Japanese ‘Gatcha’ Games: the predatory marketing technique

As was last week’s topic, this week’s post was brought to my attention by a classmate. However, this time, I needed to do much more background research to even begin to understand and explain what it is from a marketing sense.

So, what is a gatcha game and how does it work? Summarised, a gatcha game works on the mechanic of a vending machine for items, characters, powerups etc that are most often essential for the progression through a game. You create a team through these random spins or swipes and what you win is usually random. The model is very similar to one used in real life with Pokie Machines you see in pubs and clubs all over Australia. The bright colours, flashing lights and the potential to win something good or rare in exchange for a currency taps into a basic human instinct and is a proven revenue raiser. These games encourage the use of online currency made with progression of the game and the option to use real money to top up the currency in game to buy spins or pulls of a vending machine to get an in-game item that is completely randomised. I bet most people reading this have at one point have downloaded and even played this type of game as it is becoming increasingly more and more popular, especially in Japan.

The title of this post I know seems quite intense. The word “predatory” has many negative connotations surrounding it that would lead anyone down a separate path. When I say predatory, I mean capitalising on people’s weaknesses. When conducting marketing research into why these games are so popular, I came across a really interesting point which I think sets a very firm foundation to view these games entire marketing strategies.

“These games do not need to convince 100% of their playerbase to spend $5 when instead they can convince 1% of their player base to spend $5,000”

This is a perfect example of the predatory nature I explained earlier. Praying on those who have an addiction and having a very focused marketing campaign for their very specific target market. The potential to win something rare and useful is all games like this need to provide for people to start making countless microtransactions that make up the insane revenue that some of these games create. An example of some bonkers revenue numbers, again in Japan, is a gatcha game called Fate/Grand Order. This game alone, and this is not a made-up figure, has made in the 5 years it has been released, $3 billion globally across both the App store and the Google Play store from player spending alone. That’s enough people justifying the odd purchase here and there to create an income stream like never seen before. To put this into perspective, Marvel’s Spiderman has sold over 9 million copies of the game and it costs $60 per game. Since its release, it has made just over $500 million dollars globally, which is pathetic when compared to Fate/Grand Order.

So that’s how they do it. Gatcha games recognise the percentage of the player base who have the largest amount of microtransaction purchases and targets them with “limited time offers” and targeted social media adds to encourage more and more spending. A both clever and evil marketing technique. What other games are considered gatcha games that would have already adopted a similar, targeted advertising strategy. Some you guys might already be playing and never really placed them in the same category.

Games like Final Fantasy, Raid Shadow Legends *deep exhale* and even some of the new Marvel Games all are based around the random characters and items to be won to eventually build a team.

So, there we have it. These games, especially in Japan, pray on the people who are most susceptible to the enticing rewards and possibilities that these games offer. My advice? Stay away from the microtransactions, as hard as it may be. Advertising and marketing is not always the most ethical industry in the world, as I am quickly realising.  

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