The Addictive Allure of Gacha Games Comes for Everyone Eventually

I've spent the last week thinking about this comment made by a follower on Twitter and the dark energy that surrounds it: "Everyone is just waiting for the gacha made just for them."


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/5dbvmz/the-addictive-allure-of-gacha-games-comes-for-everyone-eventually

I, a fool, am currently playing two gacha games simultaneously, which is two more than any reasonable human should be playing to be honest. I’ve played Fire Emblem Heroes since launch and now I’m playing NieR Re[in]carnation. I used to dolphin in FEH (~$10-30/mo), currently F2P, and I’m staunchly F2P in NieR. Of the two, I certainly enjoy FEH a lot more. It’s always been able to provide the high-intensity tactical gameplay of mainline Fire Emblem but compressed into short time commitment bursts, which is why I’ve stuck with the game for so long. It also has five years of QoL refinements to fall back on even when the meta has its ups and downs.

Mostly, I’m here to complain about NieR, a game that I can’t stop playing but am not enjoying what it’s doing to me. This is my first experience with the Genshin/FGO/GranBlue style of gacha game where gacha pulls include both characters and weapons and everything has a currency that upgrades it. The story is top tier and that’s probably what’s keeping me going but story is such a tiny fraction of the play time in this game. Trying to get stronger is like pulling teeth. The launch 1/2 stamina event just ended today and I’ve had to keep my phone grinding on something almost constantly to even barely keep up.

And it’s not like spending money on the gacha would even help that much! Certainly spending in the $400-800 range would get me top tier characters at max ascension but the kind of every-now-and-then spending that got me near the top of ranked in FEH would have practically zero impact on my strength. It’s whale or nothing in this game. And even then, you still have to do a mountain of grinding for currencies not available in the gacha to upgrade your characters and weapons that you spent hundreds of dollars on (you have to do the grinding and then some if you’re F2P like me, of course). Everything costs too much in this game, stamina-wise, in-game currency-wise, and premium currency-wise too.

I’ve been at it for a month and a half and I’m looking for the plateau where my team is in good shape and I don’t have to babysit the game 24/7 to keep up. I want NieR to be on the backburner like FEH is right now where I don’t feel like it’s opportunity cost to not stay at max efficiency on my stamina. I hope that time comes soon or else I find a better excuse to just quit entirely. The story is so good though. Damn this game.

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Pokemon Masters EX. I like Pokemon, I like that game’s weird loop, I like how it’s pretty straightforward. I also have spent…more money than I care to discuss trying to get some of that game’s better Trainers.

I find it hard to distinguish actual “gacha” games from just… the general loot-boxy-micropaymenty scumminess in a lot of Western games as well - I mean, is, say League of Legends a gatcha… or Magic The Gathering: Arena?
If so, then sure, I think it’s almost trivial that an offensively monetised gambling mechanic can be attached to any particular kind of game… but that doesn’t mean that “everyone” will be addicted to them to the point of spending money. (I use the two above examples because I did play them for a bit, never spent any money on them, and then stopped playing them partly because of the mechanic existing of trying to make you spend money on them intrusively.)

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I want to push back on the phrase “to the point of spending money” because it hides some of the nuance in ways people can spend money on F2P games. When I’m enjoying an F2P game, I want to spend some amount of money on it to support the game and these games usually have some kind of starter pack that is reasonably priced (e.g. $5 for mobile gacha games), so I usually buy that and then nothing else ever.

I understand if people can’t afford to spend any money on F2P games, that’s part of the appeal of them, but I do want to clarify that there’s a reasonable way to support F2P games without spending lots of money on a regular basis.

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See, I disagree with this on principle - F2P games are all designed, not just to ‘have people spend a $5 fee’, but to encourage increasing spending, on the same model as any other gambling system.
If a game just needs a $5 monthly subscription, or a $20 one-off payment, it’s not a gatcha.
Inherently, gatcha games are designed to support themselves by manipulating their players in ways that are known to be harmful to at least some. As such, spending any money on such a game - and thus validating their immoral business model - isn’t just “supporting the devs”, its paying into encouraging them to keep on using the same techniques to do worse to others.

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I think the difference between gachas and other F2P lootbox games is that the gacha system is explicitly and unabashedly pay2win. You generally need to pull between 4 and 10 copies of a character or weapon to unlock its full power or else be playing with a handicap (which might be bigger or smaller, depending on the game). Lootboxes tend to contain character and weapon skins which don’t usually have a meaningful impact on game balance. The Pokemon Unite system is yet another model where there’s no random pull at all; you just grind currency to get stronger or pay money to get currency.

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Right, so gachas are even more nakedly ‘our financial model is just give us all the money’.

One thing about gachas is that they really want to catch whales, so the idea of having “everything” is priced so high (in either time or money) as to be nearly unobtainable. I play a game where there was a literal forum suggestion that in order to make a particular kind of purchase “worth it” that someone would have to spend $36k a year. It’s a fine game to play f2p, but once you start to spend money, there’s no upper limit. It’s crazy.

This all makes the thing I’d like (“let me give you a small and finite amount of money to make all this nonsense go away”) something that can never reasonably happen.

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Interestingly, Nintendo used to do that with their “free to start” 3DS games. You could play f2p no problem, but if you wanted to spend money, it capped at 30 dollars (or equivalent currency). For games like Pokemon Rumble, after you hit that cap, you’d get a set amount of paid currency every day. With Pokemon Picross, after hitting 30 dollars, it effectively unlocked the game.

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I agree that gacha games are designed to constantly tempt you to spend more, so it’s not easy to play for a long time and only make a single one time purchase. However, I don’t think making a one-time purchase (especially if it’s labeled as a starter pack/etc.) is endorsing that gacha mechanic much more than a F2P player is since I’m explicitly not engaging with it. There are two parts to my feeling on this:

  1. The main story of Epic 7 is a 40-60 hour JRPG that I enjoyed playing (and didn’t struggle with at all without paying money) on a platform that I wish had more turn-based JRPGs. I don’t feel good about not paying for a 60 hour game that I enjoyed when I am able to do so, so I bought the $4 welcome pack, which felt like a very reasonable price for a 3 year old handheld JRPG. I guess I’m thinking of it like buying a drink in a casino: yes, I’m supporting the casino, but I’m not gambling, and I don’t think it’s better to not pay for the drink I ordered.

  2. F2P players are still supporting the gacha business model, so the only way to not actively support it is to not play those games. Like Axemtitanium said, the appeal of whaling is that you win because you spent money. In order for that to be appealing, it needs to be a game that people want to win and there need to be people that you know you will easily beat. F2P players are the entirety of that appeal and the reason that people are tempted to whale.
    A) More downloads, more reviews, more conversation online, show that the game is popular (i.e. that people want to win it). F2P players are often the majority of the player base, so they’re the only reason the game gets noticed.
    B) All of the gacha games I have played have some form of asynchronous PVP (e.g. you fight other people’s teams, but they’re AI-controlled). Since the game makes it clear that spending money gets you better characters with better stats, you know that if you spend lots of money you will crush people who don’t in PVP and then you get to brag about how high ranked you are. This only works if you have a lot of F2P players as fodder for the whales to beat.

Side note: I have played 40+ hours of 3-4 gacha games and have gotten so tired of the way they always devolve into daily, mindless grind in the endgame in order to “keep up”, so I have stopped playing the genre(?) as a whole.

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If a gacha game has any sort of PvP, the free to players are there to add value to the game for the whales - they need someone to beat with all the maxed out units they paid tons for, after all. Can’t have meta characters without a meta. So I’m wary of even gacha games I enjoy F2P - though [Garfield voice] I am not immune, I play Yu-Gi-Oh! on mobile and get my ass kicked by people with three Karma Cuts any time I begrudgingly participate in PvP.

Still, it’s be nice to see more discussion (and coverage) of mobile games that are either entirely F2P or are paid games without loads of microtransactions. I had more fun with Solitairica than Fire Emblem Heroes, and the only way I could spend as much on that as some of my friends have spent on FEH is if I started buying more phones to buy more copies.

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This thread right next to the World Flipper one says a lot about society

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Yeah, I accept point 2 - it’s a good point that F2P peons are a necessary part of some of the investment for whales (especially in gachas - I guess my overlooking of this is because my mental model for exploitative gambling games is still stuff like Candy Crush, which aren’t PvP,).
I’m not sure I accept point 1 - by your own argument on the economics of gatcha games, your contribution of $4 isn’t meaningfully supporting the game itself (compared to the overwhelming effect of whale spending)… and it also isn’t, arguably, encouraging the development of more turn-based RPGs (since success of Epic 7 is presumably going to argue for the success of the gatcha model, not necessarily TRPGs).

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