Some time ago, we’ve talked about the trap of in-app purchases in mobile games. Apparently this issue has even raised concerns among government officials in Singapore, because the Remote Gambling Bill was read with the aim of controlling Internet gambling among tech-savvy citizens. You might think that you won’t be affected because you probably don’t live in Singapore, but according to the bill, if a company publishes a game containing the gacha system in the country, it could still be prosecuted as overseas businesses are not exempted.
So are all game developers in the world doomed? The answer is no… for now. As reported by Games in Asia on October 7, the Remote Gambling Bill was passed, but video games that do not allow players to convert in-game possessions for real money or products are not affected. However, as Singapore’s Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran emphasized, “What may be benign today may appear more sinister tomorrow.” And once again, concerns about the operation of F2P games are raised.
For a long time, in-game gacha system has become the most common monetization method in F2P games. Gacha was originated from “gashapon,” which means a vending machine for toys in Japanese and stands as a Bandai trademark for their capsule toys. To collect the small items, people need to gamble on the gacha machines because the result is always random. This concept was then brought from real vending machines to virtual gaming, and cash shops soon flourished in F2P games. Usually when a “limited edition” pet, character, weapon or item is released, players would be ready to burn their wallets in order to get the coveted reward.
To keep cash shops thriving through the gacha system, game developers tend to release new special stuff on a regular basis. In this way, players would easily develop a gambling habit and psychology: even when the items are not actually useful, they would still participate in the gacha events just for the excitement or even the sake of gacha-ing. And since the items offered in the gacha system are generally better than the freebies, those F2P games cannot help but become pay-to-win, in which players who spend their real bucks can get a clear and definitive advantage over those who are not paying. Money wins after all, even in virtual worlds.
The Singaporean bill describes gambling as “playing a game of chance for money or money’s worth.” In this sense, all F2P games containing a gacha system or any games in which players need to spend real money to play a game of chance should be included. But can gacha really be defined as a form of gambling? It seems so on surface, but since players will still get some in-game stuff from the system – be they crappy or rare – instead of gaining nothing, no one would actually become a “loser”, and it’s hard to come to a strict definition even under the law. But no matter what, players should stay alert and avoid spending what they can actually afford in games.
Furthermore, according to Sam Miranda, director at online slots information hub RightCasino.com, there are distinct similarities between the gacha system and gambling: “Casinos are focusing more and more on gamification. They are encouraging users to play with promises of progression and rewards for completing certain actions. Both casino gambling and freemium game models have addictive qualities, and involve the exchange of money for intangible items. I think they should be placed in the same pot, and subject to the same criticism.”