For all the people who spent money, most of them spend it because they want to... That was their choice, their responsibility.
Amongst mobile games, the “gacha” monetization models stand out to many as a form of glorified gambling.
“Gacha” is short for gachapon, those Japanese vending machine-like capsule toy dispensers. Much like their namesake, gacha games also randomly roll from a pool of a wide assortment of characters. Many of the most profitable mobile games, such as Puzzles and Dragons, Fire Emblem Heroes, and Fate/Grand Order rely on some form of gacha systems for monetization.
As with any games with microtransaction schemes, there are devoted players who spend a considerable amount of money. These players are known as “Whales”. Although the term originally referred to high-spending casino players, in more recent years it has become common gaming lexicon as well.
Many people who do not see the value in spending money on such games look at gacha whales with a mixture of awe and incredulity,
“Why do you spend so much money on a free game?”
To answer that, GamePress interviewed a well-respected community member for the mobile game Fate/Grand Order (FGO), the highest grossing mobile game in Japan at the time of writing, whom we'll refer to as "H-san".
Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed! For starters, are there any other gacha games you play?
I used to play a lot of Granblue Fantasy, played Starlight Stage on and off, and Pop-up Story (haven’t played that in a while). Have spent money on the other games, but aside from FGO I’ve probably spent the most on Granblue. Stopped caring about and spending money on Granblue Fantasy, because it didn’t feel worth it.
So what makes a game “worth it” or not worth it?
A lot of people like to compare it to gambling, and it’s not far off the bar. What makes a mobage (short for mobile game) different is what you get out of it. In a mobage like Fate/Grand Order what you are trying to get is not money, but waifu (favorite characters). The person/player needs to make a choice if it’s worth it.
For me, there was the power creep in Granblue. If the character you liked wasn’t strong, it wasn’t worth it. There are sometimes when I tried to spend a lot of money on a character, and they turn out to be good. But then they release a new one that is straight up better than the old character.
I might be biased, but when I pay money to get a servant in FGO (the term for characters in FGO), then I know the money wasn’t wasted because the servant will be useful all the time. The way that Grand Order is, none of the characters I tried to get will get will become useless.
Take Void Shiki, for example. It’s obvious she is not one of the best sabers in the game. It doesn’t matter that she is not as good because there is no competition. When we talk about FGO being “pay2waifu”, that’s what it is. How good/bad a character is irrelevant. You don’t feel bad because you got the character you wanted.
What do I do if I’m really obsessed with my favorite character, who happens to be super rare?
I’m not going to sugarcoat it. The model that it has right now has problems. There is no safety net, which can be troublesome for people who are not as inclined to save money. For F2P players, the saint quartz (FGO's premium currency) that they give you is a bit on the lower side compared to other games. They give you a good amount, but it could be more. The problem is the currency itself.
How do whales fare in FGO’s waters?
For whales, one of the problems FGO has is that it doesn’t really have a good compensation system. Blank saint graphs require 10 for a “free” SSR, and can only be obtained after you receive more than 5 duplicates of an SSR. That’s just ridiculous. I spent a decent amount of money and only have 3 blank saint graphs right now.
For a majority of whales, blank saint graphs don’t do anything. To have that option there is nice, but it is not enough. They just sit there, and you can’t use them for anything if you have less than 10. If you’re a mega-whale, it still doesn’t help, because you probably have all the characters at NP5 anyway. (In FGO, duplicate servants can be merged up to 5 times, referred to as NP5 for a fully merged servant.)
I'm a bit blessed in that I don’t want everything, or I’d probably be homeless or something? (Chuckles)
Then what part of FGO spurs you to whale?
The only reason that I throw money into this godforsaken game F/GO is… You know about collector’s mania (like Pokémon, CCGs like Magic or Yu Gi Oh)? It’s that. Something comes out and catches your eye, like “Whoa man, I really want that!” I’m going to try and get it. Bit blessed in that I don’t want everything, or I’d probably be homeless or something? (Chuckles). But I’m not dumb; I’m not going to throw away all of my money to get something.
There seems to be a “free-to-play” culture that kind of holds a stigma towards whales, or at least people who spend money on these games. Thoughts?
I don’t actually know if there’s a stigma. For me, I am what people would call a whale. I spend money, I spend a good amount. There are people who spend far more than I do, mega-whales. When I look at them, I think, damn, what kind of job do they have? Where are they getting all this money? I suppose that is what a person who is F2P or Dolphin (not quite a whale player), thinks when they look at me. This slight awe, incredulous, “Huh, you really want to spend this much money.” I wouldn’t call it a stigma.
For all the people who spent money, most of them spend it because they want to... That was their choice, their responsibility. In that sense, the people who don’t spend money, that’s their choice. There’s not really right or wrong.
The thing is, there are some people who revel in the fact they don’t spend money. They talk to people who spend money and go like, “damn, what kind of idiot are you?” I look at them and go, “Why?” It’s your choice whether you want to or not. It goes back to self-responsibility. It’s my choice. Sometimes people don’t have a lot of money, can’t spend, or don’t feel like spending. I feel most people get that. It’s not so much a stigma, but how people think about other people's’ choices. If they are understanding like I hope most people are, then whether or not you spend money, it shouldn’t matter. We all drown in salt anyway.
Don’t be the guy who stole his parent's credit card, or the guy who took out a giant loan.
I hear that the gacha culture is quite different in Japan. Compared to North America where many people seem to spend a smaller amount, the rumored trend is that there are some bigger individual spenders in Japan.
It’s not really anything new that Japan doesn’t really care that much about the gacha model. Their culture has gachapon machines and lotteries; it’s more normal. They do complain about [gacha games], but only if they perceive if the company is trying to exploit them.
There’s the work culture in Japan. Japanese salarymen, they work 9-5 (or more), and then go back home, make dinner, go to sleep, and repeat the next day. There’s so much work, that they don’t have a lot of time to go have fun or spend money. Gacha games in Japan is one of the ways for those workers to spend money.
In this age, lots of people play mobages because they are more flexible. Unlike a console where you need to be home, you can play mobages a few minutes at a time. For them it’s more convenient. That’s why they feel it’s ok to spend money, because to them it’s the cost of convenience.
In America, it’s very different. The work culture is not the same. People in America generally have more time to do things and thus spend money on things like games. There’s also more of a culture of “I want to get something now with the money I spend.” If I spend money, I want to guarantee something out of it.
Speaking of exploitation, wasn’t there a mobage scandal some time ago that got the gacha laws involved?
There was the Granblue hubbub, where they made it look like all these characters had the same rateup, but they didn’t. One had a far, far lower rateup. And to those playing the game, they took it badly. That’s the sort of thing the gacha laws are trying to prevent. Whether it’s working or not, places where the gacha law are broken are far less. The way the Japanese otaku gaming culture is, is that the gamers/players lose confidence in a game. That will hurt a company a lot. Granblue had to refund everyone and do a lot in order to pacify the players.
In a game like Fate/Grand Order, Japanese players don’t care as much about paying, but they take the rates very seriously. They will get together and test out to see if the rates are true. So even though it’s only one percent, so long as they test it out it’s one percent, then they’re happy because they know what they’re going into. So you look at it, and you know what you’re getting into with one percent.
If you think that gambling on that one percent is worth it, then go ahead.
You mean to tell me that Japanese players will even go for lower than 1% if they know it’s for certain?
I do feel that one percent is pretty low, but there are far lower rates. In Pop-up Story, the UR (Ultra-rare) jobs are like 0.5%. The SR jobs are easier to get but they're not as useful if you want to go PVP or challenge quests. I didn’t pay a lot of money for that. With that rate, like heck I’m going to try and spend money and try to get it.
Looking at the rate [for FGO], I’d say it’s not ideal, but I will still try. If I don’t get it, then it’s understandable. If I do, then “Aww yeah!”. So having the rate be true is important. Look at it, know it's true, and make a decision. If you think that gambling on that one percent is worth it, then go ahead. If you don’t think it’s worth it, then don’t do it.
Any spending/finance strategies for aspiring whales?
If you’re going to spend money, make sure that you can spend money and take responsibility. Don’t be the guy who stole his parent's credit card, or the guy who took out a giant loan. Be smart. Make sure that you have a limit.
For me, I like Shuten. Shuten is awesome. The second time she came out, I wanted to get more copies. So I tried to get them, and after about 700 Saint Quartz (roughly $450 of FGO's premium currency), I had gotten zero 5 stars. At that point, it was time to stop. I could have gotten her, but spent this much already, I’ll wait until next time. Don’t keep going if it’s not happening.
What’s my recourse if I’m living on ramen for the next month because I overspent?
The one thing I dislike is hearing people complaining about “This guy spent 1000 dollars and didn’t get anything.” It sucks, it does. But it’s not the company’s fault for that person spending that much money. It is on the person themselves to make sure that they don’t go that way.
Japan doesn’t complain about the gacha model too much, but the West doesn’t like it. And it’s justified. But it’s not like the company is to blame when the person spends too much money. When I spent 700 quartz, that was on me; I went too far. If I spend too much, then that is my responsibility. I’m not going to be like, “Damn you Delightworks and your gacha ways”.
Overall, I am fine with what I’ve done. Like I said, self-responsibility. But that’s not to say like there are times where I go, “Man, why did I do that?”. Like the Shuten gacha. Whew. That wasn’t cool, but that was my choice.
Any... bizarre things happen on your whaling adventures?
Weird things that have happened… Well, there’s that one time I got 3 5 stars in a 10 roll on my birthday. During the first Shuten gacha, Rashoumon, I did a ten roll (See image below). I even managed to limit break a CE! I’ve never had this luck before. Never again. But I saw this and was like, “Holy”. My next birthday roll was the 700 quartz (~$450) Shuten experience . So I guess Karma balances out.
There’s also the CCC gacha, where there was Meltlilith (or Meltryllis now, I guess). For me, I had really wanted her. So I bought myself 500 quartz, in addition to the 200 or so remaining from previous purchases. While I thought, “I’m bound to get her hopefully”, I rolled and got her at NP5. And a random Enkidu. What was really funny, and I feel really bad to be honest, was the next part.
Before the gacha started, there was this other guy who was saying that he was pretty much guaranteed to get Melt with the roughly 1000 quartz he had, and I told him jokingly that he shouldn't be so sure, what with the gacha being as merciless as we all know. As it turned out, he didn't get Melt with those quartz and messaged me, "You told me I wouldn't get Melt and look what happened! You stole all the Melts from me!" I was like "Oh crap, I'm so sorry, I was joking!". He eventually did [get her], but spent way more than planned.
Then there's this summer’s gacha. My goal was to get NP5 Archer Helena. I thought she was a 4 star so it’s not going to be that difficult. The very first ticket I rolled was Archer Helena. “This is a good start, I got lots of quartz left, tickets left, I’m sure I can NP5 her.”
About that. I must’ve spent around 1000 quartz in total (~$650), and had NP2 Helena. What I got instead were six Saber Alter Maids, a random Saber Altria, Nightingale, Drake, and about 4 or 5 four stars that were not on rateup. Total results were 9 five stars, and 7 or so four stars. And I thought 5 stars had a 1% rate and 4 stars had a 3% rate. People were super envious, but “It’s not what I wanted. I just wanted my NP5 Helena.” Now I have to wait until next time, and probably get ten Saber Alter maids or something.
Do you have any parting words for our readers?