Don’t Be the Past; Join the Future

Gacha is here to stay. It’s not going away.

I think it’s really cool and interesting, given my vantage point as a westerner into Japanese (and in a lesser degree, Korean and Chinese) mobile games, to see the wide span of people who stand on the scale of micro transactional free-to-play business model. In some countries, for example, lootboxes are banned. That’s got nothing on the elaborate gacha schemes Japan’s mainline nerd gaming is running on. It is also pretty clear that resistance to this model is gaining some steam over there, as examples of ruined bank accounts get tens of thousands of retweets in the form of youtubers showing off. But in the macro scale, nothing is slowing the drum beat.

When you give your game creators three times the money for the same amount of work, as Japanese gamers gave up as much in mobile gaming than three times their population in US mobile gamers, you will encourage more people to make video games. This is fundamental and it is the rising tide. Console gaming is still going to stay–everything is going to stay. It’s just that more people will be making games for the market where the money is. It’s just that more PR, more attention, more news, and more glam, will be going towards these new games because that’s where the money is. Maybe the Pacific is still a great barrier in terms of what hits mainstream and what doesn’t, but it’s just a matter of time before gacha continues to invade beyond its early footholds that may be a Final Fantasy or Fire Emblem.

The reaction should not be fear, it should be trying to understand how this mechanism can work in video games, in as much as anything else can work in a video game. We survived 3D graphics, Faye Wong music, Disney, the shovelware era, e-sports, Jack Thompson, Valve, and Shemune 3 is even getting made. I don’t think gacha is a bad thing–it’s more like bluetooth.

I see it this way. When Bluetooth took off as a technology in practice, it was in the 90s and early 00s when people used these obnoxiously cheap headsets from China with their Motorola RAZRs. They were literally that, cheap headsets from China. They were not known for quality until when Apple got the “courage” to ditch wired connector for audio and got in their own BT implementation in recent years. The technology has always been there, it just needed companies to better implement it. Radio waves of digital signals are always just that. If your wireless connection can download hi-res audio flacs, then there’s no reason why it can’t go straight into a DAC in/by your ears. However today people associate BT audio with crap, despite you can get stuff like aptx HD or LDAC over Bluetooth which is capable of lossless audio transmission¬†at CD quality. But in general, the public never associate high fidelity audio with Bluetooth because it is still widely and poorly implemented in tech, at least not enough to change the story on it.

The same applies to microtransaction and F2P games. The art of incorporating these things: horse armor(supply/demand) , pay-to-win versus free-play player trajectories and game balance, the experience of buying stuff in game, and the whole nine yard, is science and art combined. But since the world really opened the door with massive scale F2P games with microtransactions in the late 00s, it was more a story of abuse. The reputation of this business model is ruined by some big players who got big quickly at the expense of sustainability of their business as well as the concept. What’s more are the people who spent $10000s on these games and ruined their lives as they were preyed on by various designs that encouraged people to spend more without showing them what they were getting in exchange, at least not in a clear way. It’s a gambling problem revisited. Those stories were billboards to play on that narrative. It reinforces the negative experiences for some and validated the opinions those who did not have the first hand experience.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Instead of boycotting these mechanics, gamers should learn about them and understand that they are not going away. They should instead encourage developers to take MTX more seriously, build it into their game as much as they build their paychecks into their lives–it needs to be just as important as all other parts of the game. It needs to be responsible (be fair and nice to players), sustainable (respectful of the player and other devs), and educational (to show people how it can be done right).

I mean, the best thing I can say is, as an IM@S P over the years, I have seen what gacha looked like in the OG Deremas game, then in Million, then in the various (failed) Playstation efforts for the main line games, then in Deresute and Theater Days, and now in Shiny Colors. There are things that devs did right (Deresute and TD models) and things devs did wrong (Platinum Stars). It was incremental improvement to see the various switches, levers, and things people liked, wanted, needed, being added or taken away.

And fans need to still let devs know–I think this is happening regardless. As we move towards a more patron-like model (F2P games are basically 10% of the players subsidizing the other 90% of players since they make up 90% of the revenue), indie gaming and other more targeted style of content delivery, it’s utmost important to build that communication channel between developers and players. Short of that, devs need to do better to survey the landscape and look next to them.

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