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Exploring the game-of-chance elements in Japanese F2P mobile games. Qualitative analysis of paying and non-paying player's emotions

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Free-to-play (F2P) mobile games are based on a business model which allows the majority of players to play the game for free while only a small percentage (2-5%) is actually paying for the game (mostly through the purchase of virtual in-game items). Monetization is done through so called micro-transactions within the game where players can acquire virtual items and tools. To grow revenue and profit, game makers must motivate the limited amount of paying players to purchase more or to convert nonpayers into payer. This is done by combining an attractive game-play with settings/elements that entice players to make in-game purchases. Especially, the above monetization mechanism could be boosted by the i ntroduction of“ game-of-chance” elements, or Gacha in F2P mobile games in Japan. Gacha can lead to irrational overspending among some part of paying players since game developers deliberately (mis-)use its mechanics to increase the ir revenue and profit with these players . This paper first outlines a basic framework of Gacha, its different mechanics and elements as well as its core issues based on literature research and interview research on players and developers. A special focus is on the emotional involvement of paying players and on learning from game developers and game expert about the role of this involvement for revenue generation. There are previous studies related to above F2P games but less focusing on its mechanism and its emotional elements. Artful combination of game design and monetization is especially effective for Gacha which can be found in the most profitable F2P mobile games in Japan. The overall business model is questioned in terms of its sustainability as it depends on limited percentage of payers. This was also confirmed by several developers and analysts who were being interviewed.
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16DHU JOURNAL Vol.05 2018
Exploring the game-of-chance elements in F2P mobile games
ム型モバイル・ゲームの確率変動要素の考察
―定性分析によるユーザーの感情に着目して―
【Paper】
- Insights of player's emotions from qualitative analysis -
Graduate Student, GSAPS, Waseda University
Koeder, Marco
Visiting Associate Professor
Tanaka, Ema
Professor, Waseda University
Mitomo, Hitoshi
1. Introduction*1
With the increased penetration of smartphones, mobile
gaming apps have been on the rise globally. The mobile free-
to-play (F2P) games space accounts for the major revenue
within the global mobile apps economy. However, despite the
popularity of these games, only 2% of users actually make
in-game purchases (Swerve, 2016). Within the global mobile
game market, Japan occupies a leading position in terms
of revenues, generating $6.2 billion dollars in 2016 and in
terms of spending per player, where it ranks rst in the world
(SuperData Research, 2016). It has been suggested that
one of the main drivers of revenues in the Japanese free-
to-play mobile apps market is “Gacha”, a game-of-chance
based in-game payment mechanism. Gacha seems to
motivate players to spend more money in mobile F2P games.
(Teramoto, Shibuya, & Akiyama, 2014). It means that
payers of Gacha accept a kind of price discrimination in F2P
even though the price is a󰮏ected by chance depending on
the setting of winning percentage by mobile game providers.
This is different from typical Western F2P games, where
virtual items can be purchased directly through in-game
currency with a xed price. Japanese games often feature a
“Gacha” in the form of a rened lottery system where users
choose to pay for a chance to enter a real-time “lucky draw”
to acquire these items (See Figure 1). In fact, the behavioral
impact of Gacha upon Japanese game players has been so
signicant, that several controversies have erupted between
developers, players and regulators in Japan because of its
perceived relationship to over-spending. The Japanese F2P
game market and Gacha have been only briefly analyzed
in English-language academic literature. (Askeloef, 2013;
Kanerva, 2015; Yamakami, 2012b, 2013a, 2013b, 2014;
Shibuya & Teramoto, 2015).
Free-to-play (F2P) mobile games are based on a business model which allows the majority of players to play the game for free
while only a small percentage (2-5%) is actually paying for the game (mostly through the purchase of virtual in-game items).
Monetization is done through so called micro-transactions within the game where players can acquire virtual items and tools. To
grow revenue and prot, game makers must motivate the limited amount of paying players to purchase more or to convert non-
payers into payer. This is done by combining an attractive game-play with settings/elements that entice players to make in-game
purchases. Especially, the above monetization mechanism could be boosted by the introduction of “game-of-chance” elements, or
Gacha in F2P mobile games in Japan. Gacha can lead to irrational overspending among some part of paying players since game
developers deliberately (mis-)use its mechanics to increase their revenue and prot with these players.
This paper first outlines a basic framework of Gacha, its different mechanics and elements as well as its core issues based
on literature research and interview research on players and developers. A special focus is on the emotional involvement
of paying players and on learning from game developers and game expert about the role of this involvement for revenue
generation. There are previous studies related to above F2P games but less focusing on its mechanism and its emotional
elements. Artful combination of game design and monetization is especially effective for Gacha which can be found in the
most profitable F2P mobile games in Japan. The overall business model is questioned in terms of its sustainability as
it depends on limited percentage of payers. This was also confirmed by several developers and analysts who were
being interviewed.
Keywords: Gacha, freemium, mobile games, price discrimination, behavioral economics
Figure 1: Di󰮏erence between Western and Japanese F2P monetization: Adding the game-of-chance element to virtual item acquisition
17
DHU JOURNAL Vol.05 2018
2. Research Question
From the game publisher side, it seems natural to adopt
Gacha as a mechanism for price discrimination allowing
them to maximize revenues for certain mobile game titles.
Gacha mechanisms work well and they are deeply intertwined
within Japanese mobile game design. From the user’s
perspective, however, how the game-of-chance element
in virtual environment a󰮏ects users is not well investigated.
One key question here is why do some players pay more
for Gacha drawing and others do not? From an Economics
standpoint of view, the same virtual item obtainable by Gacha
has a different value for different players. To answer this
question, this paper will depict the characteristics of Gacha
based on Japanese mobile game market information and
related regulatory and self-regulatory measures for consumer
protection. Then this paper examines several analytical
approaches followed by the main part, which looks at players
and professionals insights and show issues and possibilities
for further studies. In that sense, this paper is a preliminary
one for further research on how Gacha elements, game-of-
chance or articial uncertainly to obtain virtual goods, a󰮏ect
usage and payment in freemium online services.
3. Gacha as a game of chance element in
freemium services
3.1. What is Gacha - gambling or lottery/lucky draw?
According to previous studies, Gacha in online freemium
services seems similar to either gambling or lucky draws.
Shibuya describes Gacha as “…similar in screen appearance
to vending machines that dispense children’s toys, and
lucky players can win valuable gaming items this way…
Gacha can be played for free, however, extremely rare and/
or valuable gaming items can also be obtained through
monetary purchases of online Gacha products.” (Shibuya &
Teramoto, 2015, p.3). Yamakami describes it as “Japanese
game vendors have made huge revenues using Gacha.
Gacha is a kind of gambling for special items.” (Yamakami,
2013a, p.268) and also as …a mechanism to provide a
randomly picked item, sometimes free and sometimes as paid
items. Gacha is a great framework to introduce gambling
spirits into mobile social games. It also obscures the high
price to premium items because one attempt of Gacha can
be cheap.” (Yamakami, 2013b, p.738) or in more detail “The
price is one or two dollars. Some of the contents come in a
set, and therefore, users continue buying Gacha, trying their
luck at getting a full set (Yamakami, 2012a, p.1233).
Despite its similarity to gambling, Gacha could be
understood as a lottery or lucky draw mechanism in a virtual
world*1. Gambling is about betting money or valuable assets
to get higher return than the betting amount. Gacha is about
pulling a lottery to get randomly allotted items. At gambling,
player will lose when they get less than their bet. At Gacha
drawing, player will lose when they fail to get an item they
desired. Therefore, in this paper, we would like to understand
Gacha as kind of lottery mechanism. This is also in-line with
the regulatory perspective. The Japanese government had
regulated Gacha through the Law for Preventing Unjustiable
Extras or Unexpected Benet and Misleading Representation.
The law was enacted in 1962 to protect consumers from
misleading labeling of goods and services (CAA, 1962).
3.2. What is Gacha - a lottery system of virtual items
as prize / premium
Lottery is common all over the world. Gacha, however, has
several characteristics which are di󰮏erent from a real world
lottery: low cost for the production and replication of prize
items, exibility of probability setting and a limited scope of
value restricted to the (in-game) online world. In the real
world, there are many kind of lotteries, from government-
run lotteries to marketing promotions which offer premium
goods for winners, which are randomly selected from the
participants. The real-world prize is more costly than virtual
goods. As the prizes are real goods, the probability of
winning is determined by the number of participants and prize
goods. In virtual world, a virtual item could be tremendously
rare to obtain by setting the probability nearly zero. The
value of a virtual item is generally contextual. For example, a
virtual game item is not usable in a di󰮏erent game no matter
how rare and “valuable” the item is.
Real world lottery and virtual world lotteries like Gacha also
have similarities: The variety of offerings of chances to get
items. Both could be obtained through non-monetary and
monetary ways. And the winning possibility is largely determined
by the provider’s setting. Both are also often utilized as
marketing promotion tools. Therefore, there are several
elements such as the selection of the winning prizes, probability
to win and opportunity to participate in the lottery which a󰮏ects
the design of the mechanisms of a lottery. By combining these
elements, a variety of lotteries can be created.
3.3. Elements and variation of Gacha in Japanese
mobile games
Looking at the literature, actual gameplay and mobile game
analysis reports (Spicemart, 2016) Gacha can be seen as
being composed of the following points (Figure2):
• It is a key game element and not the game itself (1)
It is paid for using an in-game virtual currency either by
soft or hard currency (real money) (2)
It is game-of-chance based including varied and
advanced chance mechanics and probabilities (3)
It uses elaborate audiovisual experiences during the
draw/revealing process (4)
• It always provides a (virtual) reward (5)
• Plays a role in the game (decorative, functional, social) (5a)
• Available in different levels of rarity/limitedness (5b)
• Non-monetary (no real money trading) (5c)
• Is often collectable (5d)
There are limited edition items that are often offered
during real time in-game events (5e)
It is only of value within the game and it is an essential
part of the game ecosystem (6)
It is mostly used to increase monetization for the game
provider (7)
18DHU JOURNAL Vol.05 2018
【Paper】Exploring the game-of-chance elements in F2P mobile games - Insights of player's emotions from qualitative analysis -
フリーミム型モバイル・ゲームの確率変動要素の考察 ― 定性分析によるユーザーの感情に着目して ―
It needs to be mentioned there are several trigger points of
players emotions in there that help to increase the emotional
state or emotional involvement of the player:
The draw: The way the Gacha draw is presented/animated,
the uncertain, chance based outcome of the draw using
advanced mechanics which will be covered later in this
paper.
The reward: The draw will always result in winning a price
in the form of a virtual item. This item can help the player
to decorate/personalize his character, make it stronger and
also can serve for social functions in the game community.
Furthermore, it comes in di󰮏erent levels of rarity, can often
be collected and can be limited and the draw can be tied to
special time-limited in-game events where these items are
being o󰮏ered. All these components can a󰮏ect the players
emotions and can trigger impulse, non-logical decision
making.
There are several Gacha mechanics which are being
used in Japanese mobile games. Our initial research in the
literature, in reports and games and through interviews have
shown over 10 di󰮏erent Gacha types/mechanics. Here is a
small overview of some of them.
•Kompu Gacha: Players need to acquire a set of items to
unlock a special rare item (Banned in 2012 because of
the issue of unknown probability).
•Box Gacha: Virtual box of set items with known
probabilities (Figure 3) .
•Sugoroku Gacha: Combining Gacha with a boardgame. A
Gacha acts like a dice which then allowed the player to
move on a board to unlock special items.
•Redraw Gacha: Users can do a redraw of a Gacha
(sometimes for free, sometimes for a fee).
Figure 2: Outline of Gacha elements in Japanese mobile F2P games highlighting trigger points of emotional attachment
•Consecutive Gacha: Purchasing Gacha in bulk increases
the overall probability of getting rare items (Figure 4).
•Open/Closed Gacha: A Gacha showing the probability of
acquiring a specic item.
•Discounted Gacha: Special campaigns where users pay
less for a Gacha draw.
(Sources: Yamakami, 2012b; Teramoto, Shibuya, and
Akiyama, 2014; Spicemart Report, 2016; Toto, 2016;
Interviews; Gameplay by authers)
19
DHU JOURNAL Vol.05 2018
4. How Gacha became controversial and (self-)
regulated in Japan
4.1. Government Regulation: Kompu-Gacha case
Despite the fact that Gacha has existed in mobile games
in Japan since around 2004 with one of the first games
being Maple Story. (4Gamer 2007), complaints to the
Consumer Agency in Japan had increased in 2011 (Machida,
2012). The main issue was the so-called mechanics of
“KompuGacha” which had been previously mentioned in
the paper. The name comes from the word KOMPURETO
in Japanese which means “to complete”. This mechanic
requires the player to rst collect a series of items (complete
set) before being able to unlock a specic, rare item without
a clear outline of winning probabilities. The Consumer
Affairs Agency in Japan (CAA) banned the practice of
“KompuGacha” in 2012 for the reason, that it corrupts
the game experience as the system makes it difficult to
understand the probability to win a prize (CAA, 2012). Game
companies had to abandon these mechanics and switched to
other kind of Gacha or invented new ones. Over the course
of time game developers introduced several new Gacha
mechanics (for example the above “Box Gacha”), several
of them with hidden probabilities and hidden total costs for
acquisition by just hinting how rare some items are.
4.2. Self-regulation: Through probability guidelines
Then in 2015 another Gacha related issue became public,
this time associated with a specic game (Grandblue Fantasy,
for example) and its lack of providing correct probabilities/
costs for acquiring specific items (Nakajima, 2016). As
a reaction to this, the Association of Japanese game
developers (CESA) issued a guideline in 2016 asking their
members to provide more transparency for Gacha mechanics
within their games. The guidelines require game makers to
implement one of the following 4 standards:
(a) The limit on the estimated price (the price calculated
as an expected value according to the set distribution
rate) to obtain any rare Gacha item should be within
100 times the price of a single paid Gacha, and in the
case that this limit is exceeded, that estimated price
or its multiplying factor needs to be displayed on the
Gacha page.
(b) The estimated price limit to obtain any rare Gacha item
should be within 50,000 yen, and in the case that
this limit is exceeded, that estimated price needs to be
displayed on the Gacha page.
(c) The upper limit and lower limit of distribution rates for
rare Gacha items are to be displayed.
(d) The distribution rates for each type of rare Gacha item
are to be displayed.
(Spicemart 2016, p.6)
CESA member game companies only had to fulll one of above
conditions since it did not require to adhere to of all of them.
Figure 3: Examples of Box Gacha Mechanics
Figure 4: Consecutive Gacha Mechanics
20DHU JOURNAL Vol.05 2018
【Paper】Exploring the game-of-chance elements in F2P mobile games - Insights of player's emotions from qualitative analysis -
フリーミム型モバイル・ゲームの確率変動要素の考察 ― 定性分析によるユーザーの感情に着目して ―
5 Analytical Framework consideration
5.1. Previously applied frameworks in the virtual
item / F2P context
In the eld of (Western) Free-to-play games and virtual item
purchase several analytical frameworks have been applied
so far in studies. The most frequent being the Technology
Acceptance Model (Davis, 1989; Davis, Bagozzi, & Warshaw,
1989) which can be found in several studies on virtual item
purchases (Mäntymäki, Salo, 2011; Shin, 2008; Cheon,
2013;Hsu, 2004) and the Unied Theory of Acceptance and
Use of Technology (Venkatesh, Morris, Davis & Davis, 2003)
which had also been utilized for virtual world and virtual
item purchases (Mäntymäki, & Salo, 2013; Guo, & Barnes,
2011; Guo, Barnes, 2012) followed by papers applying a
value based theory framework. (Han & Windsor, 2013; Kim,
Gupta, & Koh, 2011; Park, & Lee, 2011).
The role and function of virtual items have been outlined by
several authors such as Lin and Sun talking about their roles
as functional tools and decorative tools (Lin, & Sun, 2007)
or Lehdonvirta dividing them into separate categories based
on functional, emotional, and social attributes (Lehdonvirta,
2009).
Virtual items and virtual worlds have also been studied
recently more from an economic perspective leading to
the concept of virtual economies put forward mainly by
Castronova and Lehdonvirta. According to them a virtual
economy can be analyzed similar to a real economy. Users
treat virtual goods and virtual money similar to real goods
and real money (Lehdonvirta, & Castronova, 2014).
Yet these above studies have not covered Gacha and its
possible e󰮏ects because research has been mostly focused
on Western game titles.
5.2. Behavioral economics and probability weighting
function
One of interesting theoretical angles comes from Behavioral
Economics on lottery analysis. The topic of Behavioral
Economics bias elements and how they might impact (mobile)
Free-to-play-games have already been briefly outlined by
Hamari (Hamari, 2011) and have been discussed for the
games/mobile app environment (Paavilainen et al., 2013;
Reiners & Wood, 2015; Stockinger et al., 2015; Heimo,
Harviainen, Kimppa, et al., 2016; Zagal et al. 2013). As
these thoughts are based on Western games, they did not
look at Gacha game-of-chance elements. On the other hand,
Behavioral Economics have shown that game-of-chance/
lottery elements in general can help change or enforce a
behavior better than xed incentives (Kearney, Tufano et al,
2010; Kimmel, Troxel et al, 2012; Goette, Stutzer, 2008;
Nvqvist, Corno, et al. 2015; Volpp, Troxel, et al. 2008) .
Basically, Behavioral Economics explains the reason of
lottery buying through the “probability weighting function”
(Gonzalez, & Wu, 1999). Game players might be less inclined
to pay for acquiring specic items or content when they are
associated with Gacha mechanisms rather than a xed price.
Gacha, however, is di󰮏erent from lottery as payers seem to
value rarity or collectability of the virtual items itself which
could be obtained by Gacha and not an actual monetary
value it represents. Gachas have a rarity element which
makes a virtual item more attractive for players. Additionally,
the probability of Gacha for obtaining a certain rare item is
not static but changeable by the game providers. During so
called “real-time events” game providers o󰮏er an increased
probability of obtaining specific rare items or introduce
limited edition items for this event. How this kind of articial
probability and rarity could a󰮏ect users needs more analysis
as serious research has just started for its short history.
How Gacha is perceived by players and game professionals
provides another interesting opportunity to look at the topic.
6. Gacha perception by users and developers
To learn more about the underlying emotional elements
related to F2P games and Gacha, interviews with players as
well as game industry professionals had been conducted.
In previous studies, interviews with Japanese mobile F2P
players and professionals in English academic literature are
still rare. (For example, in the thesis by Askeloef, 2013;
Kanerva, 2015)
6.1 Methodology
To achieve a better understanding of the above and
to unearth more in-depth insights, the authors applied a
qualitative approach using semi-structured interviews. This
decision was shaped by the following antecedents:
1) In F2P games only around 2% of players pay for virtual
items according to a study of Swrve (Swrve, 2016).
This makes it very costly and time intensive to collect
quantitative survey insights from paying players.
2) Quantitative methods sometimes do not allow an insight
into deeper issues and it is necessary to take a more
explorative approach (Schensul, Schensul, & LeCompte,
1999; Bernard, 2017; Harrell, & Bradley, 2009). When
it comes to F2P, recent research has pointed out that
quantitative surveys among F2P players on in-game items
(re)-purchase do not always reflect their true intentions
and motives well. Instead researchers should look more
into actual game data and unconscious motives (Lee
at al., 2015).
3) Game companies are rather reluctant to share their
game data with outside parties because this data is
most valuable to them for their monetization and they
do not want competitors to know about their data
(Sifa, Drachen, & Bauckhage, 2018).
4) The authors wanted to also learn more about the
professional’s perspective. While looking at the limited
F2P research literature they found that a qualitative
interview approach has already had been successfully
used for understanding Western players as well as
game developers insights (Paavilainen et al., 2013;
Alha, Paavilainen, Hamari, Kinnunen, & 2014).
After talks with one game industry analyst and two
players the authors developed two semi-structured interview
guidelines. One for player and one for game industry
professionals. The interview length was set to 60-90 minutes
for each participant. Because of privacy concerns the
interviews were not recorded and instead the interviewers
took notes during the session and the names were replaced
21
DHU JOURNAL Vol.05 2018
by initials in this paper. The subject was asked if he or she
was comfortable to do the interview in English. If not the
interview was done in Japanese and English notes were
taken and then reconfirmed with the subject in Japanese.
If possible, interviews were done face-to-face. As the goal
of the interviews was to unveil more in depth insights into
players and professionals thinking and perspective, the overall
framework of the questions was supposed to be used in a
exible manner to allow respondents to express themselves
freely and to also touch upon topics mentioned by them that
were not part of the questions but were seen as valuable in
discovering new findings. The interviews were conducted
over a period of 24 months from April 2016 - April 2018.
The authors tried to replicate the gender distribution of
smartphone players in Japan by including an equal amount
of male and female players. According to a study by Sega
51.9% of smartphone players are male and 48.1% are
female (Sega, 2017). Players were recruited through the
authors personal networks as well as through social media
and online game forums with the goal to identify F2P players
who had experience in playing Gacha games and have had
experience in paying for Gacha. In total 10 players were
interviewed. Out of them 9 had experience with paying
for Gacha. Interviews for 6 interviewees were conducted
in Japanese and 4 in English. 6 were identified as casual
gamers and 4 as hardcore gamers. All interviews were
conducted face to face (Chart 1, Chart2).
The player interviews were structured into 5 main sections.
The rst section explained about the overall research goals
to make the participants understand the setting. The second
section focused on collecting basic demographic data and
then in the third section the players were asked in an open
setting about their past gaming experiences including mobile
games and their game preferences, to build rapport and to
learn more about their gaming behavior. After that the in the
fourth section the interviewer focused more on their mobile
gaming and Gacha experiences including what games they
play, where they play, why they play as well as how they
found out about the game and how they got into that game.
Based on the games they play or have played the questions
then focused on their experience with Gacha and paid Gacha
as well as their emotional attachments to the games and to
Gacha. This also included their very personal thoughts about
Gacha in general, why they purchase Gacha and when/in
what setting they purchased it. The interview then closed
with the fth section asking the participants if they had any
other thought or comments to add.
Chart 1: List of interviewees of players and basic attributes (anonymized) with interview date
Name Gender Age Interview done in Company Profession Interview Type Date Player Type
I.Y. Male 52 Japanese Ad Agency Planner F2F 1/10/17 Gamer
Y.K. Male 31 Japanese Event Planning Client Services F2F 11/16/16 Casual Player
T.I. Male 25 English IT Services PR Department F2F 11/10/17 Gamer
M.T. Male 50 Japanese Agency Planner F2F 8/10/17 Casual Player
C.K. Female 41 English Health Company Client Services F2F 10/25/17 Casual Player
M.S. Female 38 English IT company Planner F2F 9/20/17 Casual Player
M.W. Female 36 English Health Services Counsellor F2F 2/5/17 Gamer
S.I. Male 35 Japanese Production House Planner F2F 7/19/17 Casual Player
M.A. Male 36 Japanese IT company Client Services F2F 3/4/18 Gamer
C.W. Female 31 Japanese Beauty Company Director F2F 2/5/18 Casual Player
*F2F:Face to Face
Chart 2: List of interviewees of game professional and basic attributes (anonymized) with interview date
Name Gender Age Interview done in Company Profession Interview Type Date
Y.O. Male 37 Japanese Mobile Game Analysis Company Game Market Business Analyst F2F 5/4/16
C.T. Male 32 English Mobile Game Developer F2P Game Developer F2F 11/6/17
Y.A. Male 35 Japanese Mobile Game Developer F2P Game Developer F2F 11/10/16
G.K. Male 37 English Mobile Game Developer F2P Game Developer/Planner Skype 12/2/16
S.T. Male 42 English F2P Game Analysis Company Game Analyst F2F 5/28/16
K.N. Male 39 English Japanese Newspaper Game Journalist F2F 11/21/17
J.D. Male 52 English Financial Analysis Company Game Industry Analyst F2F 7/31/18
22DHU JOURNAL Vol.05 2018
【Paper】Exploring the game-of-chance elements in F2P mobile games - Insights of player's emotions from qualitative analysis -
フリーミム型モバイル・ゲームの確率変動要素の考察 ― 定性分析によるユーザーの感情に着目して ―
Also, Japan market game industry professionals were
selected through looking at online articles, research reports
and blog entries published by them or about them. The
focus here was on their expertise in F2P games and Gacha.
The authors then reached out to them explaining about the
research and asking for an interview. 10 professionals were
contacted and 6 initially agreed to be interviewed. Four of
the interviews were conducted in English and 2 interviews
were conducted in Japanese. Except for one interview all
were conducted face-to-face. An additional industry expert
interview had been conducted in July 2018 after receiving a
belated positive agreement for an interview.
The professional interviews were structured into 5 sections.
The first section explained about the overall research, the
second section asked for basic demographic data. The third
section asked about the persons past career up to now for
rapport building and to learn more about their roles and
experiences. In the fourth section the interviewers tried to
have an open talk about the professional’s exposure to
Gacha in their career, their thought on the role of Gacha
in monetization in Japan, issues they see, if possible a
comparison to other markets in Asia and the West, and their
outlook of Gacha in general. The fifth section then asked
about any additional insight they would like to share that had
not been covered in the previous discussion.
6.2 Player Insights
An insightful interview was with a 52 years old Japanese
male player who, according to this own statement, was
spending over 100,000 Yen per month on Gacha in mobile
games. When asked why he is spending this amount
of money he mentioned that Gacha is a self-rewarding
experience for him that helps him to unwind and that
he would feel less excited about Gacha if it was free of
charge. He does not care about looking at the probability
of acquiring a specic item yet he is acquiring most of the
paid Gacha during real-time events when the game offers
increased probability and/or special limited items. But he
also mentioned that he is becoming tired of Gacha as he
proceeds in the game and acquires rare items as there is not
so much to look forward to anymore.
On the contrary, a 31 years old male player pointed out
that he is not willing to pay for Gacha. He saw Gacha as a
tool to try and challenge his own luck and he gets excited
about the upcoming result and it makes him feel good to
acquire a rare item by chance. If he was to pay for it he
wanted to know the chance of winning specic items to make
sure if it is worth it or not.
In an interview with a 25-year-old male player he pointed
out that for him one of the key attraction points of items
he can acquire through Gacha is their rarity and the fact
that some of them are only available for a limited amount
of time. Owning a (virtual) item that is rare and only a few
other people have, was seen as a valuable asset for him. He
also stated that for him this was one important motivation to
spend more money on acquiring these items. If the chances
to acquire these rare items increased during special events
he was more willing to invest his money into it because of
the increased chance of acquiring them.
A 50 year old male player who used to spend around
50,000 yen a month on Gacha pointed out that he got into
a specic game because of the characters featured in there.
There was also an Anime series with these characters and he
started watching it and purchased also several merchandise
articles. His main motivation for Gacha purchase was to
acquire new limited-edition outts for the in-game characters.
For him this experience was very emotional making it
sometimes hard to control his spending.
A female player in her early 40s who mostly played casual
F2P titles mentioned she did not like it when games make
players wait until they pay to be able to move forward in the
game. The game she played were introduced to her through
her friends and colleagues. She sometimes pays for Gacha
to get limited edition items and characters but she is worried
about overspending and getting into nancial troubles.
The worry of spending too much was also brought up by
another 36 year old female player. Her worry was that she
would get into a game too much and become too attached
and then ends up spending more than she can a󰮏ord. In her
case she was playing a more casual F2P game and a more
complex F2P RPG game. The spending on the RPG game
was, what she was worried about, as she mentioned it keeps
her much more emotional involved and attached and she
cannot trust herself anymore in such a state.
Another male player in his mid 30s who was also a big fan
of mobile F2P RPGs stated that he stopped playing a specic
game because of time restraints but also because he heard
in the news about the game company behind the game
telling lies to players about the chances of acquiring specic
rare item. He felt cheated by that company and felt they had
been tinkering with his enjoyment and love for the game.
Furthermore another male player in his 30s talked about
his worry about F2P games in general. He always needs to
be online to play. There are so many F2P games out there.
Some are gone after less than a year. He is worried about
losing all his achievements and items he paid for once a
game is no longer popular and the game servers were shut
down. He was worried the game provider would let him down.
7 out of the 10 players interviewed were introduced to
the game they played through their friends. Game progress
and achievements were a popular discussion topic for them.
Especially for the male players
8 out of the 10 players interviewed stated “rarity” and
a temporal increased winning probability during special
campaigns as their key motivators for paying for Gacha.
When being asked what increased probability means for them
they mentioned they “feel” their chance of winning will be
higher, they will be double or triple but none of them was
talking about any percentages.
23
DHU JOURNAL Vol.05 2018
6.3 Professionals Insight
According to a 37 years old Game Market Business
Analyst, Gacha is used mainly for increasing the spending of
the few paying players and the different Gacha mechanics
and frequent new (rare) item content combined with in-
game real time events help to increase the spending. Players
enjoy the “luck” moment of the Gacha draw, which is a
di󰮏erent emotional experience from simply paying for an item.
Developers are becoming more creative about inventing new
item designs to increase their sales. But also it is important
to be more clear about the cost and/or chances of acquiring
items in the future to not upset players.
A 32 years old former F2P Game Developer emphasized
that Gacha, game design and payment are closely intertwined
and cannot be separated. He called it ‘The holy trinity’ of
F2P game design in Japan”.
He also stressed that Japanese players want Gacha in their
games as an extra level of entertainment. Without the Gacha
element, item acquisition would lose its attractiveness. A 35
years old former Mobage Developer supported this statement
mentioning that without Gacha players would not see it as
entertaining.
Furthermore he pointed out that many Japanese game
developers got addicted to making quick money with Gacha
in the past. Back in the early days the main devices were
feature phones and the game developers also owned the
platforms. Making money with F2P games was easy and
cheap. But with the success of smartphones the situation
had changed. Game development costs have increased
drastically, and developers need to give away 30% of their
revenue to Google or Apple. So some developers feel they
want to get their money back and start to look for many
new ways to increase the spending of players and increase
their own profits. Sometimes these practices can become
dangerous and hurt the player and also the game developer.
The social element is also important for monetizing Gacha.
Peer pressure can motivate others to pay for Gacha and to
aquire unique items others already got.
Another F2P game designers in his late 30s stressed
that Gacha takes a lot of hints from Pachinko (a popular
Japanese Slot-Machine variant). He mentioned that lights
and other mechanics that announce something will happen
are important including exciting animations before special
results. He pointed out that the top monetizing games
feature very elaborate Gacha animations. Visual feedback
and visual experience is important to players. He explained,
that Gacha animations are usually for heavy spenders only.
Also, if players purchase Consecutive Gacha (for example 10
Gacha in a row) the Gacha animation is also di󰮏erent.
According to him Japan was the rst country in the world to
develop the concept of Games as “Software as a Service”.
Games are built to last for about 2-3 years and so called
“gates” are built into the core concept of these games as
artificial borders for players to drive monetization. In the
end it is about collecting as much money as possible from
players. He also brought up the fact that around 90% of
Gacha purchases happen during the beginning of the month
as this is when people get their salary.
When the discussion came to recent regulations and ways
how to improve monetization one former developer mentioned
that currently game maker have become very careful about
playing around with probabilities or new types of Gacha
mechanics. Instead they are focusing on developing a
broader variety of rare items as well as limited edition items
and o󰮏er them through in-game campaigns. According to him
this was seen as a very protable approach as the demand
for these items is high and players are willing to invest more
to acquire them.
Another F2P developer mentioned that without Gacha
players would not see the game as entertaining. Playing a
Gacha creates an extra level of sensation and of high stakes.
This is something very emotional and has nothing to do with
any logical process. It is more like a skinner box. So showing
the odds of wining items does not matter to players. He also
said he thinks they cannot understand what a probability of
0.001% means. He compared it to buying a lottery ticket.
The buyer thinks of winning the lottery but not about the
chance of winning it. Similar to this several Gacha payers are
in for the thrill of winning.
A F2P Game Analyst pointed out that in Japan Gacha
is a purely money-making phenomenon. Companies try to
come up with many ways and mechanics to get more money
from the paying players. Once a player is hooked on a
specic game it is easy to make him pay again and again.
The developers come up with new items, special purchase
events. They have a clear picture of what is needed to make
players buy more. Often the player is not aware how much
he needs to spend to get some especially rare goods. This
lead to several issue and government had to intervene. But
according to him not much had changed. Yet Gacha only
works if the game design, character design and story is
good. If players stop enjoying, they stop playing.
Talking to a Japanese game journalist he mentioned that
the gambling aspect is the key attraction behind Gacha.
People can feel excited about it but game makers take too
much advantage of it. Gacha can be very frustrating if players
want to get an item but cannot get it. Youtubers in Japan
often take videos of their desperate attempts. This is also
what lead to the GrandBlue scandal. To get a rare character
or item chance is only about 1%. The bad fact is that
players could pay an unlimited amount of money. With Gacha
being more like a challenge of luck it can create addition
friction in players leading to overspending. According to
him, paid Gacha is an unhealthy business model and should
be replaced with other business models. He suggested a
monthly subscription model for F2P games but he feels game
companies are too greedy to do this. He also plead that
there should be a spending cap on games per month.
A recent interview with a financial analyst for the game
industry added some extra insights. He stated that most F2P
24DHU JOURNAL Vol.05 2018
【Paper】Exploring the game-of-chance elements in F2P mobile games - Insights of player's emotions from qualitative analysis -
フリーミム型モバイル・ゲームの確率変動要素の考察 ― 定性分析によるユーザーの感情に着目して ―
players who use Gacha do not pay for it. They use “free”
Gacha draws. He also explained about Japanese Gacha
games abroad. According to him many Japanese Gacha
games have failed abroad. Only some are successful. The
ones who are successful are the ones who have a good
balance between game play and payment. If the game is
focusing too much on paywalls and making players pay to
get ahead in the game it’s not fun anymore The game-of-
chance element adds another barrier for players. But if the
game itself is entertaining then this barrier can activate some
players who are prone and weak for gambling like experience
and help with increasing the overall games revenue with them.
6.4 Findings from Interviews
We can see that for paying players rare and limited-edition
items, collectability combined with campaigns and events has
an impact on their Gacha purchasing behavior. Also Gacha
seems to be an extra emotional experience for them to test
their luck. Further more their social peers play a role in what
game they play, how long they play it and if they invest in
paid Gacha or not. But at the same time the game itself, its
design, content and their emotional attachment to it appears
to be a key shaping factor in their commitment to invest time
and money into a game. Some players are worried about not
being able to control their spending and some felt remorse
about overspending.
From the professional perspective it seems like developers
are very well aware of the emotional impact Gacha has on
paying players. The desire to increase prots lets developers
experiment with many new limited edition items and elaborate
animations to hook players into paying. One developer
even called Gacha an elaborate skinner box used by game
companies to increase individual payments.
Also analysts seem to be worried about the future
sustainability of the business model. Short term prot games
might scare away players in the long term. So striking a good
balance between monetization desires and gameplay can be
a key factor of long term success.
7. Summary
Free-to-play (F2P) mobile games are based on a business
model which allows the majority of players to play the game
for free while only a small percentage (2-5%) is actually
paying for the game (mostly through the purchase of virtual
in-game items). This requires the game providers to focus on
the monetization of a small group of users.
Gacha -as a special game-of-chance based purchase of
virtual in-game items- has been outlined as one of the key
drivers for this monetization in Japan. While some Gacha
draws do not require the payment of real money, some do.
In the eyes of several Japanese researchers Gacha can be
seen as a virtual lottery system. Di󰮏erent from a real lottery,
it offers a flexible probability, (virtual) prizes items can be
expanded and reproduced at very low costs and only have
a value within the game ecosystem. Similar to real lotteries
there are free and paid options and the provider sets the
probability of winning and the range of items to be won.
Because of its virtuality it is possible to develop and
experiment with many different types of Gacha mechanics
as well as changing rarities to help increase the games
monetization. Some of them without providing any probability
of winning/acquiring a specic item.
These mechanics have led to issues and intervention from
regulators. In terms of regulation for Gacha, Japan moved
from regulatory to self-regulatory activities.
Japanese game developers and analysts see Gacha as
a fundamental element of Free-to-Play mobile games in
the market, helping to monetize these games and there
are players who spend considerable amounts of money for
Gacha. The elements of rarity, limited time o󰮏ers and change
of probability help with the monetization.
There are already several frameworks which have been
applied to virtual items, F2P games and virtual worlds. Gacha
has not been considered in these studies. In the F2P game
context Behavioral Economics has been briefly discussed
to help explain some of the behaviors of players. Given the
lottery mechanics of Gacha, applying Behavioral Economics
can add a new angle to the discussion.
This paper found from qualitative analysis that the
emotional attachment some players have to paid Gacha can
be seen as problematic and these attachments are being
artificially nurtured and intensified by the game developer
for prot optimization (Figure 5). These issues seem to be
inherent to the current major F2P monetization model. While
it can be seen as a “good game design” to emotionally
engage and motivate players to keep playing a specic game
title, exploiting this engagement for monetization by using
game-of-chance mechanics can be seen as controversial or
as a “bad game design”.
25
DHU JOURNAL Vol.05 2018
8. Further analysis and discussion
This paper just gives a preliminary overview of Gacha and
the di󰮏erent angles involved from the Gacha mechanics side
and its uncertainty element, the regulatory side, developers
side and players side and how Gacha could a󰮏ect freemium
online services.
In future papers these different items should be looked
at more closely in combination with more quantitative
data analysis. Given the fact that Gacha is also gaining
momentum in Europe and the U.S. due to the launch of
several Japanese mobile games titles with Gacha elements it
would be interesting to take a closer look at the regulatory
angle and how this could inspire or impact regulation or self-
regulation in these markets. Also, the discussion of Gacha as
a gambling mechanism could be worth investigating further in
this setting from a more global and general perspective.
Another angle that should be investigated further is the
effect of Gacha on player’s attitude and behavior as this
can help to shed more light on the underlying causes of its
impact from a consumer’s perspective.
【Note】
*1 This paper is based on a conference proceedings paper
presented at 14th ITS (International Telecommunications Society)
Asia-Pacic Regional Conference, Kyoto 2017.
*2 The origin of “Gacha” naming is a real toy lottery machine,
“Gacha Gacha” or “Gacha Pon”, capsuled small toy lottery
machine. Players of “Gacha Gacha” can turn the machine’s lever
to get a capsule by paying a few hundred Yen (several dollar) for
a turn. The sound of the turning lever is like “Gacha Gacha” and
the sound of opening a capsule is similar to “Pon” thus giving
it its name “Gacha Pon”. Generally, Gacha Gacha toys cannot
bought anywhere else but through the Gacha Pon machine.
Therefore, people who want a Gacha Gacha toy have to try their
luck by paying real money and then turning the Gacha Gacha
machine lever.
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28DHU JOURNAL Vol.05 2018
【Paper】Exploring the game-of-chance elements in F2P mobile games - Insights of player's emotions from qualitative analysis -
フリーミム型モバイル・ゲームの確率変動要素の考察 ― 定性分析によるユーザーの感情に着目して ―
【論文】
リーアム型モバイル・ゲームの確率変動要素の考察
―定性分析によるユーザーの感情に着目して―
マルコ ・クーダー 1・田中 絵麻 2・三友 仁志3
1博士候補生, 早稲田大学大学院アジア太平洋研究科
2客員准教授, デジタルハリウッ大学大学院
3教授, 早稲田大学大学院アジア太平洋研究科)
無料プレイ(Free to play: F2P)のビジネスモデルを採用するモバイル・ゲームでは、ごく一部の利用者(ユーザーの2 5% 程度)が課金して
いる(そのうち、多くの場合がアイテム課金である)。モバイル・ゲームの収益は、クロトランザクションと呼ばれるプレイヤーによるゲーム内で
の仮想アイテムや機能の購入この購入行為はプレイヤー側からもゲーム開発者側も「課金/課金する」と呼ばれる)により発生する。収益拡大
のためには、限られた人数のプレイヤーがより課金するか、もしくは、非課金者に課金させるかの方法がある。そのため、り魅力的なゲー
プレイ経験と、ゲーム内課金へとプレイヤーを誘導する要素を接合することが行われている。特に、収益化メカニズムは、日本の F2P モバイ
ゲームにおいて「ガチャ」と呼ばれるくじ要素の導入によって強化されうるものである。ゲーム開発者が収益を拡大するため、意図的にガチャの
メカニズムを利用し、一部のプレイヤーの非合理的な支払い過多の状態を引き起こしている
そこで本論では、文献調査とインタビュー調査から、最初に、F2Pのモバイゲームにおける確率変動要素であるガチャ」の基本的な枠組み、
さままなメカニズムと要素、主な課題を概観した。中でも、プレイヤーとゲーム開発者や専門家へのインタビューから、課金プレイヤーの感情
的な没入に注目し、この没入が収益化において役割を果たしていることを明らかにした。F2P にかかる先行研究では、メカニズムや感情要素に
着目したものは少ない。多くの収益性の高い日本の F2P ゲームにおいて、ガチャと呼ばれる巧妙なゲーム設計と収益化の組み合わせが効果的に
用いられているといえる。一方で、このビジネスモデルは、一部の課金者に依存するという意味で持続可能性が疑問視されている。このことは、
ゲーム開発者やアナリトへのインタビューでも指摘された
キーワード:ガチャ、フリーミアム、モバイル・ゲーム、価格差別、行動経済学
... Sementara, barang virtual dengan kelangkaan yang lebih tinggi cenderung lebih sulit untuk didapatkan tetapi bisa didapat dengan lebih mudah melalui transaksi mikro. Oleh karena itu, dapat dikatakan bahwa mekanisme Gacha didesain agar pemain merasa terdorong untuk mengeluarkan uang lebih banyak demi mendapatkan barang virtual dengan kelangkaan yang sangat tinggi (Koeder et al., 2018;Neely, 2019). ...
... Penelitian yang berfokus pada pemain gim seluler sebagai subjek penelitian masih sangat sedikit. Dua artikel yang mengangkat masalah pemain gim seluler dengan pembelian barang virtual di dalam gim berfokus pada perbandingkan antara pemain yang aktif melakukan transaksi mikro dengan pemain yang belum pernah (Gainsbury et al., 2016), komentar pemain gim seluler terkait mekanisme Gacha, dan alasan pemain untuk terus bermain gim seluler dengan mekanisme Gacha (Koeder et al., 2018). Maka, dapat disimpulkan bahwa penelitian terdahulu masih terlalu berfokus pada mekanisme Gacha dalam gim seluler serta kontroversinya, tetapi penelitian yang secara khusus berfokus pada pemain serta faktor yang memotivasi pemain untuk tetap memainkan dan mengeluarkan uang dalam gim seluler masih sangat minim. ...
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... Regardless of whether actual money was invested in to the game, every player shares the desire to collect characters but with slight differences. Paying players, after taking into account of high rarity and limited-edition items alongside collectability, would have their purchasing behaviour be impacted (Koeder & Tanaka, 2018). For F2P players, a determining factor would be whether they liked the character but it does not ensure that they draw gacha. ...
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... Although it was concluded to not be significant enough to provide a clear explanation, it still served to be a possible explanation in this study, especially when considered with the finding on extraversion in the previous hypothesis. In an interview from a previous study, one of the participants reported that their main motivation for gacha purchase was to obtain limited-edition outfits for the in-game characters (Koeder & Tanaka, 2018). This observation may be tied with the idea of collectability. ...
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