Some people thought I went out on a limb when I speculated that Japan’s social gaming industry will get regulated “soon” four weeks ago (the post was later translated into Japanese by tech blog Startup Dating).
But exactly that’s what’s very likely to happen. And as I expected, it’s Japan’s National Consumer Affairs Agency (and not the Police Agency) that’s playing the main part.
To make it clear: gacha as such won’t disappear anytime soon. The Consumer Affairs Agency is focusing on a specific type of this electronic draw, the so-called “complete gacha”.
In this mechanism, players who want to get a special/rare item must get a set of other items through gacha first. For instance, the user must first get item A through gacha, then item B (also through gacha), then C and D – and only if they can get items A-D (complete gacha), they get the rare item.
Here’s how the Yomiuri visualizes this example:
The main bullet point here is that some of these rare items can’t be obtained in any other way (through “grinding” in the game or otherwise) but might be necessary to complete a deck of cards, for example.
This might sound like a relatively mild regulation, but heavy spenders (whales) in particular are the target group for complete gacha (the Yomiuri speaks of cases where players spend “tens of thousands of yen” just to complete sets- anecdotally, this doesn’t surprise me at all).
The Consumer Affairs Agency is expected to request this feature to get removed from all social games in Japan.
In other words, some social game makers will lose a substantial part of their revenue after the regulation gets implemented – not to mention the negative image effects through the exposure in mass media. I am expecting this news to make it into national TV today, too.
According to the Yomiuri, the Consumer Affairs Agency will make a public statement “soon”.
The industry was clever to self-regulate itself (see here, here, and here) earlier. Otherwise the regulation would have even more impact (as I speculated, the intention was to soften the inevitable, “forced” regulation), but this restriction of gacha might just be the first step.
At this point, only one of two key areas that are currently under fire is being taken care of.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see the government crack down on gacha once again (for example by forcing game providers to display the probability of getting certain cards), or (which is more likely) push the industry to get the real-money trading phenomenon of virtual items under control.
Here’s the front page of the Yomiuri Shimbun of today (the gacha news is actually the top story on the top right, in bold):
On Twitter in Japan, the news has been trending all morning, at one point with three key words at the same time:
If you understand Japanese, here is a simulation of probabilities players deal with when going for “complete gacha”.
Here is a good analysis of the “complete gacha” mechanism (in Japanese).