You may have memories of begging your parents for a go at the toy capsule machines on a trip to the grocery store — rows of little gumball machines lined up by the registers filled to the top with clear plastic bubbles full of cheaply made, but oh-so-appealing plastic figures and stickers. Capsule machines got their start in Japan. The gashapon (or gachapon) machine, as it’s called, still has a huge presence in Japan, drawing children and adults alike to the often limited-time exclusive collectibles these machines hold. This design has inspired a whole genre of mobile game called “the gacha,” and Fire Emblem Heroes stands among them.
Gacha games got their start in 2012, though the genre is only now growing in popularity in the U.S. as Japanese mobile games make their way over to Western markets. Gacha is essentially a monetization mechanic, a way for publishers to reward players for paying to play the game.
It’s most common in party-based JRPGs, in which players gain the opportunity to roll for new, exclusive characters using currency that they can earn in-game (albeit slowly) or through paying real cash for in-game currency to allow for somewhat instant gratification. The odds of getting a highly coveted character are low, meaning you’ll be waiting a very long time if you don’t plan on spending money. Even if you are willing to invest, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get your desired character, and so you enter the gacha wormhole, paying up more and more until you unlock the hero you’ve been seeking.
It may sound exploitative, but it’s a highly lucrative model. Puzzle & Dragons, a match-three gacha, is the first mobile game to net over $1 billion in revenue in history. If you want to see a popular gacha game in action, look no further than Final Fantasy Brave Exvius which has seen considerable success both on western and eastern shores. The game is a turn-based RPG featuring well-known Final Fantasy characters.
Brave Exvius is monetized by way of “Summon Tickets,” which you can either collect in game or purchase for a chance to unlock a random character. You’ll find the most powerful characters in the game generally by using Summon Tickets. Purchasing tickets is by far the fastest way to beef up your party, though fans praise the game because it’s entirely possible to succeed in Brave Exvius without spending a dime.
However, there’s a bit more to it than that. Gacha games often have three different types of gacha that contain items of ranked rarity. There are standard gacha, which you can roll for using items that are easy to earn in-game by completing quests or other tasks. These gacha usually contain common rewards mixed with some rarer units though the latter are pretty hard to come by.
Event gacha are available on a limited time basis, and depending on the rules set by the game for the event, you can get exclusive characters or find rare units at a greater rate. We recently covered the Brave Exvius Ariana Grande collaboration, which is an excellent example of this.
Friend gacha are the third most common type appearing in these games. Social components are common too, giving people the incentive to promote the game and engage with other players via social media in exchange for premium in-game currency. In the case of gacha games, you earn tickets or rolls for friend gacha, which usually contain common characters or items.
Gacha may sound like just another in-app purchase scheme that exploits our inherently human inability to avoid the old stick and carrot routine, but when done right, the system works quite well alongside a game’s mechanics. Fire Emblem Heroes follows this same, familiar formula. Watch out for some of these characteristics when you’re playing it later because it’s likely the future of mobile games.