Gacha games are typically made for mobile gamers in Asia. Gacha games are free-to-play and monetize solely through gacha (capsule-toy vending machines). You’re probably thinking “Isn’t gacha just lootboxes?”. No, there’s an enormous difference.
In most American AAA games, lootboxes are purely cosmetic. They make you look cool while you get headshots and hit skillshots. Some studios still sell their games at retail and enable microtransactions through cosmetic only lootboxes. Many games that previously charged admission are now free-to-play and more new AAA titles are launched as free-to-play every year.
Games that are multiplayer and competitive (CS:GO, LoL, Dota 2, Valorant) lean into cosmetics because cosmetics don’t give the user any tangible advantage besides styling on the other hyper-nerds in their lobby. It’s impossible for Valve and Riot to continue to dominate in esports if players think their games are “pay to win”.
Gacha games on the other hand are all about pay to win. Genshin Impact is a primarily single player gacha game that is blowing up enormously, even outside of China. In the most Chinese way possible, Genshin Impact copies the cutesy art style from anime, the gameplay from Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and the gacha mechanic from every other gacha game in existence.
In GI, you have a party of leveled characters with gear. You earn in-game currency, new characters, and new gear just by playing and completing quests. The characters and gear you acquire from spending real money are almost always better than the ones you can unlock for free.
There’s usually power creep associated with the regular stream of new content in gacha games. The characters and gear released in 2021 will be better than their 2020 counterparts. This forces you to buy the new characters and gear to be properly leveled for the new content even if you’re a god gamer.
Gacha games are extra addictive and mimic the highs and lows of gambling. In the words of an avid GI player, “There’s no better feeling than pulling a .6% chance to get a super rare over-powered character”. You keep opening packs like Magic The Gathering fans or old white people pulling the slots.
GI is different because of its availability on major consoles and PCs, and it is much closer to AAA titles than conventional gacha games. Gacha games typically target established markets with existing fan bases on mobile only. The gameplay for traditional gacha games is much closer to TCGs or JRPGs from yesteryear.
GI’s popularity in the US is largely due to Twitch and TikTok. #genshinimpact on TikTok has 216.8M views at time of writing. GI hit 212,000 concurrent viewers on Twitch shortly after launch. GI made over 100 million USD in its first 13 days and had over 200 million downloads on Apple and Google’s app stores in its first week. 58% of revenue comes from outside of China, with Japan and the US at the top. This is solely GI’s mobile revenue and downloads, statistics on PC and PS4 users have yet to be released by miHoYo, the studio behind Genshin Impact. Expect more Twitch streamer influence and more Western studios attempting AAA style gacha games in the near future.