In the recent video games related news, there are a lot of mentions of loot boxes or loot crates from games like Star Wars Battlefront II, Need for Speed Payback and Call of Duty WWII, but I will leave those games and their problems for another time. Those kind of micro transactions have existed in mobile games for quite some time, but for a bit different purpose. I want to use Kingdom Hearts Unchained / Union X as an example of how much impact these transactions have on a localized mobile game.
As you may know or not know, Kingdom Hearts Unchained X is an instalment in the Kingdom Hearts series, which takes place way before the games for consoles. Union X is a recent expansion on Unchained X with an added multiplayer feature. The mobile game works in a free to play model with micro transactions. In terms of gameplay, the game utilizes medals to activate attacks. Each medal comes with its own attack and can be equipped with certain skills. To make it even more confusing, these medals have tiers that show their rarity. The highest tier (tier 6) medal is more powerful and rare than the lower tiers (tiers 1-5). The game has more depth for the medal mechanic, for the sake of the micro transactions. I shall leave it here.
In the game, there are multiple micro transactions for a couple uses; buying in-game currency ”jewels” or unlocking VIP quests for extra resources to enhance the medals. The jewels are extremely useful as they unlock more avatar options, increase medal storage and most importantly they are used for pulling / drawing new medals from a medal banner (or gacha in Japanese). It works like this: A new banner has one high tier medal (tier 4-6) and in total you can get ten medals. It costs 3,000 jewels which you can amass by playing the game or by buying them. A side note – these high tier medals aren’t attainable through the game, unless you do a draw on the banner.
That is the gist of the micro transaction that is most commonly used. As you can imagine, the drop rate for a rarest medal can be very daunting. It can go as low as 0.5%, but the game developers are kind enough to give a mercy pull on the fifth pull – it is a guaranteed pull in which a player will get a rare medal after drawing four times, in other words after 12,000 are jewels spent.
Kingdom Hearts is originally a Japanese game (JRPG to be exact). Coming from Japan, the game needs to abide to Japanese laws. Interestingly enough, Japan has a law against gambling in games. As you might have heard about the current micro transactions story, using loot boxes in games with micro transactions is akin to gambling in a certain context. So what have game developers done to get around this anti-gambling law?
The Japanese developers have added a series of guaranteed high tier medals (tier 5-6) in the banner. This means that every draw you pay, you will get a rare medal with the additional nine. Although, the drop rate for the newest medal would remain the same the difference is that you will get a medal worth your amount of jewels. Also, the drop rate percentages must be known to the audience.
The localized version of the game for the global audience, however, doesn’t abide by the Japanese gambling law. The global game has more straightforward micro transactions. The banner includes at least one tier 4 medal in a pull and doesn’t always provide a mercy pull. As a result, both games which are fundamentally the same, are now two different entities. Thanks to the law, the Japanese players have far stronger medal collections than the global audience.
I made a transition from the global to the Japanese version of Kingdom Hearts Unchained / Union X and as a result I enjoyed the game much more, but I didn’t see it coming how big the difference is between both games. I was naive to think the only difference was the localization before I started looking into this topic.