Gatcha Games

One of my best friends called me “a gatcha game serial monogamist”. I think the first one I played was Final Fantasy: Relic Keeper. Some of them I play daily for a few months, then delete them and never play them again. Some of them I play for a week and delete them and never play it again. Only one has made me download it a second time, and I'm not really sure how long it will last.

Honestly, I don't know why I play them. I think one part of it is the how I get to see "numbers going up over time" as Tim would say. Another other part of it is the brain-hack slot machine mechanism of the summoning system. I do enjoy having collections of tiny characters that I've spent time with.

Here are the ones that I remember playing and some brief thoughts:

  • - Final Fantasy: Record Keeper: I liked collecting the tiny sprite heroes from old RPGs, but the game was kind of dull and you would either blast through the content in auto, or it wasn't worth it in terms of a time commitment. This is a recurring theme. Probably played it for 2-3 months and just quit.
  • - _Final Fantasy: Brave ExVious_: Basically better than Record Keeper in every way, but still has that auto/not worth your time to play problem. It also officially made Ariana Grande a Final Fantasy character. Played for like, 4ish months until the added Setzer - one of my favorite characters - as a rare (1% or so) drop. Summoned him within 5 pulls, leveled him to max, and immediately deleted the game and never touched it again.
  • - _That Fire Emblem Game_: Played it for less than a week. Just didn't stick. I think I didn't care for the characters and I definitely didn't care for the combat.
  • - _Dragalia Lost_: This game actually had a decent action RPG engine and your friends could play simultaneously. That was quite cool. Solid art style and introduced some interesting mechanics like Skip tickets so you could complete dailies faster on days when you may not have had time to play. Drawing dragons was dumb though. I didn't like the dragons. Played for like, 2-3 months.
  • - _A Final Fantasy 15 Game I think_: Lasted for like, 2 days. I dunno, the onboarding was baaaad.
  • - _Epic 7_: I've played this one the most. It has a lot of things to do in terms of PVE and PVE, a ton of characters, very strong and cohesive art style throughout. The art style is certainly consistently sexist though. I got into it because of a crossover event with Guilty Gear and I got Sol through play and Baiken through luck. Didn't get Dizzy though. Certainly hits a wall with time and effort though. The "Second Quest" is pretty grindy and it takes a long time to gear a character. But otherwise, this is far and away my favorite.
  • - _That FF Tactics One_: Lasted only maybe a few days. Ugly 3D art, and the battles are sloooooow. If I can't play a F2P phone game battle in only a minute or two, it's not going to fit into my lifestyle. Because if I have the time to play a game for more than a minute or two, I'll go sit down at the PS4.
  • - _Sino Alice_: I was interested in it having Yoko Taro's involvement, but the things you try to summon are weapons, and the weapons don't have any personality. Bartz carried me through FFRK, some gold sword doesn't have the same characterization.
  • - _Romancing SaGa ReBirth_: Made it two or three days. And the combat system seemed actually interesting. The art style was kind of all over the place though.
  • - _Some Fighter BallZ Game_: This is secretly cookie clicker. I hadn't played cookie clicker before, but I found out what cookie clicker is by playing this game. And when I read that you are guaranteed to get a new character every 40,000 clicks, I deleted it within hours of installing it. I genuinely felt it pulling at my brain and it was making me feel weird and anxious.
  • Total cost of me playing years of phone games off and on: $0. So I'm clearly not even in the target demographic because I'll pay $10 for Bomber Man to play with my family on impulse, but I won't pay a dime in one of these games. Yet I'll wast my battery on them. In conclusion, I'm not sure if there's any healthy way to play them.

    Who else has played gatcha games?

    Hello!!! I do this! I‘ve had to take a big breather because work has been so difficult lately, but I’ve played a bunch…

    Here's an article I wrote about the sunsetting of one of the game I played the most, and how the whales felt when it went away.

    Games I've played, that I can remember:
    _Princess Pajama_ - this was originally planned for the DS, and it shows, because it was (sadly for them) well balanced and you absolutely did not need to spend money in it. I became number 1 (or 2?) in the leaderboards at this one. It's a tower offence thing where you have to spawn and maintain characters and get the right DPS going. But unfortunately once you figure out one character is OP, that's kinda the end of it. I spent $5 on it just to throw them a bone right before it closed. I played for a few months before I beat everything they had. It was early days and there weren't events or big gatcha things... they didn't really know what they were doing gatcha-wise and just made a well balanced game that was free, oops.

    _Metal Slug Defense_ - another tower offense game which I played for about 3-4 months. It went pretty well for a while, and I was working my way up the rankings. Then they made a bunch of tweaks which really really buffed the stuff you have to pay for, and then winning battles became nearly impossible and I quit. Still fun to do the offline missions though.

    _Metal Slug Attack_ - the sequel to metal slug defense. I hated it, it totally didn't stick. I guess they front loaded the gatcha here and it just didn't work for me.

    _Puzzle and Dragons_ - played this for a few months, but it never stuck. I just didn't like the core mechanic, and the gatcha system was consistently disappointing. I never really figured out why people stuck with it so long.

    _Monster Strike_ - This thing is still popular in japan, but never took off here. It's basically top down angry birds RPG. I never really liked it, and the gatcha thing didn't work so well to me because all I got out of it was a new circle.

    _call of snakes_ - from a developer in korea that I kind of admire! I never had reason to spend money, but it's basically snake, where your snake is composed of soldiers that shoot at enemies. It's cool! I played it for a few months.

    _clash royale_ - what can I say, I think this game is Actually Good. Clever strategy/tactics game with good gamefeel, a genre-defining take on the energy mechanic that everyone copied (maybe someone did it before them, but basically instead of energy, they limit how long your chests take to open, and how many battle chests you can get). I spent a little when stuff went on discount... I probably spent the most on this game, maybe $20 or $30? I played it for like a year and a half but uninstalled it because it was taking... well... a lot of my time.

    _gears pop_ - had to judge this for a competition. clash royale but worse, with ugly funko pops in it. played for two days.

    _call of duty mobile_ - played for a competition as well. It was fine! But the gatcha is surrounding getting more realistic guns and like american flags and stuff and it just felt so gross.

    _command and conquer rivalry or whatever it's called_ - so much potential here! you're basically defending your three-pronged base and attacking the other person's, basically clash royale but with pathfinding. But the fact there's no/little pathfinding in clash royale is what makes the whole thing work. With this one, the winner is the person who learns to figure out what pathfinding glitches will happen at what time. Another issue is the 2nd person to reach a base is the one who starts capturing it (vs defending it or whatever), so high level players would basically juke their units away from the base at the last second to be the 2nd one to arrive. This would be fine if it weren't realtime, meaning I could see all this like a full second after it happens, and be powerless to stop it. Played 5 days.

    _SMT Dx2_ - played this a bunch too! The single player was kind of fun, and I joined a guild which was regularly #1 or 2 in raids and stuff. But the raids were very time consuming and not fun. And there was just SO MUCH STUFF that it really felt like work. I uninstalled the game after several months because I was really feeling the grind, but also I had so much constant maintenance to do, my inventory would fill up, I'd need to check 5 different places to see which demons to fuse, and overall it was just overwhelming. I reinstalled it to check out the new single player update and they gave me so much new junk that my inventory was instantly full and I couldn't do anything without remember which of the literally 10 different places I could go to get rid of stuff, and what stuff to get rid of, and... I just didn't pick it back up again.

    _Dragalia Lost_ - I really don't get why this one was popular. I had already played a dozen games that played like this at korean and chinese tradeshows and was pretty over it. Played it for about two days.

    _Sugar Blast: Pop & Relax_ - I wanted a peggle-like, and while this isn't that, it's got something to it that's similar (it's more like that disney tsum tsum thing, but more puzzle-oriented). @gyozaleaf recommended it to me I think, and I played it for like two months and got further, and ultimately became frustrated because there are levels that are designed as stopping blocks, as all these puzzle games have. But the way in which is happened here was frustrating. If I could've just paid to beat the level, I honestly would have, because I knew I'd then get 20 more levels before I hit another stopper. But in this game the stuff you pay for are like helpful aids that may or may not help in your situation, with an element of randomness to them, so you could use a bunch of items and not be guaranteed a win, and it's just like... don't put a stopping block like this if I can't get rid of it in a consistent way.

    _Fire Emblem_ - I hated it, honk

    _Dr Mario World_ - ditto. felt bad! I've not liked a single nintendo one.

    _Alphabear_ - it's fine! but I wondered why I was playing after a while.

    _Puzzle Fighter_ - eh, it was fine? had serious problems but didn't deserve to die so fast.

    that's all I can remember!!!

    I have only played like 2? I find it hard to play these games because they're at odds with what I use a smartphone for.

    FF All the Bravest - Not sure if a Gacha game and this was really dunked on at the time of release for being generally terrible but I like the concept of doing endless random battles with pixel sprite characters but it seemed kind of pointless

    SINofALICE - because Yoko Taro was involved. And I played it for roughly 2 hours. Some of the writing is funny and it kind of pokes at what I assume are tropes of the genre.

    SinoAlice absolutely pokes at the tropes. There are two puppets that tell you to grind more, buy more, and complain when you do/do not get enough rares in your summons.

    i am also on the sinoalice train and it’s fun. i like the writing and a few of the designs, but I agree strongly that getting Weapons from pulls instead of characters is not great.

    my partner fell hard into Love Live before i even met her, and that’s a heck of a game if you like tap rhythm mechanics and also anime girl jpegs. she confessed to me once she’s definitely spent mid-to-high three digits of dollars on that game.

    a big part of it is just having something simple and collectible to sink nervous energy into. gacha is best when it is playable for both seconds and hours at a time, i think.

    For me, I have to respect the design enough to pretend I‘m not being manipulated into doing work. Like even with the games I’m good at here, and which I don‘t spend much money on, I’m a useful cog in the PVP machine, and all my grinding really becomes labor for the developer.

    And then there's just (like I talked about with Dx2) the just daily work grind of maintaining position... a game really has to feel smooth and give those dopamine spikes for me to get past it.

    I had a very turbulent on-and-off experience with Pixel Starships – which to my knowledge is still in a kinda beta, having been in a 0.9 version for years. It's pretty wonderful game in early levels, but mid to end game, it requires a real mastery of the AI-based combat system with limited win conditions. Free players would also have to wait like two whole days on repairs and resource gathering just to be battle ready again. I held onto it for quite a while because there is something endearing about having a whole space pirate screw I can manage in my pocket. I actually shelled out money for this one too because it was a small studio with a lot of passion for what they were doing, but it was a time sink and learning curve that I could not commit too.

    I've very recently gotten into the new(ish) _Dragon Quest of the Stars_ game. It's basically DQIX but in a streamlined iPhone experience. I loved DQIX, but I also loved any JRPG that allowed me to be brown in my formative years. It's pretty fun. I like that the gatcha aspect is based on gear rather than characters and that the game throws "gems" at you. The community is pretty friendly too.

    I hadn‘t heard of this DQ of the Stars game… I’m trying to take a rest from gatcha stuff until I have more time in my life again.

    Once I was at dinner with Kris Graft from Gamasutra and some other folks and he said he'd started playing Clash Royale again. I was like oh, let me see what units you've got. and then he's like "you can play some if you want." it'd been like a year and a half or more since I'd last played the game, and I'd always played on an ipad, not on the phone, but I was like "let's just see if I remember this stuff."

    Then I went on to win 4 matches in a row and I was like well... I guess I'd better not touch this game again!!!!!!!! It's enjoyable, but it sure does suck you in! we used to have an insert credit guild, too. It was half people I knew and half folks from an indonesian game forum that I never learned the name of.

    haha that’s a fun story. but for sure, these things are an addictive time sink by design. I can never play them if I’m also playing a video game(s) somewhat regularly.

    Haven‘t updated this in a while, and I’ve played a few more recently and bounced off some of them pretty hard. And I know that our host has spoken about World Flipper on the podcast a bit!

  • -

    World Flipper is pretty cute in that its pinball combat is extremely novel. However, the pinball doesn‘t feel “pinball” enough to me. You don’t get to do say dead-catches, or flipper holds. Once I figured that out, I did better at the game, but also liked it a lot less. Additionally, I really don‘t care for the pixel art. It’s squashed down to a square aspect ratio without enough room to breathe. So I like the concept, the story is cute enough, I never felt gated by content, energy, or pacing, (but I sure could feel it coming!), but IDK, just didn‘t get there for me. But I’m glad it exists because it shows a different way to do combat. Played this for several weeks logging in most days. This is the one I'd recommend out of this batch.

  • -

    _Alchemy Stars_ is another game that has a novel combat mechanic. You trace a path around a grid and you do damage as a function of the length of colors that you connect which is also a function of the "color" of your lead character. My main issue with the game is that the combat took too long for me and was too fiddly. I made a lot of errors tracing the routes on my phone. Art style was "high-end live 2D gatcha game". I didn't think that the characters got too sexy either which is saying something. Played for maybe a week.

  • -

    I was looking forward to playing _Blue Archive_ for no explainable reason knowing nothing about it. The characters are all... young which I realize is a consistent problematic issue in the games space, but this one seemed egregious. The content doesn't even get very tongue in cheek, but it just irritated me. A big plus point though is that the mascot character is clearly riding a high-end road bike that is clearly modeled to be a [Bianchi Specialissima]( with the serial numbers filed off. That was enough to get me interested in the game - I'm only half joking here, it's a great looking road bike. The combat is kinda interesting as you form a party and they auto-fight. Each character adds a special move to a deck that comes up as part of an active-time cost point system. I thought that was pretty interesting as I needed to decide "do I use this expensive command now, or wait" or sometimes I burn the move ASAP to clear out the space of say a heal card early in the fight when I don't have any damage on my party. I hit a wall on it very quickly though and got stuck. I also overdosed in it while I played it the first few days when I was in the hospital (I'm totally fine) so I think I've developed a legit negative association with it. Played for less than a week starting day one.

  • Current lifetime Gatcha expenditures: $0. Still F2P. 😎

    I’ve been keeping up with Girl Cafe Gun because it’s a(not good) game I briefly worked on.

    Otherwise uhhhhhhh man I’ve been really disappointed in the Yoko Taro gacha games and I feel like I’m less excited for his brand of storytelling now that it’s being overexposed.

    Oh, I forgot, I played Honoki Impact 3rd for a few weeks because of the Evangelion crossover content. The EVA event was legitimately well done. It was extremely self-aware and had lots of fun references to both the TV show and the Rebuild series. It‘s an older game and more of a “traditional” action RPG. I liked some of the counters as part of the combat, but I didn’t feel like they were explained very well. Again, it‘s not specifically my bag. I like some of the Gatcha games because they aren’t very “heavy” in terms of mental energy. I can play them in the background while I‘m listening to a work meeting. I don’t feel like I can do that with some of the more action-y games.

    An update of my own: I got to level 100 of world flipper and then quit. it was starting to be like… log in and do these challenges daily and grind these tough battles or you can‘t get the best weapons, which you need in order to beat other tough battles to get the best weapons, etc. the pointlessness came to a real head there, but the real issue was it’s not at all clear how to build a good team, partially because of localization issues, and partially because you MUST do math to figure it out, and partially because making and testing new teams isn‘t that easy. Anyway, I’m happy I dropped it but I'm fine with the time I spent with it!

    @“exodus”#p49033 I think this is about where I‘ve landed on it. I hit 85, but the only part I’m actually hanging on for at this point is the conclusion to the current story chapter. After looking up a few team comps for each element it‘s basically turned into an idle game minus some of the better things about idle games (you actually have to glance over and prompt it to go every few minutes instead of just checking in whenever). I’ll probably stick around until the current story chapter wraps up. I had a good time with it overall, though!

    I‘m pretty much done with Granblue Fantasy after like 5 years of playing it. It’s been well past the point of diminishing returns for progression for probably a few years for me, but just drawing for new characters has kept me going until now. How it works is, if you save up enough currency for 300 draws and use them all on the same banner, then you also get a free pick of whatever character you like from a set of limited powerful characters or the new characters on the banner (called a “spark” due to the in-game terminology related to this action). If you play consistently the game gives you enough currency for free to “spark” 3 or 4 times a year. So on a daily basis there is motivation to log in and do all of the events to save up so that you will have 300 draws ready at the times of year when they are most likely to have the best new characters available, usually new years, end of summer, and the game's anniversary in spring. They further encourage this by giving away a lot of free draws during this time, so you really only need to save up 250 or even just 200 or so draws to make sure you can get to 300.

    The game managed to kill my motivation to keep playing it by giving me too much free stuff, ironically. Over the summer they had a free lottery where one of the prizes was enough currency to do more than 300 draws easily. I got that prize! (It also created its own immediate backlash because the odds of getting a really good prize like I did were quite high, like 50%, but for the 50% who missed that the consolation prize was essentially useless. The extreme disparity made a lot of whales who didn't get the good freebies quit very publicly.)

    So I'm sitting on a pile of currency that's twice as large as I've ever had, and suddenly now my motivation to log in to play on a daily basis isn't so I can make sure to get to 300 draws and spark, but to try and get to 600 draws and spark... twice? Which isn't much of a motivation at all. And with saving up for the gacha no longer providing any motivation to play, there's just nothing left.

    So I tried World Flipper but the presentation wasn't doing much for me, and I ended up back with Dragalia Lost right in the middle of its anniversary and fistfulls of freebies. It's kept my attention for a bit now even though the freebies are over, we will see how long it lasts.

    @“thebryanjzx90”#p49085 lol turns out that the next event at the end of the month in Granblue involves one of my favorite characters, a Rock Howard lookalike and a thickheaded lunk that‘s always shouting about the only way to understand another person is to punch and be punched by them, I’m definitely back for that.

    Ah man, that granblue experience is stressful for me to even read about! Mostly because I understand it. It describes a compulsion more than it describes fun, and any given change can pull the wool back on that and show it for what it truly is, and make you realize the motivation to keep playing was pretty weak to start with.

    Like with world flipper I realized I was just using 3x my phone's battery daily to do all the auto battling and whatnot. Then I thought... This is like mining for crypto except I don't get anything unless I play this game forever and have value in these characters. That is part of what motivated me to quit.

    But yeah, the draws were what kept me going, but then it was like... What do I need good draws for other than to keep playing the game to get new draws?

    As for the story, yeah, I was kind of wanting to see the end of the chapter but I had been skipping all the side stories and just reading the paragraph summaries so I was like... How much do I really care?

    I do think I'd have stuck with it longer if it were clearer how to build good teams. The only time you really don't want idle/auto battle is when you need to do specials in certain orders but overall you just wanna build a team that can grind without your input. That's no fun really!

    I still think clash royale is the best f2p game I ever played. That's the only one I stopped playing ONLY because I was playing it too much, not because I got bored or realized the futility of it.


    @“exodus”#p49098 Like with world flipper I realized I was just using 3x my phone’s battery daily to do all the auto battling and whatnot. Then I thought… This is like mining for crypto except I don’t get anything unless I play this game forever and have value in these characters. That is part of what motivated me to quit.

    I feel the same way about the battery drain. It's something that I realize sooner and sooner each time I fire up a Gatcha game.

    I haven't looked into the technical details of it very much. I'm unsure if they are simply up and on the screen considerably more than another phone game (absolutely true for me), or if they are not well optimized (I can't prove or disprove this) or if part of the Gatcha market's expectation is very high-quality graphics for a phone game. I think it's a combination of all of the three.

    I'm curious to see how the Android on Windows sub-system in Windows 11 does or doesn't impact the "phone game" market. I know that lots of Youtube gatcha content creators/whales play on the BlueStacks emulator, but that's got a medium high barrier to entry. You need to be reasonably technically savvy to get the emulator setup, get the APK from somewhere and link accounts etc. Having access to the Google Play store on Windows is going to make that way easier for most people.

    That Shining Force gatcha game project from South Korea is dead. Oh well.