“Joe Namath: Do they have to pay anything to play? And do they win something?
Sports Anchor: They do.
Joe Namath: That’s gambling.”
- PBS Frontline, The Fantasy Sports Gamble, First Aired: 2.9.2016 [Link: here]
Leave it to a Hall of Fame NFL quarterback to cut through the bullshit on hotly-contested issues, like whether playing fantasy sports for cash prizes on sites/apps like DraftKings is gambling (hint hint: it sorta is).
While I wont talk about sites and apps like DraftKings as they relate to gambling, I will talk about gambling as it relates to another topic involving “games”: video games. Man do I love video games and man do I spend inordinate amounts of time playing them.
My current jam is Mobile Suit Gundam: Battle Operation 2 (GBO2), a popular free-to-play multiplayer PvP (person vs. person) game. You battle other players online using mechs (aka “mobile suits”) in single and team matches. Through logging in, playing, and leveling up, you can unlock various in-game currencies to purchase more powerful mobile suits, weapons, upgrade parts, and various accessories. If you can’t invest the time in leveling up, GBO2 has you covered. You can use real money to purchase in-game currency to purchase said mobile suits and upgrades.
You can see where I am going with this.
But before we get there, let’s talk about gacha games and loot crates. You might be more familiar with the latter, but will start with the former first.
Now, picture yourself as a young kid accompanying your parents to the grocery store. On the way out, you eye the gumball machine along with the toy dispensing machine next to it. These toys are contained within small plastic capsules. It normally costs a quarter or two. After begging your parents for two quarters, you put your quarters in, turn the knob and out comes a capsule, continuing a small toy, hopefully the one you want. They have this in Japan as well. It’s known as a Gashapon.
This black box vending machine mechanic was adapted to fit video games as the medium grew in popularity. In these games, you earn or buy a redeemable item, whose identity is unknown until that item is opened. The games that rely on the Gashapon model are called “gacha” games and they have found a LOT of their success as mobile app-based games. It just so happens that GBO2 is a gacha game as well.
In the United States, the gacha system is known as the “loot” system, with the in-game redeemable items being called “loot crates/boxes” and they’ve garnered considerable criticism for basically being gambling, with links to gambling addiction.
This is where we come to the screenshot above. If you’ve never played GBO2 before, I am going to argue that there are many opportunities to earn the in-game currency to purchase upgrades or free “pulls”. As of the publishing of this post, I haven’t spent a dime but so far have obtained highly-sought rewards. Maybe it’s the copious hours spent playing. Maybe it’s the “luck of the draw”. Regardless, GBO2’s rewards system is designed so that you don’t have to “pay to win”. The comment (on a post about wasting pulls on crappy rewards) really stuck out to me because it was my first time seeing someone being affected in a negative way by the gacha/loot system. Much like at the slots in a casino, the commenter entered $50 of real money into a video game for in-game currency, used that currency to “pull” on a metaphorical lever of the supply crate system, and did not get their desired item, in this case, the Tristan. Other commenters either shared similar frustrations or railed against the gacha system in video games and its predatory nature.
To me, this commenter’s experience highlights the glaring similarities between the gacha/loot system in video games and gambling. I can tell you from personal experiences that there is a rush when you make your pulls for a supply crate, hoping for a powerful mobile suit. There’s also that disappointment when, after 10 free pulls, you barely get anything of value, my only consolation being that I did not spend any money at least.
It kinda sucks, but it’s a system that’s profitable for video game developers and the gacha/loot system is likely here to stay.
Have you had any experiences with gacha games or loot crates? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments!