Genshin impact: Gacha, gambling and gameplay

Anyone with social media access has not been able to avoid the game that’s taken the world by storm over the past two years. I’m not talking about Horizon Forbidden West or Elden Ring, but about Chinese-Produced RPG Genshin Impact. Even if you’re not in gaming spaces, you’ll likely have gotten a YouTube ad or maybe a friend of yours plays it. I, too, have fallen for its charms and I’ve been playing the game on a semi-daily basis for over a year now. Despite being a free-to-download game with no ads, Genshin Impact made over 3.7 billion USD. How this was achieved becomes more apparent through understanding the game’s microtransactions that facilitate its lucrative gacha model. In this article, I will highlight Genshin’s business model and why Genshin is able to pull this off so well despite criticism on microtransactions.

Genshin impact version update 3.2 storyline promotional art. Source: Hoyoverse

The gambling system

Video Games cost money, traditionally once you’ve spent it, you get the full game. Gacha games like Genshin are free to play. They make their money through the Toy Vending Machine or Gachapon principle, where players spend in-game currency in order to get a random item. Genshin impact uses this principle for players to obtain limited-time characters, with primogems as its currency.

The game’s term for its gacha is Wishing, and the items used for wishing are called Wishes. A wish is purchased with 160 primogems. 10 wishes constitute either a 4* weapon or 4* character, and any wish could be a premium 5* character. 3* characters do not exist, 3* weapons are typically considered useless. 4* units are always available, while the 5* units are on limited-time banners that last about 2 weeks. The vast majority of wishes will be 3* weapons. Additionally, Genshin operates on a system that its players call Pity. The longer you’ve gone without a 5*, the closer you are to getting one. Players are guaranteed a 5* within 80 wishes, and although any wish before that could be a 5*, Genshin is not generous and most players will have to wish all the way up to 80.

80 wishes constitutes 12800 primogems. A regular player who doesn’t spend money can get about 140 primogems a day just by playing the game. It would take 2 to 3 months to farm to 12800, but a character banner lasts two weeks and sometimes it can take up to a year for that character to be available again. Let’s say you’ve done it, though. You haven’t spent a cent, you knew a new character was coming and you have 80 wishes ready to spend on this character. The banner appears, the screen glows gold and-

It’s not the character you wanted.

Genshin’s system operates on a 50/50 chance to obtain the featured character. It’s either that, or one of the five standard banner 5* characters. There is a chance to lose, and thus not get the character you worked so hard for. You need to grind more of the currency and time is rapidly running out.

It’s insidious. Once you’ve reached 160 gems, you wish, heart pumping with excitement but the screen turns blue instead of gold. Again and again, hormones rushing until you get your fix. Oh, and then there is the euphoria of winning the 50/50. You’ve placed your bets and won the gamble. Maybe it’s time to increase the stakes…?

The math beforehand is so calming. This is what they mean when they say preparing the drugs is a part of getting high.

My friend, who has been playing Genshin since it launched

Getting primogems through in-game playing is not efficient or lucrative for the player who wants the characters they like. The quests being fun aside, grinding gets tiring. How does a player in this gacha cycle obtain their fix of serotonin fast? Monthly micro-transactions. For 5 euros, players can buy a welkin that gives them 90 primogems every day over the course of a month just for logging in. For 10 euros players can buy a pass which gives rewards in terms of in-game resources as well as primogems through grinding daily tasks. For the truly desperate soul, a variety of primogem packages can be purchased.

The system is biased in the developers’ favour and players will be forced to spend money eventually as there are little amounts of primogems that can be farmed. So why would anyone start playing this game? Why would someone spend real life money for a virtual currency?

In-game experience

Genshin is an incredible RPG riding the anime high. That’s all. Although it doesn’t beat my favourite (Bioware’s Dragon Age), it ticks all of the boxes for a good game. Incredible graphics, a banger soundtrack, accessible gameplay, a huge open world that you can explore endlessly. The story-line and world-building are enthralling and immersive. Its major selling point, though, is the unique and diverse cast of characters. You can have the nicest graphics and most interesting lore, but these mean nothing if there’s no one that players can care about.

Players invest emotionally in these characters, because they’re relatable, tragic, funny, unique. These characters have taken over fanfiction sites, cosplay communities, comic conventions and so forth. There are over 50 playable characters now and there’s a character for everyone. For combat-oriented players who like damage numbers, there’s Hu Tao. For players who like ‘waifu’ characters, there’s Eula. For players who need their sadness represented, there’s Xiao. And for every category I just mentioned, there are at least 10 more characters that fit, all different and immersive.

Genshin’s current character banners, featuring much-anticipated character Cyno. Source: my own screenshot

I’ve seen it several times. The determination to remain free-to-play, to grind for the currency through the game’s quests and events. Until that character comes along. The one who’s designed so well, taking a trope you love and raising it up to the next level. You feel seen, you feel empowered, and they embody everything you love. They live in the screen and come alive through your imagination. You love them. You spend all the gems you saved up for months, and you lose the gamble. Devastated, you keep farming, and their banner almost comes to an end. You look at your bank-account. Your part-time job just paid you. Surely those 20 euros won’t hurt. You keep wishing, the adrenaline pumping through your veins as every character pops up on your screen except for them. Until finally, after tens of thousands of gems, there they are. Endorphins burst through your neurons and you nearly yell in euphoria

You’re so happy. You swear you won’t spend money again. You only do it for this character because they’re so special to you. 

Two months later, a new character is announced…