Explaining Genshin Impact’s impact: The reinvention of gachapon

    
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Explaining Genshin Impact’s impact: The reinvention of gachapon

Yes, I know Genshin Impact isn’t an MMORPG. It’s not even an MMO; it’s just regular old multiplayer. But when its first four days sees 17 million players and $50M in revenue, either something went really right or well-trodden MMO business models are beginning to show distinct flaws. Both MMO players and developers should be examining this to figure out what just happened because you’d better believe online gaming heads are all looking at this game right now to learn how to capture the same magic (and money) in their own titles.

Much like MOP’s Eliot, who already gave his first impression of the game, I kept an eye on Genshin Impact through its development. I didn’t really pay close attention to it, though – not because I wasn’t excited but because I knew that it was going to be great, and I wanted to gush over the game after it came out rather than longingly wait for my next hit of anime waifus. But holy cannoli. I knew this game was going to be a hit, but I did not expect this to be a critical hit. And I’m ecstatic.

Picture from Honkai Impact 3rd. I had to spend about $200 worth of gems to get this character. I didn’t spend any money though!

I’m no stranger to miHoYo or its games; I’m actually a huge fan. While I didn’t play all of its earlier titles, I’ve spent well over 500 hours and three years on Honkai Impact 3rd, Bayonetta-inspired action game with gacha mechanics. This game, and the company, convinced me that gacha games are more than the easy cash grabs Square-Enix and other major studios made them out to be. This game ruined mobile gacha games for me. No other mobile game has even gotten close to the level of quality Honkai Impact achieved — that is, until miHoYo went out and outdid itself.

So coming into Genshin, I had a lot of faith in the company and the product. I’m glad that people are giving both the game and the company the recognition it deserves. But what exactly went so right with this game that even mainstream western gamers lost their minds over it? Let’s explore.

A gacha primer

I’m pretty sure that for many gamers, this will be their first gacha game. For others, this might be the first time they’ve even heard the term, though we’ve been talking about it here on Massively OP and Old Massively for a long time. Either way, let’s do a quick introduction.

The term originates from gachapon machines found throughout Japan (and in California’s case, local Hot Topic stores). It’s basically a capsule machine similar to the those found in many American grocery stores that contain a variety of candy, sticky hands, and those little things that get bigger when left in a bowl of water. The gachapon takes it to a whole other level, though, containing prizes that certain fandoms will give their eye teeth for. Of course, the fun in it comes from getting a random item every time and that sweet feeling of completing a set… an otaku’s dream.

This was a pretty lucky 10 pull! If I had paid for this, it would’ve been $20.

The gacha game is basically that, just in video game form. Players purchase the game’s currency and “pull” with the hopes they receive the items or characters they need. Sound familiar? Of course it does! It’s an entire genre where lootboxes/lockboxes/gamebleboxes are central to progression (though it’s technically more like a slot machine than a lootbox). Yes, I said progression. Who needs a new skin when that next pull could be a 5-star jpeg that also has a 95% crit chance!? It’s a whole genre based on pay-to-win, RNG, and grinding. And you know something went wrong (or very right, depending on whom you talk to) when people are playing this game rather than some battle royale with cosmetics and a battlepass.

These games aren’t safe from regulation. In 2012, the Japanese government banned the use of “completion gacha” mechanics in such games. This form of gacha requires players to complete a certain item set in order to create an even rarer and more powerful item. But despite government intervention, the genre thrives. Make no mistake: It’s highly addictive, a form of gambling, and can create massive financial strains on some players. But it’s still a popular genre, and Genshin Impact just showed how it can be done well.

New players get the opportunity pull for Noelle, an armor-clad battle maid with the geo element. Serves tea and can of kickass!

Creating a new normal

As soon as I started the game for the first time, I immediately noticed what the devs have removed from the classic formula: the menu. This is huge. Gacha games are infamous for having these cluttered menus full of notifications, instructions, news, updates, a button to get into the housing system, a button to go to the gacha, a button to start the missions, and whatever else the game needs. It’s headspinning. miHoYo took that out completely.

Now it’s more like a game. There are two main towns right now, each having an NPC doing the same thing those menus would’ve done. Dungeons and stages that had to be started from the menu in other games require players to actually visit that location. It just makes the entire experience all the more immersive. Imagine that, the developers throwing out the menus and replacing it with a game. Who would’ve ever thought that would work?

miHoYo also modified the typical gacha energy system. Traditionally, players have a daily allotment of energy. When that runs out, they can either wait or pay. (Don’t pay. It’s always a bad idea.) This time around, energy (or resin as this game calls it) is used upon completion of special overworld events called “leyline outcrops” that award valuable loot. Players could spend their entire day playing this game, and the game’s not going to tell you to stop.

Considering how more and more MMOs are entering the mobile space, I’d say they better take notes. This game was clearly designed with cross platform from the start. Mobile MMOs today suffer from too many menus. The mobile version has a clean and simple UI, and if people are confusing the game for an MMO just from looking at it, maybe MMO companies need to start thinking about how they can do that too.

Don’t let the simple UI fool you, everything players need to play the game is right there.

A gacha game for the global market

I put in about 60 hours of gameplay before starting this write-up. My objective was simple: play until I had to pull the gacha with my own money. That hasn’t happened yet. Playing casually, I ground out enough of the currency to make 60 pulls; that’s about $110. I use the term “grind” loosely here, as most of that currency was earned through normal gameplay, achievements, and daily rewards.

This game, much like its predecessor, rewards regular play. Given Honkai Impact’s track record, I know that free-to-play folks will receive a steady stream of the currency to make the big pulls when a character they want joins the gacha. It’s completely possible to succeed in these games without spending a cent.

The battlepass. It’s a good way to help players plan out what to do for their gaming session.

Something few take note of are the gacha’s mechanics itself. It’s actually pretty forgiving by gacha standards. Usually, players get a choice between doing a single pull or a 10-pull. Historically, the 10-pull is usually the practical choice because it offers an extra incentive of a guaranteed good drop. Genshin did away with that. Every 90 pulls guarantees a 5 star while every 10 pulls guarantees a 4 star. (It resets if a 5-star procs prior to the 90th pull.) Every pull, be it a single pull or a 10 pull, contributes to that, so in theory, players with two bucks to spare can play the slots with hopes of getting that character they want. It’s a simple change, but it’s ingenious.

In sum, Genshin offers a forgiving gacha, beautiful visuals, and adjustment to the very mechanics that ensure every dollar put in will (eventually) guarantee something decent. I’m convinced that even those on the fence with these kind of games would be willing to give it a good ol’ college try.

But innovations in gettin’ ya at the gacha aren’t the only thing that’s making this game something special. There’s the gameplay and how its keep free-to-play players engaged. Join me for part two of this piece later this week, when I’ll discuss the gameplay and what to expect in the long run!

Massively Overpowered skips scored reviews; they’re outdated in a genre whose games evolve daily. Instead, our veteran reporters immerse themselves in MMOs to present their experiences as hands-on articles, impressions pieces, and previews of games yet to come. First impressions matter, but MMOs change, so why shouldn’t our opinions?

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Sim

Behold… will Riot Games jump on the gacha bandwagon with its almost 150 champions? Finally a reason to make a multipleyer-able world of Runeterra?. 😅 I called it first!

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feleran

The game is popular just because it is nice and plays well. It would be popular with any kind of monetization. Too bad they chose gacha.

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kgptzac

I’m no stranger to gacha/mobile games from The East, and my primary drive to play Genshin Impact is to experience Zelta BotW on PC since I don’t have a Switch. Now content start to getting dry at Adventure Rank 30 even before I get to finish all the story in the game. Resin (energy) seem to be a much bigger chokehold to the more core players of this game, as it’s the single biggest limiter not only to progressing your party but also to most reasons to actually co-op with strangers.

This game may not have the annoying weapon breakage system BotW has and has a more traditional high fantasy world with vibrant cities, villages, and NPC, but it’s nowhere near the completion level of its spiritual progenitor. My advice is to wait until the first content update hits the shelf, with possible eased resin acquirement/consumption cycle and improved multiplayer co-op before dipping your toe into this in hope to get your BotW fix.

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Malcolm Swoboda

I’m easy enough about it that I’m happy to play daily (I even like the story threads they put into daily quests, which also open up story quests), but my general recommendation to casual players is to just stick around and complete Mondstadt as much as they feel comfortable because the second region is NOT truly ‘finished’ in any sense besides landscape, and non-casual but otherwise busy players to focus on main story up til whatever is released of Liyue and take a break whenever they feel like it, instead of hitting their heads against the resin-wall.

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kgptzac

I disagree with the assessment that the gameplay is not hindered for not pulling gacha, ie in a rate that is faster than f2p accumulation of gems.

First let’s examine the case of the current star of the meta: Venti. Not only he’s a 5-star and has a powerful aoe cc ultimate, he’s regular skill is even a bigger utility in exploration, a core feature of the game, where you can generate an updraft current to reach otherwise hard-to-reach locations that require much more running and climbing.

Having Venti saves you tons of time and effort in completing the world map.

Another issue, to a lesser extend, is lack of certain weapon class and elemental characters as in many cases it’s important to use the right weapon and the right element. Amber, the free pyro archer, is essential in exploration due to many map objectives require fire arrows, but very lackluster in dealing pyro dps. Claymore class breaks ore nodes twice as fast as the next fastest class, but I’m not seeing a free character for this class.

In conclusion I don’t think it makes much sense to claim that how the result of your gacha pulling, or wether you do it or not, has little to no impact to the gameplay. Players called this game “Gacha Impact” (before turning into “Resin Impact” or something along that line) is not without reason, and anyone looking to get into this game should hope they are lucky, or willing to reroll, or willing to pay to pull gacha.

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agemyth 😩

Venti’s updraft skill has an equivalent in BotW (the one you get from the desert Divine Beast). I did the desert last in BotW and realized I really hindered my mobility for most of my play time doing so. That and the fact that Venti passively reduces stamina consumption while gliding for your whole party makes them a pretty crucial party member if the game is taking traversal as seriously as BotW did.

For better and worse, in my experience traversal is not as well designed into the world as it was in BotW. Gliding is so slow that I never really want to it unless I have to. Climbing has not yet been crucial and they are so stingy with stamina upgrades so far that I can’t really find fun things I can scale. Early BotW got around its stamina limitations by being generous with food and potions that restored and gave extra stamina mid-climb. I haven’t found ways to restore stamina like that yet.

Venti is the only five star character I have so far and is always going to be in my party unless a dungeon or story quest forces me to get rid of them. That, imo, is one pretty clear example of tying power to gambling. Some of the most frequently talked about subjects within the game are how much people want specific rare characters and how excited people are when they get them from a pull. This is basically like seeing people win jackpots in casinos and having that inner conflict of “That person won the prize and is happy and their life is better now that they have money. Maybe I can also win happiness and live a little more convenient a life.”

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Malcolm Swoboda

Mondstadt doesn’t have climbing improvements (stamina) as crucial, but Liyue has it as at least important, and I’m going to predict the upcoming Dragonspine location, intentionally mountainous, is going to be the first test of how much stamina cap and regen items you’ve acquired, and potentially adding more to that.

True about Venti, and its also the FOTM going on too, since I read a supposed announcement (China-side) that soon collecting wind-spirits in bottles will let you do an at least similar effect as Venti’s ability. That plus upcoming supposed nerfs will ‘bring him back down to earth’ – of course, after the game owners profited so much.

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Malcolm Swoboda

There’s word going around that something similar to Venti’s ability is coming as a wind-spirit-trapping bottle item. No spamming it because it consumes the spirit (or whatever), and Venti’s still helpful, but it isn’t as exclusive. I assume over time other handy things will come, like items or boons to boost to mining hardiness so you don’t need a claymore or Geo user in your active team (and conversely gacha units that are mega miners).

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Sorenthaz

Maybe it’ll get worse over time, who knows. For now though, the game feels like an actual game and at least at the start they were pretty generous with handouts to where I have at least one character per element (that I’m aware of at least, lol) and the storyline gives you any essentials. On PC it looks great and feels just as good, and you can’t even tell it’s a gacha game until a while into it.

Overall I’m glad that at least right now there’s not any sort of daily pressure to hop in and play. Game’s fun enough to where just wandering around feels good – for all intents and purposes it’s basically Breath of the Wild without stress factors (blood moons, weapon durability, etc.).

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Malcolm Swoboda

A catch is that nothing is really complete aside from the main story of the Prologue in Mondstadt. Literally everything else aside from I guess the simple content layer of both regional maps feels complete. I’ve accepted that I’m playing an early access of a ‘2022 game’, collecting character advancement, premium currency, collectables, achievements just ahead of time.

And oh I feel the daily pressure. I’m getting my monthly sub logins and daily quests dammit. And testing my capacity to battle pass (Lv 10 atm, trying for 30, will be happy with 40). I am probably over 90% explored Mondstadt but the second region is a much more random and desperate exploration for me, especially since I’m not prepped for some of the fights it beings (especially with Fatui).

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Richard de Leon III

No thanks, I’d rather pay a full game price and then never have to worry about MTX for the lifetime of the game. Everything has to be earnable and playable within game currencies or playtime.

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latorn

I agree, there is literally no game that is better off for having gacha in it. In fact every gacha game would be better off without gacha.

The problem is gacha makes a ton of money. I really hope Genshin doesn’t normalize the concept for both Western gamers and developers…

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Schmidt.Capela

I sincerely don’t care how generous the Gacha mechanic is, how much of the game you can access without spending money, or even how good the game otherwise is; if even a single character or item that I would want is only available through lootboxes/gacha then I will never, ever, play that game.

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agemyth 😩

Play this game, but don’t give any gacha game a damn penny. It is a shameful and immoral business model that also happens to make games less fun.

The player hostile and exploitative designs in gacha monetization is worse than the typical blindbox/lootbox implementations we get usually from western developers. If we allow developers to normalize this in our games we will soon be begging for the generosity of Overwatch style cosmetic only blindboxes.

I’m going to keep playing Genshin Impact a bit to see if the combat gets more interesting, but the adventure level gating up to level 15 has been a letdown so far and my new ability to level characters up above 20 is pointless so far other than I need my numbers to be big so that I can defeat the enemy numbers that get bigger.

MOP’s Carlo has an amazing tolerance level for games with convoluted monetization it seems :P That’s not meant to be a dig against you though. I envy that you can play around the monetization and not get distracted by the currencies and grinds like I do.

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Syran

While I mostly agree with you, I don’t think the gacha system in place here is that much different from purely cosmetic loot boxes. Some characters are stronger than others, sure, but all of them are perfectly viable to play the game. They are no more important for the overall experience than a skin would be.

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agemyth 😩

Yeah, everyone has different tolerance levels for this stuff I guess. I’m in the camp that is bothered when the only things locked behind gambling/RMT is strictly cosmetic (at least for online games and especially in roleplaying games where appearances/fashion is part of character identity).

There are a lot of F2P games that many people don’t mind having bad monetization if they can get by or grind their way through if they don’t want to pay. For me, people who pay and people who don’t often get very different experiences even if it is just in the for of quality of life features or lack thereof. Quality of life features in a game I am spending dozens or potentially hundreds of hours in is a huge deal to me.

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traja

I guess I dodged a bullet having uninstalled this because of issues with the PC port. This monetization model sounds absolutely awful but the worst thing by far is what it means that it is so successful even in the west. We will be seeing loads of these gacha games in the near future.

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mysecretid

Thanks for the overview, Carlo! It’s definitely appreciated!