For a long time there has been a “will they, won’t they” between governments and game companies that employ the, nearly universally hated gacha loot box system. In our first episode of MMOWTF I take a look at some of these loot box games, and speak with clinical psychologist Dr. Anthony Bean to determine how predatory these mechanics really are.
It wasn’t the first time that gamers rallied against a change in the way companies monetize online games, and it doesn’t seem to be the last, but when box and subscription games changed course into freemium and cash shop games we knew something bad was coming. When loot boxes hit the scene, it was almost a unanimous outcry that these systems were unfair, predatory, and also weirdly addicting. Now, in 2021, after years of research, there are several studies that have determined that the nature of these gacha systems are indeed akin to gambling.
In the first episode of our monthly series MMOWTF, we took a look at some of these studies and their results. What was found, was that many game companies, from Ubisoft to EA have employed loot boxes in some form on many of their games. A vast majority of games with these loot boxes and gacha mechanics are also rated by the regional ratings boards (like the ESRB) for children under the age of 18. The mechanics used behind these games are built to, not only reinforce your impulse to spend, but many of the in-game systems psychologically entice you with time-sensitive deals that attempt to convince you that they are “too good to pass up.”
Netmarble is one of the largest mobile game publishers out there, and one of the biggest offenders of using these psychological tools to encourage players to spend their hard-earned coin. Whether you’re playing Blade & Soul Revolution or Marvel Future Revolution, the games that Netmarble creates permeates each facet of the game with tools intended to get you to spend. Whether you’re rolling for a new costume in Marvel Future Revolution to boost your strength, or you lose a battle or two, and you receive a “power boost” popup window so that you can “get stronger” these mechanics slowly and subtly push you to spend.
While some would say that companies like NetMarble are actually pretty generous with the free items they dish out daily, with numerous daily login bonuses and daily activities meant to bring you back day after day, anyone who has played a mobile gacha game understands the tremendous undertaking they have set out before them when they don’t spend any money. In many NetMarble games, there are specific resources that can only be earned once per day, and Netmarble employs failure rates throughout their leveling system.
What this means, is that, even if you spend several days grinding out the daily materials needed to upgrade an ability, you can potentially fail the upgrade. This disheartening effect can eventually push players to buy these upgrade materials, just so that they can progress their character. Some may wonder why I specifically call out Netmarble, but the reality of the situation is, Netmarble sees the value in their predatory mechanics so much that the company has doubled down with the purchase of Hong Kong-based social casino developer Spin X earlier this year. While these casino-specific titles may not directly find their way into our RPGs, in many ways, they are already there, and Netmarble has perfected this practice to devastating effect.
During the episode we speak with Dr. Anthony Bean, a clinical psychologist with Geek Therapeutics. Dr. Bean provides insights into which factors we as players should look out for, and he explains that saying “no” to these ads and time-sensitive deals are the best way to stop yourself from falling down the gacha rabbit hole.
With more countries looking into regulating or getting rid of these gacha mechanics altogether, Netmarble, and other gacha developers like miHoYo, may find that their days are numbered when it comes to how much longer they’ll be able to employ their loot box mechanics unchecked. For the time being, whether you like the gacha system or hate it, let us know in the comments.
*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of MMORPG.com