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"Spend Rationally": The Hidden Costs of Gacha Game Subscriptions

With the release of Honkai: Star Rail, I've been thinking about "spending rationally", as they say in the game. So, I came up with a strategy.


A gacha game is, first, a game. Hence, I want to support it and spend about the same amount I'd like to spend on any other game. Which is something between 1€ and 70€.


But a gacha game is a F2P game with in-app purchases. Is there a way to make it work?


Part 1: "A Reasonable Strategy?"

This is what I came up with:

 
  • Evaluate the game for three months

  • If you like it: buy a 6€ subscription (Express Supply Pass) for one month

  • Play for two more month

  • If you're still playing, buy another 6€ Supply Pass

Stop whenever you get to 60€ (if ever).

 

It's a 60€ expense across 21 months. It sounds reasonable, right?

...is it really reasonable?

I still had this lingering feeling it doesn't dodge all the psychological consequences. So I asked Aria for some insight about them!


Part 2: The Psychological Pitfalls

 

Subscription-based offers in gacha games, such as the Welkin Moon in Genshin Impact, rely on several underlying psychological traits to increase their effectiveness. Here are some of the most relevant ones:

  • Reciprocity: This principle suggests that people are more likely to respond positively to a request or offer when they feel they owe something in return. In the context of gacha games, players may feel more inclined to purchase a subscription if they perceive that they are getting more value in return than if they just bought individual items. The Welkin Moon, for example, offers players a daily reward of primogems, the game's premium currency, as well as other bonuses, which can create a sense of reciprocity and increase the perceived value of the subscription.

  • Anchoring and framing effects: These biases refer to the idea that people tend to rely heavily on the first piece of information they receive when making a decision, as well as how that information is presented to them. In the case of gacha game subscriptions, the initial offer may be framed as a limited-time promotion or a special deal, which can create a sense of urgency or exclusivity. Additionally, the price of the subscription may be anchored to a lower-priced alternative (such as a single pull), making it seem like a more reasonable or attractive option in comparison.

  • Endowment effect: This phenomenon describes how people tend to overvalue items or opportunities they already possess, simply because they have them. In the context of gacha game subscriptions, players who have already purchased the Welkin Moon may be more likely to renew it in the future, as they have become accustomed to receiving the daily primogem reward and may feel that they are missing out on something if they don't renew.

  • Commitment and consistency: These principles suggest that people tend to stick with decisions or beliefs they have previously made, even if new information or circumstances suggest otherwise. In the case of gacha game subscriptions, players who have already committed to purchasing the Welkin Moon may be more likely to continue doing so, as they have already demonstrated a level of investment in the game and may feel that they are getting more value out of it by maintaining their subscription.

Overall, subscription-based offers in gacha games like the Welkin Moon are effective because they tap into these and other psychological biases, creating a sense of value, urgency, and exclusivity that can encourage players to make a purchase and continue their investment in the game.

 

I know of these pitfalls, so it doesn't surprise me, but it does worry me! So then, is there a way to properly support a gacha game?


Part 3: The Passive Attention Cost


Logging in every day is also another problem, as it draws a part of your passive attention to the game every single day. Opening a game takes 2-3 minutes, even 1 from mobile, maybe, but is it everything it takes out of you? Some drawbacks I identified:

  • You'll be thinking about the game for more than the minute it takes you to open it, after you do

  • If you don't feel like playing, you'll be feeling forced to do something you didn't want to do in the first pace

  • If you feel like playing, you may end up playing even if you didn't have the time to do that

When you open a game not because of an extrinsic reward, but for the experience of it, it's always much more healthy. This applies to in-game limited-time events too, as a drawback. But for those, the best you can do is just ignore a few and get along with the fact that ignoring some is good.


The other solution would be buying a gem pack, but...

My suggestion? Just stay out of this store page.

...as you can see, they're pretty much unreasonable: the 6€ pack is basically just double the amount you get for *not* logging in the game, and getting the Express Supply Pass.


The game really wants you to buy the Express Supply Pass, because it's an incentive to log in. I don't want to have an incentive to log in, and feeling I'm missing out if I don't.


Part 4: Rational Calculations

What's the exact (hidden and plain) costs and benefits about the strategy I mentioned at the beginning of the article?


Express Supply Pass

  • Cost: 6€, 30 log-ins

  • Benefit: 19 (rounded-up) extra pulls from any banner

Known F2P overall income: 4880 shards.

Extra rewards over overall F2P income without events: ~38% extra.


My Strategy

  • Cost: 60€, 90 log-ins.

  • Benefit: 190 extra pulls from any banner (30.000 shards).

Knowing the chances, it's about 3 extra 5* characters - that could be dupes - over the course of about two years, for the price of 60€.



Conclusions


1. Is my "reasonable" strategy a "rational" way to support the game?

Not really, at the very least for my point of view: accelerating a game for a month by 38% when spending 6€, and only on pulls - not the other resources you need - is still underwhelming, and the hidden costs (psychological & attention-related) are too hefty.


2. Is there a way to support the game and have something good in return?

It doesn't seem likely, to me! If I find one, I promise I'll tell you, though!


3. Is there a way to support the game without having drawbacks, and having anything in return?

When thinking about my strategy, this is the replacement that only has money as a cost. It's exactly 41 pulls! After all the analysis, as absurd as it sounds, I think it's much better than the alternative, for me specifically.

I don't recommend it, but, if and when I decide to support the game, I'll just buy this one!

I don't think there's really any need to buy it, as I love the challenge it comes with playing it as a F2P!

If you ever think about supporting the game, maybe choose a pack the size you like.

It's still a very disappointing way to spend money in a game, and I hope they change something about it. Someday.


That's everything from today's article! What are your thoughts about subscription-based "deals" in gacha games? Let me know in the comments below!

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