Genshin Impact: The Unsustainability of FOMO

Genshin Impact is the first game I reviewed on the Otaku Exhibition, although that doesn’t say much, it’s pretty rare I play a game within a month of its release. At the time, I stated it was an interesting derivation of Breath of the Wild’s open world exploration with a chemistry-themed combat system. While my first impressions of the game were overall positive, it was held back due to a lack of innovation, repetitive quests, and it ran poorly on the PS4. I did later play it on PC and mobile, so my complaints with its performance were mitigated.

After my review, I got pretty deep into Genshin Impact. I’m a sucker for open worlds, JRPGs, and it’s an accessible jumping off point if you want to try gacha without jumping headfirst into the cluttered mess that is the Fate franchise. From when I first started playing in October, that carried me until March, where I reached an unexpected breaking point and quit the game cold turkey.

What fueled this sudden and nasty breakup? I was able to isolate the problems that make Genshin’s unsustainability a real liability into three distinct categories: its gacha rates and constellations, the endgame’s divorce from fun, and the developer Mihoyo’s reliance on FOMO, or the fear of missing out.

Genshin Impact works its magic to become biggest global launch of a Chinese  game ever, analysts say | South China Morning Post
Promotional material featuring the protagonist Lumine, their companion Paimon, and the free character Xiangling.

Genshin Impact is a gacha game, which derives its name from gachapon, or capsule toys. The appeal lies in putting a small amount of money into a machine and being given an interesting or unique toy, given out at random. The genre of games is defined by being able to pull or roll for its playable characters and resources, with the gambling aspect being one of gacha’s unique selling points. Sometimes you are guaranteed a character or item of certain rarity, like if you choose to perform a ten pull instead of a single you are guaranteed a 4-star, or if you roll so many times you are guaranteed a 5-star, which is called pity. However, it’s mostly just luck of the draw.

Genshin Impact’s most valuable currency are its primogems, which you receive as rewards for quests, achievements, and forking over actual money. The primogems can buy ‘wishes’, which can be used on the promotional banner of the month or the permanent banner, depending on if you want a specific set of characters or not. The rates for pulling favorable characters and items are terrible, obviously, they don’t make money off of you getting what you want immediately.

The problem with this system is that you can roll repeat characters, so the solution to that was character constellations. Every character has a skill tree that can only be unlocked by rolling the same character again. The problem with this system is that these abilities range from gamebreaking to actually making your character worse (see Bennett), and it’s basically impossible to max out a constellation for a 5-star without taking out a second and third mortgage.

This creates a vicious cycle where players are encouraged to spend ludicrous amlunts of money for the small chance of pulling a character they like. I finally quit the game after I spent a decent chunk of change trying to pull Keqing when she had her banner, and after finally hitting pity and pulling a 5-star, I got Diluc for the fourth time. It’s an effective business model, but it’s nothing but bad news for all but the most dedicated of players, and after spending that much money only to get a character who wasn’t even on the banner for the umpteenth time, I was finished with it.

See How One of Liyue's Leaders Fights in Genshin Impact's Keqing Trailer
Don’t want to admit how much money this electric catgirl cost me before I threw in the towel.

The beginning of Genshin Impact is a lot of fun. The first two regions, Monstadt and Liyue, provided a lot of opportunities to explore interesting locations, meet tons of diverse characters, and really flesh out this world they built. It helps that they added a third area, the Dragonspine Mountains of Monstadt, but the main content of the game ends there, and the difference once you reach the endgame is startling.

When you finish your quests, the only thing left to do is grind up the characters you like to level 90, finish your daily commissions and weekly challenges as they come, which gets you maybe 30 minutes to an hour of playtime per day. That would be perfectly fine, but it’s all grinding as you wait for more areas to be opened and content to be unlocked. You fight dungeons for resources to level up characters, spending your regenerating Original Resin to cash in for the prizes, and you need a calendar and spreadsheet in order to invest in more than a handful of characters. You can extend your playtime by spending the fragile resin, which is finite, but that just means you get to grind more.

Most gacha games are mobile money grabs that expect you to come and play for a few minutes at a time a couple times a day; many even have autoplay features to remove the grinding. Genshin Impact is not a mere mobile game, though, it presents itself as a AAA game, and for about 30 hours, you get that. It’s just that the content runs dry soon enough and you’re stuck doing menial tasks for minimal rewards.

I don’t play mobile games because they’re uniformly low quality garbage with the sole purpose of wrangling money out of gambling addicts. So, you can understand my frustration when Genshin does a 180 from an open world RPG with dragons to fight and mysteries to investigate, into a dungeon crawler where you play the same 10 fights on loop to make numbers go up for a character. They make no effort to vary the commissions, all of the dungeons have the same “beat the monsters under the time limit” objective, and it just gets old.

Genshin Impact' has been downloaded at least 17million times
The yaksha Xiao overlooking Liyue Harbor.

And finally, FOMO, or the fear of missing out. It’s a concept with a long history that has recently blown up in popular culture thanks to the predominance of social media. People are now keenly aware of what their friends and family are doing at all times, and it results in the belief that you’re doing nothing, wasting your life, while everyone else is spending it more wisely. The condition is actually similar to depressive and anxiety disorders, but that ignores its power as a marketing tool.

Game developers have honed in on the power of FOMO for its in-game events, which is why Genshin Impact is constantly releasing new features and side content, but only for a limited time. This puts unnecessary stress on the consumer to do everything the game has to offer on a strict deadline, even though I’ve already established that the game has an issue with spreading its content out unevenly. There’s no reason why the Lantern Rite Festival had to be a limited time event rather than an in-game story that the player proceeds through at their own pace.

It just means that the player has to stress out about doing everything at once, and this completionist attitude sucks the life out of a game where you cannot feasibly do everything. I could quit my job, this blog, and retreat to the mountains and not get more than four characters to 90 while doing all of this dumb grinding. Mihoyo advertised a free 4-star character who hailed from Liyue as a promotion for the Lantern Rite, but you had to grind a tedious tower defense game to claim them. They can’t be generous with characters and actual fun to play content at the same time, so it leaves every event with a bad aftertaste.

Genshin Impact Is the Year's Biggest Blockbuster | IndieWire
A cutscene where the playable character Venti communes with Monstadt’s guardian, Stormterror.

I liked Genshin Impact, enough to put a hundred hours into it, but this type of game is not sustainable. Maybe they don’t need a player like me who only spends a little bit of money at a time, but it won’t take much more to drive away their moderate spenders, and a little money from a lot of people adds up.

I’m the kind of gamer who likes assembling different kinds of characters and doing the same challenges again in different ways. That has allowed me to play Fire Emblem Three Houses and Skyrim a dozen times each because of the freedom and creativity players are given in both of those games. Genshin’s wide cast enables that, which kept me invested far longer than it should have.

Genshin Impact has so much to offer, but it is bent on ruining everything it gives you. It can never be a good experience or event, it’s always a great event that has some obtuse drawbacks that sours the whole thing over. So for now, I have given up on Genshin Impact, and I have made my peace with missing out.

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