It’s not a big surprise that anime fans tend to play Japanese mobile games that has a gacha element. In some cases, you probably saved a lot of free in game premium currency to roll for your favorite character. Others probably spent a lot of money in order to get the character they want in the game.
However, not everything is forever, especially in gacha games. The big downside of these games is that unless it’s successful, as in bring in a lot of money, the game won’t last long. In other words, you will lose all your progress and money spent in the game.
Believe it or this, this is not too uncommon, especially with localized mobile gacha game releases. This can really upset a lot of people as seen when Aniplex USA decided to pull the plug on the English version of Magia Record. Yes, I was livid about it, but apparently the franchise isn’t popular enough compared to popular franchises such as Fate Grand Order.
Since I spent money on monthly passes, this announcement really left a bad taste towards mobile gacha games or the whole games as a service thing. The question is, do you really own anything in these games? The answer is obviously no. Since I am salty about this a few weeks after the announcement, I want to share my thoughts on the dark side of Games as a Service.
Note: An audio version of this post is now available.
How Japanese Mobile Gacha Games Work
Gacha mobile games is a type of Games as a Service model that works on a free to play model. The developer adds new content on a regular basis ranging from main stories and time limited events. During the limited events, a gacha banner will accompany it, allowing players to pull characters in a rate up or pull a limited character that is only in that gacha.
As expected, these limited banners are there to entice players to spend money once they run out of free premium currency. While some may be lucky to manage to pull their favorite characters without using all the premium currency, some are not.
Since some people really want the limited character since there is the fear that he or she will miss out on it, they will pay money to try to get the character from the gacha. The problem is that the rates for ultra-rare characters are egregiously low that there is a good possibility of not getting what you want, even in several rolls.
While some games handle this better with a pity counter that guarantees the banner character about 3/4ths of the time, others don’t have them at all. In the Japanese version of Magia Record, it’s more forgiving since you can simply purchase the featured character after doing 300 rolls. Otherwise, you might have to spend hundreds of dollars for a small chance to get the character you want and still not get it. Hence, these players are “whales,” those who spend a lot of money on these games.
Yes, it’s crazy to see people spend hundreds, if not tens of thousands of dollars just to do a gacha pull on a limited banner. All that money can get you a pretty sizable anime/manga/video game collection. Even expensive alternative J-fashion like lolita fashion where a main piece costs between $300-500 is cheaper than spending a bunch of money in gacha games 1. Of course, these whales are the life blood that keeps these games alive. After all, it costs money to keep the servers up and running, create new content, and for localized releases, translations.
However, you do not necessarily have to whale to support the game. Mobile gacha games usually have a monthly pack that gives a small amount of money for some paid currency and free premium currency spread out throughout the month. That way, it encourages the player to play the game every day and possibly spend more money. These players referred to as “minnows” for those who spend less than $5 a month. Also, there are “dolphins,” if they spend between $5-25 a month.
Still, what happens if the game doesn’t earn enough money to sustain itself? Well, that is the dark side of Games as a Service model that gacha games rely on.
The Dark Side of Gacha Games and Games as a Service as a Whole: You Don’t Own Anything
So, what if the whales don’t spend and most, if not everyone is just free to play? The short answer, the game will simply shut down. After all, it costs money to create content and keep the servers running. This is probably why we see localized Japanese mobile gacha games shut down after a few months to one year. At that point, you may as well burn your money instead of spending money on premium currency. Most of these games will see this fate, unless it’s a really popular franchise like Fate Grand Order or any of Bushiroad’s franchises (e.g. Love Live, Bang Dream, or Revue Starlight).
A notable recent example of this is Symphogear XD Unlimited, which shut down after 5 months. I think this is probably the shortest gacha game that survived outside of Japan. As a result, all the progress and even the premium currency you paid for goes to complete waste. Once the service ends, you will lose everything.
To make matters worse, you can’t get refunds in most cases. This is the big Achilles heel when it comes to games as a service since you don’t own anything. After the game shuts down, you can’t play it anymore or even access your saved data. Later, you question your life decisions.
Granted, Symphogear is more obscure compared to other magical girl franchises, but let’s go back to Magia Record. Madoka Magica compared to Symphogear is a well-known and a more popular franchise.
So, why did the English version Magia Record meet its sad fate in late August? While Madoka Magica is still popular, the popularity waned a bit since there hasn’t been an anime or movie release in a while. Sure, there is a lot of manga spinoffs, but Madoka Magica Rebellion Story movie was the last anime release in a while. It’s not until the anime adaptation of Magia Record came that it rebounded a bit.
While Magia Record launched nearly four years after the Rebellion movie, the game in Japan is still doing very well. Recently, it past its third year an operation. Not only that, Taiwan also has its own servers that is still operating. So, why did the English version fail? There are a few reasons.
- Aniplex USA decided to limit the game only to North America – Yes, you cannot play the game outside of Canada and the United States without jumping through hoops. This of course limits the audience who can spend money in the game. If Aniplex USA released the game globally, only in English, would it still be alive? Perhaps.
- Running too many limited banners and events back to back – Compared to the Taiwan servers, which just got to the 2nd season, the English version ran events nearly every week. It’s obvious that they want to catch up to the Japanese server. However, without the ability to save premium currency or even money to buy the premium currency, whales ran out of money quickly. Even if they enjoy the game, most gave up completely. If they spread out the events and do some reruns, players won’t feel burnt out.
- Covid19 – You bet that Covid19 might have an impact on gacha games shutting down. After all, people usually play these games when they are waiting or commuting via mass transit. Since most people like myself are working from home, there are fewer reasons to play these games. After all, one can play actual games on a computer or gaming console, which provide a fuller experience. After all, a game like Animal Crossing New Horizons is a lot cheaper than buying premium currency in a gacha game. Not only that, it provides hours of gameplay. On the other hand, some people might have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. As a result, they can’t afford to spend money on a gacha game.
While I became upset over the announcement, especially since I spent $49 after a $7 refund. I spent a lot of time clearing the daily missions, the main and event stories. Not only that, my collection of 4-star magical girls will go away forever.
From this, this makes me feel reluctant to even support these games by buying the monthly pack or play any new ones. This is even in despite of enjoying the franchise. As always, there is the chance that your favorite game will shut down for good in the future.
At the end of the day, while I am still really salty over Aniplex USA’s decision, it shows the big downsides of gacha games and Games as a Service model as a whole. I am fine with Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo charging for online gameplay. After all, I can still play my games without it. However, it’s simply not the same with gacha games.
Once the developer or publisher decides to pull the plug, everything is gone forever. This is probably why you should probably think before you decide to spend money on a gacha game and know the risks.
If the idea of losing all your progress and money spent in a game if the publisher or developer calls it quit feels uncomfortable, just forget mobile gaming as a whole. Most, if not all mobile games, especially gacha games are like this. At least with full experiences, you can play the games for years to come, even if the developer shuts down online gameplay.
But as a whole, this bring up the ethical questions behind microtransactions. Jim Sterling focused on how predatory these microtransactions are in a video last year. Even so, these games are so predatory since gacha is basically gambling, especially if money is involved. To make matters worse, these elements made it into full experiences as well.
This is probably why I cringed when Bandai Namco added gacha elements to Idolmaster Platinum Stars, which is a dumb idea. The idea is that you have to grind to get all the costumes and accessories and the premium currency increases the rate. Therefore, you either grind the same stages or pay your way to unlock everything. On the bright side, you can still play the game without it. You can’t say the same about gacha games.
With that, what are your feelings about gacha games and developers pulling the plug? Feel free to share them in the comments along with your experiences.
- Yes, this is that secret project I am working on, which I will cover in a future editorial post. Yes, it involves anime conventions once Covid19 is over. ↩