I played Genshin Impact for about a week. I didn’t hate it, but I could tell I was going to have to put more effort and more money into it if I were going to continue to enjoy it. It made sense, then, to step away on a good note. While I still could.
This is not a review of Genshin Impact, the most popular “gacha” game of all time. There are plenty of people who have sank more time into the game to tell you if the game will fit your needs and interests if you’re so inclined. It is, however, a reflection of my time with other titles in the subgenre, my concerns with them, and why I find it more rewarding to put my cash into other fandoms.
I’ve played more than my fair share of gacha games. They’re fun, they tend to have great artwork, they usually can be enjoyed in short bursts, and there’s as much a sense of accomplishment as characters and units level and grow as there is when in-game goals are met. The one that hooked me, and ultimately broke me, was Brave Frontier.
Brave Frontier is a mobile game that later had a downloadable version for the Windows store. I originally played it at the suggestion of my now estranged wife, starting with it’s pre-release around December 2013. I’d end up hitting it harder, getting involved with the fandom, make a name (and a nuisance) of myself on the official wiki forum, and bounding around a bit from guild to guild before falling into a solid group of friends. I made videos on my time with the game, including one particularly well received one that received over 3000 views, which was unheard of for anything I had done up to that point. The audio capture was amateurish and the information hasn’t aged well, but I felt in a way like doing these videos allowed me to give back to the community in some way.
This video was popular, if not notorious, because I successfully beat the boss while struggling, putting me between those who felt the fight was “EZ PZ” and those who were struggling and asking for advice.
I spent *hundreds* of dollars on this game, in hopes of staying current and keeping current. There was a time a unit came out that I spent over $200 just trying to get that one unit… and while I can’t tell you today which unit that was, I can tell you that I did not in fact actually get him. Or her, but I’m pretty sure it was a him. The amount of money I spent could have been used for fancier dinners, or self improvement. Hell, they could have bought triple-A titles, or in some cases entire consoles.
And by most measurements, my spending was nothing compared to players who spent literally thousands every month on the game.
You see, in the mobile gaming world, there’s different terms for different people who play these games. Some might spend a small amount here or there especially on discounts and specials; these players were often referred to as “minnows.” I was in the “dolphin” camp, who “made purchases in jumps.” Whales spend huge amounts of money, and games were often built upon their back. The result of this was that Free-to-play players and “minnows” often did not have access to the best or most current units, which impeded their ability to overcome the newest content as released. Whales, by comparison, spent way too much money but had no issue staying on top of it.
As a dolphin, there were times that I struggled. After all, every dollar spent was no guarantee of bettering my playing experience. It was a gamble – would I get the units I wanted? Would I get units I could even use? And then later on as the game progressed, players actually needed multiples of units in order to get them to their strongest (“Omni plus”) status. Imagine spending hundreds of dollars on a game and not being assured your playing experience would be better for it?
Not keeping up was an issue with Guild Raids, a competitive event in which Guilds essentially worked together to achieve the highest of scores against other Guilds on the same map. A player scoring poorly would bring his own guild down, which was an issue because only the top guilds got solid rewards, rewards which would then go on to make content more conquerable. As the game went on, this became more of an issue and allowed it to stack. I was actually kicked from the Guild I was in on my first Guild Raid because of my poor performance. That was embarrassing, and it also made it harder to interact with that group of “friends.”
At some point, it became less about a shared experience and more about playing well, as to not disappoint my friends. And, in fairness, some of the friends I met through the game I still talk to today. One of my favorite DJs, RJ Van Xetten, I met because he used to play the game and we were in the same guild (he regularly streams on Twitch, check him out!) But others had to drop out, as they couldn’t keep up.
So the merit of playing was there. That community, where the game served as a campfire of sorts where we could all sit and talk around. With it, however, the need to constantly keep up as we were never stronger than our weakest members.
I formally quit in April of 2017. I’d return briefly for one last Guild Raid before leaving it at that.
And yes, the Windows version often had those damn errors.
I miss the people I met through here, like I miss all the people I’ve met and then lost across all the games I’ve played throughout the years. Because once you step away from that campfire, there often isn’t any real reason to share a conversation anymore.
Which brings me back to the most successful AAA Gacha title of all time.
Sure, I could get into it, meet people who play it (many of my internet friends currently do already), steadily put money into it hoping for units to stay competitive (not that there is much of a need *now* but isn’t how that always starts?) and beating my head against a wall as I made my way through the world.
Or, I could just… not. Put that money towards other things, like the obsession I’ve had over the last 2 years: indie books. (Will I get a 1 star or a 5 star? Time, and my Goodreads account, will tell!) Put money in the hands of individual creators, instead of just some faceless corporation. Surround myself around the campfire of fellow creators. Write articles about their books and how much I enjoyed them (hopefully; I genuinely do not care for writing reviews for books I didn’t like.) Watch as my feedback actually makes a difference. Hit the end-game wall of knowing at some point I’m going to have to write a thing so that people can get vengeance for all the two star reviews I have done (I’m working on it, I promise.)
Here’s the rub. Genshin Impact gives player a 0.6% chance of getting a 5 star pull on a “wish.” Of that, you’re only going to get a five star character (the best of the best) half of that. This means you’ll get one top-tier unit every 334 pulls roughly. With pulls requiring 160 “primogems” and the best rate of purchase granting 6480 Genesis Crystals (traded 1:1 for primogems”) you can anticipate spending over $800 to get a 5 star unit, on a mathematical average. Some will do it in fewer; many, even with a “pity” system in place, will do it in more. There’s ways to mitigate this cost, and at current time one probably doesn’t need a five-star unit of any type, but holy fun times that is not a small amount of cash.
By comparison, I can buy an indie book that’ll keep me involved for hours that doesn’t require that kind of investment (if I bought 2 books a week I’d wind up at roughly $450.) Better, unlike characters in a game, books don’t depreciate due to power creep. I would also argue I’ve read at least one five-star book a month, which is pretty good averages, yet even when I get a four star book I don’t complain because I never get duplicates.
So to me, at this point in my life, it’s simply not worth it to continue to play a game that expects me to throw money at it in the hopes I’ll get what I want, that RNGesus will take pity on my wallet and bring me the powerhouses and waifus I desire. I can just look for books people have written that have those things instead.
And maybe, eventually, throw my own into the pile.
This isn’t to say I don’t play gacha titles any longer, but I always find myself hesitating when it comes time to make a purchase, even if it’s just a little splash in the pond. After all, when it comes to these style of games where the unit you want is just Another Pull Away (TM), the only way to win is not to play.