The "Cruelty" of Fate/Grand Order & Gacha Games


#1

Sorry, I realize that topic name is probably a little misleading but the Polygon article I wanted to link to does not have the best title itself:

It is possible that this article and whatever ensuing discussion is something of a rehash given how Waypoint has covered loot boxes and the growing prevalence of gambling mechanics in games but I was rather struck by this piece and particularly how Fate/Grand Order seems to really lean in to the worst habits and aspects of gacha games and plays it for laughs:

Though Gudako is monstrous, she’s the players’ monster. She shares in their despair and elation, and she describes her relationship with the gacha as a hell from which she cannot escape. Most crucially, this creature of pure id is, like her customers, driven by an unstoppable thirst for rare anime girls.

As someone who thought they had a pretty good grip on being a free-to-play player with Fire Emblem Heroes only to spend $9.99 this week on in game currency to finish a session of recruiting new heroes without even thinking about it until the transaction was over, I was really kind of horrified to realize that, in the moment, I felt a “need” to have these digital characters and that the need was strong enough–or the barrier of acting on it–that I would pay money (the money I could have spent on lunch or groceries in general) to satisfy this desire.


#2

Gacha is pure evil and I’m so tired of seeing so many people make light of what is effectively the most manipulative form of gambling imaginable.


#3

Do you think it is pure evil because it isn’t properly regulated like actual gambling or because the very nature of it seems to be to prey on fandom? Is there a way for this type of game to be “okay?”


#4

I’d argue gacha and actual gambling institutions (casinos, scratch off tickets etc) are both evil or as they are built upon using manipulative methods to exploit people, whether it’s regulated or not. That is to say it’s not okay to use phycological tricks to extract money from your audience whether that trick be fancy rugs and no clocks, or skinner box reward systems and daily log in bonuses.


#5

I think regulation is the key point. I would personally advocate for banning gambling, but I can see that being contentious so I wouldn’t push it. But in exchange for existing, society places certain expectations on casinos etc. I’m pretty certain there are rules about customers being in a reasonable state of mind (not drunk/high/whatever) for instance. There is also the aspect that traditionally you would have to go to a casino.

That veneer of responsibility is entirely stripped away by a digital product which can be consumed anywhere.

Personally I would also not have had such an issue with these game 10 years ago, when it felt that game developers/designers themselves were less clued up on things that casinos have done for a long time, but now it feels far more explicitly clear how calculated and scientific these games can be in terms of experiences tailored to wring the maximum amount of money from the people playing the game.

You can bet EA had a team for Battlefront working out the optimal ammount of grind that a majority of the playerbase would put up with. In that instance they got that calculation wrong, but the industry is not going to say “oh shit maybe we should not do this any more”, it will be “oh shit we need to get that calculation right”


#6

For specific definitions of gambling, perhaps. We’ve had bans on (all) gambling, often religiously motivated, which encompassed things like sitting down to a game of cards with your buddies (MORAL DECREPITUDE!!). Probably if you update that to the modern gamescape, it would ban rogueli*es and D&D…


#7

Are you arguing we shouldn’t regulate what is basically preying on people with addiction issues and children who don’t know better with easily available digital apps designed solely to suck the money from them and encourage self-destructive behavior because videogames might get banned

Because if videogames end up becoming mostly this I’m perfectly fine letting this medium burn and starting over


#8

On the western end of things, a similar example is The Simpsons: Tapped Out which utilizes the same “don’t worry, we know we’re taking advantage of people with poor impulse control and potentially ruining their lives, but it’s okay cause we’re in on The Joke!” sense of self-deprecating humor, though within the game itself rather than a part of advertising meta-media.

I’m of the mind that these games should never be able to charge you more than $100 per year, flat out, no exceptions. If American and Japanese mobile games don’t know how to stay afloat without relying on the income of whale consumers, then their business model is fundamentally broken and doesn’t deserve to continue existing.


#9

…how the hell did you get there from “for specific definitions of gambling”?


#10

This is a really interesting approach along with one I have never heard advanced.

As to the economics of these games, are they actually designed in such a way that they can only stay “afloat” due to whales or are the whales simply a really nice “bonus” for them? The Polygon piece links to a Wall Street Journal article about a fellow who has spent $70,000 on Fate/Grand Order; I cannot imagine that the money this individual spent was nothing more than pure profit for the developers. Granted, that is an extreme outlier but, in my own limited reading on the subject, the narrative that whales are what keep a game afloat seems like it really benefits the developer and helps encourage or normalize heavy spending as it allows other, “poorer,” players to enjoy the game.

Edit: Here is a link to the WSJ piece–it’s primarily a video–and I am copying the text of the article below for folks who can’t get around the paywall:

Sony Corp.’s music unit is set to earn operating profit of more than $1 billion this fiscal year, helping drive the conglomerate to record results. The music unit’s secret weapon: a mobile game called “Fate/Grand Order.”

Ace Research Institute analyst Hideki Yasuda estimates that revenue from the game is likely to top $1 billion in the year ending in March—meaning it brings in an average of more than $2.5 million every day. The game is free to download, but players enthralled by its high-end graphics and storytelling can pour thousands of dollars into in-game drawings that give them a chance to get their favorite characters.

The gamer, who declined to give his last name, says he has already spent more than $70,000 collecting rare “FGO” characters… and has no regrets.


#11

I think certainly in terms of ongoing income, its heavily weighted towards whales; which I think is one of the big problems I have with games / lootboxes, is knowing that on some fundamental level they are not designed for me any more as I refuse to interact with lootboxes. For instance I was super excited for Destiny 2, but it just feels like the game really doesn’t care if I stay or go, all it wants is that sweet Eververse cash. I told friends to not by the DLC because it was average at best, but that is entirely outweighed by people spending £30 a week on lootboxes.

A related thing to only being allowed to charge $100/yr, I made a small investment in friends business venture a while ago and the company who managed that investment made you answer a questionnaire to “prove” that you were a suitable investor (only invest what you can afford to lose, investments may go down as well as up etc). On the surface this seems like a solution, but ironically the only person who failed that questionnaire was someone who worked in banking who was too honest with his answers.


#12

I don’t want to make a value judgment on the whole of the mobile market because I’m sure there are still legit devs trying to make genuinely good stuff, but the games that are built around gacha pulls or outright buying progress (Clash of Clans) are inherently bad games.

It is a feast-or-famine design where you are either the whale player riding an endless dopamine wave of cheap thrills, or you’re a free player who has to contend with game balance that is unconscionably overtuned to where any meaningful progress requires huge gaps of waiting or endless grinding.

This is a market where bad games abuse psychology to rake in loads of blood money. I am completely on board with the previous suggestion of “burn it all down and start over” because I don’t see the redeeming value in games that are constructed in this way.


#13

I have a little bit of experience with getting heavily into a gatcha game (Puzzle & Dragons). However, I didn’t spend more than $20 on the game. That being said I did play the game every single day for multiple hours for two years straight. A lot of that time I had reminds set using a third party app to catch specific dungeons and events. I never spent that much, but even then it was such a huge focus of my life that I eventually made myself stop playing because it negatively affected some of my relationships. I also saw other people spending SO much money on that game in the subreddit. I really hope we can get some sort of regulation on these soon even if it just starts by surfacing percentages of pulls like in Japan or China (I can’t remember which at this moment).


#14

There’s a pretty clear distinction between games incorporating random chance in its mechanics, and games that are gambling. Conflating the two by appealing to how older definitions of gambling were much less well defined is not a solid argument.

Yeah, back in the day there might have been moral outrage over wether or not pinball was gambling, but we are past that point. Not only that but there’s a very clear difference between rolling a d20 to see if I punch an elf good, and paying to roll to see if I get an incredibly rare unit in a game built to exploit human psychology so the devs can milk as much money out of me as possible.


#15

The only argument I am making is that there should be a clear definition of “gambling” if you’re going to say something like “ban gambling”.

I am very frustrated that people keep twisting my words. It feels like an indirect personal attack, that I am so unworthy that people can’t even take the time to read a short comment, or that I am considered so unworthy of being read in good faith – especially with apparently four different people all doing the same.

For a moment I wondered if it was because I only replied and did not quote, but then I double-checked and indeed my actual comment literally said “bans on (all) gambling”.


#17

I cannot speak for others but in my reading of the thread, I do not think anyone was intentionally trying to twist your words–that is how it reads at least. Your original post wasn’t entirely clear. It took me a few re-reads to understand that it was in response to @branwen’s comment and even then it is unclear if you are advocating a position you feel or making an observation. It did not help that your next comment then reads as hostile for one not understanding the first.


#18

If we’re talking about loot boxes and gambling regulation, I think it’s worth watching Extra Credits’ video on the topic for a broader perspective:


#19

AHAHAHAHAHA gasp oh god that fucking video

They made a series dedicated to “designing ethical lootboxes” and I can’t even


#20

I think they have some points here that are worth watching for. Especially the question of how getting the legal system involved in regulation will affect access to games as a whole. And what a replacement for loot boxes would be. They made another series about DLC and why, by and large, it doesn’t work as a method of post launch revenue.


#21
  1. Games that use lootboxes don’t deserve to be saved if they demand to keep them.
  2. There shouldn’t be a replacement for lootboxes because an industry that requires such predatory systems to survive is one that deserves to die for the greater good of the human race.

Also, how many times do I have to keep bringing up how all of these large companies don’t pay any taxes through abusing and even creating tax code loopholes, the heads and shareholders make huge bank anyways while also cutting down the cost on actual production compared to previous development cycles, all while also vastly underpaying the people who actually make these games for them?

How can anyone look at this clusterfuck of an industry and think “hmm yes clearly we need lootboxes for this to continue”