There was a point in my life when I despised free-to-play mobile games. I hated what I thought they represented: a concerning trend toward games as a service rather than a product. I felt that if these games continued their rise in popularity, the concept of owning a video game could disappear entirely and games would forever compromise their design in order to better fit the lucrative model. This trend is certainly not one that has changed, but it has produced something that I have a much more positive opinion on: gacha-based RPGs. I have found myself not only enjoying games like Fire Emblem Heroes and Fate Grand Order, but, to my surprise, playing them more than anything else. Having undergone this metamorphosis of mentality, I feel it prudent to document the reasons these games have overtaken more traditional experiences in the never-ending battle for my free time.
Speaking of free time, I don’t have very much of it anymore. In high school I may not have had much time during the week, but my weekends were completely free and there was an abundance of holidays and vacations. In college I had even more time, with classes and homework taking up just a fraction of what they did before. This gave me plenty of opportunities for long, uninterrupted gaming sessions where I could completely lose myself in a game. Those days have been obliterated by the fatal illness known as adulthood. Now I have a handful of holidays, ten vacation days, and weekends where I am spending most of my time thinking about what needs to be done in the coming week.
The working man’s life isn’t nearly as bleak as I am making it out to be, but it definitely cuts down the time available to play games. Gacha games, as a result, have become much more attractive. Many of them are designed to heavily reward around half an hour of gameplay a day, with the option open to play for longer if the time is available (and you have the in-game resources to do so). This means that I can have a serious sense of progression in a game that I can only play for a few minutes a day. Half an hour isn’t enough time to get anywhere significant in most AAA single player experiences, and it is just barely enough time for one or two games of an online multiplayer game. Yet, in a gacha game, I can complete daily tasks, earn valuable resources, and manage my characters in multiple games in the same amount of time.
My original grievance with the free-to-play model is that it generates incomplete experiences: games that are not, and will never be, finished. The developers make no money when you download the game, so they constantly have to be implementing something new in order to get you to spend it. This is something that I have actually come to appreciate, because it greatly increases the longevity of the game. Once I have completed all of the content the game has to offer, more content gets added within the week. This not only gives me more to do, but also gives me something to look forward to. Maybe on Wednesday Fire Emblem Heroes is adding a new character. Perhaps the next day a new event begins in Dragalia Lost. This constant development takes whatever monotony that may have been in those thirty minutes a day and turns them into consistent excitement.
A sizable chunk of my free time in the past year has been divided into two places: the aforementioned gacha games, and the subreddits for each of them. Because of the ever-changing nature of these games, the community constantly has something new to discuss. Are the new characters overpowered? What does everyone think of the character art? What characters are people using to complete the new content? These questions spurn endless discussion threads, inside jokes, memes, and fanart that never fail to brighten my day. There are, of course, communities comprised of fans of other games. However, because those games release new content at most once every few months, the communities cannot be nearly as active as those surrounding gacha games (or any consistently updated free-to-play game).
The free-to-play gaming model may still frighten me when it comes to the continued existence of traditional gaming experiences, but I have come to acknowledge its value. I no longer think that all mobile games were devised by the devil. Or, perhaps, I have accepted that the devil has pretty good taste. All of this is to say that, because gacha mobile games are all I have been playing of late, I am about to write a whole lot of articles about them. You have been warned. Let the SixTAY Days of Writing begin once again, and good luck to everyone else taking the challenge!