The Last Days of This Dying Gacha Reveal a System of Exploitation

BTS World is no longer receiving updates, and now it's showing its true colors.

In June, close to its three year anniversary, the gacha mobile game BTS World announced that it was wrapping up, ending all future updates. As a “goodbye present,” a number of the systems became much more forgiving. And it revealed that, at the heart of the game, there wasn’t much there but manipulation.

But this is not a problem unique to this game. Instead, it’s  a chance to see the heart of the gacha genre itself. Almost none of the tricks used in BTS World are unique, with the simulation of fans’ parasocial relationships with K-pop figures being the exception rather than the rule.

But now that there’ll be no additional chapters in the game’s self-insert fanfiction story, no new phone calls or text conversations with the members, and no new photocards to collect, the game is peeled back to its barest essentials. On top of that, it’s been made more forgiving, each change highlighting where previously there had been an even more intense squeeze on the player’s psychology.

Drop rates for the dozen or so different complicated currencies and items have been raised. The gacha pulls themselves have been made more forgiving. I’m supposed to be excited that the daily check in now rewards five Gems, the premium currency of the game, when you watch an ad every 12 hours. But instead I notice that it used to offer an ad every six hours, encouraging players to come back several times throughout the day. The same goes for the bonus wings, used to gate mission attempts, now delivered whenever you log in where they used to be delivered at 12 p.m. and 6 p.m. Those times usually didn’t align as neatly as they should have, as I checked the ads first thing in the morning and would have had to return at around 3 p.m. for optimal play, giving me yet more reasons to check in multiple times daily.

On the day of writing this draft, I opened the game to do my morning routine. I had enough Gems to pull (20 for one, 200 for 11 — I never used to wait until I had 200, but at some point I started and I don’t know when). Even with the 300 percent increased drop rate for five star pulls, I didn’t get one. The increase puts a five star pull at a three percent likelihood (up from one percent) so even when pulling 11 cards, it probably only happens one in three pulls. They used to add these rate up events at random; now, they seem more permanent. And yet I’m still left disappointed and thinking that I’d like to give myself another shot (or two, or maybe more) to get a five star.

I don’t need them. I’ve already fully finished the final chapter of the story and the additional side missions. I have literally nothing I can do with more five star pulls. But the lure of having them all is keeping me playing regardless.

200 Gems in the store costs $20, although you get 60 extra for free. Which seems nice, but is of course another trick to make you want to round back up to 200.

When the sunsetting was first announced, they activated the DNA store, another previously time-gated way of getting cards that uses yet another currency (did I mention there are dozens?). It used to be that the DNA store only had a limited selection of cards on offer; now all of them were there. I thought I would finally be able to complete my collection, which sat at 460 of the 728 available cards after playing almost every day for three years, completing the story, and maxing out the level cap.

I saw how the previously shifting contents and lack of routine in the DNA store enticed people to grab cards while they were available. You can’t buy DNA; you can only get it by exchanging duplicate cards, so your currency has to go from real money to Gems to DNA, obfuscating how much you’re paying and, given the randomness of what you get from Gems pulls, making any actual conversion from dollars to DNA impossible. I thought the DNA store would stay after the final update, like the higher rate pulls and bonuses for repeating story missions, but I had misread the announcement and it left after three weeks, presumably never to return. I still have about 3000 DNA, the equivalent of exchanging 1000 duplicate three-star cards. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to spend it now.

There are so many more things I could mention. BTS World had what felt like 50 systems stacked on top of one another and they were all there to extract money from people. Not everyone. I can feel the howling in the QRTs — well I never spent anything and I had fun!

Me too. I never spent any money in BTS World, and I enjoyed it. But the gacha industry doesn’t turn on individual choices. It’s a system. And when Netmarble stripped everything away from this game at the end, it demonstrated just how hard that system worked to try to extract money from its players.

And whether it worked on you or not, it worked. People spent hundreds and thousands of dollars in BTS World. People recalling that on Twitter often express shame, internalizing the message that the problems with gacha hinge on personal responsibility rather than an exploitative system.

All of the changes in the game’s wind down only highlighted elements of that system which were always in the game. They were things that I had noticed, but it wasn’t until they all changed at once that the scale of it became truly visible.

Other people on Twitter who mentioned having spent money in BTS World have been expressing caution at picking up the latest BTS mobile game, which also includes micro-transactions, perhaps having learned that while the system remains as it currently is, the only winning move is not to play.