GACHA for BEGINNERS
how it entertains and monetizes
Gacha is one of the dominant monetization mechanics on the F2P market, which allows to monetize all cohorts of players - from minnows, by offering them cheap gachas with low chances to win something valuable,to whales, providing limitless “black hole” that will sink enormous amounts of cash.
But what Gacha exactly is? This term is a shortened variant of Japanese gachapon (or gashapon) a name of special vending machines that provide a buyer with a special kind of toys, but he doesn't know what exact toy, only a possible set of them. The goal of purchasing these toys is simple - to collect all characters from your favourite anime, manga, cartoon or another special series of toys.
1. 1 Gashapon machines
Why is it more beneficial for a seller to provide his customers with toys by this way instead of just selling the same toy directly even at a higher price? Using this kind of mechanics extends person`s way to desirable outcome - the full collection or one specific toy. As chances of getting different pieces are not the same and a possibility of getting the already owned toy are still there a one will need to spend additional cash to play for several times more, and often many times, and pay cash to get what he wants. Would he buy the same toy for several times otherwise? Of course not, and gacha is basically a way to sell the same, and sometimes even needless, item for several times. The system works the best when it has more possible options to draw from, as it gives a reason to set a cheap price (as a possibility to win something really valuable is low) and still give users something with each attempt.
In the F2P games all these rules work even with higher efficiency, allowing not only monetize PAU and squeeze some additional cash from them, but for retaining NPAU too, as it extends time required to get the desirable items. NPAU population is valuable as a potential payers and for generating revenues by watching ads, but their another crucial function is to be rivals for PAU players, number of whom is usually insignificant in total F2P game users` base.
With a rise of a F2P games, especially mobile, gacha becomes one of the major tools which is used for monetization. While in Japan games gacha may take many forms, in Western games it usually much less sophisticated comparing to Asian counterparts.
As a first step we will take a brief look on the Japanese games gacha, as a pioneer of this monetization mechanic and variety that may serve as source of inspiration. Description of the Japanese gacha is taken from article by Dr. Serkan Toto, published in his blog.
Kompu gacha, shortened from “complete”, now banned for Japan developers, as it had tremendous influence on players and they could spend thousands dollars on it.
The idea behind it is simple - if you want to get Big Prize you need to collect several other items that may be won only from infinite gacha, and after collecting all of them you get the Big one.
2.1 Kompu gacha
2. Package gacha (or Box gacha)
The main difference comparing to Kompu gacha is that it has finite number of items in the box. I.e. sooner or later you will get what you want, because with each try there are less and less items left and probability of winning what you want is rising. In this case a user may assess his chances to win and calculate how much he needs to spend.
3. Step-Up gacha
Step-Up gacha works as a ladder when with each next attempt you receive better and better rewards and the grand prize, or the highest chances to win it, lies on the last step.
The trick is that you need to complete the whole streak in one session or in a short period of time and if you don`t you will have to return to step one.
2.2 Step-Up gacha
4. Sugoroku gacha
This type of gacha received its name after traditional Japanese game.
A player needs to move across a board, or number of consecutive nodes, and each of them contains some reward which may be obtained when a user passes it. The goal is to reach the final point that contains the most valuable reward. To move further a player needs points (coins) and number of points determines how far he may go, and these may be received by rolling a dice, or any other kind of chances-based game.
2.3 Sugoroku gacha
As you may see there are several different and engaging ways to present gacha to players, so let's take a look how Western games utilize the mechanics.
Ok, I just need to start with this game as one of the phenomenons in the game industry.
Clash Royale is vivid example of both simplicity and perfect game balance. The goal of the game is simple - to collect “ultimate” deck of characters (cards) and beat with them other players on arena.
Each character has level, which may be increased, and to do it player needs to collect specific cards of this character. Sometimes they may be purchased but the main source of them is gacha.
3.1 Clash Royale main menu
As you may see on the screenshot 3.1 CR has different kind of chest and different ways to obtain them:
Free chest, which may be opened each 4 hours for free and without waiting;
Crown chest, which may be opened after collecting 10 victory Crowns. It also does not require time to be opened, but a player may open it once in 24 hours;
Battle chest. The main source of cards in the game. After each successful battle a user receives a chest which occupies one of the 4 slots and it takes different amount of time to open it, depending on type, from 3 hours for Silver and 24 hours for the most rare and expensive one.
Other chests. These chests are not present on the screenshot, but the game have some other chests as well, for example Clan Chest, which may be obtained by a way similar to the Crown one, or event chests, that serve as a reward in different tournaments and challenges, but mainly they repeat a mechanic of basic gacha.
Battle chests have double-looped gacha - the second one, already described, which gives you a random set of cards, but the first one determines which exact type of the chest you will get after a battle, from the simplest Silver to the most valuable Super Magical one. Thought, the chance to get a certain chest is predetermined by a cycle, not by chance, it may be considered as finite Box gacha when a player doesn't know the next reward, but sooner or later he will earn the Grand Prize.
All chests serves two main purposes:
Source of cards. All chests differ by rarity and cards they provide - from common to legendary;
Retention. When all four slots are filled with chests there is almost no sense to continue play as a reward for victories a player gets some small amount of SC and cups, which moves you to arenas of higher ranks.
And how does the game monetizes its gacha-based gameplay?
Selling time skippers for the chest to be opened;
Selling the chest themselves directly in the Shop;
SC which may be spend on purchasing the cards directly, but not all of them available for sale at a given moment of time and their price is not constant, but increasing with each next card bought. I.e. it will take some insane amount of SC to collect and upgrade one deck of cards.
Contrast. Sometimes the game make sales of cards directly via HC or Bundles and a possibility to purchase the most powerful/desirable cards or Chests without necessity to open endless Sliver is a strong push to spend. As you may see on the chart below, Update that brought Bundles to the game set the game back to the Top-10 Grossing Rank in the US.
Events, though are bound to usual fight sequence of the game, aimed on providing SC, and special cards and Chests with more valuable loot from them. Therefore users have much stronger incentive to participate and try to win it by skipping timers and paying to upgrade their decks during an event. And the last, but not least, some of the events cost HC to participate in.
3.2 Clash Royale grossing rank on iPhone in the US
The game started with much less diversified monetization offers, comparing to what it has now, that are built around the gacha mechanic and use it either to provide some cards for timer-rich players, who is willing to wait, or to monetize PAU to shorten their time needed to rise their ratings, but still it`s far from all the tricks that Japanese games use to design their gacha systems. It's hard to say how the game would perform with more sophisticated gacha or without gacha at all, but we see that gacha-based approach may be successful in terms of monetization on the Western market as well, as on Asian.
2. Monster Legends
Monster Legends is a vivid example how gacha may be implemented into a game without harming game experience and not being abusive. The game uses several very addictive as well as engaging ways to present users with this mechanic in original ways that remind what can be found in Japanese games.
It`s a CCG, built around collecting, upgrading, breeding and enhancing monsters (there are around 400 at the moment) and using them to fight on Arena, Single player or Alliance wars, but it's not the only function of monsters, they also generate soft currency while taking rest in habitats.
One of the first gachas you find in the game is victory roulette. After each victory in a battle a player gets an opportunity to spin a roulette with different prizes that depend on type of battle you won. The simplest type contains some minor rewards like SC, food and lesser runes for monsters etc. Everything becomes more interesting when you play special event where you can win something very valuable like a pile of SC, event currency or food - the first spin of the roulette is free, but if you don't win what you want, you always have an option to spin more and more till you get Big Prize. Price for the re-spin is almost zero - just 1 HC, or around $0,13.
On the picture below you may see example of SC roulette where, the most probably, you will get 5k, but have a chance to win 50k (that worth around 10 HC).
3.3 SC roulette
It seems that this type of gacha doesn't generate significant amount of revenues, and its main purpose is more about HC sink.
Another basic gacha, which is an essential part of the gameplay, is breeding. It requires several steps:
Take two monsters;
Send them to the breeding nest;
Wait some time, which is random and you don`t know beforehand how long it will take to breed them. You will see the timer only after clicking “Breed” button;
Get an egg and send it to hatchery;
Wait till the egg cracks and release a new monster and, again, time of hatching is different depending on rarity of the egg.
And, of course, each of the timers may be skipped by paying some HC.
Where is the trick here? While breeding monsters stop to generating SC in the habitat for this period.
Here is some economics behind this. Legendary monster of 40th level generate around 200 SC per minute (and this amount also varies from monster to monster), or 288k a day, or around $2 in terms of in-game prices. Habitat for one single legendary monster costs 2,5kk or 9 days of non-stop production of the monster mentioned above. And you need two monsters to breed, so you can image this trade-off between necessity to generate SC and getting new monster by this way.
Hatching of an egg is organically built in into this sequence. Basic hatchery has only one slot and if it's occupied by an egg, monsters that finished breeding will not be able to place an egg there and return to their habitats to generate SC, be leveled up and equipped with runes. So, a player has a choice to wait or to skip taimer.
Breeding as a system in the game has much stronger monetization potential as it includes not gacha itself, but also some side offers like improved hatchery that allows to have more than one egg incubating at a given moment of time and additional breeding nests.
The next gacha, which has some similarities with Sugoroku, is maze event.
Maze consists of several lines (sequences) of nodes that should be passed one by one to reach the final prize - exclusive monster. The maze is active only for some limited period of time, usually around 3-4 weeks.
Each line of the maze has it's own color and unique monster to be granted as a reward, starting from rare ones, that are average in performance, to legendary, that are most powerful and exclusive and usually there are no other ways to get them beside completing the maze. The rarest ones are locked with special keys that can be found only by progressing thru the lesser lines in the beginning, this restricts players to hunt for the top reward on the start of the event. Keys are also varies and you need to collect different ones to unlock different monsters. Moreover, initially the whole maze is hidden by “the fog of war” and you can't check what items a line contains and thus it's impossible to build detailed strategy beforehand, i.e. this is also may be considered as “gacha” because while you know the final reward you don`t know what awaits you during the journey.
3.5 Maze layout
Price of movement the character is also increasing with approaching the goal and near the finish it may be tripled and even higher, comparing to the initial cost of the step. So, how a player may get all these maze coins to get the final monster?
Basically, the whole game is designed to provide you with the maze coins while the maze is available. Each action like feeding monster, collecting gold from habitats, spinning victory roulette after some battles, may, or may not, provide you with some amount of this specific currency. And, of course, you don`t know what exact amount - it may be 1 or may be 50. This gacha-based source of coins is designed to serve retention and engagement mechanism as more you play the game, more you use it`s features more chances for getting desirable coins.
The next way is maze dungeon. This short time event is very rare, 2-3 times during the period of the major event, and lasts only around 2-3 days, when a users have an opportunity to fight and get maze coins guaranteed.
3.6 Maze dungeon enter
3.7 Maze Dungeon final nodes
Rivals in the dungeon are tough and complete it fully may be a challenge for an average player, without using any kind of HC-backed tricks. One of them is reviving of a a team after it`s been defeated. It costs only 3 HC, but allows you to finish a battle as you get the team with full health while the opponents are damaged already.
The most straightforward way to get the coins is to purchase them. The most valuable offer provides coins at $0,013 price per each.
Additional way to get MCoins is to watch ads that grants you coins value a little bit more than $0,4-0,5, so users have very strong incentive to do it, a fortiori an opportunity to watch such ads is not constant but also appears during some short-term periods.
3.8 Maze Coins Ads pop-up
Another great aspect of this mechanic is that it focuses user on gaining time-limited currency that will disappear completely after the event without providing any additional benefits to users. While HC may be spent on, basically, everything, MCoins have only one purpose - to complete a maze and win a monster. This gives not only much higher control over the game economy, but extends the monetization loop.
The game offers various events that uses the same mechanics of providing random amount of specific coins for doing some actions to give a possibility to win unique monster.
One of them is some kind of Box gacha, when the number of possible items to be won in gacha is finite and decreasing with each attempt, where you have illusion of control on outcome.
Flipping-Card event gives a user chance to win a unique monster (what a surprise, yeah?) by opening cards that hide some rewards beneath it. Each opening costs you some amount of special currency and each next one costs more. As you may notice, it has similarities with the maze event but much simpler and more gacha-based in its nature. It doesn`t ask to fight, to move a character or collect additional keys to open more lines, only to pay special coins and flip cards.
3.9 Back cards
3.10 Front cards
Flipping-Card event has its own currency as well, and sources are the same - usual game actions, watching ads, and direct IAPs.
Monster Legends ways to provide content via gacha-based experience doesn't feel harming and exploiting as usual player may get new monsters by investing only enough time and completing in-game activities, without strong push to IAPs.
Described mechanics becomes crucial part of the game success on the Top 100 AppStore grossing rank.
3.11 Monster Legends Grossing rank on iPhone in the US
Gacha is a powerful game design technique that allows developers to successfully monetize on F2P market. It`s worth to remember that gacha may be designed in numerous ways that don't exploit human addictions to gambling but entertain and monetize in a synergy. Continuous experiments with different mechanics is the only way to improve game experience as well as a game performance.
List of sources:
http://www.serkantoto.com/2016/03/14/gacha-monetization-japan/ - Description of Japanese gachas by Serkan Toto.
https://medium.com/cultural-panopticon/in-gacha-we-trust-the-appeal-of-japanese-free-to-play-games-a866dce1649a#.20x8zopwz - nice to read article, with some good thoughts about right way to embed gacha organically to a game, without exploiting it as some kind of crutch for a project.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gashapon - wikipedia article about the Gashapon (gachapon) machines.
https://www.inverse.com/article/27267-what-are-gacha-games-fire-emblem-heroes - nice to read, but nothing special.
http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/SerkanToto/20160330/269206/How_Japanese_Mobile_Game_Makers_Go_After_Whales_5_Popular_Gacha_Mechanics.php - very detailed and well written overview of several gachas type. The article contains links for further reading that is related to the gacha and may be reviewed to deeper knowledge of the topic.
https://www.chartboost.com/blog/2016/08/getting-gacha-right-tips-for-creating-successful-in-game-lotteries/ - short and basic article about possible gacha mechanics
http://clashroyale.wikia.com/wiki/Chests - Clash Royale Chests system