What makes Gacha games so addictive?

These games can be slippery slopes for overspending.

Matthaeus Choo
Matthaeus Choo

Published: 11 November 2021, 1:21 PM

Mobile games are all the rage now – understandably so – and it can be easy to get hooked onto these games.

An overwhelming majority of these games are free but rarely are they free from in-game transactions, namely mechanics where players can pay for the chance to attain powerful characters or items.

These games have been dubbed as Gacha games, derived from Japanese Gachapon machines where toys are dispensed in capsules. Over the past decade, their popularity has skyrocketed together with the horror stories attached to them, where players have spent thousands of dollars to attain in-game items. Perhaps even scarier is how players have,  ironically or otherwise, embraced the trend through memes and popular video content as a necessary obstacle to succeed in their games.


This meme paints an accurate picture for some. IMAGE CREDIT: LukeScuffWalker VIA REDDIT


So what could push players to spend exuberant amounts on games? Definitely, spending habits will vary between players; it’s safe to suggest that high amounts are largely fringe cases. Viewing the trend from the outside, it definitely seems ridiculous and silly to waste money on virtual intangible collectables. 

However, understanding the trend would require far more than condescension and dismissing it as a product of youths lacking financial literacy skills. For those looking for a way out, it is even more essential to realise what makes gacha games so addicting.

Gacha games can be seen in the same light as gambling — but, arguably, with far more opportunities to get hooked. 

Just about every advertisement for Gacha games promotes themselves for their generosity. This is definitely the case when players start out, where there is a honeymoon phase of smooth progression and ample opportunities to roll the dice on loot boxes.

Loot boxes come in all shapes and sizes but their purpose are essentially similar to a lottery ticket. Instead of the chance of winning money, loot boxes give players to chance to attain rare items and characters. These in-game winnings are usually denoted by star ratings and flashy visuals that make their rarity feel crystal clear. Opening loot boxes can be exciting events; video game streamers spending thousands of dollars and broadcasting themselves opening them is a popular form of content in itself.

‘Paying to win’ is even more tempting when it comes to player-versus-player versus games, with better characters and items giving clear advantages. Even when they don’t, in-game cosmetics are also seen as status markers amongst players.

Throughout the games, there will be points where there are noticeable spikes in difficulty and progression is slowed down significantly. The only way to move forward is to either wait on more opportunities to get stronger, which are usually gated through daily log-in bonuses, or to ‘pay to win’. It is at these stages where Gacha games are at their most potent in turning free-to-play users into money-spending players.


Mobile game ‘Raid: Shadow Legends’ is one of the more popular Gacha games in the market today thanks to its relentless marketing / IMAGE CREDIT: RAID: SHADOW LEGENDS


How addiction to Gacha games arises can be distilled down to three main reasons. The first is how they, like just about every other addiction, are especially effective at formulating habits. These games promote players to log in every day with large bonuses attached to consecutive days played. This, in turn, becomes a part of the player’s everyday routine and creates a sense of attachment to their in-game achievements and winnings.

Closely related is the second reason: the sunk cost fallacy. The more time, money, and effort spent on a game, the harder it gets to quit; there tends to be this belief that the rare in-game commodity everyone is vying for is only one loot box away, especially after a hundred failed attempts. 

The third reason is by far the most potent and ironically the least nefarious tactic employed by Gacha games. These games often create a sense of community, be it amongst friends or strangers on the Internet who can relate to the in-game experiences. It is no coincidence that Gacha games addiction tends to happen to youths who are denied physical social experiences, and are more privy to peer pressure. 

There is an age limit to buying the lottery and in contrast, for how innocuously Gacha games are presented, spending money on these forms of virtual gambling can easily feel like an accepted norm. 

For many youths in Singapore, gaming is a necessary escape from the harsh realities of competing in the educational or career rat race. If the price for these starts out at a few dollars to be more involved in the far more carefree virtual world, they can feel well-worth it. 

There are helplines and programmes for those looking to kick gaming addiction — but it feels like the issue isn’t exactly with gaming as much as it is with gambling. 

Far more youths today now game on mobile devices and are thus exposed to the predatory mechanics of Gacha games. There are no proper resources on Gacha addiction at the moment — and there is a need for necessary change.

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