Free to Play is a lie. It really means “pay what you want”. It’s a more effective business model because 1 whale can compensate for hundreds of freeloaders, and in 99% of cases, the games are predicated on sheep for the wolves.
As a guy, there’s this interesting thing about being buff or having a suped up car. When you’re younger, you think these things will impress potential mates. As you grow older, you realize that the only other people who care are other males. The intended audience is in fact not the true audience.
F2P games are not made for me, they are made for whales. The largest incentive for whales is showing off how much of a whale they are, yet they need an audience for it. For PvE games, you would think this is cosmetics (it can be sometimes), but it fact it’s ladders. A smart developer will include the ability to view a character from the ladder… then you see cosmetics take a whole other meaning. PvP games are somewhat similar, but now we’re really talking sheep vs. wolves. I am not dismissing the talent that top level players have, but they need targets to practice. And those targets needs targets, and so on.
In both cases, there’s a feedback loop where the bottom of the pole sees the top and has some incentive to say “hey, they did this with X, I should buy X too!”. The monetization model is simple on the surface, but can get extremely complex as more and more systems are developed. The kicker here is that eastern developers have figured this out a while ago, and they have practically perfected it. Puzzles and Dragons is probably one of the most popular ones, and it’s 8 years old.
Which leads me to Genshin Impact. The bait of the game is amazing, I only hear positives. There’s a lot of good content until AR30. The money aspect up until then is mostly around wishes – loot boxes for characters and gear. It appears optional since progress is so quick. The switch that occurs past that point is that the fun things people were doing are now time gated (bypassed by money or waiting a day for resin to recharge). There are hundreds if not thousands of other games that use this exact same business model of energy / loot boxes (who hasn’t seen Raid ads on mobile?). Genshin Impact is different in that it looks amazing, is multi-platform and does an ok job on multiplayer. It’s lipstick on a pig. Nothing wrong if you like pork, but there’s no sane argument that it’s not pork.
All of this and I didn’t even get into the moral aspects of supporting a Chinese company. I’ll leave that to smarter folk.
I will end on saying I’m happy folks are enjoying it for the time being. Dollars to donuts it crashes before end of calendar in the west. As much because it’s a gacha game, compounded by our infinitely small attention spans.