The Gacha Connumdrum

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.

2 thoughts on “The Gacha Connumdrum

  1. I think this is missing the point when you look at the F2P model. All of the “traps” only apply to that group which is determined to commit to a single game and “beat” it. For what I’d think of as ordinary, regular players, very few games are ever going to hold the attention long enough for those traps to catch them. Taking Genshen Impact as an example, I’ve played between two and four hours every day for a couple of weeks and I’ve just reached AR20. That’s maybe 35 hours of top quality gameplay (it’s one of the most enjoyable games I’ve played for several years) so far.

    By most accounts I’ve seen it will be at least as long again before I get to the end of the storyline, which is the point after which the kind of issues you’re mentioning start to make themselves known. That’s going to be the full equivalent of a $60 AAA game (it’s absolutely that quality) for nothing, at which point, if it does become a different type of game, I’ll just consider it finished and move on.

    More likely, though, I won’t ever even get to the end of the storyline. Other games will push themselves to the forefront of my attention and I’ll drift away well before I run into any kind of content drought in Genshin Impact. This has been my pattern since the F2P revolution began. My guess is that the huge majority of F2P players are more than satisfied with the portions of the game that are available actually for free and don’t have any interest in paying for anything beyond that.

    There’s a moral question over whether the large number of non-paying players should be comfortable about letting the small number of paying players effectively pay for their entertainment but frankly that’s such a diluted, abstract concept it’s hard to imagine many people feeling an emotional connection. As for the sheep/wolves thing, or the free players as content thing, it doesn’t seem to have any relevance in something like Genshen Impact, which is basically a single-player game. It has co-op if you want it but I’d bet most players don’t even use it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Two points here that are neat, and intertwined.

      One is that the “average user” won’t spend money, which I think it true of every F2P. They generally have low engagement as the game mechanics prevent their engagement.

      The second is the amount of free content in a F2P game. You make a solid point that GI offers more in that regard than pretty much everything before it, and top quality. No disagreement. When this point merges with the former, people perceive “value”. There are plenty of examples where that wall is much closer to the start line, but it always shows up.

      It doesn’t change that this is a gacha game. The fact that people are hunting for Diluc (and strategizing it!) in a single player game, where the value is minuscule, sort of proves that point further. If you look at SuperData for mobile (or even the app stores) you can clearly see most games are PvE, and most of those are single player – Coin Master, Pokémon, Candy Crush, Gardenscapes as examples. Fate/Grand Order is a pretty good analogue to Genshin Impact – 3 years old, made more than 4b worldwide, still a top 10.

      Liked by 1 person

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