Gacha Games: A New Form of Gambling?

By Ana Perez, 10th Grade

If you have been on the internet recently, you might have heard of ‘gacha games.’ Think of Genshin Impact, Raid Shadow Legends, or Love Live School Idol Festival. These are games that add a gacha mechanic in order to motivate players to use real money. Think of those vending machines outside of grocery stores where you can insert a coin to win a random prize but rarely do. Or those crane games where you play, play, and play in order to win a cute plushie, but rarely win anything at all. While these mechanics are meant to add a new ‘exciting’ layer to video games, they usually lead players into a rabbit hole of spending. Most games with gacha are often free to play but make you spend real money to obtain in-game commodities. While this is normal for many games today, which hide most of their best content with a paywall, gacha games are often compared to gambling and are particularly scrutinized, since most of these games are marketed toward children. 

Similar to gambling, gacha games can become an addiction. However, your goal is not to ‘win big’ but to obtain the newest, most popular, and trendiest item or character in the game which is offered through the gacha. 

Let’s use a gacha game as an example. One of the most popular ones right now is Genshin Impact. In the game, you obtain most characters (usually limited-time characters known as ‘5-stars’) through a gacha mechanic. If you want to advance through the game quickly instead of using four characters that are frankly useless, you need to use this mechanic. The problem? You need in-game currency (primogems) to obtain these characters. And for those who are free-to-play, it takes a long time to obtain primogems. If that makes you feel discouraged, the probability of obtaining a 5-star character in the banner is of around 1%. Thankfully, at a certain point, you are guaranteed to obtain the character. However, you need to ‘pull’ about 180 times to obtain said character, and afterwards, your ‘pity’ resets and you’ll need to pull another 180 times. And how many primogems to do you need for 180 pulls? 28,800. But if you can’t obtain these primogems quickly enough since these characters are usually limited, do not fear, the game company has you covered! It’ll only cost you around $225. Yes, you heard that right, $225 to obtain one character in a video game. Plus, if you obtain a 5-star while pulling for the character you want, you’ll have to spend another $225.

Another popular game right now is Project Sekai; a game based on the popular Vocaloid franchise, it is a rhythm game instead of an RPG. In it, instead of obtaining characters through the gacha mechanic, you obtain ‘cards,’ usually 4-stars since they are the most useful, and have special skills and cute costumes. At this point in time, every character has at least 8 4-stars. And if you want to obtain a decent amount of points when playing songs, you need to use the gacha to obtain 4-stars using the in-game currency (crystals). To keep you engaged, every 8 – 10 days a new ‘banner’ with three different 4-stars will drop. If you only want one of these 4-stars, you’ll need around 90,000 crystals for a guarantee, because your chances of obtaining these ‘banner’ 4-stars are around 3%. However, you’ll find that obtaining these cards is much harder. And the 3% only applies to these 3 cards, because every other 4-star will have a 0.11% chance of appearing. And it’ll cost you around ¥80,000 to obtain those crystals you need, which is around $55. To get all 4-stars in your preferred banner, you’d need $165. And these 4-stars pop up approximately every 8 – 10 days, which means hardcore fans could spend approximately ¥834,000 ($5,775). 

Just like a casino, gacha games are designed to get you to buy, buy, and buy. Therefore, since these games are mostly marketed towards children, teenagers, and young adults, many want to impose regulations on gacha games since these are ‘just as harmful as gambling,’ and several countries already have regulated these games. Japan has banned all gacha games that do not allow a guaranteed rare item after a certain number of attempts. South Korea, China, Belgium, and the Netherlands have all taken regulatory action to limit the monetization of gacha systems.

While many have compared gacha games to gambling and casinos in the past, there are key differences between the two. Unlike most casino games, gacha games do not require any money to play the game; while it will try to influence you into spending money, these are not required to enjoy the game. While in gambling players have to wager real money to obtain something of ‘value,’ this does not happen in gacha games, since they are usually free-to-play games. This is why a comparison between lotteries and gacha games is considered to be more accurate.

Now, you might be wondering, why would someone spend that much money on a video game? Just like gambling, alcohol, and drugs, gacha games stimulate the brain’s reward system. According to Hallber (2018), “The regions of the brain comprising the ‘reward system’ use the neurotransmitter dopamine to communicate. Dopamine-producing neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) communicate with neurons in the nucleus accumbens in order to evaluate rewards and motivate us to obtain them. It’s not the reward itself, but the expectation of a reward that most powerfully influences emotional reactions and memories. Reward learning occurs when we experience something unexpected — when the actual reward differs from what we otherwise would predict. If a reward is greater than anticipated, dopamine signaling increases. If a reward is less than expected, dopamine signaling decreases. In contrast, correctly predicting a reward does not alter dopamine signaling because we aren’t learning anything new.” It’s the promise of a big reward that activates the reward system – it doesn’t matter if it’s the promise of money or the promise of an exclusive item, because the expectation of that reward will activate the gears of your brain’s reward system.

But, do not fear, this does not mean that gacha games are automatically addictive! As we know, enjoying gambling (if you’re of age) or drinking alcohol (if you’re of age) every once in a while isn’t inherently bad; the problem is developing a gambling addiction or an alcohol addiction. The same logic applies to gacha games. As long as moderation is involved, you can enjoy your favorite gacha games without worry. It’s important to remember that it’s not the end of the world if you didn’t obtain that character or item that you really, really wanted and spent all your in-game currency for. If you want to spend a little bit of money on your favorite gacha game once in a while, then there’s no problem with that. The problem is spending money on your favorite gacha game every time an exclusive item comes out, because the gacha will suck the money out of your pockets – and it will do it fast. 

Everything in excess is harmful. Whether it’s gambling, gacha games, or another hobby you enjoy, it’s important to practice moderation. 



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