"I refuse to promote the gacha system in this game anymore," said YouTube creator Michael "Mtashed" Tash, who has more than 600,000 subscribers, in a video announcing why they would no longer spend any money on Genshin Impact, the free-to-play RPG that became unexpectedly and enormously popular this fall. It also introduced a lot of players to gambling.
In Tash's video, published on Tuesday, the video creator said they would take down any videos where they recorded themselves unlocking wishes, the part of Genshin Impact where players spend money to gain access to special characters and weapons. Games with these elements are commonly called "gacha games," but it's really a slot machine—it's gambling.
"I regret covering this game," said Tash, after explaining how covering Genshin Impact caused him to stress and lose sleep over other people gambling because of his influence. "I'm starting to tear up, because I'm a content creator and I can write this off as a business expense, and my one video—my tips video—has made $7,300 [CAD] and it has paid for every wish I've ever made on this account, and I know that other people can't do that."
Tash is a Canadian creator, and $7,300 in Canadian dollars is $5,482 in US dollars. In the video, Tash appeared to legitimately be on the verge of tears talking about his experience.
Because it's free-to-play, Genshin Impact's developers have to make money somehow, and thus is heavily reliant on players purchasing more attempts at the game's slot machine. You don't technically have to spend any money to play Genshin Impact, but games of its type are purposely designed to incentive players into doing so. You are supposed to, at times, feel a combination of frustration and temptation that will have you pulling out the credit card.
The term "gacha" is the common parlance in some regions, but they're just loot boxes, too. Opening crates, loot boxes, gacha pulls—whatever you call it—is incredibly popular on Twitch and YouTube. In 2019, I profiled YouTube creator Jon Sandman, whose most popular content was spending money on loot boxes for Rocket League, only to find themselves in a pickle when the game's developer was bought out and decided to remove loot boxes from the game.
“For me personally, it was a way for me to mindlessly have something going on the screen and be able to really connect with my community,” said Sandman at the time. “I could chat about the week and ask what videos they enjoyed, as well as see what they would like to see in coming weeks. You are sitting there for 20 minutes not getting the item you want over and over again, and then BANG you hit that really rare painted item and lose it because the chances of you hitting that are EXTREMELY rare.
Tash told VICE Games they weren't all that familiar with gacha games prior to playing Genshin Impact, which they picked up because a few friends had really gotten into it.
"After one stream I was loving it and could see the massive potential for guides and videos," said Tash. "One look at Google trends and I knew I would be dumb not to dive in. It was 10x Destiny at one point daily for search results."
Translation: there was a moment when people were searching Google for Genshin Impact videos at a rate ten times Destiny videos. Destiny is another game that's popular on YouTube for explainer videos about lore, weapon use, raiding tips, etc. Tash specializes in these videos, and figured Genshin Impact could prove a worthwhile investment of their time.
They were right, too; the two most popular videos on Tash's channel, even after taking down the gambling videos, are Genshin Impact-related and have more than a million views each.
Tash claims the gambling parts of Genshin Impact felt "scummy" from day one, but they were required for them to get the best characters and explore the game's hardest content, so it basically became a requirement for making videos. Tash was now caught in the cycle.
"One of the big moments was I was wishing [gambling] to get a weapon," said Tash, "and it wasn't 'man I am excited to get this to show off, it was ‘holy shit when am I actually going to get this thing to show it off.'" I am one of the lucky ones who can do this for work/write it off/profit. But I kept getting the wrong items, and I started doing the math and I just felt sick. I can imagine there are a lot of people out there who think 'next time I'll get it. Just a few dollars more.'"
Ultimately, Tash said they spent the equivalent of $5,407 USD [$7,200 CAD] on Genshin Impact. Their most popular "tips" video had, at the time, made $5,482 USD [$7,200 CAD].
"I sort of just spent whatever that video was earning and that was my 'limit,'" said Tash.
They are not entirely getting out of the Genshin Impact business, however. Tash is still making Genshin Impact content, but the catch is they will only do so while approaching it truly as a free-to-play game. You get a certain amount of gambling pulls for free, and if they can't get the characters or upgrades through those pulls, Tash said they'll just have to wait.
"Response so far has been incredible," said Tash. "It got people talking about the system. It got people to look at their own spending as well."
Tash's critique of Genshin Impact quickly became one of his most popular videos, and the livestream afterwards was his second best stream, in terms of concurrent viewers. People still wanted to watch Tash play Genshin Impact, even if it meant no longer spending money.
"This system is indeed predatory," said one of the most popular comments on Tash's original video. "You’re an actual chad for warning and being concerned for your viewers."