Culture

Genshin Impact: It’s all fun and games until you lose control

by Gabriel Ong // October 13, 2020, 3:54 pm

Genshin Impact

If you’re a gamer, you’d have probably seen the banners in City Hall or the YouTube ads promoting the hottest game on the market by now. 

Genshin Impact’s (GI) September 28 release on mobile, PC and PS4 (Nintendo Switch in the future) has proven to be hugely successful. In its launch week, miHoYo’s hit title raked in US$60 million on mobile platforms alone.

By GI’s second week, that number rose to US$100 million in revenue, recouping the game’s development costs. 

What’s remarkable about all these numbers? It’s the fact that no one had to actually buy the game! GI costs nothing as a free-to-play (F2P) gacha game.

A LITTLE ABOUT GACHA

Believe it or not, most of us have already played gacha games without even knowing it. Remember those machines at the mall that gave you a capsule with a random toy in it for $1 a pull?   

That’s where your modern gacha games predominantly found on mobile platforms originated from. As a gacha game, the developer’s revenue comes from microtransactions.

What this looks like in GI, is players purchasing digital currency (Genesis Crystals) to buy in-game gems for more Wishes, which are pulls – a common gacha term derived from slot machines.

And that’s despite the fact that the rates are objectively terrible. The base rate per pull for 5-star (rarest) characters and weapons is 0.6%, while nabbing a 4-star character or weapon is 5.1%.

In other words, far more often than not (94.3%), you’ll be bagging meh weapons. 

As great as the game is, at its core lies a very predatory model.  

So why would you pull? Well, I think it’s the heroes.

Each one provides colour and charm to a game world that’s already fantastic to be in. Heroes have unique looks, back stories, voice lines and skill sets. 

They can make exploring the beautiful, Breath of the Wild-esque landscapes of Teyvat easier and more fun to traverse. The rarest of them tend to be the most powerful with game-changing abilities.

Obviously you don’t have to buy Genesis Crystals (I haven’t), but doing so gives you more pulls to summon your heroes than you would otherwise have as a F2P player.

I wonder if you can see where I’m going with this by now? I’ve got a lot more personal thoughts on the game I’d like to share, so let me jump into it.

THERE’S A LOT OF OBFUSCATION 

I’m sitting at about Adventure Rank 35 right now, which means I’ve experienced most of what the game has to offer. Make no mistake, it’s been a blast.

I’m particularly proud about two things.

  1. My main, Fischl, who’s slapping enemies for thousands of damage per arrow.
  2. Having got to where I am without purchasing currency for additional pulls.

Because, as great as the game is, at its core lies a very predatory model.  

Confessions of a Nintendo Switch addict

For starters, think about how I was explaining all that talk about microtransactions. Genesis Crystals. Primogems. Wishes. GI employs an intentional obfuscation to gambling terms.

And don’t get me started on the numbers. Oops, too late.

  • 160 Primogems for an Acquaint Fate or Intertwined Fate, either of which gets you 1 Wish.
  • 1 Genesis Crystal converts into 1 Primogem.
  • You can get Genesis Crystals from 60 at $1.48 – right up to 6480 at $148.98!
  • First-time purchase of Genesis Crystals awards you twice the number. 
  • Incentivised? That’s $150 real dollars for 81 pulls (you’re guaranteed at least a 4-star on every 10th pull.)
  • But you’re only guaranteed a 5-star on your 90th pull. And it might not even be the featured character on the banner – that’s guaranteed at the 180th pull.
  • If you’re “hunting” for a particular hero, the odds are stacked against you, and you will certainly be ruined. 

The numbers are always fuzzy, odd and never rounded up for a simple psychological reason – so you don’t see the real value of things. 

It’s potentially thousands of dollars for one character.

That makes it easier to double down on spending Genesis Crystals after you don’t get what you want, not realising the hole you’re digging. It also makes it easier to think you’ve given yourself a great chance in getting what you want.

But even at the most expensive first-time purchase ($150), you don’t actually have a guarantee you will get what you want. You’re only halfway there.   

Additionally, on the infinitesimal chance you do get that 5-star hero you’re trying to snipe, you’ve still got to max out their Constellations.

That means you need 5 more duplicates of that exact same hero at the same miniscule chances to unlock their full potential.

There are people better than me at the numbers and finer details behind the intricacies of GI’s gacha mechanics, but suffice to say, it’s potentially thousands of dollars for one character.

THERE ARE CYCLES TO THE GAME

We’re over two weeks into the game’s life cycle, and if you’ve been playing, you would have noticed a few things. 

Players were inundated with gems and fates in the early days. Quests, chests and achievements also awarded generous amounts of gems.

That’s all but dried up as we’ve finished most of the content and hit a wall now.

In terms of cycles, this is what is called the honeymoon phase of gacha games. You feel the wonder of the game world, and are flush with riches, enabling trip after trip to the Wishing page. 

This period exists to ease you into the mechanics of the game, and get you accustomed with it – most notably the actual “pulling” of the gacha

The aim of this period is to get you believing that the game is worth investing in, and the developers are good guys. 

Then, by the time the honeymoon period is over, character progression becomes time-gated and fuelled keenly by the acquisition of Primogems. 

You are forced into corners at every turn. Finally, the easy way out, to go back and enjoy playing the game the way you used to – rolling the gacha for characters – is by paying up.

GI is still young, but my guess is there will be a “low point” for the community, upon which the developers will do an about-turn and begin a new “golden age”, doling out currency and characters to entice players, new and old, back into the gameplay loop.

Why am I spelling all this out? So we know what we’re investing in. With cycles in mind, it helps to be aware that today’s 5-star character may be next year’s 3-star.

It remains to be seen how miHoYo balances characters, but with gacha games, there is always a possibility that the weapon or character you’ve invested time and money in will depreciate in value as the game evolves.

SO WHAT?

It is entirely possible to enjoy the game without spending a single dollar, or too much time that it becomes a hindrance. But… it’s really hard!

Like many of you, I actually knew what gacha was long before GI came onto the scene. They were those cute little machines at the mall I saw as a kid. Though I never played.

But my first encounter with it actually happened when I was a little older, in a game called League of Legends (LoL).

In my view, LoL’s business practices are a little less heinous, in that you can actually purchase an item for a set amount of currency, like a “skin” for a character. 

But somewhere down the line, they started having spin-to-win games that offered incredible prizes at the expense of “Shells” (again more obfuscation), the same ones used to buy skins and the like. I fell for one of those.

What was most unsettling for me was the realisation that I was not in control the whole time.

You’d get to pick two awesome rewards on each end of the scale, and you’d have to balance the scale. Each side of the scale you balanced would rise in cost, with each attempt. 

I topped up once, and failed. Topped up twice and still, nada. Did it a third time, and still I failed. Surely the fourth… nope.

At the end of the fourth top-up, I nabbed one of the two rewards. It was a “pity” reward, designed to be given to the player when enough tries have been made. 

I had a bad taste in my mouth. I thought I was getting two skins, not one. And I spent US$30 in 5 minutes? On this?

What was most unsettling for me was the realisation that I was not in control the whole time. I felt sick when I saw that… so I knew that something in my life had to change.

SOME SOLUTIONS

Just as it is with social media, recognise and accept that the odds of coming out on top with a positive outcome are not in your favour as a gamer. 

Wanna not play so much? The gameplay loops of most titles today are designed to be addictive. Wanna not spend so much? Gacha games are the most predatory genre.

So how? Let me suggest three quick handles that have helped me, and can hopefully help you. 

Confessions of a Nintendo Switch addict

  • Accountability
  • Budget
  • Commit

Accountability is so key. Make sure you have someone you can be real with when it comes to the money and time you’re putting into gaming, or any other hobby for that matter.

Set aside a budget and stick to it. No one said you can’t buy microtransactions – but it’s a problem when you’re not in control. So put a number on it, like “only 10 bucks a month”. Your accountability partner will help you with this.

Finally, in the case of games like GI, you can consider committing to being a F2P player. That might mean no expenditure at all, or just the base game, or the battle pass… You decide.

Or, you might commit to only playing on the weekends. There are options.

The important thing is to commit to what you’ve planned or budgeted, then stick to it with the help of those around you. I hope these tips help you to be a happy and healthy gamer!

THINK + TALK

  1. Do you have control over your hobbies, or are your hobbies controlling you?
  2. Can’t seem to stop? Are there any underlying reasons why you might be running away from reality?
  3. What kind of boundaries can you put in place to enjoy your hobbies in a healthy way?
About the author

Gabriel Ong

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.