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If you design service-based games, you need to understand gacha

By on July 30, 2019

Gacha is the name for random rewards delivered in games, particularly service games. The word is derived from the Japanese word gachapon, an onomatopoeia of “gacha” for the sound of turning a crank on a toy vending machine and “pon” of the sound of the toy capsule dropping into the receptacle. In the West, these rewards are often known as loot boxes or crates.

Image by Charles Nguyen, Creative Commons (cc-by-sa 4.0)

Gacha is at heart of many successful service games. The premise is that player rewards are randomised, much like the loot drops in Diablo or World of Warcraft but can be bought with real money. In Marvel Contest of Champions, players can purchase a crystal that contains a random character with two, three or four stars. They cannot purchase the character that they want; they must keep purchasing the crystal in the hope that luck will be on their side and they will get a specific character. In Hearthstone, the collectible cards are sold in packs of five, with randomised content. Games that include gacha mechanics include Overwatch, Clash Royale, Fire Emblem Heroes and many more.

Gacha mechanics work for many reasons. They create desires that players did not know they had. Abomination is not well-known character in the Marvel universe, but a 4* Abomination is much more desirable than a 2* Spiderman. They increase monetisation potential because players have a wide range of items to pursue. They are psychologically rewarding. They are ubiquitous.

We are seeing a backlash. Japan forced the industry to drop kompu gacha, a compound form of gacha where players had to be lucky enough to win multiple parts of a token to enable them to participate in a higherlevel gacha system to get the item they actually wanted. China has forced publishers to publish drop rates and to keep records to demonstrate that they adhered to these drop rates. Hawaiian Senator Chris Lee described Star Wars Battlefront II as a “Star Wars-themed online casino, designed to lure kids into spending money.” A petition demanding that the UK government included loot boxes in gambling regulations received more than 10,000 signatures in less than a week. In the months that my new book The Pyramid has been in production, the gambling regulators in Belgium and the Netherlands have both stated that they view certain loot box designs in videogames such as Overwatch, FIFA 18 and Rocket League.

If you design service-based games, you need to understand the principles of gacha. You also need to pay attention to legislation and ethics because the system is (rightly) coming under increased scrutiny.

This is an extract from Nicholas’s new book, The Pyramid of Game Design – get your copy here!

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: