Exploitation of gaming

With their colorful casts of characters, immersive lore and satisfyingly repetitive gameplay, gacha games have picked up a lot of steam over the last few years. However, a major issue within this genre that has yet to be regulated is its emphasis and promotion of gambling.

Gacha games vary in terms of gameplay—from open world RPGs to puzzle games, the diversity ensures that many can find one that appeals to their taste. However, the defining feature of the game—and main source of income—is the gacha system, akin to a digital prize wheel that the player can spin to receive a random set of rewards, with rewards having varying rarity.

While this system seems fine on the surface, the problems become more apparent when considering the sheer amount of emphasis that goes into trying their luck with the gacha system, with new events and banners containing new and returning characters releasing every few weeks. Through daily activity, players are usually provided with in-game currency by natural game completion, the fastest way to get large amounts are with in-app purchases, or real money, encouraging people to spend money in order to essentially gamble. This is all alongside a free-to-play model, establishing a mental predisposition that spending money on the game isn’t as costly.

In recent years, 2020 saw the release of open-world RPG Genshin Impact, the most successful gacha game to date, netting one billion dollars in six months and breaking records within the gaming industry. The success of the game also brought more attention to other existing gacha games such as Arknights, Granblue Fantasy, Fate Grand Order and Cookie Run: Kingdom, with all having their own varying success. However, their success also brought the many morally questionable systems in them to the forefront.

Video games that feature a variant of gambling, most notably with loot boxes, have become a source of controversy both on a small and large scale. With loot boxes in Overwatch leading to a full lawsuit against its game developer, Blizzard and many other games with similar mechanics widely criticized, the clear distaste with them is obvious due to their roots in gambling. 

The gacha game genre as a whole functions similarly, but has yet to receive similar backlash to those of loot boxes. The core difference is that the large majority of loot boxes provide exclusively cosmetic items, while gachas provide rewards that speed up gameplay, making them arguably worse. Additionally, considering many gacha games’ features of player-versus-player modes, those with the strongest and most rare characters have an edge, creating a “pay to win” environment.

The prime targets of these systems range from children to those with self-control issues. Many younger audiences don’t understand the concept of money, leaving them much more willing to spend large amounts of money on an unregulated gambling system. The other target demographic, those who can’t control themselves, are victims of a manipulative system. Some defend gacha games by saying that people should be able to control themselves, but that self-control should not be a prerequisite to play a free, unregulated mobile game.

While it is not wrong to enjoy gacha games, there should be a precedent and a standard held for them. Many turn a blind eye to the tactics in getting people to spend money—such as manipulation and FOMO—which would be morally questionable in any other industry. Even if the game is playable without spending money, it does not deny or eliminate the fact that many have spent anywhere from small amounts to money or large portions of their life savings simply because the tactics employed by the game strongly encourage it.