do they intend to change that. 

Text: Luisa Scherer

Translation: Mariana Gruber