Gacha, microtransactions in mobile games and Fire Emblem Heroes

February 24, 2017

I have to say that I generally like the new Fire Emblem Heroes on mobile — but then again, I’m saying this as a fan of the series.

It’s got all the basics of a Fire Emblem game down: the tactical grid where you move your units, the weapon triangle for combat, fun characters who can battle, and a tactical system. If you’re looking for the depth that a Fire Emblem game usually brings, you’ll probably still feel a bit left out, since the game isn’t quite perfect.

The gameplay of Fire Emblem Heroes is pretty fun! It's cool to see high-resolution artwork for some of the older characters as well.

Unfortunately, the game has all the signature features of a typical mobile game — only slightly more reasonable.

I get it, Nintendo needs to make money, and this is a nice way to get some cash (the game made an estimated 5 million dollars after the first few days, being the most popular in Japan) without having to get people to part with many euros for the classic Fire Emblem experience.

Instead, players can play the game for free and unlock heroes by playing through the game, but they can also put down real money for their in-app currency (“orbs”) to summon heroes. Here’s the thing:

  • Heroes earned by spending points are random.
  • Heroes earned can be of different ratings (and leveling low-star heroes is time-consuming). Higher rated heroes drop less frequently.
  • Orbs are expensive: 5 orbs for a single hero summon. A single orb costs about 66 eurocents, not counting bonus orbs you get when you buy more orbs in bulk — making a single hero worth about 3 euros. You can buy orbs starting at 2 euros (for 3 orbs).
  • You cannot keep playing, since you are limited by 50 stamina. Later levels require 14-15 stamina per level (and are more difficult) making it harder to earn orbs.

Slightly less fun is collecting random heroes and maintaining your roster. Prices can be quite high for those orbs...

To be fair, many games with in-game currencies exist, and many of them tend to obscure the price of things. If there was a simple label that said: “Unlock Random Hero for 3 EUR”, well… I’m quite sure very few people would pay for this. Still, this is a very well-known mechanic commonly referred to as gacha, coming from the Japanese gachapon1.

I won’t complain further about mobile gaming, because I can’t do it better than Colin from Kinda Funny can in his video on How Mobile Gaming Ruined Everything. Please do watch it, because Colin makes some great points.

Of course, I did end up paying for some orbs. I do think the folks at Nintendo shouldn’t do this for free, but I still don’t like the practices. It’s a good thing that this game is quite fun — the only thing I really hate is how weak the story is and how badly I need more orbs.

  1. The gacha mechanic derived from the original ‘gashapon’ popular in Japan, in which vending machines would dispense capsule toys at random. The randomness of the distribution adds an element of chance which draws the obvious comparison of gacha to gambling. In mobile games, the gacha prize could be a special character, weapon, power, event-driven offer, or other rare item. See: Mobile Gaming: Is it Gotcha time for Gacha?