The Endless Spiral of Gacha

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You’re pulling on the limited banner for an anime waifu who will never be available after today. You don’t know if you’re guaranteed the character, but you do know that you have three months’ worth of rent due and you haven’t eaten anything but packaged ramen in weeks. The drive of chance both excites and torments you, and the uncertainty compels you to continue. That’s the game of gacha: subtly abusing the system to the extent where you don’t even realize how much you have spent. This mechanism has been effective throughout the years, with gacha remaining a major aspect in some of today’s most popular games.

Gacha is a genre of video game that originated in Japan, encompassing the very idea of chance. Each time you purchase a loot box to try to get a new weapon for your character, you’re not guaranteed to get what you want. All that’s certain is that you have a chance of getting this Confetti Cannon Bazooka you’ve been saving up for for the past few months. This element is where the true danger of the gacha genre comes in; this aspect of chance emulates the concept of gambling. However, in this case, you’re not gaining any money from buying a loot box, but instead virtual items or collectibles that won’t help you pay your rent. Traditional gambling may be inconvenient or inaccessible for some people, which makes this world of readily available gambling material even more dangerous.

The National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan documented a total of 840 complaints toward the problem of gacha games in 2011, with over a third of them involving minors. The problem with extravagant spending in gacha games reached such an extent by 2012 that Japan’s Consumer Affairs Agency declared kompu gacha, a type of gacha that heavily incentivizes people to spend money in the game, to be illegal. Imagine you are playing a game and you want a specific character, but the only way that you can get this character is to get four other characters first through the gacha system. This situation is an example of kompu gacha, which forces people to spend even more money on questionable probabilities just for a chance of the final prize. Further restrictions were put on minors to the extent that well-known gacha-based game companies such as Bandai Namco, KLab, SEGA, and DeNA had to enforce a “spending cap” for children. EC Network Director Yuri Harada stated that with one click, your money is gone in seconds. The simplicity of purchasing more virtual collectibles amplifies the rabbit hole that gacha presents as a video game genre for all ages.

Gacha is more relevant than ever in today’s gaming industry, being the main reason certain games are topping the revenue charts. Genshin Impact, an action role-playing-based game, retains players with its central gacha element. However, the game is primarily advertised as an RPG, so new players do not expect this system. Less than six months after the game’s first release on September 28, 2020, the game had grossed over one billion dollars, with nearly $253 million from the Chinese App Store alone. This massive profit results from the game’s gambling structure. With a 0.6 percent chance of acquiring a five-star character, the desire for someone to continue spending money on the game is well justified. Similarly, the probability rate also increases this specific genre’s popularity and addictive pull. Star Wars Battlefront II is another video game with gacha elements under its gameplay. The 2017 video game includes an incentive to spend, as players need to buy certain loot boxes to progress in the game or make in-general upfront purchases for items. These gacha boxes, which went for as much as $60, included several exclusive characters, further elevating the temptation of continuously buying these probability boxes to gain a virtual item.

It’s not entirely possible to fix this gacha addiction due to its hold on digital gaming. Trying to convince people to give up a game is nearly impossible, especially for people who have already allocated several hours playing it. Instead of trying to erase the existence of gacha, we can try to restrain its damages by creating a spending limit for all ages that is better enforced by the government. Spending caps have been implemented before in Japan, but only with a younger age group. Therefore, imposing a spending limit for all players would restrain the heaviest spenders, along with younger kids who shouldn’t be engaging in gambling at such an age. Having the government, rather than private game companies, enforce these restrictions would ensure that corporations follow this regulation. With this idea, there is hope for gacha to become a fun game for everyone without damaging anyone’s personal financial situations.

Gacha is not perfect, and with its chance-based systems, it will never lose its addictive element. However, if we can lessen the influence of money while keeping the chance, we can look forward to an evolution of gacha.