No, exploitative gacha mechanics are not a good idea for western devs

We’ve been talking about exploitative gacha games and related business models on Massively OP for a long time, most recently and notably in depth earlier this year when we covered how Japan, Korea, China, and Singapore have all passed laws to take the model down a peg. In fact, China’s newest anti-gacha laws have since been used to target MMOs, card games, and even Overwatch’s skins. So given all the crackdowns, you’d think that the trend would be to avoid it, right? That industry analysts and watchers on this side of the pond would be wary?

But no. Bizarrely, there’s a new GamesIndustry.biz article this week in which AppLovin Managing Director Johannes Heinze advocates that western developers start including gachapon mechanics, even citing Pokemon Go as a good example of how well it works. He argues that gacha requires:

  • A large, varied set of content
  • A strong desire from the player to collect as many items as possible
  • A game where gacha content is necessary for players to progress
  • An effective mechanic for duplicate content (to prevent player churn from pulling too many duplicates)

The problem with this recommendation, however, is that Heinze is ignoring the ongoing crackdowns in the same regions where he says gacha is doing great. East Asian governments are specifically targeting these same gacha mechanics, then testing to see if other practices are similar to those, which is how so many other games get caught up in the dragnet. For the most part, openly displaying the chance to win prizes is needed to dodge regulators’ ire, so big western companies fond of obfuscating lockbox statistics like Blizzard aren’t safe, but Asian companies like Nintendo already cover their assets in their games that use it by consciously respecting these laws.

Gacha mechanics take advantage of psychology to get us to pay, focusing on money-making schemes (as Heinze is suggesting) rather than fun. Monetization is important, but so is ensuring the survival of the industry. Ignoring the very real issues this specific type of monetization strategy is having in its home territory is turning a blind eye to the eventuality that the anti-gambling west will someday impose the same regulation.

Source: GI.biz
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42 Comments on "No, exploitative gacha mechanics are not a good idea for western devs"

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Matt LeClair

So fitting that SWTOR is in the banner.

Reader
Tiresias

You know, I’ve never once bought a lockbox in a single online game that I play. The whole concept of spending money in a video game for no guarantee of return just doesn’t sit right with me at all.

I’m happy to by costumes and cosmetics, though I will admit that I don’t often buy convenience items like EXP boosts or teleport stones; I will typically pick up a subscription if one is offered and the benefits justify the cost.

But lockboxes? Hell no.

Reader
THE RING FOR OVER THE CHAIN

Use English!

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squidgod2000

….wtf is gacha?

Reader
Nathan Aldana

Gachapon. Like those toys in vending machines at stores, except imagine if the rarest toys had a one in a few thousand buys odds.

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GamingSF

The first two links both have a definition.

DeadlyAccurate
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DeadlyAccurate

Thanks for asking this. I kept expecting some sort of description in the article itself, since I’ve never seen the term before.

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Ben Stone

Short for gachapon. Those little random toys you get in vending machines. Mostly popular in Asia but you will see them at supermarkets etc. They are using the term to describe loot boxes here though.

Mewmew
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Mewmew

I don’t mind some gacha with rolls that aren’t too bad, but when some companies think up these sneaky schemes to get around having to tell people the odds, you have to wonder what’s up with that.

There are games that handle it much better than others, and games that make it so your power is directly related to stuff you get out of these poor roles and you spend thousands and thousands to get ahead.

I’m getting burnt out of pay to win gacha, but there is a lighter end of it with better roles and rewards for spending even if you get bad rolls that I’m still happy with. Stuff where you’re still competitive and the winners aren’t purely based on who spends the most.

Yes, companies do love the literal billions they end up making with gacha in their games. The top mobile games literally make over 60 million per month. They don’t want to go back to selling single copies of their games when us morons keep making them rich.

Of course those who don’t have a piece of it would like a piece of it. There’s always someone who thinks it’s great and wants to promote it. The thing is, even the whales don’t have enough money to support too many games doing it and even whales get burnt out. I don’t see how this can last without causing a spending crash and lash back one day. Inviting more people to do it is inviting a crash to come sooner than later. Though many will fail.

Once a company gets spoiled on making money like this, it’s hard for them to go back to the other way. Some big mobile earners who aren’t so big anymore will desperately release low quality little content title after title with pay to win mechanics hoping just one of them will pay off and make it big. Only the trick doesn’t work. Without the content there, people don’t stay.

If I lived in a world that disallowed paid power gacha and pay to win completely, I’d be pretty happy.

Reader
Robert Mann

Yeah, I dump games that push gacha crud, there’s too many options without that around. If you are going to push that stuff, then kiss at least one potential player’s money goodbye… because your odds a fella named ‘none.’

Reader
Sally Bowls

I do some daily Emissary quests in WoW as much for the random loot as because it is the best content in the history of gaming. I am quite enjoying escorting the brave soldiers from Dunkirk to Dover in my destroyer but the get all 16 collectibles from random crates to get an in-game captain certainly adds some appeal. I continue to be baffled at people who are triggered over gambling with mere money yet perfectly fine with decade old mechanics where the currency I risk is my far more valuable time. YMMV

Line
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Line

Even with new laws being enacted, gacha mechanics are just not nearly as popular everywhere.

While it’s ubiquitous in East Asia, just look at Fire Emblem heroes underneath.
Yeah.
The US is a big market.
Canada is not that bad.
But… the entirety of Europe is just lumped in “others”.
Nobody gives a shit about collecting waifus around here.

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miol
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Line
Reader
Line

But those are toys, not gacha. Quite literally, they could be random loot bags, that’s totally a thing.

I don’t know how well it’s selling right now, 2 years later, but it certainly is both different… and also another proof of different regional tastes: Americans love toys, the rest of the world a lot less so.

miol
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miol

Ok, here the compact form, of why both tap into the same vein, as you already got the link with a more detailed explanation above! :)

-Both entice people to buy redundant things multiple times, with amiibo asking people to buy the same game from different retailers to get those retailer exclusives or the same full-price game (with minimal differences) for different devices as it also gives you different figures!

-Both have the same ultimate goal to crank up the average revenue per user (ARPU) by a multitude, when normally people would only buy the game a single time!

See it as a tactile offline version, even though collection cards would be closer to it, but surprise! amiibo also offers them since 2 years, sold in sets of undisclosed 6 cards, packaged just as randomly! (But I didn’t know about the cards until now, either. /bow)

Line
Reader
Line

But… no?
I mean, maybe there’s a couple of weird store exclusive ones, but that has nothing to do with it, there’s no gacha mechanic, that is the RNG aspect.
That’s a thing, loot bags are quite popular everywhere.

Amiibos are just toys with a code for on-disc DLC, because Nintendo loves nothing more than fucking everyone.
They didn’t invent the locked DLC, though.

But they don’t play at all with the same psychological weakness inherent to humans.
If your definition of gacha is just “more money per user”, that’s not only wrong, but also completely meaningless.
That’s not gacha, that’s not lootboxes, and that has existed since the creation of videogames.

miol
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miol

o.O

What part didn’t you understand of buying the same game, you already have in your hands, multiple times (same redundancy!) full-price ($40-$60) just so you can be able to collect different figurines?!

Or getting again and again the same collectible cards in the hopes of getting a rare one?! >>exactly like gacha RNG!

The ARPU is open ended just like gacha! And just like gacha other people buy them in bulk in the hopes of reselling them for profit!

miol
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miol

After intense double checking of dozens amiibo+game bundles in different regions and lists of retailer-exclusive figurines, I couldn’t find any retailer AND game bundle exclusive overlaps, but 4 game bundle exclusive ones (incl. those 2 mentioned Skylander crossovers in different colors from the 2 originals) depending on the region:

-As in the Inkling Squid Green with Splattoon in the EU, where only a whole year later they sold it like in Japan a lá carte, while in the US you have to buy all 3 of the 1st wave at once.
-And Chibi-Robot bundled with the of the same namesake, which was only a month later sold exclusively by Amazon seperately from the game in the US.

Therefore I sincerely apologize to @Line, you and anyone else about that false point! /bow /bow /bow

Yet still, with the introduction of amiibo’s RV Collection Cards, they indeed introduced the gacha mechanic with RNG packaged, undisclosed bundles of 6 cards to the franchise very clearly!

Also the enticement and hyping to collect figurines through delibarate scarcity and creating a speculative sub-market, just like Nike does, and since you never know if Nintendo intends to reissue an, until then rare, figurine, investments of purchasing in bulk can be lost, should still not be ignored as this reselling submarket is also known in places with gacha mechanics!

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Witches

Basically the same approach drug dealers have to gaming, some of those gamers could use some amphetamines so let’s give it to them, thanks dudes…

If you don’t have the confidence in your product to spend a lot in it, you don’t really deserve those big bucks, the one thing no one mentions when talking about the successes of Blizz is how much they invest, no one makes as much as they do, but no one invests as much as they do either, everyone wants to make that wowkiller with a shoestring budget.

Can’t make it as a legit businessman? Well there’s always the small time crook option.

ceder
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ceder

Drug dealer model is cheap entry for primary product then gradual cut product for increased cost to the buyer to maximize long term profit.

miol
Reader
miol

Monetization is important, but so is ensuring the survival of the industry.

Remember the ’83 video game crash by 97% of a $3 billion industry, mainly because of pure greed? With the overhyped E.T. Atari game, yet only 5 weeks of development to still make it into the X-mas sales’ window, as only the most prominent result of it!

Everyone should watch Atari: Game Over as a cautionary tale!

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ceder
Reader
ceder

History is doomed to repeat itself. Its a matter of when not if.

By the way you know its getting to that point when Atari announces they’re getting back into the console business like they have.

miol
Reader
miol

History is doomed to repeat itself. Its a matter of when not if.

Not if you learn its lessons… as those countries obviously did! ;P

By the way you know its getting to that point when Atari announces they’re getting back into the console business like they have.

What?! o.O
I can’t believe this! An “Ataribox”!
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atari,_SA#Turnaround_strategy

ceder
Reader
ceder

Not if you learn its lessons… as those countries obviously did! ;P

For the current iterations, yes. But business always looks for loopholes, not unlike how there’s no such thing as a hack/exploit free game. You just cat and mouse fix from there.

Hence history will be doomed to repeat itself.

What?! o.O
I can’t believe this! An “Ataribox”!

Yep

https://www.theverge.com/2017/7/17/15980990/atari-ataribox-specs-pictures

“Atari plans to deliver classic games in the Ataribox, alongside “current content.””

So to me, when they get back in the race, its sure fire we’re heading for another glut meltdown. :P

miol
Reader
miol

The next iteration is about combining it with cryptocurrencies, connecting different MMOs to one economy, where people can even work ingame for it, and to use its peer-to-peer blockchain tech for an entire MMO’s own database!

Shroud of the Avatar’s Richard Garriott backs Neverdie’s ‘etherium blockchain gaming’ venture

But as commenter Daniel Reasor already linked to, it’s just a matter of time for countries to implement regulations and for the whole bubble to burst before it even reach MMOs! ;P

http://massivelyop.com/2017/07/20/shroud-of-the-avatars-richard-garriott-backs-neverdies-bitcoin-venture/#comment-445673

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Malcolm Swoboda

Full regulation. I’m not willing to chance this. You will be fully regulated.

ceder
Reader
ceder

Full regulation wont come about until politicians see the benefit of government revenue from taxation per state or federal regulation there of.

Bree Royce
Staff
Bree Royce

As soon as they understand it, yep. So as soon as the youngest gen xers take over.

Reader
Malcolm Swoboda

Bingo.

wandris
Reader
wandris

Gatcha is already embedded in most games.. We just call it lockboxes. It says a lot about a company when they employ things like this. They know it’s wrong but since there are no laws or regulations against it they are going to continue to exploit their customers. I have never seen anything in a lockbox which could not be sold at face value as MTX item. They are trying to turn their customers into spending addicts. Just one more box, another $10 and maybe get this or that skin. It is bullshit, nobody ever asked for this or wanted it but they would rather abandon ethics or integrity for a few bucks. When you go into a casino you know what you’re getting into, there is not really any surprise and you do so at your own risk. Game companies doing this is the near equivalent of pushing drugs onto uneducated children in their own homes. Despicable.

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SmugglerSteel

I don’t think it’s quite as bad as the final scenario you laid out. Most adults know what a rip the lockboxes are, and just a gimmick to separate them from their money. Sadly it’s become so pervasive in so many games you basically have to hold your nose and accept it (perhaps not take part in the lockbox feature) to enjoy a setting of game you’d really like to play. I do think you are right about certain people who lean toward addictive personalities, these sort mechanics are financially dangerous for them. (Which can lead to bigger problems in their personal lives.)

I am also right there with you that if lockboxes and that sort mechanic disappeared over night, I’d be insanely happy. I’d hope that it would make developers worry more about making a awesome game, because they will have to make money on the merits of the game rather then fall back on milking money out people in these more underhanded ways.

plasmajohn
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plasmajohn

Not as bad? There was at least a monthly rant in SW:TOR’s forums by a whale that didn’t get that month’s rip-off uber-rare sabre. People were spending thousands of USD just to hit the payoff and then getting all cranky when they didn’t get it.

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SmugglerSteel

I did say most adults, and no I don’t think an adult choosing to spend their money poorly is the same as pushing drugs on an uneducated child. An adult should know better, and a child doesn’t. I certainly don’t like the practice of gambling boxes, and yes I’d like to see them gone. However I don’t see whales as hapless victims either. As they say play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

wandris
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wandris

It is no different than a slot machine.. TBH adults are more at risk, since they actually have the means to ruin themselves. Anyone who has spent years playing these games may actually put more value on digital goods than if it was a monetary payout. There are endless examples of how much people are willing to pay to get an item or upgrade. These games are already borderline addictive with endless skinner box mechanics, the only thing in my mind that kept them from being a destructive thing was there were clear limits, a one time box fee, a monthly charge, an MTX. Now though we are in the realm of limitless spending attached to RNG gatcha mechanics. This may very well just be the beginning. Another 10 years there is no telling how far they will be able to push this.

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SmugglerSteel

Trust me I am right there with you, I hate the path games have taken. I also think though at some point personal responsibility has to come into play. Perhaps I am to much of optimist. I like to think this hostile environment leaves a opening for company to slip in, offer a solid game, with business model that is fair to it’s players and to themselves. Much like Witcher 3 and Project CD Red which offered a strong game with very fair generous to the customer even pricing. (I think it contributed a great deal to it’s success.)

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SmugglerSteel

Just speaking for myself, though I suspect I am not alone, this sort mentality is what has turned me off of many a game. I pass it over or it spends very short time in my game library. I don’t mind paying a fair price for a game. I want to support development of the games I like with the hopes it will bring more games. I however I am tired of being milked. If I start feeling like one the Harkonnen cats in Dune I am done.

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kgptzac

the GI.biz article is bizarre. It talks about gacha as if it’s some kind of exotic oriental kind of thing, but in effect, it is not. The mobile gaming market is very diffusive and as number of japanese games make it to the west with English versions, their underlying gacha mechanics were already here–ahead of time.

Also, let’s not forget the original sin of gacha: Magic: the Gathering, is from America.

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Sray

Recently the CEO of Take Two Interactive said in an investor’s conference that they could actually be making a lot more money on GTA V, but they choose not to monetize further because there’s a point at which players will become resentful; which in turn means they’re likely to become less loyal, which leads to diminishing returns. While we could debate how tasteless the statement may or may not be, I do hope that Western companies take note of that, and don’t go overboard on these short term gain/long term harm tactics.

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Sally Bowls

I always come back to the horizon. TTI would clearly make more money in the short term to do all sort of short-term things: exploitive pricing, minimize support, stop development. They make more money over the life of the product to invest in long term behaviors.

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mistressbrazen

“I do hope that Western companies take note of that, and don’t go overboard on these short term gain/long term harm tactics.”

Not very likely though is it?

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Sray

Actually, it only takes one guy to be successful in order to create a trend in the games industry. TTI is posting amazing numbers on GTA while pointing out that they’re not screwing every last cent out of their customers; so if we’re lucky, others might take note, and follow suit.

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