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Self-ban on whaling

November 12, 2018 Leave a comment Go to comments

A few weeks back, a moment happened worth noting: image1

For the first time in probably four years, if not longer, there are no gacha games on my phone. It sounds ridiculous to say, but this has long been a source of personal struggle for that entire period of time. Sometimes I would find myself playing these things between three and five hours a day, while also pouring money into the machine, knowing the entire time that it wasn’t healthy in any way. I skipped getting together with friends because if I went someplace, there wouldn’t be time to play an in-game event as much as needed to accomplish whatever the goal was that I had in mind. But after months of telling myself that quitting would be the best thing to do, I finally went on a forum and offered to give away my accounts if folks wanted them. Folks did, and while I’m still in a stage where I haven’t adjusted to not needing to go play these things feverishly, I know it is a positive overall, so it isn’t something to regret. I wanted to talk about gacha games a little bit, and will probably say “character” about a thousand times, but here goes nothing.

The gacha business model is fairly similar from game to game: the tutorial section outlines basic gameplay rules, then a free character is given at the end. This free character usually shows how the game’s gacha/summon/pull system works, and will sometimes be a character far more useful than the free ones that can be earned by just completing in-game objectives. Most games will also provide a slow drip of the currency for future pulls (gems/stones/tickets/etc), to keep a player returning to the paid machine every so often without having to put money in at all. But then there will be limited time events with characters only being available for specific short time periods, or events where the chance of getting a top-tier character is improved for a short period, or even special events where special characters are guaranteed so long as a larger amount of currency is spent on a multi-pull. There are also themed events for crossovers in many games; Puzzle & Dragons has had crossovers with DC, Final Fantasy, Dragon Ball Z, and many other properties, with their characters being available both in the form of free lower-tier characters earned through playing an event, with the better characters being available only through using premium currency. Holidays have events, download milestones have events, and it seems as through there is always one really good character that you want to pull for. Some games also have equipment that can be summoned and leveled up as well, but I can’t speak to these as much because even though I was in deep on the few games I was playing, even I looked at those games and feared the money sink trying to get the ideal combinations going there.

But just having those characters isn’t enough to guarantee success, and this is where the complexity of a game can really feed one’s need to keep buying characters, but is also where it can get a little convoluted. Characters need to be leveled up, and this differs from game to game. Some games allow characters to gain experience through gameplay, while others only gain by being fed other characters. For example, in One Piece Treasure Cruise, you might have a strong character, but they need to be fed other characters like turtles or even other story characters in order to increase their level and become more powerful. Depending on the character, they might also be able to be evolved to a higher-tier version with better stats and a higher potential, but this requires farming the required evolution materials, then this better version requires further leveling which requires more turtle farming. Another thing that can be leveled in most games is a character’s special attack, which will usually have a max level that can be reached, but requires either feeding an exact dupe of that character to your existing copy, or finding an item that gives a low chance of leveling the special up. If the character in question is an event-only version, this can be frustrating and/or expensive if you keep pulling for dupes, and if the character winds up being pulled entirely from the pool of summonable characters, sometimes there is no way. Then there is also each character’s affinity or elemental property, with many games employing a chart of something like: red beats green, green beats blue, blue beats red, then white/yellow and black/purple exist outside of that circle and are unaffected by red/blue/green, but are weak defending against one another. So if you’re trying to tackle an event where the boss is a blue-type enemy, an all-green team is going to be your best bet. Or maybe there’s a red character with a special that voids all blue-type damage for a turn, so they’d be key in certain situations. Some characters have a captain/leader ability that will boost certain types, so seeing something like “all green characters increase attack by 2.5X and HP by 2X” would be useful against a blue boss, and usually games will allow the use of a friend captain/leader, whose abilities will stack. There are also classes in addition to types in some games, as well. Going back to OPTC as an example, there are the five color types (STR/QCK/DEX/INT/PSY) but also classes (Driven/Powerhouse/Cerebral/Free Spirit/Fighter/Slasher/Striker/Shooter), all of which factor into a leader’s ability and the output that can be reached by a given team. Damage calculator websites exist for many of these games and folks will spend a lot of time figuring out the absolute max damage that can be done against a boss of a specific level or limited event… and the best way to ensure you can build that team? Paying until you have pulled every character available, or having extremely good luck in free pulls.

When I was younger, my mom gambled on online slot machines and it never made sense to me. Gambling in general, doesn’t make sense to me. I might buy a lotto ticket occasionally, but to go sit at a blackjack table is not something I’d be into. But these games somehow managed to hook me, and hook me good. In OPTC, I enjoy the One Piece property and the idea of collecting every character was something I hung on to for a long time. But this can get somewhat ridiculous. Just taking the main character (Luffy) as an example, if you were trying to keep one of each version, and this is just from memory so I might miss a couple and I definitely forget the names:

  1. Base Luffy, given at the beginning of the game. Eventually evolves into Gear 2nd Luffy, which I believe evolved into a 5+*
  2. Balloon Luffy, which evolves into Gear 3 Luffy
  3. Log Luffy, the Sugofest-exclusive that evolves to a 6*
  4. Halloween Luffy
  5. Winter Luffy or whatever with the snowman
  6. Summer Luffy (with the swim ring)
  7. Luffy with black jacket and the bird
  8. 20th Anniversary Luffy
  9. PSY Striker Luffy (from the Ray Shop)
  10. Nightmare Luffy
  11. Kid Luffy
  12. DEX Lucy from the Colosseum
  13. Kung Fu Luffy
  14. The retooled Log Luffy when the old one was removed from the game
  15. G4 Luffy and then his 6+* version as well

Not all of these are paid characters, mind you. Some can be earned by playing normally, and a couple were actually gifts to the community for whatever event was going on. But this is one character. I think when I quit, I had close to 1500 unique characters and that’s without having a complete collection. But that hook of “this event is when I can pull so and so, just one more pull… just one more pull” is strong with me, for whatever reason. Sometimes there would even be special circumstances to pulls as well; I forget the specifics around G4 Luffy’s arrival, but in addition to only being available during a Sugofest, there was some setup where you could get one guaranteed if you did either six or nine multi-pulls. I want to say it was nine, but let’s say it’s six. A multi-pull requires 50 rainbow gems in OPTC. Gems were .99 each when I played, and I want to say a pack of 60 was $38.99. But if you bought 85, they were $54.99. Sometimes there would be a sale that would give additional gems as a bonus, too. But If you’re doing six multis, you need 300 gems. So 85×3 is 255, then do another 60 to push you over the threshold and have a few for next time. That’s $203.96 without a sale, and it’s something I could somehow justify because then I at least knew the chase would end there, once the guaranteed drop happened.

I don’t fault the companies for doing this, because it’s a way to maintain interest in a game and keep it going, which is tough in the mobile space. But I do fault myself for getting so sucked into the machine. Using that example above of $203.96: I would do this multiple times in multiple games and just keep chasing whichever rare character it was. Sometimes I would luck out and get a really great character on a free pull. But then you need the other characters to compliment this one, so the chase resumes with multiple targets in mind. I knew it was a problem when I opened my email one day and my credit card company sent a notice that said something like, “we notice your itunes charges are $830 more than usual this month” and while I knew I’d gone in deep on multiple events, I had lost track of how deep. I had these games (the ones in question were OPTC, Puzzle & Dragons, and Dragonball Z:Dokkan Battle) with all of these cool characters, but when I read that notice, the internal debate of “what the hell are you doing, you idiot?” took place. I knew if I just deleted the accounts, I would definitely cave and re-download them and do all the stuff you need to recover an account. Selling them wouldn’t get back enough to even justify the trouble, because there are already tons of accounts for sale out there with complete and fully maxed rosters for far less than I’d put into each. So giving the accounts away and using that experience as a fairly expensive lesson to myself was the only way I could think to free myself. It took a few days of replying to people and ensuring that the transfer codes worked, and for all I know, they went and sold those accounts. But I have yet to make any itunes transaction in just about a month, for the first time since… at least before OPTC came out in February or March of 2015. Without going and adding up total purchase amounts, and it’s shameful to even know and admit to this, between all three games I was into five figures easily. Most of that being OPTC.

I think those games themselves are fun. Figuring out the correct combinations to win, makes it like a puzzle game with characters and locales you enjoy as a fan of a given property. Crossover events are even better. Trotting out a team in P&D that has Sephiroth, Hello Kitty, and Wonder Woman on it is pretty cool (note: I know those three have no benefit to each other, they’re just examples), but in the end, it was just throwing money at a thing for no real reason. Also, I realize that I could start one of these games, remain a free-to-play¬† player and never buy anything, but I don’t trust myself. It would be like an alcoholic going to a bar to drink soda. Better to just keep away and chalk it up as a thing that happened.

Plus, there’s always the prospect of a shutdown for any game with an online component. Any of these could be cut off at any time. Namco had a global version of Drift Spirits, a racing game that was pretty cool and had crossover events with Initial D cars and also real-life drift team drivers. It had rotating events, a fairly long story mode, and seemed to have a healthy community. Then, after two weeks of no news updates, they announced it would be shutting down. So while the Japan-only version still thrives, the global servers went down and that is no longer playable. [note: I was free-to-play in that game, so maybe this factored into the idea of supporting these other games, just a bit too much on my part].

At one point, I made a Japanese App Store account, so I could play Miitomo early. As I perused the store, I found many games unavailable in the west, and one I was particularly interested in, Crows X Worst V. There were actually two Crows games: V, and Crows X Worst Dynamite. CXWV just might have been the most player-friendly gacha-style game I ever played. Characters could be leveled up easily with low grind requirements, specials had guaranteed level-ups with dupes (most games still leave it to chance), and teams could be rotated on the fly during stages, allowing for a more diverse team set-up to be used. I might go so far as to say that was my favorite mobile game ever, and if I could run a private server just to play it now, I would. However, it also got its hooks into me, to the tune of a $50 Japanese app store card (I got a 6* Parko so it was worth it, trust me!). I’m not sure if they work across regions now, but at that time, US credit cards would not work on the JP app store, which is nothing but a good thing for someone with my specific weakness. However, the player base for Dynamite was larger, so the call came down to end services for CXWV. I remember because I knew it was closing, so I was trying to play it as much as possible prior to that, and was actually in the middle of a stage when the clock hit 10:00 PM Pacific (maybe 2 pm Japanese time? Not sure) and it simply dumped back to the title screen and you couldn’t play any more. That was a bummer. So since then I’ve always been a little wary of playing lesser-name titles, because having your data simply gone, sucks. But it can even happen to the big ones, so that’s probably a good thing to keep in mind for anyone who does play these.

Currently, I have a Dynamite account that will be F2P and I’m just casually playing it during breaks at work or whatever, not worrying about timed events or anything. I had a Professional Baseball Spirits Ace account that I was playing right before the screenshot at the start of this ramble, but had reached a point where it was basically so difficult that progression was going to be rough without paying, so I deleted it. I’ve also got Taito’s Groove Coaster 2 installed, but I’m bad enough at it that I won’t be buying any additional song packs. I doubt I’ll even keep it installed much longer because I have little rhythm and don’t play long when I do play.

I just realized that GC2 doesn’t employ a stamina meter, and I forgot to speak about stamina meters in gacha games. That’s another way they get you, is that each stage or activity will normally require stamina, and it replenishes over time. If you run out, you can either wait, or immediately refill by using items or spending currency. So that’s yet another way you can get stroked for more money. But really, spending currency on stamina is kind of a no-no in these games, is it not?

Anyway, this ramble probably doesn’t explain it well enough to make sense to anyone who doesn’t get bitten by a collecting or gambling bug, and I doubt I said everything I wanted to put down here. But the main point of importance for me is that I’m free of gacha games as a thing in my life, and while it was an expensive lesson to learn, it’s over now. I do wish I had managed to get all of those original Log units in OPTC before they got pulled, though. I think I just needed Brook and Sanji? Oh well.

Categories: Misc.
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