What is the metagame that supports Game as a Service?

What is the metagame that supports an operational game that provides player satisfaction for years to come?

Game as a Service have been common in Japan for more than a decade, and have become common or are becoming common in the West over the past few years.

In order to realize an operation-based game, it is essential to have a metagame that supports the main game over a long period of time, not to mention an interesting main game. In this section, we would like to help developers get one step closer to better game design by explaining the concept of metagames.

Main Game

The main game is the core play of the game. If it is a battle royale game, it is the part of the game where 100 people descend on a vast battlefield and fight to the last man, or If it is an RPG, the main game is the battle against enemies and the progression of the scenario.

The problem is that it is nearly impossible to establish a long-term management type game with only this. There are games out there that captivate players for years just because of the fun of the main game, but such games are rare.


The metagame is a game cycle that is designed to captivate players for a long period of time through the efforts of the developer, rather than leaving it up to such miracles. Few titles in the West engage in metagaming, while it is taken for granted in Asian games.

Based on the premise of these regional differences, this article will explain what kind of metagame is offered in the Asian region and what experiences are behind it.

Reasons for the existence of a metagame

There are several reasons for providing a metagame, but the following points are particularly important

  • Bridging the gap between the speed of game development and the speed of play
  • Avoid player fatigue

Bridging the gap between game development speed and play speed

You have probably seen many times the reality that a game you have worked hard every day for several years to develop is cleared in about 10 hours by players.

To realize a Game as a Service, this gap must be bridged. Because if you don’t bring some kind of change to the game every month, players will get bored. However, the rate of development obviously takes longer than the rate of consumption.

If players would be satisfied with just playing the main game repeatedly and would play for several years, we would not have to think about this, but as already mentioned, the probability of producing such a game is really low.

So we need a metagame as a game cycle that requires less developer man-hours and more player man-hours.

Not tire players out.

Getting players to play a little bit every day is important for the longevity of the game. This is because once a player stops playing, the effort required to get him or her to play again is very high.

If the game cycle is such that the main game requires at least 20 minutes of serious effort to play, it becomes progressively more difficult to get players to play every day. This is because players get tired.

The metagame can carry the message, “Just start it up for 5 minutes every day!” This will help players to play the game for 5 minutes every day. This will allow players to start the game for 5 minutes every day, so that the game can smoothly announce updates and seasonal events, and then return to the main game.

Metagame Definition

Meta-games provide play experiences outside of the main game, such as “developing characters for use in the main game” or “exploring viewpoints in the main game’s vast field.

Such play should be designed to be a very long game cycle that basically takes weeks or months from setting a goal to actually completing it. Not to be forgotten is to incorporate the metagame into the game as a design that fulfills the reason for its existence, which we have already explained.

Metagame Origins

Now, to understand the metagame cycle, it is necessary to understand the history of Japan, North America/Europe, and China/Korea, where each of the three regions has gone through different processes to form the game that is the standard today.

graph TD PCGame["PC Game"] subgraph "North America/Europe" PCGame --> USAmusumentMachine["Amusement machine"] USAmusumentMachine --> USConsoleGame["Home Video Game"] end subgraph "Japan" PCGame --> JPAmusumentMachine["Game Center"] JPAmusumentMachine --> JPConsoleGame["Home video game"] JPConsoleGame --> JPSocialGame["Social Game"] JPSocialGame --> JPSmartPhoneGame["Smartphone Game"] end subgraph "China/Korea" PCGame --> ASIAPCMMORPG["PC MMO RPG"] ASIAPCMMORPG --> ASIASmartPhoneGame["Smartphone Game"] end style JPSocialGame fill:#faa,stroke:#f33 style ASIAPCMMORPG fill:#faa,stroke:#f33

The diagram shows how the standard game in each region has been fostered. Among them, the areas indicated by the red boxes are those developed with Game as a Service in mind.

In other words, there have long been opportunities to think about Game as a Service in Japan, China, Korea, and other Asian regions, and there is an accumulation of knowledge for this purpose. The game cycle called “metagame” has emerged as a product of this process.

Monetization cultivated in Japanese social games

Remember Facebook games? It is probably a thing of the past for many in the community, “Oh, there was such a thing. However, the impact of Facebook games on the gaming industry has been significant, especially in Japan.

In Japan, Japanese social network services such as mixi / mobage / GREE have also been working on games in response to Facebook games. The growth of mobage and GREE has been particularly strong, and there was a time when Japanese TV was dominated by their commercials.

The source of this growth was the seemingly reckless challenge of expanding the number of users through F2P and attracting players with the limited expressive power of cell phone browsers.

However, surprisingly, even to me, who was working for Nintendo at the time, many of the players immersed themselves in social games. Needless to say, there was a power of meta-gaming here, although I did not understand it at the time.

After maximizing engagement through the power of metagames, social games gradually began to focus on monetization. This is where “digital gacha” was born with Konami’s Dragon Collection.

This was the moment when the game cycle was established, in which characters obtained through gacha were developed in the metagame and then used to conquer the main game.

China’s confluence and the future of North America and Europe

China is now the region with the most active publishers in the gaming market.

Japanese-style smartphone games, which have gradually become richer and more expressive in line with the shift from browser-based social games to smartphones, have also challenged the North American and European markets on numerous occasions. However, in terms of graphical expression, these games have failed to catch the eye of discerning players of home video games, and have not been successful outside of Japan.

In the meantime, Genshin-Impact, which was designed to combine China’s MMORPG strengths with Japanese-style gacha monetization and a peripheral metagame cycle, has become a worldwide hit (with sales of over 5 billion USD from 2020 to 2022). The future of the North American and European markets cannot be discussed without Genshin-Impact’s presence.

For Japanese developers, the seamless game experience that Genshin-Impact has achieved, rather than the page transitions of the browser game era, which have not been abandoned, will be very helpful.

For developers in North America/Europe, they will be able to learn how to integrate a metagame into a rich game experience, such as those already in development, to create a long-running game that will generate huge sales.

2023-02-11 Kazutomo Niwa