Why gacha is the ‘gotcha’ tactic of MMO sales

Making money in free-to-play games isn’t as simple as pursuing a single revenue stream. Often studios are looking at multiple approaches to coax players to part with their money in exchange for various goods and services. Now we all know that psychological manipulation is a key part of monetization, which is why it behooves you to read this Gamasutra article on a specific type of microtransaction moneymaking called “gacha.”

Gacha is derived from Japanese vending machines that people would pay for a random toy that is part of a set. The idea is, in both the physical and video game space, that by convincing customers to repeatedly buy objects for a chance to complete a set, the customer will often end up purchasing many repeats (and thus buy the same thing more than once). Gacha can be implemented in many interesting ways in video games, turning the process into a game in and of itself (that costs real money to play).

Is this method evil or entertaining? The article says that it leans toward the latter: “Gacha is a powerful game design technique that allows developers to successfully monetize on F2P market. It’s worth to remember that gacha may be designed in numerous ways that don’t exploit human addictions to gambling but entertain and monetize in a synergy.”

Source: Gamasutra
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47 Comments on "Why gacha is the ‘gotcha’ tactic of MMO sales"

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socontrariwise

I believe it is simply gambling: you pay money for a low chance of getting something worth more money than you actually pay. Surprised the US with its strict anti-gambling laws isn’t already all over this since years.

Reader
Melissa McDonald

so it’s just football/baseball cards then, innit?
edit: I guess I am not a collector. I am sitting here crosseyed trying to think of anything, anything at all that I have strove to gather all of a type or a colour or whatever. Buttons? thimbles? bottle caps? nothing really. It never appealed to me much in EQ2, and collections are a minigame there.

capt_north
Reader
capt_north

I do lockboxes now and then, but I never get the prize I covet, and I don’t have the cash to accumulate enough “second-chance” tokens to buy it outright, and the filler trash they stuff them with is annoying as hell. So even if you’re not adamantly opposed to the concept, most of the implementations are, at best, sorely lacking.

Reader
Tamanous

I have never played Magic the Gathering. It became huge back when I was still playing all sorts of games with friends and some of them even got into it. I never shared the interest because, from day 1, I have considered it a complete scam.

I could barely bring myself to buying miniatures for RPG games to match characters/npcs … and upon hearing I had to buy countless card packs of often repeated cards: WTF?!

Now video games use it. With my countless tirades over this insanity, you can imagine my view of this industry of late.

kjempff
Reader
kjempff

Wouldn’t it be great if game developers put their effort into creating good games and make money because of that, instead of speculating on how to exploit human weaknesses.

Reader
Brother Maynard

Some still do – look at CD Projekt Red / Witcher 3.
But yeah, there’s too few of them these days…

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Robert Mann

Works off gambling psychology. “Doesn’t exploit gambling.” Great job saying it isn’t what it is, have a cookie!

Reader
Denice J. Cook

That Gacha article was poorly written: I’m assuming the author was a native of Asia and that English is his second language. I’m surprised Gamasutra published it without editing it beforehand, though.

Reader

To be blunt, I will not EVER use a Gacha system. It’s fully “gotchya” as in “Gotchya money!”. If I want something, I WILL PURCHASE IT DIRECTLY. I do not do lockboxes, and I do not do Gacha. Ever.

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Erik Heinze-Milne

And if it cannot be purchased directly AT A REASONABLE PRICE, then it will not be purchased at all.

Reader
Schmidt.Capela

I don’t care if people find it entertaining. I will never, ever, spend even a single cent in gachas or anything similar. Heck, I don’t play Magic or similar collectable games, despite liking some of the concept, because I can’t stand the very thought of purchasing “boosters” that come with random cards.

Reader
Koshelkin

Scalping people is a “game design technique”. Ok.

Reader
Dug From The Earth

The only problem with gambling is when people dont set limits. Gambling is just spending money like any other purchase, if you set a limit on how much you are going to spend.

Reader
Witches

The point isn’t about gambling is about games having gambling embedded, gambling has many rules and regulations, in game gambling has none, it’s a grey area that they are using to exploit their customers, some of which are underage and not even legally permitted to gamble.

Reader
Dug From The Earth

So should similar gambling rules, but for things like lockboxes, be implemented into games that sell them? I wouldnt be against that, even though Im comfortable without it.

The core problem that requires said gambling rules, is peoples inability to set limits, allowing companies that “offer” gambling, to take advantage of said people. Its basically the law protecting people from being dumb with their own money because they have no control over how they spend it. (and those that suffer from a legit psychological addiction to it)

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Witches

Sure, why not?

But that would mean games with lockboxes would have to raise their rating to the legal age for gambling in all countries they operate in, also game assets would have to be valued by a third party, also all games would be subject to the same rules, so tiny game X would have to compete with WOW regardless of the difference in resources.

Basically if they wanted to run gambling software they would, the fact that lockboxes aren’t universally considered gambling allows them to continue to make their own rules.

Reader
socontrariwise

Why would a third party have to value the assets if they usually sell the same asset in the store for direct purchase? No easier way of putting a price tag on it?

Reader
Witches

The entertainment value of gacha is beside the point, if a company says upfront that they plan to monetize the hell out of their game i’ll avoid the game but will not criticize it, i will consider it honest business, but selling the game based on story, setting and gaming mechanics and then, usually some time after launch, introducing gambling as a required activity is not very honest.

Reader
Dug From The Earth

I like how the ESO crates are shown…yet… there are no items that are part of a set that you would want to keep buying them for until you “got them all” :P

Reader
Ryan Allgood

I’m always torn on gacha. I play a few of the F2P mobile games, like Final Fantasy Record Keeper and Fire Emblem: Heroes. At first I hated that I couldn’t just get the items/characters I wanted and had to rely on the random gacha for it. But as I played the game more, I realized that the randomness creates this interesting situation where I have to figure out how to optimize my teams without having the absolute best. I ended up using a much broader variety of characters because I had to make use of what I had, instead of just using the same 4-5 characters all the time.

Obviously this doesn’t really apply to MMOs…yet. So far it doesn’t have much impact on me in MMOs because it’s just cosmetic stuff and I’m never really bothered if there’s some cosmetic item I can’t have. I would say I would never buy into a gacha purely for cosmetics though.

Reader
Tobasco da Gama

At least MMOs haven’t gone the same direction as all those Japanese mobile gacha games with the evolutions and fusions and combining that all require additional cash shop purchases to ensure a good result… Ahem. Except for the ones that have.

Reader
Ashfyn Ninegold

Anybody remember the Coca-Cola bottle cap sets?

http://www.antiquesnavigator.com/d-1299844/rare-coke-coca-cola-usa-state-bottle-caps-complete-set-of-102-from-1962.html

This was a heinous attempt on the part of Coca-Cola in 1962 to make people buy Coke by putting famous state landmarks on the inside of bottle caps. And boy, did we all buy a lot of Coke trying for that set.

Collecting stamps as a kid, I would go for that 1000 stamp package hoping to get that rare stamp to finish a set, never realizing I could just buy the missing stamp for a lot less.

And do I have to mention how much lousy bubble gum we chewed so my brother could get his baseball cards?

There’s nothing new about this and nothing particularly Japanese, either. Human nature, pure and simple.

Reader
luxundae

Wait, I’m confused… You’re saying that these companies are here to *make money*?? I thought they were just for my enjoyment!

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Witches

That’s faulty logic, gambling is not the only way of making a profit, also it isn’t the most profitable, that’s like saying it’s alright for the devs to force players to work on their gold mines or oil rigs because they need to make money.

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luxundae

I’m being somewhat tongue-in-cheek here ;)

Crow
Reader
Crow

Funny enough, that kind of mentality was somewhat prevalent earlier on. Not entirely, at all, and there was always a focus on running a profit, however earlier MUDs and MMOs were super-niche and skewed way more heavily toward honest-to-god RPers. Even the gankers and PvPers engaged in light RP for their “roles” because there was always a sense of being a part of a larger world. When things became raid focused later on we talked a lot about “server reputation” which is mostly no longer a real thing.

But a large number of earlier MUDs, especially, were primarily player-driven and often player-developed. Players who were engaged and invested were sometimes given keys to the devkits to create their own areas and quests and stories within the game. I have a friend who started his coding career as a kid making huge expansions for his favorite MUD alongside plenty of other player volunteers who did the same in parallel.

The hyper-monitization is a post-WoW thing and is only made possible, really, by the critical mass of opening MMORPGs to the “mainstream”. Prior to WoW’s explosion you had the EQ boom which was tiny in comparison. SOE bragged a ton about their 500k sub-base at the time… and that was HUGE. Make a misstep in a community of 500k (or more usual back then maybe 100k active) and the backlash is huge. Both for “jerk players” and for devs, themselves. Screw up a game with 50k subs and you’re done. Screw up a game with 11 million subs and you can just brush it off if you lose 25k (or in the case of WoW… millions of players).

The smaller and tinier a game’s playerbase is, the more risky it is to engage in super-monitization. That’s why the big success stories are about WoW and TOR and ESO where the games have HUGE install bases. The whole thing is a pinnacle strategy that only works for balls that are already well rolling under their own force of velocity.

Honestly, if we want more of games being designed for enjoyment and integrity we have to first come to grips with the fact that it can never happen when MMORPGs are “big”.

semugh
Reader
semugh

and even WOW is built around gacha. (raid lockout, random raid gear drops, monthly sub to access)

Reader
Schmidt.Capela

Which is part of the reason I got so burned out with raids, I vowed to never again take part in a raid for as long as I live.

I’m perfectly fine with long, but predictable, grinds; but I really hate grinds where I have no way of knowing when (or if) I will be done. If something is only obtained through random chance then I will never seek it, and if not seeking it puts me at a disadvantage in a game, chances are good I will leave the game.

Reader
Erik Heinze-Milne

Preach! Testify! Other enthusiastic forms of agreement!

Crow
Reader
Crow

Can we get a full list of everything you’ve “vowed to never again…for as long as I live”? Seems a long list.

Reader
Jeff

As long as it’s cosmetic it isn’t pay to win, the moment I have to buy a repair hammer to fix my gear or a special hilt that gets me through a Dungeon I’m out.

lets take ESO as an example
I think the harassment and shouting down of anyone that discusses the crown crates in ESO in anything other than loathing terms is idiotic, and apparently ZoS thinks so too given the perma bans they recently handed out over it.

On the other hand
Having to buy repair hammers like in Ruins of Magic (At least at launch) or a key to unlock Stat gear is deserving of boycott.

In any event shops and boxes aren’t going anywhere, simply because they bring in a Scrooge McDuck amount of cash and that cash translates into more development of said game, subscriptions unless your WoW just doesn’t do that.

Reader
Erik Heinze-Milne

Wait, ZoS banned people defending their crates too strongly? If that is the case, I may actually need to look at giving them more money. That sort of behavior should be rewarded.

Reader
Arktouros

I get a kick out of the whole thing at this point.

People need to understand that, like most things in life, there are premium gaming options for those who can pay and there’s the rest for those who can’t. You don’t have to like it, but you will accept it because that’s just how things are.

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Erik Heinze-Milne

Uh, no? I will not, nor do I have to accept it. Do you want nothing to change? Because that is how nothing gets changed.

Reader
Kathy Davis

**Sigh** I would just rather buy the stuff. I so buy stuff, lots of stuff. I will buy electronic mounts, costumes, spoons, dirt and random dumb stuff, I will, but I steer clear of those gamble boxes…. YUCK, NO THANK YOU….

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Arktouros

A lot of people would rather just directly buy stuff…

…right up until they see the price tag to directly buy things because when most people see $35 costumes (BDO), $40 mounts (ESO), or $60 weapon skins (SWTOR) they tend to lose their damn mind just as much as they would at these things being in a lock box.

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Erik Heinze-Milne

That’s because those prices are punitively high. They don’t WANT you to buy it directly. So they figure out the average chance of you getting it from a lockbox, and then charge the average amount someone would have to spend on lockboxes to get it anyway, except now you don’t have anything from the other lockboxes either.

Reader
Schmidt.Capela

The difference, for me, is that while I might purchase some of those things if I know exactly what I’m getting before I spend the money, I will never purchase a lockbox/gacha/whatever those crappy things are called.

In fact, in both DCUO and LotRO I have basically everything that is account-wide and can be purchased from their respective cash stores. I’m not adverse to spending money, I’m just picky about how I spend it.

Crow
Reader
Crow

MUDs and early MMORPGs sought to be worlds, not just games. In fact, at the time the draw of the MMORPG was directly related to sharing the world with others and existing within that world. People didn’t expect to do anything, and in fact they expected to carve out a space for themselves wherever they ended up comfortable. Things in that world were of that world. Your shirt, pants, armor, swords, house, pony and whatever… it was a part of the world. It came from the world and would go back to the world when the digital pixels got deleted.

Now we pay money for lockboxes so we can get sets of clothing that are completely unconnected from the world and do not reside within it. We limit our playsessions in huge, long-burn games to what we can do between getting home from work and making dinner.

I can’t help but think that the complete takeover of MMORPGs by the mainstream is squeezing blood from a stone with more and more stuff like this.

Gambling “tricks” are reprehensible enough in the real world. Seeing individuals who have had their lives ruined by gambling addiction is sadder than any alcoholic. While one can avoid alcohol with merely a little effort, our entire economy works off of small, little “gambling tricks” from sales at the supermarket to subscription services to lockboxes and momentary joys followed by the hollow need of want.

Reader

Something I don’t understand, why are lockboxes and digital card booster packs not considered gachas? I skimmed the article and it didn’t make mention of these, yet these fit the definition of “repeatedly buy objects for a chance to complete a set”.

Reader
kgptzac

I always considered them the mechanically same. It’s just that most mobile game’s monetization is entirely revolved around gachapon, while in MMO’s there would be more (and hopefully better) ways to spend money.

Andrew Ross
Staff
Andrew Ross

They actually can be, but legally, they haven’t been seriously tested from what I or my legal contacts could recall: http://massivelyop.com/2017/01/17/__trashed-3/

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Nathan Aldana

well, for one, at least in the case of most ccgs not named hearthstone, at least you can defray the costs of card games via trades.

But I think the biggest thing is Gachapon styles tend to also favor the most favorable loot being a 1 in a million chance. hearthstone may be gacha style, but it gwenerally doesnt put the best cards in the game locked behind sheerly unfair odds.

Like, I can craft a powerful legendary, but I cant craft a powerful tier 6 lockbox ship on sto, I have no choice but to keep plugging in money for more keys or farm ingame currency and get it off the market for exorbitant prices.

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Schmidt.Capela

Card crafting makes things much better in Hearthstone. By the time you have gotten around 90% of the collection, you have enough repeated cards to break apart and craft the remaining 10%. This makes the RNG far tamer in that game.

It’s more or less how a gacha system would be if you could always take 5 gachas and trade it for any other gacha; luck would help in completing your collection earlier, but you would still be able to complete it no matter how unlucky you were.

Reader
KumiKaze

I thought the exact same thing. I was specifically thinking of Overwatch’s Event Lootboxes. Granted you can earn them by just playing the game, but if you want everything you are either going to have to spend a huge amount of time playing or buy some of the boxes.

Crow
Reader
Crow

And it is worth pointing out that the fastest way to get boxes in Overwatch aside from opening your wallet is actually to grind gold in WoW. I just find that… utterly cynical.

Crow
Reader
Crow

Literally the model for any collectible card/minis/whatever game. You need playsets.

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