“Loot Box” is a common term in gaming and everyone knows what they are now. A gambling tool used to entice gamers to spend more money to keep rolling the randomized box so they might get that super special skin. The term “Gacha Game” isn’t quite as common or well-known but are just as bad for gaming. Gambling in video games is becoming a much bigger issue as more developers use these mechanics.
What is a Gacha Game?
This is not a term used often in Western gaming, it’s mostly an Asia game term and feature. The name comes from the “Gacha Mechanics” they use to montize the game which actually comes from the Gashapon Machine. If you’ve ever seen those machines at supermarkets (and other shops) that have toys in little capsules? You put money in them and it gives you a random capsule. That’s a Gashapon Machine and is similar to the Gacha Game mechanics. Put money into it and it gives you a random reward which may or may not be the thing you actually wanted. It adds gambling to video games through another format.
This is also a form of gambling which works similar to casino games such as slot machines. It’s hard to argue that Gacha Game mechanics are not gambling. While mostly popular in Japan, they are slowly gaining some traction in Western games as well.
How do they prey on gamers?
Gacha Games gives players a chance to unlock new characters, items and other in-game goods through some kind of a Gacha or Loot Box system. Typically, you press a button or pull a lever then after an animation it will give you a random thing. Different games work slightly differently but that’s the general idea. You cannot select what you want to unlock yourself, the game does it for you according to a hidden drop rate. Some games will also give you things you’ve already unlocked before.
Often there have two different draw pools for items. The first one is mainly for low tier rewards so it’s cheaper and will have lower rates for valued prizes. The second one is the “premium” draw which has much high drop rates for the valuable stuff.
To unlock things, you need to have a specific currency which allows you to do so. For the lower teir stuff, you can usually just spend your in-game currency to get new things. For the premium drops? You will need to buy the premium currency to spend. Keep in mind that you can’t select what item or character you want to unlock yourself.
They often give you things to enourage you to keep drawing as well such as telling you to roll for a 10+ draw to give you an increased chance of getting what you want. Most will go for the single draw instead and not get what they want. So they just keep spinning to try and get it. (Read more: https://virtualhaven.org/articles/2018/3/23/gacha-games-why-players-are-spending-thousands)
Depending on the game, the special drops can actually be much more powerful than anything else in the game. So free-to-play gamers will be stomped. It encourages them to spend money as well to keep up with the others. Even without the potential of making the dropped characters much stronger, this is still gambling in video games.
Why are they popular?
This is a hard qustion to answer and in reality: we aren’t too sure right now. Gacha Games are addictive as they are designed to be. They are gambling so they’re made to hook players and some people have a harder time stopping than others. So Gacha Games preying on gamers and certain types of people. According to Calles on the Resetera forums (reference: https://www.resetera.com/threads/why-are-gacha-games-so-popular-and-why-do-people-spend-so-much-money-to-access-paywall-content.13076/page-2), “They are the perfect carrot on a stick games” due to them always making you feel like it’s possible to get the item. As a result, “it becomes obsessive because you know you can do” by making just one more spin until you do.
Games are no longer something that you can just play once. Developers want us to keep playing their game daily by adding quest systems or timed events. Gacha Games are no different. They do similar tactics to try and keep players so they keep spending more. Adding this into already addictive gameplay does not help the gambling in video games situation we are seeing.
They give you a kind of instant gratification by rewarding you for constantly spinning the wheel in a Gacha Game or by opening more Loot Boxes. There’s clearly an issues in gaming right now where developers are pushing to keep their players longer which is results in more harmful things. We have to consider if it’s ‘right’ for developers to place such compulsion focused mechanics into their games and what this is doing to gamers across the world. It’s not very advanced yet but it is something that needs to be taken into consideration. (reference: https://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2019-10-18-big-spending-whales-arent-the-problem-with-free-to-play-games-opinion )