Video Games

Free-to-play games make over $1 billion annually per game

By Andrew P. Doan, MPH, MD, PhD

This post is to help parents understand the mechanics behind the free-to-play games in the “gacha genre”. The new iPhones and iPads are extremely powerful and pack processing power that is faster than many laptops. Game designers are moving to a new free-to-play model called “gacha”. These games, like Genshin Impact, are console-level gaming experiences that can be played on the smartphone for free. The games start out fast and easy to progress with tens of hours of free play to lure in the gamer. The player eventually hits a “pay-wall” where progression is so slow and the gamer must pay for a Battle Pass or for in-game credits that facilitate in-game advancements with character levels, new characters, and rare weapons.

Fornite takes a different approach where gamers pay for in-game emotes, dances, and skins (i.e. outfits for their characters). It is similar to playing with an animated action figure in a live-action shooter where the last person standing is the victor. When kids don’t have paid-skins, they are often ostracized in the game as being the “default”. The peer pressure to avoid being a default in Fornite and Genshin Impact’s pay-to-win gacha models are highly effective in luring in players and revenue. Although both games are free-to-play, they each generate over $1 billion in annual revenues. The gaming industry makes more money than books, music, and movies combined! Parents beware! Due to the lack of a fully developed brain and impulse control, teens shouldn’t have Smartphones, and if they have one, the phone needs to be locked down.


Tassi, P. March 24, 2021. Genshin Impact: $1 Billion In Mobile Revenue, And The Seven Highest Earning Characters. Forbes. Retrieved on June 29, 2021, from: