We are on the verge of the arrival of two potentially massive new games from Chinese developers in the wake of the success of Genshin Impact, which has generated billions in revenue since its release.
One is from Genshin developer Hoyoverse, Zenless Zone Zero, and one is from Perfect World, Tower of Fantasy, a new MMORPG.
I’ve been playing Tower of Fantasy, and sure enough, maybe 15 minutes into the game, you’re introduced to its gacha system, one that has you pull for powerful rare weapons and attached skins to use. Zenless Zone Zero will also have a gacha-based character roster, and of course, gacha is the reason that Genshin Impact has made so much money in the first place. You are not just paying for power, you are gambling for it.
Gacha creates an interesting problem, however, if you’re into these games, and it’s something I don’t really experience with other games in the same way. With most live service games, the issue is time. As in, I cannot keep up with every new Destiny, Outriders, Avengers, Division and Wonderlands development all at the same time. But if I wanted to stay current? Shelling out $10 for a new season or $20-40 for an expansion is not the end of the world.
But gacha? That’s different. While Genshin Impact does a good job of giving players a whole lot of freedom to play essentially the entire game without spending money, they do an equally good job creating attractive characters and weapons so you want to spend money. And spend money I have.
Now, this has created a strange situation where I feel like I’m so invested in Genshin Impact, that I’m turned off from these other games in the same genre, because I don’t want to/can’t afford to start a gacha “collection” over from scratch. It’s hard to picture investing in Tower of Fantasy or Zenless Zone Zero instead of just continuing on with Genshin as they continue to add content and new regions.
In the case of Hoyoverse, this becomes outright cannibalism. It’s easy to see how a situation crops up where a player may have an interest in both ZZZ and Genshin, but not the budget for both. So either they spend less on Genshin or don’t bother with ZZZ in the first place.
In the case of Perfect World, if you have crafted your entire monetization system to mirror a rival, you had better deliver a product that is more compelling than that rival. It’s not a traditional game where you just have to convince a player to spend $60 for a box copy, Tower of Fantasy has to deal with trying to pull over Genshin players who have spent dozens, hundreds or even thousands of dollars within that ecosystem, and tell them they’ll need to start over with them, or stick with perma-f2p.
The thing about gacha is…it works. There’s so much revenue on the table here with this model, which some deem predatory, that maybe these sacrifices are okay. Hoyoverse doesn’t care where you’re spending, as long as you spend somewhere with them. And even if Tower of Fantasy does 20% of Genshin’s haul, that’s still massive.
Still, I wonder about the long term sustainability of gacha. If this becomes an increasingly common revenue path, I do wonder about the genre eating itself as it’s just not sustainable for the player. Or it becomes an instant turn-off before the game even starts, aka, I’m less interesting in Tower of Fantasy because it’s gacha, and Genshin has taught me just how much of a sink that can be. This also seems like something that’s headed towards potential regulation, now that “loot boxes” have been doomed in many places. It’s the same concept, but honestly, even worse in many ways.
There’s definitely some West v. East stuff here, as gacha is far more common and accepted in Asia, and is only just starting to rear its head in the west with games like these, but it’s something I definitely want to keep an eye on, and see how sustainable this is over the grand arc of the trend.
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Pick up my sci-fi novels the Herokiller series and The Earthborn Trilogy.