The Art (and Addiction) of Gacha Games

Hello, my fellow Gacha Game players. What’s that you say? You don’t play Gacha games? Well… you might be mistaken about that. Though you may not realize it, many games nowadays have been sneakily implementing Gacha systems into their games, with varying degrees of success and/or intrusiveness. A great example of this is the Loot Box craze that seems to be sweeping through many Triple-A titles lately, especially from a certain studio…

ogimage.img.jpeg
*cough cough*

And yes, while some games get a lot of backlash about their loot box systems, the fact of the matter is that these loot boxes serve to generate massive amounts of revenue for the company that makes the games, so much, in fact, that it dwarfs the amount they make on actual sales of the game.

A standard triple-A game title usually costs around $60. For that price, you end up with the standard game, which is fine, and perfectly playable. However, nowadays, many multiplayer games feature a loot box system that gives out various types of rewards. Some of these systems are more predatory than others, however. Some are set to reward players and are decently priced, where other games are set to extort as much money as possibly for minimal payoff.

Overwatch-logo
I like these guys tho

Overwatch, for example, offers a pack of 50 loot boxes for around $40 USD. This rounds out to about $0.80 per loot box. Each box contains 4 cosmetic items of varying rarity, coming out to about $0.20 per item. However, not only do these loot boxes contain only cosmetic items, but Blizzard has implemented a system that tracks how often you get bad pulls from the loot boxes. Every time you don’t get a Legendary item from a loot crate, your chances exponentially increase until you get a Legendary drop, at which point the gacha rates reset. This means that when rolling crates over a certain period, you are guaranteed an amount of Legendary drops.

overwatch-legendary-loot-box
I actually really like the way this loot system is made.

By comparison, the loot crates from EA’s Star Wars Battlefront are purchased through Crystals. The top Crystal pack costs $100, and nets you at maximum around 60 loot crates. This comes to around $1.67 per loot crate. Opening a crate nets you between 1 and 2 items of the type you’re looking for, one random item, and occasionally some junk. This means that, at best, you’re paying $0.56 per useful item, and at worst, $1.67 per item you actually want.

While I don’t know the mechanics and drop rates behind either of these gacha systems, one clearly is designed to be unpunishing, and only rewards with cosmetic items, whereas the Battlefront loot boxes give items that directly affect gameplay, meaning that in order to play competitively, you really need to open loot boxes to play.

battlefront-loot-crate
STAHP PLS

The system of pay-to-win is a big problem in many gacha games, and it’s not exclusive to american games, or Triple-A titles, either. However, problems come in different forms with the various games out there, and I have a few great examples of games that showcase the various ups and downs of the classic gacha system. So I’ll be taking a loot at three different mobile gacha games: Fate/Grand Order, Fire Emblem Heroes, and a newer game, Azur Lane.

Fate-Grand-Order-image-696x393
Here we go!

Let’s take our first look at the big boy. Fate/Grand Order is one of the largest and most well-known gacha games around. With a fanbase generated from the popular Type-Moon franchise, the game isn’t hurting for players or publicity. With very high production values and solid gameplay, not to mention a cast of colorful characters and a story that really hits powerfully at times, Fate/Grand Order has a lot of things that one could ask for from a game.

FGO-gacha-roll-screen
Dare ye enter the gates of hell?

The problem with FGO, however, is the gacha. While there are a lot of servants that are pretty easily attainable from the free gacha, some of them being quite strong, most of the best servants in the game sit comfortably in the 5* rarity. With only a 1% drop rate in the gacha pool, they are pretty hard to snag at times. The top Quartz pack costs $80, giving you a total of 167 quartz, which, at a cost of 3 quartz per roll, allows you to roll the gacha about 56 times. This comes to a cost of about $1.43 per pull from the gacha. Where the real problem comes in, is that there is a 40% chance to pull either a 3* servant or 3* craft essence, both of which are also available from the free gacha. This means that 80% of your rolls are bound to be common servants that you’ve probably gotten many, many copies of already. With a 12% chance for 4* craft essences, a 3% chance for 4* servants, and a 4% chance for 5* craft essences, this means you’re really paying about $7.15 per decent drop from the gacha, for servants and craft essences that legitimately comprise the entirety of gameplay. And while the game can be played, and completed, 100% free of paying, it’s definitely far less convenient to do so.

FGO-gacha-hell
One day, Gudako…

Leveling servants takes Embers, which require farming, as well as a wide variety of skill upgrade materials, which also require farming. Saint Quartz can also be used to recharge your AP, allowing you to continuously farm utilizing your SQ, not just for the Gacha, but to level your servants as well. In a way, the P2P players have a real advantage here… however, as FGO does not feature a PVP system, this is actually kind of negligible.

A player’s power and success is measured entirely by themself. If you’re able to get through the story and events with low-rarity characters, then you’re able to do so with ease. In reality, the pressure to spend is caused not by competition with other players, but by your own personal choice to expand your collection and your options.

fire-emblem-heroes
I’ve only played like, 2 fire emblem games tho

Next up is Fire Emblem Heroes. A mobile game made through Nintendo, FEH also has quite a large pool of funding and resources behind it, and the level of polish the game demonstrates really shows that. With solid, pretty intuitive gameplay, a nice soundtrack, and an enormous pile of games to draw characters from, FEH truly does give FGO a run for its money. Let’s take a look at the Gacha system.

$75 will net you around 140 Orbs, which you use to roll the game’s Gacha system. The gacha in this game, however, has a bit of a quirk that makes it unique. Rather than a single standardized gacha pool, the game features constantly rotating gacha pools with a variety of different heroes on rate-up on each gacha. In addition, each hero is associated with a color, and you can choose which color hero you pull with each try of the gacha. Paying out 5 orbs allows you to enter the gacha, at which point 5 randomly colored summon gems are created, and you can choose one of them, giving you a hero of that color. After making your choice, you can pay out another 4 orbs to select another of the existing orbs. If you do this till all the gems are gone, the final gem only costs 3 to open, for a grand total of 20 gems for 5 heroes.

With a 3% chance to pull a 5* hero from the gacha, with rate-up heroes getting double that, not to mention the color system, it’s much easier to snag the heroes you’re looking for in FEH than it is in FGO. However… maximizing our pulls by spending 20 orbs for a 5-pull, we end up spending about $2.14 for EACH HERO. That’s actually more expensive than the gacha in FGO is… so while the rates may be better, you might also have to spend more money to get the hero you want.

Fire-Emblem-Heroes-Gacha
Simple and effective gacha.

That is… if Pay-to-Play were the only factor here. Because while gathering Quartz in FGO is rather difficult, gathering orbs in FEH is not. Over the course of about a month, for testing purposes, I managed to accumulate about 200 orbs. In fact, while i’ve been playing both games for about the same amount of time, I have double the top-rarity heroes in FEH as I do in FGO… and I’ve been playing FEH completely free the whole time.

As our final example, let’s look at Azur Lane, a game that very recently released in English for IOS and Android. While AL isn’t backed by big companies and popularity like FGO and FEH are, it’s still a nicely made game, which plays well and has some great waifus to collect. And while the story isn’t much to mention, the gameplay is super fun, and just plays really well overall.

azur-lane
Mmmmm…

So… the gacha. Well, the gacha is interesting. You need two resources to roll the gacha: Coins, and Wisdom Cubes. Both can be obtained pretty easily by running commissions and completing daily and weekly missions. Easily enough, in fact, that I managed to snag about 100 cubes over the course of about a week. Coins generate themselves over time as well, so even f2p players have plenty of opportunities to roll the gacha. But, we’re not here for that free to play stuff!!

$80 will net you 7400 gems. 450 gems will snag you a pack of 15,000 coins, and another 300 gems gets you 11 cubes. The game’s Gacha comes in 3 parts: Light, Heavy, and Special builds, which corresponds to the type of ship you’re trying to get. The Light build costs 1 cube and 600 coins per build, and the Heavy and Special cost 2 cubes and 1500 coins per build. The rates change between each gacha as well. The light gacha boasts a whopping 7% chance for a Super-rare ship, 12% for Elite, 26% for Rare, and 55% for common. Already, this is beating out the rates on both of the other mobile games. The more expensive Heavy and Special gachas, however, have a 7% rate for SRs, 12% for Elites, 51% for Rares, and only 30% for Commons. This means that in the more expensive gacha, you’re actually MORE likely to pull a Rare than a Common, something that neither FGO or FEH have.

Azur-lane-gacha
I seriously love these gacha rates…

The “special feature” is that builds take time. Light ships usually take between 20 minutes and 2 hours, but heavy and special ships can take between 1 and 6 hours to build. Not to worry though, there are Instant Finish items in the game as well, which can either be bought from the shop, or farmed pretty easily from, again, missions and commissions.

Well, if we’re whaling, may as well go all the way. 600 gems for cubes, 450 gems for coins, and another 200 for quick finishes lets us build 10 ships for a total cost of 1250 gems. Factoring in some coins, cubes, and finishes you might have had laying around the place before you started, you should be able to build about 60 ships, at a cost of about $1.33 per ship. The light build is even better, with a cost of only 725 gems for each 10 ships. Taking into account overflow due to package size and the cost of the build, you should be able to build at least 110 light ships with your Gem package, for a cost of about $0.73 per ship!

The kicker is that, while you can build a TON of ships by buying gem packages, Azur Lane is quite well-oriented for F2P, and whaling on the gacha doesn’t necessarily make you better at the game. Most of the ships available in the Gacha are also farmable from the story nodes, with pretty decent drop rates. The SR ships in the gacha are not farmable, but there are also quite a few SR ships, of equal or BETTER power than the gacha ships, that drop ONLY from story nodes, and are not available from the gacha. Not only that, but many of the low-rarity ships have special niches and abilities that make them incredibly useful. In fact, my third-strongest ship at the moment is a Common ship!

image.jpg
*coughs* TIME TO FARM!!

Additionally, ship rarity has SOME impact on gameplay, but the larger impact BY FAR is made by selecting and using equipment that suits your ships best, and by creating synergy between the various ships in your fleet in order for all of them to attain their maximum potential. Most equipment can be farmed as well, and CANNOT be bought with money, meaning F2P players have just as much chance at it as the whales do.

Azur Lane has set up their game in a way that rewards players more highly for spending time playing the game on a regular basis, rather than just dropping money, something that FGO definitely hasn’t done, and that FEH doesn’t do nearly as well. And in a way… this is actually a problem.

While FGO is more P2P friendly, i’m much less encouraged to spend money on the game, because the gacha is so unrewarding. in comparison, while Azur Lane is VERY friendly to F2P status, it makes me more willing to dish out some cash for the limited gachas, because I feel like giving back to the game for being so nice to me.

eFfmdb3.jpg
For not being douchebags.

So… Gacha games. Why are they so popular, anyways? I mean, you’re just paying for virtual items, cards, stuff like that, right?

Well… Kind of.

I mean, a Gacha is, in essence, a lottery system. It’s gambling with a pretty title, but instead of gambling for a chance to win money, you’re gambling for a chance to gain an advantage in a game. Or for some cosmetics that you want. or maybe just to show love to your waifu.

Vegas-Casino-8.jpg
Gambling sucks, btw. Don’t do it.

However, there’s a pretty big difference between the way some of these companies approach their gacha systems. Even as the worst-scoring gacha out of the mobile game selection, FGO still offers the players a chance to progress without paying money. Many of the low-rarity servants are actually quite powerful if invested in, and even though I have quite a few top-tier servants, I still use a number of low-rarity servants on a daily basis, because they’re that good.

On the other hand, EA’s loot box system actually locks portions of the game behind it, keeping your from accessing various heroes, abilities, weapons, and vehicles, without snagging them from the loot crates. And I think that’s where the line really needs to be drawn with things like this. When it gets to the point where you NEED to pay, in order to actually progress, or stay relevant, in a game… that’s a problem. And while games like FGO, Azur Lane, and Fire Emblem Heroes are free-to-play, Battlefront comes with a $60 price tag right out of the box.

EA-battlefront-meme
All part of the plan!

And while Overwatch also carries a $60 price, players have access to all the heroes right from the start. Spending money on the game only gets you cosmetic items, and has no direct impact on the game itself.

So… I guess the final question is, is it right for games to carry a gacha system? I mean, there are tons of stories about people spending incredible amounts of money on Gacha games. It can really be a legitimate problem, even an addiction, like gambling on slot machines can be.

Well… I personally believe that, while games like Battlefront have a rather predatory gacha system, games like FGO are a bit more lenient. You don’t actually need to spend money on the game to play, or progress, though at times the gacha rates can feel extremely frustrating.

But… that’s the thing. it’s frustrating every time you get a bad pull. But when you get a good pull, it makes you feel good. A sort of artificial high that makes you want a repeat, and so, you roll more, trying to get that feeling again, by getting that next rare servant, or high-powered hero, or whatever. Basically, it’s a system that creates an addiction, without using any addictive substances. And once you’ve invested some time, some money, into the game, even if you realize that you’ve done a dumb, you’re stuck. Your brain kicks in, saying, well… we’ve spent so much time and money to get this far, it would be a waste to just drop the game now.

FGO-Gacha-pain
Story of my life, Rin…

Of course, there are differences between the systems, some drawing you in with a false “high” from the gacha system, some making you feel like you can’t actually progress in the game without spending some money on it. And after you make that choice, you’re stuck. They’ve got you.

Now, i’m not trying to say that Gacha systems are inherently bad, or evil. I mean, I have a lot of fun playing games with Gacha systems in them, and I think that there is definitely some merit to having them, especially for companies that have their game out for free, and put a ton of work into making it a fun and rewarding game. However, there is a fine line that needs to be walked when playing one of these games, otherwise, you could get into some serious trouble.

My advice to people who are on the fence about playing a gacha game is this. First, look at the game. Decide what kind of game you want to be playing, and how much time you are willing to invest into that game. Some games require a heavier time investment than others, so make sure you keep track of that.

Second, pace yourself. If you have a resolution to not spend money on the game you chose, then stick to it. If you decide to spend money, before you drop even one cent on the game, sit down and set hard limits on yourself. Budget things out, so you know exactly how much you can reasonably spend on a game without causing damage to your livelihood… and always aim to spend less.

FGO-Jojo

Third, take advantage of the game’s systems of allowing you to gather currency within the game itself. You can surprise yourself with how much currency you can gather, with a little bit of grinding.

Fourth, look ahead. Don’t spend currency on anything that you don’t really need. many games converted from a foreign version will be a few years behind; you can look at the release schedule of characters and events from the foreign version, and plan ahead for what you really want to save up for.

Finally… Just remember. Waifus can be fleeting. But they’re totally worth it.

Azur-Lane-Kaga

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12 thoughts on “The Art (and Addiction) of Gacha Games

  1. This is such a great post. I don’t pay within games for anything and that makes some gaming experiences fairly difficult and sometimes not very fun, but I like it when games allow you to get what you need through playing the game and I can just take the time to build up to what I actually need. That said, I get destroyed at most card games for a fair while because I don’t buy decks and wait until I can earn them or make cards and that can take a lot of grinding and losses.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I always feel like there’s a fine balance in a lot of games between punishing players for not paying, or overly rewarding players who do pay. As i’ve been playing lots pof gacha games recently, I thought this was a good chance to go over some of my feelings, as well as figure out what, exactly, one is paying out and what they’re getting out of it. Glad you enjoyed the post!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, it is kind of hard to stay overly competitive without paying. Still, when there are levelled modes to play the computer or be matched against players with similar levels/decks, you can usually still have some fun with it and I do enjoy slowly acquiring cards as I feel like I’ve really earned them.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Yeah, I used to play Magic: The Gathering quite a bit, and had to constantly buy cards to stay relevant with the changing game, which was a struggle. It’s probably better with online card games like Hearthstone where they can realistically offer rewards for playtime and stuff, though.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I think you make great points in this post! I definitely agree with your argument that while the gacha in Fate/Grand Order is terrible rates-wise and feels very unrewarding at times, the burden of progress is purely positioned on the player themself and not by some outside factor such as metagame or some other PvP mode. Because of this, if you’re aiming to collect only a small portion of 5-star servants, you won’t feel forced to spend so much money since the game gives you access to a lot of viable free 4-star event servants to complete harder quests. While some players, such as myself, will feel motivated to roll for the objectively stronger units gameplay-wise, it’s purely out of our own choice and not because we want to be at the top of the game. I feel that people saying the game is bad purely because of the bad gacha don’t understand gameplay of Fate/Grand Order at all.

    The one thing that I would say is important that you left out of your discussion of Fire Emblem Heroes is that while it’s easier to obtain the heroes you want, they might not necessarily be the exact one you want. IV’s and the merge system really punish free-to-play players within the gacha. Because there are so many viable characters in the Arena and new PvP modes and base stats are used for the scoring system, merges are needed to beat other high-merged units and ideal IV’s are extremely useful for beating out duplicate units on the enemy side. I found the IV system to be extremely harsh on me and friends, as even though I would pull the unit I wanted, a lot of the time they would have IV’s that directly made that unit worse compared to even neutral stat spreads of the same unit. It made me want to keep rolling for that same unit even though I had already obtained it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a very good point. I’m kind of a casual player of FEH so I generally don’t worry too much about IVs and stuff like that, usually only rolling the gacha for characters I want, enough to snag one or two copies of them, which is totally fine for me, because the game allows that kind of playstyle. I don’t pay too much mind to arena tiers or IVs.

      It’s true though that if you’re playing more heavily than I do, it’s a struggle to get the best of the best heroes, maxed and perfect IVs. But I think casual play is fine as well.

      Like

    2. Definitely agree with you there with Fire Emblem being very hard to play as a F2P.
      You kind of really need to spend money as long as there is a multiplayer aspect in any game, and if that game also happens to have a system that consumes “currencies” in exchange for power.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Good piece! I did a podcast on gacha games a while back if you’re interested: https://moegamer.net/2018/06/26/the-moegamer-podcast-episode-4-servant-to-the-gacha/

    I have a bit of a love-hate relatioship with gacha games. I respect many of them greatly — well, the popular Japanese mobile titles anyway, EA can go fish — because they’re a lot better than they used to be. I used to review free-to-play mobile and social games in their early days, and those were utter garbage; no real gameplay, often poor presentation and monetised out the wazoo. Today, we at least get gacha games that actually play like, y’know, real games.

    It’s actually not the monetisation that puts me off putting more time into them — it’s the time commitment required. In order to get good or make a suitable amount of progress in something like Fate/Grand Order or Granblue Fantasy (which you didn’t mention, but is a good example of a reasonably generous gacha system) you have to put in a LOT of time, to the exclusion of other experiences. And ultimately I find myself thinking that I’d rather play a non-monetised standalone game on a console, computer or handheld than something fleeting on my phone.

    But then I see artwork of the waifus in that game and I just want to collect all of them… siiiigh.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d considered adding Granblue Fantasy to the list, but as the post was already pretty long, plus I haven’t actually played GBF and wouldn’t have had an informed opinion, I chose not to include it.

      I liked your comment about the quality of games; i’m willing to spend some cash on games like FGO and Overwatch because the game quality is very high, there’s a lot more GAME there than there is gacha. So many games are much more oriented towards moneymaking than actually having a good game, it seems.

      Liked by 1 person

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