Recent rule that companies must disclose probabilities not yet added to Japanese App Store, perhaps due to cultural differences.

As an old-school gamer, the free-to-play video game model still feels a little weird to me, as it often seems to involve paying for upgrades that function as in-game time-savers/process-skippers, essentially making the game free to play, but something you have to pay in order to not play. I realize that’s an oversimplification, though. The sheer number of immensely popular games with microtransactions proves that a lot of consumers are comfortable with the system.

But the recent boom in loot boxes is proving especially controversial. With earlier microtransactions, you knew what you were buying, and therefore essentially purchasing content, just like paying for a game, albeit in very small chunks. The randomized nature of loot boxes, though, is a harder pill to swallow, even for newer gamers who’ve never known gaming without microtransactions, and has critics saying they’re no different from straight-up gambling.

The backlash has caused Apple to institute new transparency policies for games sold through its App Store…or at least it’s done so in certain markets, because in Japan, it appears iOS app developers are still allowed to keep customers in the dark about loot box odds.

In its latest update to the English-language page of the App Store Review Guidelines, under the Payments section, Apple lists six bullet points that developers must comply with to have their product sold through the site. The sixth, which was added this week, says:

“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.”

However, pop over to the App Store Review Guidelines page for the Japanese-language App Store, and that sixth point, and its stipulations, are still nowhere to be found. So while Apple wants English-language developers to reveal the odds on their loot box content, developers in Japan are seemingly getting a free pass (as of this writing).

It’s possible that the Japanese page simply hasn’t been updated yet, but this could also be a reflection of the lower level of outrage towards randomized video game content purchases in Japan. Part of this might be linguistic.

In Japan, such systems aren’t called “loot boxes” or anything that intrinsically implies valuable treasure. Instead they’re called “gacha,” onomatopoeia for “clunk,” coming from the sound made when a capsule drops out of on of Japan’s ubiquitous capsule toy machines (which are called “gachapon” or “gacha gacha”).

While you can find toy vending machines in other countries, in Japan they’re practically a cultural institution, and for the past several years grown adults are more the target market than little kids, meaning that even many adults who’re part of a fan community periodically buy things at random.

There’s also the fact that while microtransactions, and thus loot boxes, have risen in prominence in Western gaming along with a spurt in the number of casual gamers, in Japan many popular games with randomized content purchases are targeted at the hard-core otaku market, a demographic that doesn’t typically balk at the idea of spending a lot of cash as long as, in the end, it gets what it wants. Sure, a game might nickel and dime them as they make multiple paid gacha attempts to get the rare card of their favorite character in her special limited-time seasonal outfit, but what’s a few hundred yen here and there for someone who’s already planning on dropping several thousand for a high-grade figure from the same series?

Again, it might be that Apple just hasn’t gotten around to updating the Japanese App Store’s guidelines yet, and that a similar disclosure directive is coming soon for Japanese developers. For the time being, though, it looks like developers still have the option of keeping their loot box odds a secret.

Source: Apple App Store (1, 2) via IT Media
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