Ultimate Guide to Gacha Games: Origins, Evolution, and Monetization

Gacha games are a significant and influential gaming model that has enthralled modern mobile gamers. They resonate both with popular culture and gamers which has created a wave of mobile-first titles focused on random chance more than gameplay. The impact spreads beyond the games themselves, fueling gacha like elements in many of today’s modern live service games. Ever wondered where this came from and how it spread so far and wide?

We’re going into detail on each of these elements and more with our ultimate guide to gacha games. Everything from what they are to where they came from to where they spread to. Join us as we take this adventure through random chance, waifus and pity rolls.

What are Gacha Games?

The gumball vending machines that were filled with capsules containing various micro-toys (of various rarity) are the original inspiration for gacha games. Gashepon (capsule-toy) is the basis of the word “gacha” although a western audience may be more drawn to the traditional gumball machine than “gashepon.”

Translating this physical game of chance with prizes located in you local Pizza Hut into video games was actually quite natural once mobile payments were realized. The fundemental element of gacha is trading real world cash for chances at a virtual capsule machine.

The genre’s main mechanic is trading some form of currency or token for a chance to roll for a random character (and/or skins, items, etc.). The available characters are often driven by time limited events, limited time offers and various rarity scores. You generally pick from a set of available characters you can roll for and then take your chances.

Copies are common, which are used to level up the characters, items, etc. These are then used for the game’s “gameplay” portion which can range from live action (Genshin Impact), turn based RPG (Honkai Star Rail) or even turn based card / puzzler (Limbus Company). The general strength (rarity) of a team will determine chances of success.

Often times you get a few rolls per day for free, but to really load up on rolls you’ll need to pay real life currency.

real life gacha machines


The Gacha, as previously noted, comes from the capsule-toy vending machine known as “gashapon” in Japan. The first game to really make an impact and bring this mechanic to popularity was “Dragon Collection” by Konami in 2010 on the Japanese social network Gree. From there, Puzzle & Dragons carried the genre to the forefront for western audiences in 2012.

From there the list of games is expansive, from major franchise games like One Piece Treasure Cruise to Final Fantasy Brave Exvius, Fire Emblem Heroes, Animal Crossing Pocket Camp, Azur Lane, Mario Kart Tour, Genshin Impact, Blue Archive, Limbus Company and so many more.

From Dragon Collection to Zenless Zone Zero, the genre has expanded greatly and covers everything from action, dungeon crawling, adventure, rhythm, roleplaying and so many other genres with their core mechanic of rolling for characters.

First Gacha Game

The very first gacha game that is considered “the first” in Japan is Dragon Collection. A card game that was released in 2010. This, however, is widely debated amongst fans. Most like to consider the literal gashapon machines to be the first; but they weren’t digital. Some will say TinierMe came out before.

I feel it’s generally accepted that Dragon Collection was the first mobile gacha game. Gaia Online and MapleStory were popular games with gacha elements long before Dragon Collection came out. I’d definitely say Gaia Online & MapleStory were the originators of the practice; Dragon Collection ported it to mobile and mobile made the systems accessible to everyone. Puzzles and Dragons was the breakout hit that brought it to America.

Online CCGs

Online card games are all applicable to everything here as well. While the system of unlocking a main character isn’t the forefront, the nature of drawing cards is. The same kind of banner systems (card decks), the same kind of mechanics and the same monetization / psychology is at play. The only difference is that card games have considerably more to collect and entire PvP metas whereas gacha games are more… single player focused.

Online CCGs also rotate out cards from their ladder competition as they age out. This means you’re always having to spend money each time a new deck is released. The same logic here is also applicable with real life card games, although one argues that at least you get the cardboard in a real life card game.

Best S Tier Gacha Games

The best games are the ones that resonate the most with you. If you’re going to play a gacha game, it should likely be just one or two so that you’re not overwhelmed or burning out on keeping everything going. Look for the most popular games; they’re going to be the most fair.

The community generally supports fair developers, HoyoVerse makes really good games that are high quality and 3D while games like Azur Lane and Limbus Company are really good as well. It’s really up to you what you want to play. Go to the app store and just search gacha and decide on what really resonates with you.

There isn’t a best here. It’s way too subjective and depends entirely on what you want thematically + gameplay wise. Do you want it to be more anime and turn based or do you want it to be more western and autobattler like Raid Shadow Legends?

Speaking of Raid Shadow Legends, yes that 100% is a gacha game.


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Gacha games are monetized by selling rolls for new characters (and/or items, skins, etc.). The characters are often called “waifus” by the community, a interesting and unique term in of itself. A waifu is the Japanese word for wife, implying that the characters are the player’s wives more or less; with the desired outcome to build the right team for either gameplay or whatever other reason.

Free to play is often about logging in frequently and doing daily quests and other events, but this gives you considerably less rolls than buying currency directly (or better value, the bundle deals they frequently offer). The more rolls, the higher the chance to get the higher rarity / more desirable characters.

This style of monetization comes back into other games in the form of lootboxes. These lootboxes don’t define the game, but the mechanic carries strong synergy with gacha games. Gacha games define themselves as the lootboxes being the core means of progression, whereas other games the lootboxes are nice to have; but you level up through playing.

Ancillary Income

These games often employ other ways of getting players to spend money. For instance, they can have an energy system (number of times you can play the gameplay element of the game) that is consumed either when you play a map or if you lose (a lives counter if you will) (wait to play). It often refillls over time, but instant refills only come with level ups (most frequently) or by using a consumable or currency directly.

Consumables are often another thing for sale. They can be part of a gacha element, crafted or just part of item drops in the game. Real money is almost always involved for consumables to boost XP, recover energy / plays, open dungeons, etc.

Free-to-Play to Pay Pipeline

The games are generally always free-to-play, critical to their success. Players are not in any way at first gatekept by any form of payment necessary. In fact, by playing for the first-time players are often showered in rolls and currency. Energy (or number of times you can play) is often refilled with level-ups, which come fast and frequent at the start.

Then the player will generally hit some kind of wall where they’ll need a stronger team to progress. At this point the player will have already exhausted their rolls and got as far as they can with what they currently have. They’ll then have to grind for rolls daily to get more copies of their characters to upgrade them or get rarer characters to fight with.

This loop continues, as each time a player successfully breaches a power wall they will then hit another one, requiring more rolls and rarer characters. This continues even after all the current content is exhausted, as new content is released that is designed specifically for new character sets. This then equates to needing to roll more and more.

Players frustrated and wanting to progress or experiencing fomo over not getting specific characters can spend real money to boost their odds. Proper games will give you a “pity system” that will grant you higher tier rare the more times you pull without one.

The developers often continue to release new content, including new things to roll for on a general regular cadence. This keeps players working hard to get the new content each time the game updates. This new content causes waves of new purchases to flood in.

This asks, why though?

The Psychology of Gacha

The addictive nature of gambling isn’t a secret when it comes to gacha. The intermittent reinforcement from the variable rewards along with the desire to complete collections drive players into a cycle of spending and grinding in these games. Once invested, the commitment to the game pushes players to continue the cycle even as returns and improvements to their teams slowly diminish.

There’s intense social pressure too. Communities often compare collections of “waifus” to one another. This competition results in pressure to buy more pulls to try more times to get a better or more desirable character.

There’s completionists too, who may want to get everything and the design of the rolls giving you most of everything results in only a few characters needed to complete a set: a few extremely rare characters.

The Gacha Game Loop

Here’s a rough step-by-step process of the ideal long term gacha player (from the game developer/publisher’s point of view):

  1. Logs into the game for the first time.
  2. Gets excited by pulling several rare characters.
  3. Has friends who have elite teams in the game, the player wants to catch up.
  4. Slow drip of new resources results in the player purchasing packs / currency to continue.
  5. The player reaches a level in which they feel confident in staying at.
    • They are at this point now a friend who has the elite team marketing the game to get others to start at step 1.
  6. New content is released, restarting #3.
  7. The desire to transition to another game is low due to high investment into the current game.
  8. The player’s investment into the game and desire for its continued success causes them to become loyal fans who market the game and continue to use social pressure to get others involved.

Addiction and Dopamine

You’ll notice nowhere in there did I say their ideal player is an addict; that’s cruel. It’s just that the average cycle of the game is in of itself about getting a player addicted to the game. To where they’re compuslively engaging with the game mechanics that encourage repeated play. Anyone can fall for this as well, they don’t need to target those with naturally adictive personalities. There is an overwhelming number of mechanics that delight the right senses to cause players to compuslively invest into these games.

I’ve avoided the word dopamine because it’s just kind fair to equate all of this down to dopamine; yes it’s a critical component (the release of dopamine causing you to feel joy and eurphoria for a moment) but it can distract from the multitude of other elements of the gacha journey like the social pressure to justify the continued desire to receive those precious dopamina hits from a legendary five star pull.

For a list of games without the “dark patterns” that take advantage of the user, check out » Healthy Gaming « Avoid Addictive Dark Patterns.

Big Games = Bigger Problems

Zenless Zone Zero has a huge download and includes a length verification process (depending on hard drive speed). HoyoVerse has actual mini-TV shows that play while you wait to make sure you don’t drop off their journey into becoming a full time ZZZ player.

Fomo and Dark Patterns

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Speaking of Dark Patterns, the fear of missing out is huge. There’s a considerable fear that if you stop playing them you’ll forever lose access to limited time rewards. This false scarcity can really play havok with the need to be on always in order to get the best characters. There’s so many other dark patterns, like the infinite treadmill where there is no way to complete some of the games that it makes them overly psychologically manipulative.

There’s a lot of games that aren’t as popular that are much worse. These games usually have niche communities and aren’t as popular because they aren’t as fair. It’s good to be cautious of smaller gacha games, while supporting smaller games is good and they should always get a fair view, it can also be a leading indicator that they don’t play as fair as the others.

Controversies and Criticisms

When we talk about compulsive gambling, we naturally make the comparison to the gambling industry itself. Gacha games are no exception. The way they “prey” on the psychology and natural instincts of Humans causes controversy in of itself. The comparison is just natural, for both the good and the bad.

While the output of a gacha game isn’t a tangible reward; it’s still a reward of social value. Players invest tons of money to play essentially a slot machine that at some point will grant them a jackpot. Of course, unlike gambling, a pity system is a requirement – and the odds are much more in the players.

Muv-Luv Alternative actually was shutdown within hours of launch for lacking a pity system. The mechanics and balance along with the reward system wasn’t right and they quickly shut the game down. Gacha fans aren’t unreasonable – the games have to be fair and need to provide that give and take in order

In Genshin Impact, a character named Zhongli was released. They were hard to get and a bit underpowered, resulting in massive backlash. The characters have to make sense for how hard they are to pull.

In Granblue Fantasy the rates weren’t disclosed for the Andira exclusive character. This resulted Japanese law to require the odds of the pulls to be posted for each game.

There is also Star Wars Battlefront II which, which not a gacha game directly, more or less used its lootboxes for characters like gacha games. The odds and amount of spending/playtime to get what players would want caused such insult that the game tanked on release.

One of the things that unite these stories is the demand for fairness. The excitement doesn’t come if the right environment isn’t made.

On the Amount of Addiction and Whales

One of the biggest controversies is just how “addictive” the games are. We address this a lot throughout the article. It’s well known that players can get “addicted” to spending money in games and there’s several news articles throughout the years of various situations where someone spent an absurd amount of money in a game ($10k+ USD).

I think addiction is a serious concern but I think it’s a loose definition to say that because someone spends $20 on a game every payday to roll for characters in a game is a fair sentiment. It’s not like the game doesn’t offer the ability to play the characters, especially in modern games. Pity systems, especially ones with crafting keep everyone sated and from spending considerably too much.

Whales also are something of an anomoly. A very small portion of a playerbase spends far too much on the game. Considering these games often lack a strong PvP focus and, even in card games, the meta decks are all accessible at around $50, it really doesn’t matter here if someone spends their money in that way.

In more aggressive mobile games with PvP and world maps it’s a much bigger problem. In Gacha games the whales are just… not of any highlight or focus to the greater community itself. So while it’s best to hope everyone spends their money appriorately, gacha games don’t neccessarily have a major whale focus.

So worrying about either or considering them in how you have fun in the game isn’t hyper relevent.

On Gambling Addiction

Gacha does, in many ways, draw in gambling addicts. There’s a considerable urge to have “one more pull” to try and get what you want and a bevy of other traits that follow things like slot machines and other gambling avenues. It’s a sad and harsh reality of how the monetization systems work in gacha games.

There are resources and help available: SAMHSA’s National Helpline | SAMHSA is a great start along with About the National Problem Gambling Helpline – National Council on Problem Gambling (

It is not fair to make assumptions that because someone plays a gacha game they have a gambling addiction. It’s also a very difficult topic and one best left to professionals. If you have any sincere concerns about another or yourself, reach out to a professional.

Personal Thoughts

I like some gacha games, like Limbus Company. The ones where they’re fair with rewards, generous with handouts and have a way for free-to-play players to progress. It’s not bad. Genshin Impact is also neat and fun to play although I’ve never gotten far enough for my character loadout to even matter.

I think as a means of monetization it’s a bit exploitative. In an average RPG you’re grinding away to get items from bosses that have specific drop rates; sometimes you have to grind them over and over to get the specific item you want. Yet, it’s all from you playing the game. There isn’t paying for you to get x number of boss kills to get y chances at the loot you want.

It can take a considerable amount of fun out of the actual game for me if the game paywalls any forward movement. It makes it hard to grind old content over and over for meager rewards and having to wait day by day for premium rolls to come to see if you can boost your team. It’s just not the best.

I respect the community deeply though. They do fight for games that give them respectful terms. The popular games are the ones that treat the players the fairest. The amount to spend for most games isn’t that much either; which is another thing I would argue to consider. At least they’re not selling $1,000 packages.

Gacha Terms

  1. Gacha: Refers to a monetization technique that offers randomized virtual items in exchange for currency, which can be either real money or in-game earned tokens.
  2. Banner: A limited-time event in gacha games during which specific items or characters are available to pull with higher rates or exclusively.
  3. Pity System: A mechanism that guarantees players a high-rarity item after a set number of unsuccessful pulls, ensuring that players eventually receive valuable rewards after continuous investment.
  4. Pull/Roll: The act of using in-game currency to obtain a random item or character from the gacha. Each attempt is commonly referred to as a “pull” or “roll.”
  5. Reroll: The process of starting a new account multiple times to take advantage of initial free gacha pulls to secure highly desired or powerful characters from the outset.
  6. Whale: A term used to describe players who spend a significant amount of real money on gacha games, often to collect rare items or characters.
  7. F2P (Free-to-Play): Players who do not spend real money on the game. F2P players often rely on in-game rewards and strategic resource management to progress.
  8. P2W (Pay-to-Win): A derogatory term used to describe games or mechanics where spending real money can give a player a significant advantage over non-paying players.
  9. Limited Gacha: A special gacha pull that is only available for a limited time and often features exclusive items or characters that cannot be obtained any other way.
  10. Spark: In some gacha games, players can choose a specific item or character after a certain number of gacha pulls, usually a large number like 300, which acts as an ultimate pity system.
  11. Rate-Up: A temporary increase in the likelihood of obtaining specific items or characters from the gacha. These are often featured during special event banners.
  12. Farmable: Refers to items or characters that can be obtained through regular gameplay rather than through gacha mechanics, typically by completing specific missions or challenges.
  13. Powercreep: The phenomenon where newly introduced characters or items are significantly stronger than older ones, effectively rendering previous options less effective or obsolete.
  14. SSR/SR/R: Stands for Super Super Rare, Super Rare, and Rare, respectively—common classifications for the rarity of gacha items or characters, with SSR being the most desirable.
  15. Waifu: Derived from the English word “wife,” used predominantly in anime and gaming communities to refer to female characters that players are particularly fond of or feel emotionally attached to. In gacha games, “waifu” often refers to female characters that are highly desired for their aesthetic, abilities, or both.
  16. Husbando: Similar to “waifu” but refers to male characters. Like waifus, husbandos are characters that players are particularly attached to.
  17. NP (Noble Phantasm): A term specific to “Fate/Grand Order,” referring to the unique powerful abilities that each servant (character) can use in battle. These abilities are often visually striking and represent the character’s ultimate skills.
  18. Vision Cards: A feature in games like “War of the Visions: Final Fantasy Brave Exvius,” where these cards provide additional stats and abilities to units when equipped.
  19. Constellation: Specific to “Genshin Impact,” it refers to the system that enhances a character’s abilities. Players can unlock these enhancements by obtaining duplicates of the character from gacha pulls.
  20. Memory Imprint: Used in “Epic Seven,” this refers to a system where players can enhance a character’s stats by obtaining duplicates of that character.
  21. Dokkan Awakening: From “Dragon Ball Z: Dokkan Battle,” this is a transformation that significantly powers up characters beyond their usual enhancements, often changing their appearance and abilities.
  22. Sync Grid: In “Pokémon Masters EX,” players use a grid system to unlock or enhance a character’s (called sync pairs in the game) skills and stats using specific items earned through gameplay.
  23. Prisms: In “Love Live! School Idol Festival,” prisms are the currency used for performing gacha pulls to obtain new idols or costumes.
  24. EX Jobs: A term from “Final Fantasy Brave Exvius” and “War of the Visions,” referring to special job enhancements that significantly boost a character’s abilities, often making them viable in the current meta-game.
  25. Ultra Evolution: A feature in “Monster Strike,” where players can evolve their characters into a much stronger form using specific materials, alongside the traditional method of pulling for characters.
  26. EZA (Extreme Z-Awakening): From “Dragon Ball Z: Dokkan Battle,” this term refers to a special kind of awakening that greatly enhances older characters to make them relevant in the current game meta.


Gacha Games are interesting to say the least. We hope you’ve learned everything you need to know about the genre, how the games work, how they’re monetized and everything else there is to know. The world of gacha games does evolve, with new systems for managing rolls and creative pity systems. Each new game builds on the work of the previous games which often update as well! It’s a big growing community.

If they’re not for you, that’s totally cool too. I’m not a huge fan myself of the genre of games and don’t find myself playing them with much frequency. No shame in not liking a specific game genre.

Be nice to your friends too. If they like the games, don’t bully ’em for it. Support them. Likewise, be nice to other players as well. Not everyone has the time / resources that you do.

For more reading, check out the Wikipedia article: Gacha game – Wikipedia

David Piner, an accomplished video game journalist since 2001, excels in developing comprehensive guides and engaging content to enrich the gaming experience. As the esteemed former Managing Editor at TTH (as David "Xerin" Piner) for over a decade, David established a strong reputation for his perceptive analysis, captivating content, and streamlined guides. Having led skilled teams of writers and editors, David has been instrumental in producing an extensive collection of articles, reviews, and guides tailored to both casual and hardcore gamers aiming to enhance their skills. Dedicated to player-centric content, David meticulously crafts guides and articles with the players' interests in mind. He is a proud member of OUT Georgia and fervently champions equity and equality across all spheres.