THE ETHICS OF WHALING ON GAMES


By ELIF KUCUKDILLI

With smartphone usage increasing immensely, so are the number of apps available and from these apps, games. Some of these games are labelled as "Gacha" games, where receiving content of some sort is based off a probability. The number of mobile gamers are increasing as well, but what effect are these probability-based games having on them?

A Gashopon machine

"Gacha" games are a reference to Japanese capsule machines. These machines drop a collectible item, but there’s no guarantee that you get the item you want. Sounds like a cash grab, doesn’t it? Well, gacha games function in the same way. A very recent and currently popular game that’s whole prospect revolves around this concept is Fire Emblem Heroes.

In Fire Emblem Heroes, players use orbs to summon a character based off which type of weapon they desire. However, the character you get is essentially random! Out of already over 70 characters to summon, there’s no guarantee you get what you want, "so you enter the gacha wormhole, paying up more and more until you unlock the hero you’ve been seeking" (Famularo). There’s only a limited number of orbs available in the game, so what happens after you use all of them up? Are you no longer able to summon heroes? No, because you can purchase orbs! This leads to the ethics behind purchasing content in games like this.

Whaling is the art of spending a profuse amount of money on gaming, and has become increasingly more common once more gacha games hit the market, or really, the app-store. From this, gamers who heavily spend on games, mainly mobile, are referred to as "whales" (Carmichael). There have been cases very recently such as a man spending "$1,000 to max out [his] barracks in Fire Emblem Heroes" (Frank). This person was in search of a character named Hector, who has an appalling 0.33% chance of being summoned. This is because he is a character who only has a 5-Star appearance rate, the rarest among almost all characters.

Stars Percentage
5 with focus 3%
5 3%
4 36%
3 58%

As seen through the breakthrough of the summoning rates, there is an awfully low chance to get a 5 Star character. Getting a 5 Star character with the limited number of orbs available in the game for free plays heavily on the player being patient and waiting for the release of more free orbs, or splurging and hoping to get the character they want. However, the 3% chance is for a 5 Star character in general, not in the specific weapon color the player chooses between when presented with the actual summoning screen. The rates are showcased below for each color specficially.

Orb Color Stars Summon Rate
Red 5 0.86%
4 12.62%
3 21.75%
Blue 5 0.71%
4 8.42%
3 17.4%
Green 5 0.64%
4 7.01%
3 13.05%
Colorless 5 0.5%
4 8.42%
3 18.85%
Summoning in FE: Heroes

Even with these rates, a person who hasn’t spent a dime could have ten 5 Star characters, whereas someone who has spent $100 only this game could only two 5 Star characters. The fact of the matter is that when someone has spent money on a game, they might have an impulse to spend even more. The lack of having 5 Star characters would lead to the person who only has 2 to spend even more just so they can have a competent team. And thus, a whale is born. These "whales" are what allow free-to-play games to profit and excel, leading to more similar games to be produced. As unfortunate as it sounds, $5 spent leads to $50 which goes to over $100. Fire Emblem Heroes has grossed nearly $3 million within 24 hours of release (Westlake). Pretty outstanding, isn’t it?

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to spend money on a mobile game. However, there’s over extending the amount you spend just to get something in a game that’s completely probability based. The probability is the risk people take, thinking they will be able to get what they want sooner or later.


References

Carmichael, Stephanie. "What It Means to Be a ’whale’ - and Why Social Gamers Are Just gamers." VentureBeat. N.p., 14 Mar. 2013. Web. 01 Mar. 2017.
http://venturebeat.com/2013/03/14/whales-and-why-social-gamers-are-just-gamers/

Digital image. Cnet. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Mar. 2017.
https://www.cnet.com/how-to/what-is-fire-emblem-heroes-orbs/

Digital image. Open the Toy. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Mar. 2017.
http://www.openthetoy.com/2012/11/toy-shopping-suprises.html

Famularo, Jessica. "’Fire Emblem Heroes’ Is a Gacha Game." Inverse. N.p., 2 Feb. 2017. Web. 01 Mar. 2017.
https://www.inverse.com/article/27267-what-are-gacha-games-fire-emblem-heroes

Frank, Allegra. "Spending $1,000 in Fire Emblem Heroes Still Won’t Guarantee You Every Character." Polygon. Polygon, 08 Feb. 2017. Web. 01 Mar. 2017.
http://www.polygon.com/2017/2/8/14546928/fire-emblem-heroes-every-character-max-barracks

Westlake, Adam. "Nintendo’s Fire Emblem Heroes Reaches Nearly $3M in First Day Revenue." SlashGear. N.p., 4 Feb. 2017. Web. 01 Mar. 2017.
https://www.slashgear.com/nintendos-fire-emblem-heroes-reaches-nearly-3m-in-first-day-revenue-04473938