Free-to-play mobile otome games :
a trap for spending money or an opportunity for daily play ?

Communication dans le cadre du colloque Time to play? Research, policy and practice, Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, 8 et 9 juillet 2021.

With the increasing legislations on gacha games (Koeder and Takana, 2017), mobile free-to-play games are often studied through the lens of monetisation. Numerous studies show how game mechanics are used to trick the player into spending money and rely on addictive features (i.e. Jordan & Buente, 2016). However, the improving discourse on ethical game design for free-to-play games in the industry (Shokrizade, 2013; Portnow, 2014) invites us to broaden our critical reception of this popular type of games.
Based on the idea widely developped in Cultural Studies that consumers are not passive (on participatory culture, see : Jenkins, 1992; Jenkins, Ito, Boyd, 2015), this communication aims to contribute to expand our understanding of the appeal of mobile games, and more precisely on freemium otome games, which are interactive love stories made for young girls, I argue that one of the reason of their success comes from their anchoring in everyday life. Focusing on the games created by three studios which are successful in Japan as well as the West (Voltage Inc, NTT Solmare Corp and Cybird), I will study both the ludo-narrative structure and the players’ discourse.
Depicting the daily life of a girl who tries to create and maintain friend and love relationships, the otome games echo the socio-cultural concerns of their players in the themes developped. However, the “rhythm of play” (Triclot, 2019) of mobile games is the main feature that make them part of the day-to-day routine. In mobile otome games, the common “scenario ticket” system prevents the player from reading more than a few lines per day without paying. Playing these games is thus very different from the “long time” (Bouvard and Triclot, 2019) that takes the reading of romance Visual Novels published on consoles or digital plateforms like Steam.
Mobile otome games are thus a familiar playing space in which women can experiment their identities (Hyeshin, 2009; Hasagewa, 2013; Shamoon, 2012) and a daily habit that root gaming as part of our lives in post-industrial societies.