You know gacha games, right? Those free-to-play anime games with built-in slot machines you can play to collect new characters? They’re everywhere. Smartphone app stores are absolutely lousy with them because you can get them all for free, and people love things that are free, even if they ultimately end up being not free. As someone who is kind of bored with his smartphone these days, I’m constantly looking for new ways to amuse myself with it. I would love for one to be a gacha game, but none of them seem to stick.
On one hand, I should probably consider myself fortunate. Despite their variety—some gacha games are action role-playing games; others are strategy games; others are card battlers—they’re all ultimately designed to get you to pull the gacha crank as much as possible. You pay real-world money for the gacha game’s virtual currency, which you can then spend to pull the gacha crank and get a cool character. Spend more, and you can up your odds of getting cooler, limited-run characters. Put simply, gacha games are about gambling. That’s not my favorite way to game, but in those boring, idle moments with my phone, the appeal is obvious. And I can have fun without making it a real gambling habit, right?
Gacha games, however, are extremely invested in giving me one. Whenever I download a new one, I’m given an armload of free stuff, the meaning of most of which is lost on me, but I know a pusher when I see one. Which is why I have no idea why I keep trying to get hooked.
Every few months, I’ll download a new gacha game, play it for a solid 20 minutes, and remember to log in every day to get the daily bonuses for about two weeks. This is, at first, the reason I keep coming, because getting new free stuff is nice, even if it doesn’t mean jack. I’ll look at my starter characters and lament how thoroughly average they are. I’ll use my welcome rewards to get better characters and see how satisfying gambling can be. And then I’ll get a bunch of mediocre characters and see how boring gambling can be. This all happens before I spend a dollar of my own, which is nice.
I’m dazzled by the variety of gacha games, but constantly disappointed by the thinness of the “game” part. The gameplay generally involves building out the best team you can with what you have and spending your various resources to upgrade said team so you can grind out the levels you’ve already played at higher difficulties for greater rewards (and more chances to pull the slot machine. But even the well-done ones—Dragalia Lost comes to mind, as does the now-defunct Terra Battle 2—are essentially mindless while you play them.
The appeal of another pull of the gacha crank isn’t lost on me. I’m on the internet! I’m always looking for something novel and different. It’s just that so little of a gacha pull surprises me. It is, largely, stats and star ratings and neat art of a character I might be fond of. I might as well flip through Twitter, a platform with a terrible drop rate of actual good stuff submerged in a morass of crap. But on Twitter, I genuinely don’t know what I’m going to get, and sometimes I find stuff that I didn’t even know I wanted, like all those fake movie-credits songs Demi Adejuyigbe makes. It’s rewarding, but it’s still, primarily, a spectacular way to waste time.