Last update: May 2021

4 mins to read - 2020/10/23

What Is a Gacha Game? An Introduction

It’s a term that casual gamers might not be all that familiar with. But gacha games are making a big splash in the mobile games industry. And with recent spectacular successes – such as that of the recent Chinese RPG Genshin Impact – it’s likely that they will be a driving model for monetization of mobile games. But what exactly is a gacha game? And what is the best way to approach a mobile engagement campaign for one?

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gacha game vending machine

What Is a Gacha Game?

Do you remember those vending machines in supermarkets where you could insert a quarter and a random toy in a clear plastic capsule came out at the bottom? These are actually owing to a line of Japanese vending machines called “Gachapon.” (“Gacha” for the sound you make turning the crank after you put your money in, “pon” for the sound the capsule makes when it drops to the bottom of the machine.) The toys inside are colorful and cheaply made. Their random distribution is a strong incentive to get kids to feed coins into the slot until they get the toy they want.

Gachapon vending machines have achieved a near-legendary popularity in Japan. Similarly, games  styled after the randomized reward model of gacha games are widespread in Japan. Nearly all of Japan’s 200 top-grossing games utilizing gacha-style mechanics. The monetization structure has been slower to catch on in the West. Critics often out the similarities between gacha and gambling. (And, it’s true, gacha-style vending machines are effectively slot machines for kids.)

What Monetization Tactics Do Gacha Games Use?

The mechanism behind gacha games is fueled by in-app purchases (IAPs). Certain items such as weapons, skins, or cosmetics that tie in to gameplay can be distributed on a randomized basis. This is the same type of psychology, manipulating the anticipation and dopamine rush, found in roulette wheels or slot machines. And this has earned the gacha model some criticism in the west, along with loot boxes.

In addition to the addictive nature of the gacha mechanism, many complaints arise when gacha games make progression through the game dependent on paying in to the gacha element. There are F2P games (such as the popular Gardenscapes) where you can progress organically through the game, waiting out the time blocks and only purchasing supplemental items if you want a more premium or flashy experience.

And then there are games (such as the recently released Raid: Shadow Legends) where game progression moves at a snail’s pace – or is almost impossible – without paying for upgrades or better equipment. Because of the randomization of the mechanism, you might end up paying 100s of dollars or more without realizing it. However, fans of gacha games point out that they mean no interrupting ads or pop-ups to disrupt gameplay.

Creative Ways to Implement Gachas in Your Game

When used in moderation, gachas can be a fantastic way to add some color and excitement to your mobile game. People are hardwired to collect items, and even when they’re just digital items, adding a collectible element to your game can be a fun way to individualize the gaming experience. The most obvious example is in Pokemon GO, when players can collect gacha eggs, which they need to rack up enough miles walked before they hatch. Sure, for every Pikachu you hatch, you’re going to hatch 20 Rattatas… but that’s all part of the fun!

It becomes more of a questionable tactic when games require gachas to access certain stages of the game. For example, the game Dungeon Boss has four different portals that players can access. Each portal requires a different in-game currency to unlock it and play. The fourth “VIP” portal, with the best characters, is only accessible for players who have achieved a VIP tier – which they do so by making lots of gacha purchases.

pokemon go gacha game

What Are Mobile Engagement Tactics for Gacha Games?

While gacha games remove the need for disruptive ads and in-game pop-ups, push notifications can be an excellent way to nudge gamers towards making purchases. For more complicated mid-core games, new players might not even be aware of the gacha element. Use push notifications to direct them to game tutorials or training arenas, where they can walk through the fundamentals of gameplay. Once they understand the core game loop, an in-app notification can direct them to the in-app store where they can explore some possible items to purchase.

And it’s not just items you can direct players towards. By analyzing a player’s gameplay metrics, you can gain insights on their gaming style. What features of the game to they most enjoy? Where are they playing at a basic level, and might be open to an invitation to level up to a more premium tier of gameplay? For example, if a Pokemon GO player enjoys collecting eggs but not putting in the mileage to hatch them. Send a push notification with a deep link to the Pokemon GO cash shop, where they can buy an egg incubator.

Or, for strategy games that require winning battles with randomly selected teams of heroes, a push notification can get your player excited about the different characters they could win. Introduce them to different champions, their stats, and their likelihood of victory. If they have already been introduced to a rare, valuable character, they’ll be more primed to make gacha purchases.

Would you like to learn more tips on how to use push notifications to boost user engagement and purchase conversions? Read our blog post: Top 30 Best Practices for Push Notifications in 2020

To read more about how to use OpenBack to boost player retention and maximize revenues, download our Case Study: Dreamworks How To Train Your Dragon App, School of Dragons


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