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Gacha, gacha, gacha pon! Banner rolls and pity pulls

SabreCat

Sabe, Inattentive Type
(they/them)
I arrived late to the gachapon party, but being highly susceptible to Skinner box "push button, get pleasant neurotransmitter output" game design, it was only a matter of time before I got into one. To date I've tried Final Fantasy Record Keeper, Final Fantasy Brave Exvius, Girls X Battle 2 (briefly), Fire Emblem Heroes (VERY briefly), and Arknights, this last of which I'm currently playing and continuing to enjoy. (Genshin Impact also counts, though that one has its own thread, and I wasn't able to play much of it due to technical issues.) I'm finding their design fascinating, sometimes morbidly, so I figured I'd spin up a thread about them!

Word of warning: this genre can be ... unethical. These games are absolutely purpose-built to prey on people who are "bad with money" or have impulse control struggles, be it from executive dysfunction, tendency to addiction, etc. Approach with caution, and if you've got risk factors, maybe stay away, or work with an accountability partner or the like to cap how much money you spend on it.

The core feature of a gachapon game is that you collect your crucial game pieces--typically characters, but they might be weapons, spells, tanks, or whatever--via randomized "pulls" or "rolls" from a pool of possibilities of varying strength and corresponding rarity. But the genre has a number of other elements that seem to come up a lot:

Star ratings. Rarity and strength of your pulls get rated with "stars", on a scale of at least 1-5, but I've seen games push the top end all the way up to 12 stars! Sometimes these ratings are immutable, and sometimes there's a mechanic where you can upgrade a unit from one star rating to the next. Across the board, though, the more stars the better, and the more exciting it's meant to be when you see lots of them on a pull.

Stamina. Each chunk of gameplay, a battle or quest or what-have-you, costs you a resource that replenishes over real-world time. If we're being extremely charitable, we could say such a mechanic encourages players to take breaks. In practice, though, it's a monetization function: you can speed up the meter by consuming other resources available for purchase with cash money. Enjoying the game and want to play more? Pay up!

Widget-based advancement. Typically, winning a battle with a unit doesn't afford it any "experience" to make it stronger, like in a traditional RPG. Instead, you buy levels for your characters using other collectible currencies. As the game goes on, these currencies proliferate, with many, varied, increasingly rare geegaws needed to push your meeples to their full potential.

The first hit is free. Early in the game, you get lots of everything. Many freebie pulls; Stamina replenishes as fast as you can use it; you get more than enough advancement tokens to keep pace with the difficulty of the content. As you progress further, however, the gap widens between the resources you need and those that are readily available. More and more grind, downtime, and/or of course microtransaction purchases, are needed to continue forward.

Frequent limited-time events. The most basic is the "banner", where certain units are only available for pull during a limited window, or have a higher chance to be obtained during that time. But it's also common to have side storylines with difficulty spanning the same range as campaign content, but which can only be played for some weeks; or even entire game modes available on a temporary basis.

The male gaze (?). You've heard the sexist term "waifu"? These games often lean right into that. It's not unusual for the character roster of a gachapon game to consist largely or entirely of animesque women, and for those characters to feature idealized body types and sexualized outfits.

I've got some follow-up posts percolating to dig into how the games I've played implement and vary the above tropes, but I'll pause here. Let's talk gacha! What games have you tried? What other (possibly sketchy or sinister) design patterns have you seen?

May RNG bless you all!
 

Mightyblue

aggro table, shmaggro table
(He/Him/His)
I've tried most of the modern ones on the market, and the ones that tend to be the most fun to play are those where getting the units themselves is pretty easy and painless; Arknights as mentioned above is probably the friendliest gacha game I've ever played outside of Azur Lane in terms of gameplay-to-wallet ratio while the design also indulges in those same tropes. It's relatively trivial to do everything in the game with the free units and you're constantly rewarded with non-real money unit pulls, and their monetization strategy revolves less around rare waifu units and more character skins and upgrading the non-basic units to the heights of their potential power. The main story and most of the events are pretty easy to complete and grind as necessary without using the powerful high rarity units, but the resources required to build units beyond that basic point is the real time sink.

Yostar (the company which publishes both Arknights and Azur Lane) seems to have realized that the better and slightly more ethical monetization hook isn't the unit acquirement but the associated power fantasy with those units; getting those units is pretty easy as long as you play the game and participate in related events, but the money is in getting the fancy unit skins and cutting down on the grind to make those units usable.
 

MetManMas

Me and My Bestie
(He, him)
It's fairly unconventional* as far as many gacha games go, but up until the big November update shut out my phone I used to roll with Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp. Decorating stuff and acquring villagers I like are both things I really enjoy about the Animal Crossing series, so I was pretty content to do events for cool new swag and looked forward to whenever more animal friends were added to the roster.

Heck, I still look forward to updates. Got a lot of cool stuff to look forward to when I can upgrade.

Also played a few other gachas, mainly some RPGs and puzzle games. Fall off of 'em pretty quick, though; only so many ways to do a matching puzzle game or turn-based battling simulator.

* In the sense that all the gacha pulls are almost purely cosmetic, I mean. You get those fortune cookies 'cuz they've got a furniture set you like, not 'cuz some arbitrarily starred versions of your friends are being held hostage by them.

There are furnitures that can summon certain event characters to your camp or cabin but those are bought straight up with Leaf Tickets, not locked behind the fortune cookie RNG.
 

Destil

DestilG
(he/him)
Staff member
Still keeping on in Record Keeper. Though the current end-game battles are complex enough that I can't bring myself to work on them more some of them more than every few weeks.

Amusingly so many resources have gone obsolete by this point there's almost nothing left to Record Keep. Long gone are they days of managing five or six spreadsheets.
 

SabreCat

Sabe, Inattentive Type
(they/them)
Yostar (the company which publishes both Arknights and Azur Lane) seems to have realized that the better and slightly more ethical monetization hook isn't the unit acquirement but the associated power fantasy with those units
Yeah, I have a lot to say about how Arknights differs from several of the other games I've tried!

If you're still playing that one, my friend code (user name? Doctor name?) is Elseleth#6468. Would be cool to have somebody on my list who's not just an Internet rando whose unit I borrowed at some point!

I haven't tried Azur Lane. Is it related to Arknights in any way other than the publisher? There are occasional things in Arknights that seem to refer back to something previous, so I've wondered if the story was a continuation from another game.

It's fairly unconventional* as far as many gacha games go, but up until the big November update shut out my phone I used to roll with Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp.
I'll have to check that one out sometime! I've never had the right Nintendo console at the right time to get into any of the Animal Crossing series, despite all the positive buzz about those games.

Amusingly so many resources have gone obsolete by this point there's almost nothing left to Record Keep. Long gone are they days of managing five or six spreadsheets.
Wh-whoa. What was that about? I have to refer to the wiki pretty often on Arknights, but that sounds like a whole cut above.
 

Mightyblue

aggro table, shmaggro table
(He/Him/His)
Nope! Azur Lane started life as a Kantai Collection clone and fairly rapidly grew into its own thing, though it's still extremely horny and dabbles in some rather questionable political revisionism regarding certain factions. Gameplay-wise it's a squad-based horizontal shooter (kinda) with a 6 ship-girl squad--three frontline and three backline, and assuming you put enough time into the game and follow the various tips on how to build up the gacha pull tokens you really don't need to spend money on unit pulls barring extremely bad RNG. It's like Arknights where getting the units of your choice is often the easy bit, and getting them up to par with the content you're at can be the tricky part.

And sure, I'll add you when I log into AK for the night.
 

DFalcon

(he/him)
I've tried a lot of gachas - some I bounce off very fast, some where I play along for a bit but am not willing to keep up the time investment, rarely I'll stick with something for a while.

I've been playing Arknights regularly since global launch, so over a year now (Walker#0246). On one hand I've enjoyed the content, and for instance I think they also strike a nice balance where lots of operators are useful without needing the meta unit du jour. But a big part of it is also that it isn't structured to demand players' attention farming for hours per day. I do consider the auto deploy setup they use borderline that way, but still so much better than practically any other game in the "genre".
 
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SabreCat

Sabe, Inattentive Type
(they/them)
Final Fantasy Record Keeper was the first gacha I tried. A coworker recommended it, saying it was a great piece of nostalgia for the SNES-era Final Fantasies. I'd previously loved Dissidia 012, so this sounded like fun--summon heroes from all of FF and take them into FFIV / FFVI style battles, what's not to love? It also had the wrinkle that you "pull" weapons in addition to characters, so the dream was to achieve something like "Golbez equipped with the Buster Sword going to take down the Cloud of Darkness" or whatever. Unfortunately, I found the actual gameplay quite dull. There was no story, no dialogue, only a series of branching progress trees with nodes containing increasingly difficult JRPG battles to throw your party against. I'm guessing it gets much more engaging as you dig in, judging from Destil's comments here, but I only got to see the "dry as unbuttered toast" phase.

Final Fantasy Brave Exvius came much closer to what I'd thought Record Keeper was going to be. There was a campaign story, with a couple of OCs written to the purpose, and towns and dungeons to explore like a proper RPG. The more detailed character sprites allowed for a lot more variety and flair than Record Keeper's 16-bit-esque blobs. I enjoyed it for a while! I found its gacha design painfully greedy, though. The story characters were useless after a couple of chapters; really, anything four stars or weaker might as well not exist at all, for as much utility you get from them after a few hours of play. I felt like I barely got to play before hitting the stamina wall. With all the $0.99 starter microtransactions exhausted, staring down exponentially greater buy-in to progress further, I uninstalled and didn't look back.

Fire Emblem Heroes I don't think I even finished the tutorial. The character designs made me gag. How they massacred my poor girl Lyn...

I almost forgot that I'd played some of Another Eden: The Cat Beyond Time and Space. It was pretty cool, a full-fledged RPG even moreso than FFBE. I eventually bored out when the quests got long, slow, and grindy. It wasn't even a gacha thing, in this case (though I wouldn't be surprised if there were a microtransaction accelerator available), more classic RPG "over 900 hours of content that took us barely any time to code!!" padding.

Girls X Battle 2 I had no intention of playing long-term. I installed it to fulfill a cross-promotional mission in the idle clicker Animal Restaurant. Get ten six-star girls on my roster, earn eleventy billion cod, something like that. Somehow the character designs in a game blaring "collect girls!!" were less obnoxious than those in FEH, haha. Anyway, the story was poorly translated, paper thin, with tons of callbacks to the prior Girls X Battle, making it altogether incomprehensible. I guess it was a sort of magic school with houses ala Hogwarts? And people were infected with a disease that could only be cured by punching them a lot? Whatever. Gameplay was completely automated--you pick your lineup, start the fight, and see if you win or lose--so there was really no chance I'd stick with this one.

Arknights, tho. Arknights I'm loving. More on that later!
 

Paul le Fou

ShrimpCerealTopangaHusbandIsAMeTooMilkshakeDuck
(He)
Hello, it's me, I'm here to stan for Romancing SaGa Re;univerSe (or however it styles its name). And not just because I did a little bit of editing for the English release way back when; I started playing it as reference, then got hooked, and I'm still playing it a year and a half later. I'm not even a huge SaGa fan or anything (although I've gotten way more interested in the series since getting into this game).

I don't really know what makes it tick for me; I've tried a few other games. Puzzle and Dragons got me good back in the day, but nearly as strongly or as long. I tried FF Brave Exvius and immediately bounced off of it; I downloaded Dragalia Lost but never even actually played it. (I don't know anything about FF Record Keeper except that it seems like a similar thing for FF that Reuniverse is for SaGa? Probably a good thing I never tried it, then, it might have hooked me too).

Maybe it's just that I played it long enough because I had to that it was able to get its claws in. I still find the characters, styles, and party-building compelling. Or maybe I'm just addicted. When I finally quit this, I'll probably take the same oath I took when I quit WoW and HotS and swear off the entire genre forever, but in the meantime, I have to get my new Beunet style's skills to a higher rank and max out its level so I can switch the older style out of my slash-damage party.
 

Destil

DestilG
(he/him)
Staff member
Wh-whoa. What was that about? I have to refer to the wiki pretty often on Arknights, but that sounds like a whole cut above.
So the biggest thing about RK is that the game came out in JP about 6 months ahead of global, and by and far at large the global version has just tracked JP with a lag. 6 months advanced notice on pretty much everything made it very possible to plan a lot of things over the years.

I've used the following in the past, and all are unneeded now:
  • 4 different versions of 'orb calculators' for making and upgrading abilities. In global you could pretty much get every important ability on release with good planning. These days new abilities that don't require a specific, highly limited currency are very rare and between that and years of buildup (and nothing else really worth farming with Stamina) I can pretty much just assume I can upgrade anything I can buy.
  • 5 sheets tracking character upgrade resources, from XP Eggs to Memory Crystals to 5* and Job motes. Finished all upgrades here last month and had been effectively finished for well over a year. There's a 6* version that's currently relevant but the way they designed the system it dosn't really require/reward tracking.
  • 2 sheets used for in battle calculation. At this point I can eyeball most of them (as I know the major multiplicative factors very well) or they're so complex it's faster just to test.
  • 4 sheets used for Magicite upgrades. End Game magicite has simplified this a lot as you'll always be using Argent Odin as your main and the Madeens are the same as they ever were.
  • 2 sheets for Weapon Tracking: gatcha based weapons are rarely relevant and pretty to eyeball (best mind weapon in each realm plus any oddballs that don't have an artifact, an extra rod or two in mage heavy realms where the mages don't use unique weapon types) rainbow crystals are strill fairly important though.
  • 2 sheets for daily stamina spending: the most efficient thing is just running Orb Meadows, anyway.
  • 1 sheet tracking my progress in the Torment fights.
  • 1 sheet tracking my CSB collection, pretty much filled this out about 6 months ago with LotR pulls (Celes' physical ice chain being the last CSB150 I needed).

This leaves me with:
  • Accessory resist by realm tracking. Since my vault was maxed due to us knowing about rainbow crystals 6 months early I had space to just vault all my accessories. While there are excellent accessories that give moderate omni elemental resistance + 500 HP available these days in general you don't need to worry about it, but RS resistance is 10% better and sometimes that's worth it over 500 HP. Some people have tried to track every element used by every end game boss, but I just track when I hit more than 5 of an element per realm and RC the rest.
  • 6* Motes:. Unlike the earlier rarities everyone needs all 3 mote types for boards, so you can't really optimize spending much. It's good to know that a physical type or two may spend down my large excess of Vit mote better, but it's not really worth worrying about too much.
  • Dreambreaker progress. Just a note of which ones I've beaten and with what times, as well as my relevant relics for each.
 

Vaeran

perfect world
(he/him)
I've been playing Record Keeper just about every day since the week of its launch, nearly six (!!!) years ago, and I think I've just about wrung all the enjoyment I'm going to get out of it. These days it's rare that I do more than log in and do my required three daily dungeons to get a bonus mythril, and I'm thinking the end of the upcoming 6th Anniversary Fest will be an excellent place to retire.

I've thought since the beginning that its asking price of $30 per 11x relic pull is absolutely bananas, and yet even despite that they've managed to tempt me into spending money a couple times over the years to chase this or that relic, most notably during a severe depressive episode that happened to coincide with the release of Cloud's USB1 (a game-breaker at the time). I don't have the interest or motivation to put in the time/effort it takes to conquer some of the current endgame fights, and honestly it's become more of a daily obligation than an enjoyable pastime. Time to hang it up. If they do some kind of wild free-for-all in advance of the game's eventual shutdown (which can't be that far off, surely...?) maybe I'll pop back in to check that out.

I've also dabbled with Brave Exvius, Mobius FF, and Dissidia Opera Omnia, but for whatever reason none of them held my interest for more than a couple weeks.
 

MetManMas

Me and My Bestie
(He, him)
Mobius (RIP) held my interest for a month or two on the novelty of looking like an early Xbox 360-ish RPG, but generally I fall off of these gacha RPGs after 2-3 weeks. I think a part of that is realizing I'm just playing basically the same bloody game with a different manipulative skin.
 

YangusKhan

does the Underpants Dance
(He/Him/His)
I have a played a bunch of these, in order of most to least invested:
  • FF Record Keeper
  • Dissidia Opera Omnia
  • Romancing SaGa re;UniverSe
  • Dragon Quest Tact
  • FFBE: War of the Visions
  • Fire Emblem Heroes
  • Dragon Quest of the Stars
  • Granblue Fantasy
  • Mobius FF
  • FF Brave Exvius
  • Dragalia Lost
  • Genshin Impact
My first one ever was Record Keeper back in 2016, which I've been mostly consistent with until last year when I think I've dropped it for good.

Romancing SaGa had a good run but I got fatigued with how fast they were releasing events, and also it kinda drove me nuts that stamina was basically unlimited with how many potions they gave away.

Granblue I only got started playing because of the TT discord, but ultimately what killed that for me was how quickly events happened and also the amount of writing the cutscenes had (even if your mobile gacha has decent writing, I'm not about to sit through 10 minutes of cutscenes for it).

War of the Visions had a lot of promise because it was insanely crunchy with a mind-boggling amount of widgets to manage, plus the production values to back it up, but good lord was the grind just absolutely atrocious. The game even had the most robust auto-battle/auto-repeat features I've ever seen in a gacha RPG, so it should've been fine, but they just made it so. much. work. despite that.

Right now all I'm playing is Dragon Quest Tact, and that game is shaping up to be an extremely comfortable pace for my enjoyment; events last around 1 entire month, which is an astonishingly comfortable pace for me after playing so many others that have a 1 or 2 week event rotation. Plus it's also quite stingy with its stamina, which a lot of gacha players probably hate, but for me it's more than welcome since I really don't like spending a lot of time-per-play-session on these things unless it's particularly fun content (the end-game battles in FFRK take a while to clear, but also have a certain type of Fun quality to them).
 

spines

behold my godlike
(she/her, or something)
RSRS is one of the most idle-y gachas i've played, which is sort of a perk and a detriment at the same time. i've stuck with it since english launch (8-9 months ago?) with a few breaks since i like the characters and have gotten a lot of good ones (including, so far, every version of rs2's main characters (and almost all of the antagonists), who are easily my favs). the story isn't that interesting to me so far and doesn't feel like it's really going anywhere, but i guess i think that's fine since the tendency for service games is to avoid feeling like they're going to end in general. at least it's honest

fate/grand order is the only game i've played that has promised to end intentionally (the current storyline written by type-moon's nasu, at least; it seems a certainty the companies that own and make it will keep it going for as long as they can after that, but i'll stop caring either way), although it certainly feels like it's dragging its feet a bit there. (it did already end an initial arc, then sort of re-upped and escalated for a second one, but that one still has a kind of clear limit that it's still technically working toward, i guess.) i've played for three years and feel a bit burned out by the long and grindy event reruns that have mostly filled the last year or so, but i'm really tantalized by nasu's claim that he wants players to feel "a sense of loss" or something like that at the end, so i'll probably have to hang in there and keep playing story chapters for 4-5 more years :/ (the game does have less powercreep than anything else i've ever heard of, so i'm not really that worried about having to "keep up" otherwise. that's a slight perk) the outcome i really fear is that the game will die in japan after it reaches that point and the localization will get canceled during the 2-year lag time so i don't even get to see it. the battle system is repetitive and kind of simple, and the lack of ability to idle at all is probably worse than being too idle-focused, but i've basically only stuck around for the story and chaotic aesthetic anyway

granblue fantasy is the other game i've played a lot. originally i just joined and then logged in for the constant free stuff, eventually got sucked in pretty hard, and fell back in the last year to being hyper casual in it (but now strong enough that i can do most things trivially anyway). music's great, story's sometimes great and otherwise mostly tolerable (though it takes quite a while to really pick up). overall, alternately fascinating and basically a blight on the earth
 

SabreCat

Sabe, Inattentive Type
(they/them)
Hello, it's me, I'm here to stan for Romancing SaGa Re;univerSe (or however it styles its name). And not just because I did a little bit of editing for the English release way back when; I started playing it as reference, then got hooked, and I'm still playing it a year and a half later. I'm not even a huge SaGa fan or anything (although I've gotten way more interested in the series since getting into this game).
Ohh cool! Maybe I'll check that out. On a glance at the promo splash, it looks most similar to FF Brave Exvius, of the others I've played. Is there a particular part of the game where your touch is most evident?

I've used the following in the past, and all are unneeded now:
Aha, I see. A similar sort of metagame fun to, say, putting together a highly complex Path of Exile character build, but around planning how to most efficiently complete all the content / collect all the collectibles you want. Cool! Not my bag by a long shot, but cool!

I think a part of that is realizing I'm just playing basically the same bloody game with a different manipulative skin.
That's a big part of my struggle with the several JRPG-ish ones I tried. Two sides lining up and beating on each other until one or the other is eliminated... isn't all that exciting a core loop to me, anymore. So in turn that's a big part of why I'm enjoying Arknights, as layering gacha over tower defense instead of JRPG brings a lot more moment-to-moment variety in play. (Though again, it does sound like endgame play is more sophisticated in e.g. Record Keeper, but I didn't make it that far.) Genshin Impact, too, with open-world exploration instead of an on-rails RPG.

Looks like Azur Lane is gacha + shmup? That could be fun too, though I worry how that'll feel on the phone, UI-wise.

the story isn't that interesting to me so far and doesn't feel like it's really going anywhere, but i guess i think that's fine since the tendency for service games is to avoid feeling like they're going to end in general. at least it's honest
That's a great line of thought--I'd never really considered how the eternal game-as-a-service model would mess with story writing. All the pitfalls of a yearly-renewable TV drama and then some! Arknights' main story is rather problematic: the player's Big Pharma paramilitary ruthlessly crushes the rebellion of an oppressed underclass, yay..? And it doesn't really go anywhere from one chapter to the next, beyond ramping up to a new boss fight each time. The appeal of reading the story cutscenes, then, is instead the character development, which can of course go on as long as it needs to. Especially when the authors can always grab another Operator from the ever-growing roster to give some spotlight and characterization!
 

shivam

commander damage
(he/hiim)
i quit playing gatchas cold turkey last year right before pandemic hit, but i just wanted to say i love this thread title
 

Sarcasmorator

Same as I ever was
(He/him)
I have bounced off several of these, because I refuse to spend money on them and the molasses-slow progression if you don't means I quickly get bored and move on to a more interesting game. Also the UI design (outside of gameplay anyway) is almost universally garish and hard to decipher. There's a particular LOOK a lot of these games have in the menus, and I hate it. The only lootboxy game I keep coming back to is Hearthstone, because you can get a free pack every week and you can spend the game's fairly generous amount of in-game gold earned from playing on more card packs if you want.
 

SabreCat

Sabe, Inattentive Type
(they/them)
I have bounced off several of these, because I refuse to spend money on them and the molasses-slow progression if you don't means I quickly get bored and move on to a more interesting game. Also the UI design (outside of gameplay anyway) is almost universally garish and hard to decipher. There's a particular LOOK a lot of these games have in the menus, and I hate it.
I'm willing to pay the same modest amount I would for, say, a subscription MMO, if I'm enjoying the game to a similar extent. But I can also understand the reasoning of not wanting to reward a business model as capable of straight ruining people as lootbox or gacha.

I haven't noticed the weird UI, but maybe I've been playing outliers? Certainly Girls X Battle 2 was garish, and dumped every menu, option, and pile of collectibles on your head as soon as you installed. So if that's the pattern you've encountered, I can understand the aversion! But it's not literally universal, ha.
 

SabreCat

Sabe, Inattentive Type
(they/them)
Oh wow I suddenly remembered I did try playing FF Mobius. I didn't get very far with it, so I forgot it was a gacha! I came to it late, so I guess there were a bunch of catch-up mechanics designed to speed people into later content, and I super resented it. My FFXIV buddies know I hate being overleveled for stuff. So when, as a reward for completing some trivial tutorial achievement, I received a Santa Claus sack of loot sufficient to completely negate gameplay for the story content I was in, I quit.
 

Paul le Fou

ShrimpCerealTopangaHusbandIsAMeTooMilkshakeDuck
(He)
Ohh cool! Maybe I'll check that out. On a glance at the promo splash, it looks most similar to FF Brave Exvius, of the others I've played. Is there a particular part of the game where your touch is most evident?
Nope, nothing at all! I think a lot of the stuff got overridden by the contact, we were just freelancing at the time. And I wasn't even translating, just editing (though I did have to re-do a large quantity of one translator's work...) but it was all system/menu/descriptive/tutorial text anyway. I tried to change a few technique names and they got changed back, I later found out. OH WELL~
 

SabreCat

Sabe, Inattentive Type
(they/them)
Gave Azur Lane a try today thanks to the recommendations upthread. I like the concept of shmup+gacha, but yeah, this one's a little too horny for me. Also it has that whaargarbl UI design Sarcasmorator was talking about.
 

SabreCat

Sabe, Inattentive Type
(they/them)
On MetManMas's recommendation, I installed Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp. Normally I don't get hooked on "sandbox" games that lack any kind of end goal or campaign progression, but I think I'll keep this one in my back pocket (rimshot) for when, say, I feel like mobile gaming but my Sanity's tapped out in Arknights. It's so charming! I do wonder if the characters get to be more interesting as you level up your friendships with them, though--it's a special kind of shallow that all anyone ever talks about is the mechanics of the game they're in, haha.

Inspired by the above, I'll add the following to the common genre tropes I've noticed:

Interior Decoration. Gachas frequently include the ability to collect furniture and other bric-a-brac for you to arrange and show off in a 2D or 3D space. It might be purely a trophy case and diversion to keep you spending time in the app, but more often it's tied in to the main game mechanics in some way, as a source of passive income or a means of training up your units. At the extreme, such as in Animal Crossing Pocket Camp, furniture building and arranging is the main focus, with decorations being the very things you obtain from your gacha pulls!
 

SabreCat

Sabe, Inattentive Type
(they/them)
Ah, you see? You see!
Definitely comes down on the "morbidly fascinating" part of my digging into the genre. Working in app design myself, I'm aware of how important "onboarding" is--making those first few minutes of interaction smooth, interesting, enjoyable, so as many of your users as possible stick around for a second session. How then has gacha design come to the conclusion that the best way of onboarding is to provide every option up front, to whirlwind tour the user through screens without providing any explanation or context, and to light up the world with a hundred red-bubble notifications about stuff the player doesn't yet have any use for? sheesh!

Arknights was way better about it--you got actual tutorial levels to walk you through mechanics, major areas of interaction unlocked over time instead of being avalanched onto you as soon as you installed, etc.
 

Sarcasmorator

Same as I ever was
(He/him)
What's funny about those UIs is that usually, ime, your initial dive into the game doesn't have them. You get onboarded through an intro mission with a tutorial or whatever, then after that stuff's done with you get dumped into the land of bubble fonts and loud icons and what have you. They try to get you hooked on the basic gameplay before hitting you with the UI overwhelm. I'm not one to even really notice a UI very much in the first place, so you have to make a pretty bad one to annoy me.

Hearthstone keeps me in partly (now that I think on it) because it is very, very clean. I've been dabbling in Legends of Runeterra and it is about as busy as I can handle for something like this. Lots and lots of superfluous flashes and glows, but at least the menus themselves are organized in a straightforward way. Now if only any of these card games could make actually assembling a deck less of a chore outside of "complete my deck" options...
 

YangusKhan

does the Underpants Dance
(He/Him/His)
Definitely comes down on the "morbidly fascinating" part of my digging into the genre. Working in app design myself, I'm aware of how important "onboarding" is--making those first few minutes of interaction smooth, interesting, enjoyable, so as many of your users as possible stick around for a second session. How then has gacha design come to the conclusion that the best way of onboarding is to provide every option up front, to whirlwind tour the user through screens without providing any explanation or context, and to light up the world with a hundred red-bubble notifications about stuff the player doesn't yet have any use for? sheesh!
My theory: they aren't trying to cater to new players, they're designing it just good enough for people who are already familiar with gacha games. When I play a new gacha I already know where to look for certain things, because I already know what kind of information I'm looking for.
 

SabreCat

Sabe, Inattentive Type
(they/them)
My theory: they aren't trying to cater to new players, they're designing it just good enough for people who are already familiar with gacha games. When I play a new gacha I already know where to look for certain things, because I already know what kind of information I'm looking for.
And maybe that's in turn part of the cater-to-whales strategy. You don't care about the casual player who stumbled across you scrolling through the app store; you're trying to hook the burnt-out addict searching for the next fresh dopamine rush.
 

Sarcasmorator

Same as I ever was
(He/him)
For whatever reason my dopamine rushes are much more calibrated to "learn new game" than "get new thing in game I know" (though I am a sucker for proper expansions; I want the "whole thing" if it's a game I like).
 

MetManMas

Me and My Bestie
(He, him)
I do wonder if the characters get to be more interesting as you level up your friendships with them, though--it's a special kind of shallow that all anyone ever talks about is the mechanics of the game they're in, haha
Not really? Aside from unlocking their clothing, a furniture item you can have crafted*, and eventually their photo, level-ups are mainly to get some bonus materials...and more valuable level-ups to your player level, which will get you Leaf Tickets and in the early goings more animal friends (Most of 'em are in maps acquired from Gulliver nowadays).

The name of the game here is mostly decorating. Collect cool stuff and show it off in your campsite, cabin, and camper. Keep animal friends you like at the campsite. Take photos and show 'em off to friends if you want.
^ From when the game still worked on my phone.

* I mean besides the ones the earlier animals ask for. You get a friend up to Lv10 or 15 and they'll ask you to make a thing.
 
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