Playing a mobile game is supposed to be entertaining. But it’s no longer deemed a plaything. For instance, 0.00029 percent is the official chance that gamers, in theory, could get an extremely rare item in a popular Korean mobile game.
Despite the slim chance, some hyper-rich gamers spend over $1 million in real money to get such items, translating into huge profit for developers and publishers. In recent months, game developers here are rushing to announce steep pay raises for their employees as their profits have soared.
But there is a storm of dispute looming on the horizon. At the center of attention is a bill that would make it obligatory for game developers and publishers to disclose all the percentages for what are locally called “gacha,” or loot boxes.
To earn profits, the majority of free-to-play mobile game developers depend greatly on the gacha system, whose mechanism is something similar to that of a slot machine, as it induces players to fork out real money to get in-game currency and spend that for the chance to get virtual items.
Currently, major game publishers voluntarily disclose the percentages for getting different items, even though the probability to obtain ultrarare items is far lower than winning a real-life state lottery.
The problem is that certain game developers do not disclose the percentages for much-coveted items. In this case, gamers have to spend money without having any idea about how much money they may have to plow in to get what they want.
The absence of randomized item information, of course, is good for game publishers in terms of profits; however, it’s a bottomless pit for players. Critics have long pointed out the murky practice and demand all developers let players check out the risks of the digital roulette they play.
So what’s the problem with a revision bill that would legally require game developers and publishers to reveal the percentages, especially given that some of them are already putting the figures on their websites?
The Korea Association of Game Industry issued a letter of opinion to lawmakers regarding the proposed revision bill, arguing that randomized item ratios are “trade secrets” of game developers.
“Limiting the chance of getting high-powered items to certain ratios is an essential part of gaming, and game developers invest a lot of money to study the ratios and protect them as trade secrets,” said the organization that represents major game publishers.
The body also claimed that even developers and publishers do not know exact odds since they are constantly changing.
I’m shocked to know that several local game developers are voluntarily displaying their precious “trade secrets” on their websites and in-game interfaces. I’m also dismayed to hear they do not want to disclose all the percentages since some ratios are not fixed. As far as I know, linking the changing ratios with items in real time is not rocket science. If they are willing to do so, it would take only a couple of weeks to change the code, or a couple of days given the top-notch programmers they employ.
As with other mainstream gamers, I am not against the gacha system. Sometimes, it’s fun to roll the digital dice and, if lucky, get a rare item -- as long as the amount of money involved is understandable and affordable.
But it is preposterous that game developers refuse to disclose the odds for some items because they keep changing. Meanwhile, innocent players are forced to keep spending a huge amount of money to get rare items since there is no official data.
In the past months, a major developer apologized to players for its extremely rare items. It turned out that there was an error in the random ratios, but the developer had kept the flawed system until players pointed out the almost nonexistent chance of getting certain items.
It’s totally up to gamers as to whether they spend in-game or real money to get an item whose ratio is set at 0.00029 percent. Developers and publishers, at least, should let gamers know the chance, however slim it might be.
By Yang Sung-jin (firstname.lastname@example.org
) Yang Sung-jin is the multimedia editor of The Korea Herald. -- Ed.