Games

Cultivating a Healthier Relationship to 'Genshin Impact'

Staying educated about microtransaction design can help most (but not all) players have a safer gacha game experience.
December 11, 2020, 2:00pm
A character faces down a burning monster in Genshin Impact

Genshin Impact was downloaded 17 million times at its mobile launch, not including the players who prefer to play it on the PS4 or their personal computer. Even high-profile streamers like Mtashed and Lacari have started to buy Genshin rolls (similar to lootboxes) in front of their audiences, to some later remorse. Some influencers even spent thousands of dollars on-stream. Is this how the average person is meant to play gacha games such as Genshin Impact?

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Absolutely not. In a Japanese poll of gacha players, the majority spent about $13 a month, with only around 2% of players clearing the $380 mark. I have played a variety of gacha games for five years, and I have personally never spent a single dollar. I started playing in college when I couldn’t afford to pay-to-play, and I’ve hardened my mentality into a gacha strategy.

Here’s how you can have fun without emptying your wallet:

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Learn to recognize artificial scarcity and urgency

So you see that bit of text under “Intertwined Fate” that says “Limited Wishing Item”? It just means that you don’t get to roll for the premium banner characters all the time, only seasonally. Gacha games don’t retire characters. The characters are ultimately worth too much money in the long run for any game to remove them for good, so premium characters will typically run on limited time banners. The game itself doesn’t advertise this to newcomers, but anyone who has played a lot of gacha will know that there’s always next year. There’s no shame in waiting. Even if a character is truly a once-in-a-year opportunity, coming out with likeable characters is the gacha business model. It’s very likely that you’ll find a new love within the year. 

Relax. No matter what the banner says, your favorites will always be back. 

You’re allowed to take breaks.

Gacha games often don’t only endanger our wallets, they endanger our time. Most games will offer free dailies, like Genshin’s Seize the Day events. You might also feel like you’re ‘missing out’ if you don’t use any resin (activity points) after the bar has refilled.

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You’re not missing out on anything.

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Gacha design purposely makes you feel like you’re missing out by not logging in every day. They compound this feeling by offering you free primogens during maintenance periods (which is a common practice among most gacha games). Recognize that, and remember that you don’t have to log in every day. You don’t even have to do all of the daily quests every day. You should only play as little as you want to. Otherwise, playing gacha games just feels like a very stressful chore, rather than a small activity that fits in your busy life schedule. 


Surround yourself with other players who have a healthy relationship to gacha


Most of my gacha friends spend money, but they have specific rules for themselves. I have a friend who maxes out at fifteen dollars a month. I have another friend on a different gacha game who only rolls on guaranteed five-star banners. None of my friends embarrassed me for not having any five-star characters. We wish each other luck when our favorite banners come out, but we don’t weaponize envy against each other. Like many other vices in life, it’s much easier to stay in control of my impulses when I have supportive friends that I can talk to. Gacha games are much more dangerous when they’re played in isolation, and a judgement-free friend group can save your wallet.


Do not intend to collect.

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Collection is not guaranteed even for wealthy players, simply because the odds are overwhelmingly against everyone. Similarly, people who play the lottery do not play with the expectation that they will win the multi-million jackpot. They are pleasantly surprised when they manage to win $10, and that should be your approach with Genshin. Allow yourself to feel pleasantly surprised when you get a four-star weapon type that you actually needed, and don’t assume that any amount of premium currency spend will give you access to any character at all. 

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It’s okay to have goals, but pure freemium players have made peace with the idea that their favorite character may never be in their reach. The beauty of gacha is managing to put together a viable strategy with the characters that did manage to show up, not planning an optimal strategy around the most powerful characters. That is not any experienced player’s strategy.


Learn to play with the free characters.

At the time of writing this first draft, I didn’t have a single five-star character in Genshin Impact, and I’ve been playing since launch. I now have Zhongli, who is a support character. I also got him on a free single-roll. The gacha gods do not care for the deserving and undeserving, the freemiums or the whales, and allow their whims to fall wherever they may. 

I’ve seen the ranked tier lists, and I know that most of the free characters are sorted to the bottom. I’m still using the free Kaeya more than I’m using the premium Chongyun. Xiangling is considered a pretty good DPS, and you can get her for free if you clear the third level of the spiral abyss. Looking around the internet, it’s easy to feel glum about not having the most highly ranked characters on the tier lists. Tier lists are highly subjective evaluations of ‘good’ characters, and they are highly contentious anyway. If you don’t want to feel constant disappointment at your financial decisions, then it’s important to git gud. It was fun to spam Venti’s skills during the free trial, but it takes real gamer skills to get Amber to snipe an explosive barrel from a hundred paces away.

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Buyers aren’t paying to win, they’re paying to win faster. Genshin is not a difficult game, and I’ve never struggled with the story characters when I was appropriately levelled. Stop benching your best girl Amber, and start learning to use her skills! It’s always more fun to chase after the popular characters you can’t have, but you’ll be happier if you learn to rely on the friends who stuck with you during hard times (and bad rolls).

Rely on team combos instead of ultra-rare superstars

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Regardless of what experienced gacha players have to tell you, there are no truly useless characters in gacha. Gacha designers have to strike a careful balance between making the premium characters desirable and retaining its player base. Usually, this means that free or low rarity characters will be built more defensively than premium DPS characters, or they have indirect gameplay utility. Even low-rarity characters can be deadly when you learn to synergize their elements. Combining Earth with any element will produce a temporary damage barrier. Enemies take additional damage when fire is combined with water, or when lightning is combined with almost any other element. As long as you’re quick about switching out characters and using the environment to your advantage, you don’t need a high DPS character.  When it’s raining or when enemies are walking in a puddle, that’s free bonus damage for your Electro and Pyro characters. Learn to see the environment as sources of combat opportunity. 

Please stop benching Kaeya. If you think he sucks, it’s probably because you mistakenly think he’s a DPS instead of a tank. His kit helps accumulate energy and set up elemental combos for the rest of the team.  When you combine Hydro and Cryo, you can temporarily freeze your enemies. His elemental skill (Frostgnaw) also has a short cooldown, which allows me to freeze multiple enemies in a relatively short frame of time. I’ll use one of my claymore characters to knock enemies into a body of water, and then Kaeya can go to town by freezing all of them. 

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Kaeya’s elemental burst is meant to be stacked with other characters. Glacial Waltz transfers to other characters when you switch him out, which is a great setup for devastating elemental reactions that cause damage in a wide area. This setup allows me to quickly eliminate even the strongest of enemies.

Anemo (wind) is one of the most powerful elements, and the Traveller obtains it from the beginning. By combining Anemo with any other element, you can create a swirl effect that multiplies the damage and spreads it across a wide area. Even though my characters are roughly level 50, I still rely on swirl damage to make mob encounters a little more manageable. 

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This strategy is not without risk. There’s a cooldown for switching characters, and switching to the wrong team member can be fatal. But if you’re careful about your strategies, then you don’t need to hold out for any superstars. You already have everyone that you need.

You don’t need to get multiple copies of a character

Yes, I know that additional copies of a character will strengthen their abilities. But constellation upgrades are gacha consolation prizes for people who accidentally pulled multiple copies of the same character. Most people who play gacha on the freemium model do not think about intentionally maxing out their characters on purpose. You shouldn’t either.

Remember: you are not guaranteed to max out even if you are an independently wealthy millionaire. So you need to build item and party setups with the assumption that you will not earn any constellations. 


Understanding your limits

Regardless of all the ways I’ve successfully managed to avoid spending money, Genshin Impact is designed to encourage players to gamble. Unless players quit cold turkey, that’s an unavoidable aspect of playing gacha games. But as long as millions of players continue to play Genshin, there’s value in openly discussing strategies for playing the game in a healthy and self-aware manner. 

If you must spend money, always set personal rules beforehand. My personal rule is $0. Maybe yours is $15, or $50 a month. Remember that a carefully budgeted $300 spend on gacha can be healthier than an impulse $20 spend. It’s not about the amount of money itself, it’s about not letting the game lure you into violating your own boundaries. 

Editor’s note: the title and subhed of this article have been changed to the author’s original suggested title, which is a more accurate description of the author’s intent.