Gacha vs Lootboxes: What's the difference?


We've all been in love with Genshin Impact ever since it came out, grinding levels, unlocking secrets and spinning wishes. All we have is praise for Genshin Impact and its wishes.

Staff of Homa is a 5-star polearm that can be pulled through the gacha.

It's not the first time an Eastern game incorporated gambling mechanics in its revenue stream, and in fact the origins of Gacha can be traced all the way back to 2004 when the Japanese version of MapleStory, a side-scrolling MMORPG, sold "Gachapon ticket" for 100 Yen each and, just like real-life gachapon machines, players attained randomly chosen game items when they used the ticket on "Gachapon"

However, when Western games like Star Wars Battlefront II and Overwatch introduced similar mechanics in the form of Lootboxes, they found themselves the subject of criticism. At first glance, it can be dismissed as simply a cultural difference and acceptance, but in an age where video games span borders, it's a different story.

EA Meme
A meme based on EA's official response to Loot boxes during a court trial

Gacha vs Lootboxes What's the difference?

Gacha and Lootboxes have a square-rectangle relationship in the sense that Gachas are Lootboxes, but not all Lootboxes are Gachas. It is difficult to differentiate between the two as video game developers can define their own meaning for their gambling mechanics, but the basic difference between the two usually boils down to the monetization of the game.

Gachas are the sole, or main, monetization strategies on free to play games. Their origins as a monetization scheme can be traced back to the Chinese free-to-play game ZT Online which came out back in 2007. Players in Asian countries typically do not have the funds to purchase full-cost titles, and use Internet cafes or PC bangs to play the game for free, or resort to copyright infringement to obtain copies of games.

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In order to combat this, Zhengtu Network released a free to play ZT Online with loot boxes as a means to assure monetisation from a game that they would otherwise not receive revenue from the base sale. Within a year, Zhengtu Network reported monthly revenue from ZT Online exceeding US$15 million, justifying the profitability of this scheme.

Even Genshin Impact, one of the most renowned Gacha game ever, is free to play. You can technically grind your way through the game without ever paying for a wish.

Genshin Impact Wish
A wish banner in Genshin Impact

Lootboxes, on the other hand, are a gambling mechanic on top of a full-priced game. Both Overwatch and Star Wars Battlefronts cost $60, as much as a AAA game, and on top of that featured items that were locked behind loot boxes.

The other, slightly minor, the difference between the two is the fact that most of the gacha mention a clear drop rate. It's often pretty low, but nonetheless transparent. The drop rate or the chances to win need to be mentioned as a requirement by law in several Asian countries. With loot boxes, there are no such requirements so players are often throwing their money down the drain without the slightest idea about the probability of winning. The drop rates are not a clear cut difference between the gacha and loot boxes though, since developers of loot boxes do have the discretion to include drop rates if they desire.

The ultimate difference between gacha and loot boxes is extremely minute and, in several cases, non-existent. What makes them different is the role they play. On one hand, they are the sole monetization strategy on a free play game and on the other hand, they are just an endless pit to quench the developers' third for cash even after selling you a full-priced title.

Sarthak Khurana
Tech and gaming enthusiast with a keen interest in stories. Believes that Witcher 3 is the only RPG that comes close to Fable 2, the best RPG ever made!