Category Archives: Bishoujo Gaming

Loot Box Situation, Whale Perspective

The Star Wars Battlefront II Loot Box Whine situation is one thing, but I have thought about this a lot over the years, as a transition from someone who only knows about gacha games into someone who whales in gacha games. I have my own take on this, which is microtransactions will invariably be a part of life for a lot of gamers, because that’s where the business is going no matter if you are AAA or the most indie of indie game makers. As business models revolving around various styles of microtransaction matures, we should see more significant and mature design philosophies and best practices emerge.

That is if people who make games get a clue. I think for the most part, the people who cut their teeth on the various app stores with F2P models do today, at least as a business. They wouldn’t be in the business otherwise, since that field is quite competitive. It’s a different ball game with AAA for sure, as the constraints are different.

I guess I can start with some disclosures. One of my dayjob’s department (which I’m not related to or work with) actually publishes F2P games and deals with some microtransaction. They are big on narrative driven games powered by subscriptions, where a customer on the plan can get new content on a regular basis. Subscriptions are really the way to go for certain markets where the mentality is a lot more entrenched against gacha, or due to government regulation on gacha, things are more limited.

The fundamental psychology behind player emotion, satisfaction, and gacha is interesting, but the game design side is also very interesting. Most of the interplay between psychology and design in gacha-style games are no different than any other game. You want mechanics that evoke positive emotions and behavior that drives player interests forward, and you build a content delivery system along that to create positive feedback and further emotional and behavioral reinforcement. On the flip side, you want players to have agency yet gate content reasonably with some metric to reward user attention, play time, skill and spend.

There is actually space for negative reinforcement too, I think, but in very limited cases–I see this the most in Korean and Chinese online games now where player simply just grind for the most part, in a sad way that mimics an outlook of reality that is unpopular in the west. In short, simple and repetitive completion rewards those who can put in the most time playing, and reinforces a sense of fairness and achievement through predictable, simple labor as a form of escapism. The model is attractive because the development is simple and the content is piled on linearly. In a way I feel this is the approach Battlegrounds II is taking.

On the flip side you have a game like Deresute, where gacha is the beginning and the end and it’s really like gambling, in that the stuff you want is gated inside the UFO Catcher machine of bling and glam. It’s great fun to hit a jackpot and this is part of the game’s draw. On the far side of the digital idol-casino-resort is all the rhythm game machine you can play rhythm games, or a game of house, or watch idols dance. Each section of the game is its own draw that are tied together thematically by a cohesive franchise.

Basically, try this thread.

I think a basic understanding in terms of free play versus paid play tend to come down to being able to get what you want easier. In these idol gacha games for example, the goals tend to be the collection of some or all idols, and/or creating strong teams or specific teams or outfits for the rhythm game part. Free players just gain idols at a slower rate than paid players, and strongest cards are gated more so for free players (needing to roll). The strategy is either you spend your currency in ranking to get fairly strong but effort-based characters or you save more of it to roll. The efficacy comes down to pricing and availability of the ingame currency, as well as how competitive the game is for events (which is tied to how strong or desirable the reward is). This is where you balance player perception of “P2W” by making a big enough of a separation between winning competitively in rhythm games and winning in the casino in your idol-casino-resort. (It isn’t in Battlefront II but western gamers don’t know the difference, partly because the play paths are unusual for a AAA game and it’s obfuscated (intentionally even) by the game design choices.)

This really leads to one thing: explaining the loot in the box. In Japan rates and results of gacha is available by law. There are some loopholes to this (see: building ships in Cancolle or Azur Lane). There are some downsides to publishing your rates, too. But there are upsides, which is people can figure out how to play your game right in terms of how the gacha mechanics play in player progression. This isn’t clear in Battlefront II by design. Furthermore, having the probability and rewards available is just less sketchy and people can take you to your word in terms of rolling the die, and gives developers and publishers more credibility. You want this to not be like actual gambling in reality, in that people are doing it because they don’t know what they’re doing, that it’s done sometimes coercively, that people don’t trust the system (especially when it’s unregulated). You kind of actually want it to be like actual gambling, in that it’s fun for some, and the odds are well known. In other words, microtransaction games can be the best of both worlds–or at least a bit better than each of them separately. Developers can get paid no matter of their games’ scale, and game designers and players can embrace the RNG for mutual benefit.

I think this has to happen first by devs knowing how to extract pleasure for microtransactions in a non-zero-sum kind of way. Which is to say, you have to treat all your customers like customers, because paying customers are only going to have a good time only if nonpaying customers are also having a good time. It’s not like video games have real marginal costs, so this is entirely possible, and is actually what happens in many of the best F2P games. It’s a real pity that this hasn’t been the case in the earlier days of microtransaction, firmly planting the concept in the negatives in public.


Some Thoughts on the “FairyTale Ja Irarenai” Event

I went on Reddit looking for a fight and caught a fish who didn’t know any better. So let me summarize the finding in more precise terms. And also some thoughts.

  1. The new ranking event forces everyone to play the same way, with some options:
    1. You can pick your Stamina use, 2M, 4M, 6M, MM. (15/20/25/30)
    2. On the next page you can pick from two songs (one is “recommended” and gives slightly more points, see below), or a job;
      • And also, alternatively, the event song. Which uses no Stamina but song tokens and doesn’t count as one of the 5-things.
  2. You do 5 non-event-song things with Stamina and you get 1 event song token (max 99 stored)
    • Each of those things also give some amount of event points.
    • The amount of event score those 5 things give you correlates to Stamina used. More Stamina you use, more points you get per type of thing.
      • Job gets you about half the points as the recommended song for the same Stamina tier.
  3. The lower Stamina you spend to get finish those 5 things, the less Stamina per token you can get.
  4. Since event songs give the most score for the event, it is most efficient to do the lowest Stamina things over doing higher Stamina things, because you end up with more event song tokens with the same Stamina spend.
    • But of course, it also means playing for longer to get the same amount of points as someone spending more Stamina.
  5. People who don’t spend money on stamina or has a cap and need to maximize mileage, should play with minimal Stamina per 5 things.
    • Because you get more points overall since playing the event song gives you a lot of points
  6. People who have unlimited spend or limited time to play that they can’t use up their budget/Stamina store and need to maximize score at all cost, should play with max Stamina per 5-things.
    • The event song also rewards players who do the higher stamina 5-things, but not enough to cancel out just grinding with the lowest stamina and then play the event song.

I basically spelled out point #6 on Reddit and one person refuses to get it, because the realization that you get more points with the lowest setting stops them from realizing that this event is about max event score, not max efficiency. In other words, time is a limited resource for everyone, Stamina is not limited in the same way for rankers and whales.

Ultimately a hybrid strategy is ideal for people who want to achieve a high rank in this event; the score scale has changed from a standard “play songs normally, or crunch gems to P2W, whoever does the one or the other thing the most time wins” to “play songs normally…and optionally spend gems to get more points per period of time, and somehow someone wins?” The scaling swings towards people who can play the event song the most number of times, rather than the limits of the event token that you can get. It opens two doors for whales; you can grind 75 stamina or 150 stamina, the latter gives a modest advantage only (maybe 50% more points for 100% stamina), but it closes the door on them in that the overall time it takes is not drastically reduced unlike the jewel crunch method for the other type of ranking event.

There’s a calculus problem hiding in here.

My gut feeling is that much like the pay-to-lose style of grind that characterizes Greemas Million Live battle ranking events, pay-to-win jewel crunch for the typical PST event is too easy. You can grind in a couple hours enough points for the 5000th place tier, and that’s probably impossible for this event given how things are working out 2 days in.

The meta models is pretty easy to understand. Instead of calculating the best efficiency, it’s about predicting player behavior and figuring out how to one-up other players, in a competitive ranking event. So you do still need to understand efficiency, but the psychological barrier preventing people from spending or taking a less efficient route necessary means the group of players who do not have that Greemas 1200th place ranking mentality will have narrow score groupings, because you would do the max efficiency model. People who want to tier 2 will figure things out early and abandon that to go full throttle, or try to see if they can extend that efficiency to higher scoring tiers.

I sort of like this particular change they’ve done to the meta, but at the same time, it’s an outright nerf to P2W so it’s more P2L–in that the trap is both you could be spending your time grinding 2M and getting fewer points than your ranking competition, or you could be blowing cash and achieving fewer points than someone who has more time and is steadfast. Pegging the amount of play you do with the final score by requiring the # of tokens to be fixed and unattached to the ticket system is both good and painful, I guess.

At least, if anything, there are more options to victory in this event, and equally options to screwing yourself over. That is an overall improvement, I guess.


Theater Dayz

So much to unpack. But let this be the prelude and I’ll just build on it.

The rhythm game IDOLM@STER Million Live: Theater Days, launched the night I was packing for Anime Expo (day -1). I put in a fair amount of hours and money in the game since and we don’t really have a real event yet. The first “event” is actually just a period of time where activities in-game will yield more rewards, and you get a free 30-stam drink every day.

Since I can’t talk about how events affect this game, I can talk about the other stuff–which is rather noteworthy. To put it simply, this is the game we’ve been waiting for since Shiny Festa was first a thing. It takes the next step that Deresute didn’t quite take, which is to build out hakomas-style dance groups (fixed at 5 members), but also with audio mixing. Granted this is only available for one song, Brand New Theater, but we expect Thank You, Welcome, and Dreaming all will have this option available.

Watching and playing Brand New Theater in Theater Days (avoiding the Milishita nickname for now) is a trip. It is enough proximity of an experience to watching S4U modes in PS3. This is something that I can call authentically “IDOLM@STER” which has been now recreated in a new video game. On just this level, Theater Days is a success in my book…at least comparable to Shiny Festa.

The main interface of Theater Days is full 3D with characters moving about the screen like…ships passing in the night? They just glide to and from designated points in each “room” and other than a few pre-scripted things, they are just kind of there. I guess this is the limitation of randomly-generated character events than carefully-scripted ones you find in the in-game menus of Platinum Star or BanG Dream. I’m nonetheless grateful that at least on an individual basis, the idols that appear in the rooms, lobby, hallways, or whatever, do the things we want to see them do.

Unlike Deresute, I’ve been playing Theater Days with 3D as much as possible. The 2D mode is pretty lame, but it does what you need it to do–which is nothing but static background that you can’t even affect (outfits/SSR make no difference). Indeed, this game is meant to put the fact that IDOLM@STER the Video Game Franchise is about 3D-rendered idols dancing and singing while you do things, front and center. The gameplay even forces a gameplay pause during the bridge of each song so you can watch the idols strut their stuff.

I feel this is the main charm of the game. And at the same time it’s something that the market has been kind of weaning off of. Most players these days are groomed to play them without these enhancements, in order to squeeze the battery life a bit longer. The hardware in the wild probably still has a ways to go to make the Theater Day vision 100% true, but we’re pretty close, if you have a modern phone (GS8, iPhone 7).

The rest of the game is very much similar to Deresute. The team composition, leveling, training, awakening, and limit breaking all play more or less like modern rhythm F2P games that now flood the market. I won’t belabor this and rhythm game aspects of Theater Days besides to say that flick notes sure are PITA. And probably the one most notable thing is that Theater Days have many quality-of-life upgrades over Deresute, such as removing inventory management all together, so you never have to deal with duplicate cards or putting cards into dorms or whatever. Not too important of a thing, but I appreciate it.

Of course, Theater Days is still in its early days, and it isn’t as feature rich as Deresute, although you can kind of see they plan to feature-match all the basic stuff down the road. It’s also kind of buggy on the edges, and talks to the server a lot. The core game works pretty well, so it’s not like BanG Dream which can still cold crash on my phone (happened just today in fact…).

And yeah, it’s invariable to compare Theater Days with Deresute, and so far it’s a helpful guide. There isn’t a room of SD stuff you can play with, but I think that’s intended (no such thing in ML card game). The gameplay adds a “shigoto” mode which in effect, lets you progress using stamina to get a random commu, rather than to play a song. Maybe it’s a QoL thing too, but commu with idols is also another hallmark of the franchise. It’s important and heartening to see this feature being put it to in the game explicitly, rather than just story that you unlock.

One last note in regards to the early days of Theater Days: the gacha. Unlike Cinderella Girls, you can reasonably “collect” all the Million Live characters off the bat. In fact, with 765Pro characters in the game and getting new voiced lines and scenarios, I really wanted to at least get those 13 first. It would just be like OFA! LOL. The harsh reality is that the initial gacha layout gives 26 R and 26 SR, splitting the full cast in half. Since there is no “friend point” gacha you cannot roll for Ns, as N cards drop only by completing songs and work, and at a “fairly low” rate (given that this is a compu gacha you’re aiming for). The characters whose only non-N cards are SRs are hard to get. Also since the SSR rate is at a blessedly 3% it meant that you had a higher odds of pulling a SSR than a specific SR. With the first new batch of limited SSR/SR, that ratio has changed a bit so you have 0.388% of pulling a SR (excluding the promoted SR) and 0.338% of pulling a specific SSR–almost the same IMO. But it’s hard to get all the Ns. As of this writing I have 48 Ns, 24 SRs, and 7 SSRs. I only was able to complete all the Rs.

So, let’s talk about the meta stuff.

I’m still struggling to incorporate Kaori and Tsumugi into my brain, on an emotional and intellectual level. I don’t think there’s anything unusual about it; it took me over half a year to get into Million Live properly so I expect to get comfy with the two project 39 members by winter this year at the latest. I certainly don’t dislike them, but it would help to see them live in October, yeah?

There are some fanon forming and reforming around Kaori and Tsumugi, and it’s kind of a fun time seeing it happening as it goes. The game itself brings life to Million Live by introducing the characters to more people and to opportunist artists, so hey, not complaining about that.

One of the more subtle threads about the two new characters is how in effect, at least at this point, the less refined characterization necessarily meant they are caricatured to a degree, replacing existing ships or roles in well-established tropes or jokes. I think Fuuka is really feeling it. Hopefully this is just a temporary thing while Mugi and Kaori spread their wings to come into their own selves.

With SideM game also on display (prereg period ongoing now!) we get a glimpse of the hydra that is IDOLM@STER as a game franchise. LOS is clearly taking a different path than TD and SS. It’s sensible to see that the boy side take a different route than the girl side. And it makes me wonder if we’ll get another boy-idol spinoff…

What’s probably the most noteworthy is Taneda Risa and Tanaka Kotoha. Kotoha is plainly not in Theater Days, and this is a huge move relatively. This speaks to me that IDOLM@STER is done with seiyuu switching if the circumstances can help it, and this is an internal decision. If anything, we should infer all the more that Tanechan is coming back, and it is just a matter of time. Just like how SideM anime announcement confirms that Million Live anime will happen, and it is also just a matter of time…

I guess I can take heart that at least the management is committed to doing the right things, but it’s hard to see what’s good about it. Tanechan is not Kotoha. But if Tanechan is coming back, then we need to keep that seat warm for her… Maybe there is a temporary compromise somewhere that makes up the room for improvement. Namely, just put Kotoha in but keep her voiceless?

Please get well soon & come back Tanechan, we all miss you (and not even just in Million).


In Re: Tsumugi & Saki, New IDOLM@STER Million Live Cast

Basu actually captured my thoughts more or less the same. But I think it helps to take a higher perspective.

The big picture view, well, is idols are Gundam. Bandai Namco is shepherding these larger and larger IPs to create content and make money. The trend for this particular market space (otaku like myself) has long been a change from making money by making media to making money by selling an experience, thus leading to the rise of a live-oriented way to pitch your 2D idols. And idols are a natural and built-in style of content that can be used in this way.

However IDOLM@STER is probably the longest standing and actively produced 2D idol property, at least in a post-00s, 48G style kind of way. The way the series evolved over the past 11 years meant that the producers of the series had to overcome different and various challenges, and take on more that are yet to come. I think the Yukiho swap series of events is the guiding data point on any consternation regarding Taneda Risa, and I think everyone who has been through it know that having the idol take a year or two off is something the IDOLM@STER series, at least since the beginning of the mobamas era, can deal with.

The real challenge, from a personal point of view, is the reconciliation between the two aging card-based mobile games to the new, full-feature rhythm games. On a business level it makes no sense to stop the classic Deremas game. It’s money on the table, and another way to put out content for a series, that I think, is bottled up in terms of its full potential on the content level. They were able to leverage this to throw in 876 Pro stuff and still periodically add interesting content there. But what is its role outside of that? It seems not just quaint, but kind of irrelevant. The current Million Live game, too, will hit that same crossroad.

Since I think it’ll be a business decision, it seems unlikely to see the classic Greemas game go away as to leave money on the table, but with the newly introduced idols, how will Tsumugi and Saki meld into Greemas? It’s an unique situation that oddly only the 765Pro games had to face, which is adding Takane and Hibiki in SP and still not able to produce them in the arcade version. But obviously, Bannam has now the power to retcon the Million Stars, as the cost of doing so is much lower versus doing it back in the arcade days.

Which is just to say, this does feel like when Takane and Hibiki was added to 765Pro. It’s not clear to me why Takane or Hibiki was added, but if today’s trajectory of the 765Pro seiyuu is any indication, our two new Million Stars will be able to shoulder a larger share of work in the future as more and more of this generation of Million Stars move on to having babies or what have you.

Well, at least on paper. There are already 37 Million Stars. It would be weird to not able to call up, I don’t know, 6 of them, at any given time, if Bannam needed to do an event. Maybe a more ideal way to channel cute young voice actresses is to churn them in this mean, sprawling, 2D seiyuu idol machine. I have been thinking about the difference between CG and ML in this way, where our set 37 Million Stars were all auditioned and recruited from the same generation of newbies. CG on the other hand recruited from the full poll of newbies every year, so both it allows CG to get a fresh boost of new blood every so often, and allows the cast to draw from a much bigger pool, and potentially pulling in a wider fanbase (from seiota point of view). Of course the downside is that the Million Stars have a different chemistry, as result of this, than the Cinderellas, but maybe that’s not as important when you’re already at 37 people strong.

The impact on team chemistry will play out in the long term. Nunu, Haramii and Azumin are the faces of 765Pro today, in a way, because they are in a lot of the more recent events versus even Eriko and Mingos. This is possible because even Azumin has been with the franchise for over 6 years now, and as I can testify from 765ML TW, she fits right in there with the other old ladies. Looking back, the seiyuu changes and additions to 765Pro were bumps in the road, not drastic landmarks where the series turned towards a very different direction. I’m somewhat hoping this is the case for Million Live. However I think the concern over seiyuu that I have is dwarfed by my concern over the franchise as a video game IP. Perhaps the arrival of Project Fairy signaled the end of the Arcademas era and the start of the mobile gaming for the franchise, and perhaps the arrival of Saki and Tsumugi signals the end of greemas and the start of “hey we’re just gonna copy Deresute, don’t mind us.” I hope that’s all there is to it.

And to just be super honest here, I don’t want to put my money into two Million Live games. It would be really nice if they can just fold the old game into Militheater, even if that’s probably not going to happen. Realistically speaking I’m just going to spend in both, so I am my own worst poison.


Early Thoughts on the Bang Dream Social Game

Bang Dream is a media mix sort of a thing where characters and performers come together to produce a rock-band-oriented experience. Up to this point, the most unique thing about Bandori (henceforth) is how it employs the voice actresses to play out these fantasy girl band scenarios by actually having them play also the music that accompanies their vocals. In short, the selling point for Bandori is the “cool” thing about youthful girl rock bands but brought closer into real life. (Just to clarify, this is only in the live part; the recording uses professional musician playing.)

Now I say “closer” because ultimately voice actresses are not pro guitarists/DJs/drummers/etc. (handful of exceptions aside), and there is a large chasm between a real girls’ band trying to make it versus actresses playing instruments and acting out their characters who are in girl bands. But at the same time, it’s not a stage show in the traditional sense, when something like Roselia happens, as you can see in this video.

Or rather, it is a form of stage show. There are an assortment of bands in Bandori, with Poppin’ Party taking the lead in both the musical production (they have over a dozen original songs already), and the narrative attention in terms of the ongoing anime and manga. Roselia seems to be second. None of the other Bandori bands have performed live AFAIK. The lives for Bandori so far are the standard seiyuu event kind of thing, with the exception that the girls actually play the music you listen to (for … the most part). Continue reading