Whether you’re a lifelong gamer or you aren’t too familiar with video games, you’ve probably heard of games like Genshin Impact. You’ve probably heard of gacha games before, but you may not know exactly what a gacha game is, outside of hearing about how they might just be scams. Well, the reality is more complicated, and there’s a lot of variety in the gacha space. So, in this article, we’ll explain exactly what a gacha game is.
Gacha Games Historically
Gacha games have only relatively recently turned into games like Genshin Impact. For most of the early history of gacha games, beginning in the 2000s through the early 2010s, these were, essentially, mobile games or games you’d find in a Japanese arcade. The idea behind a gacha game comes down to spending currency, usually virtual currency, to get a random item.
The word gacha, surprisingly, has nothing to do with the English word ‘gotcha’ like many believe; instead, gacha refers to toy vending machines found most often in Japanese arcades. This is where gacha games came from: from silly physical games that would spit out little toys. Of course, the concept has left the physical world behind and come to video games.
There is a distinction between gacha games and lootboxes, too. Yes, gacha games almost always rely on lootboxes or lootbox mechanics, but especially in the West, lootboxes can appear in a wide variety of different games. Overwatch, for example, had lootboxes, but it wasn’t a gacha game. A gacha game is much more like its own genre of video game, today.
Today, gacha games often rely a suite of familiar mechanics across games, like rolling and pulling, pity, many different virtual currencies, daily tasks and rewards, and lots of limited-time offers. What’s more is that, early on, gacha games were almost exclusively mobile games. Now, there are tons of gacha games across platforms, and it’s very much so not an exclusively mobile style of game, but that’s not all.
Gacha games, even now, are the most popular in Asia, but over the years, these kinds of games have been getting increasingly popular in the rest of the world. Genshin Impact, for example, is one of the biggest games in the world, and no doubt, the popularity of Genshin has helped to make the entire genre mainstream and accessible across the world.
Gacha Games Today
Genshin Impact is the perfect example of a gacha game in 2022. It’s a multiplatform game you can play on your phone, sure, but it’s out on consoles and PC, too. It’s extremely popular in Japan, sure, which makes sense considering its anime aesthetic, but it’s also a huge game in the West, too.
Naturally, it’s a game built around spending virtual currency (that you can, in a roundabout way, spend real money on) to roll for characters, weapons, gear, items, and more that are all decided by random chance. Essentially, gambling. There’s no way to directly pay for the characters or items you want, not like the familiar in-game shops you see in other games.
But Genshin Impact plays and looks and feels like an open-world action-RPG. In fact, there’s little outside of the game’s monetization, and progression in turn, that makes the game feel like a ‘gacha’ game or anything particularly different from any other free-to-play you might download and try out for a few hours.
On further examination, though, you’ll slowly begin to see how different of a game Genshin is from a more traditional RPG. Every way to improve your character, every piece of gear, every weapon, every character: the way you unlock stuff and progress through the game comes down to virtual currencies, random chance, and grinding.
If that sounds familiar, that’s because it is. If you play lots of games out of Asia or mobile games, outside of the monetization itself, you’ll feel a similar sense of progression. These games are explicitly designed to maximize playtime through things like random chance, grinding, and daily tasks and rewards, but these kinds of mechanics are seen less often in AAA games.
Are Gacha Games Gambling? Are They Bad Games?
Of course, this will (to some extent, at least) depend on your personal taste, but in general, gacha games are no longer simple, low-budget phone games. They can be huge experiences with tons of content and lots of polish. They can often play really well, too. Like MMOs, oftentimes gacha players ‘main’ their gacha game of choice, playing consistently as the game is updated and new things are added to unlock.
Gacha games, regardless of if you’re using virtual currency or real money, are indeed gambling. But whether or not they’re gambling like Pokemon card packs are gambling or if they’re gambling like slots depends on how you engage with them. Gacha games, while they do often obfuscate how much you’re spending with layers of virtual currencies, are generally pretty upfront about being gambling, and there are usually no other ways to get stuff outside of relying on random chance.
You won’t have to deal with being constantly advertised new skins in the shop, and you won’t be able to pick out real-money spenders just by looking at them having a ‘premium’ item from the shop, usually. Of course, these kinds of games are almost always pay-to-win, in a sense, but few of these games rely on any kind of PvP, so you aren’t really paying to ‘win’ exactly.