Genshin Impact: Paying for love
October 14, 2020 2:53 AM   Subscribe

At the time, mainstream games made money from the hatred between players after a battle. Revenue came from competition among players. We asked ourselves why we would want to pay: it’s because we love a certain virtual character that we become willing to pay for her. This impulse to pay was the opposite of what mainstream games had to offer at the time.

Genshin Impact is a fully featured AAA budget ($100 mil) single player open world RPG that has - unusually - been released free to play on PC, mobile and console. 30 second preview. 2 minute launch trailer. Metacritic score of 83%.

Eurogamer: Genshin Impact is a revolution for traditional free to play: Genshin Impact is now the "biggest global launch of a Chinese game ever", and is currently on track to gross more than $100 Million in its first month alone.

The music of Genshin Impact:

Behind the scenes with the London Philharmonic Orchestra

Behind the scenes with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra

The Free to Play monetization model:

GamaSutra (2013): Examining the ethics of Free to Play games.

20 minute Youtube video (2013): Tribeflame CEO Torulf Jernström discusses the tricks of the F2P trade.
posted by xdvesper (39 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I made this post because it struck me how unusual it is for a studio to fund a $100 mil budget game (currently 10th most expensive video game of all time) and then release it for free and hope that they earn enough from in-app purchases. It completely confounds all our expectations of the quality you would expect from a free-to-play game, and even the genre itself is puzzling: a single player RPG is hardly a genre which lends itself to traditional F2P monetization.

True to their word, in Genshin Impact you're paying for the characters you like, you're not paying for power or for the ability to complete the game more easily. Despite the game being out for just 2 weeks, players have demonstrated that they can effectively complete all existing content challenges without spending money in the game, and some have even gone a step further and completed the game with a non-gacha run (not even using the free currency the game gives you - Reddit post).

Half the game is slowly exploring a beautifully rendered world that just pulls you in to find out what's behind the next hill. The other half is the combat, and the gameplay is quite engaging: it's a mix of Japanese action games where dashing gives you invulnerability frames, so it rewards excellent timing with bullet hell elements where you dodge multiple projectiles. The combat is element combo based, where you create elemental interactions (Fire + Water = Vaporize, etc) and use elements the enemy is weak against. Every character uses one of 5 weapons and one of 6 elements, and you have 4 characters to a party - you only have 1 on the field at once, but you hot-swap them to combo their skills. The end game requires you to build 2 different teams that split up in a dungeon simultaneously.

It's also notable for being the first global launch of an RPG that really, authentically, gets the look, feel and sound of a Chinese region right. I have always been disappointed by Western games that try to create an Asian region, it's just awful (WOW Mists of Pandaria...)

A collection of videos I shared with my friends on a throwaway account -

The dynamic lighting and cel shaded animation during sunset at Qingce Village is just stunning.

Using the erhu and other traditional Chinese instruments is avery nice touch. Impressive night time lighting effects - the glowing spirits / moonglow over the cliff edge.

The voice acting is very good, in 4 languages. Here's a funny sequence (spoilers) I shared with my friends of a seemingly lazy librarian who is galvanized into action when someone steals a story book, then hunts them down. I had a good laugh at the humor in the game.

Animations are also top notch, Fischl's bow attack sequence and Venti's attack sequence. Venti twirls his bow between his 6th and 7th attack, and the flourish as he puts away his weapon is very cool.

One of the most epic music tracks, Phase II of the Andrius boss fight.
posted by xdvesper at 2:56 AM on October 14 [1 favorite]


I got into GI but there's a huge lack of story after you get past the first town. Yes, you can explore a bit but I feel like eh, it a beautiful world with nothing in it other than chests that may or may not contain junk.

Not to mention the predatory gacha rate of .60 for new 5* heroes which is much lower than a lot of other gacha games and the relentless farm for upgrades.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 4:10 AM on October 14


I have not run out of story after the first town, and while the gacha is wildly expensive it also doesn't seem that necessary; between the starting characters and the characters you get for free or after a couple of pulls (which you can also do for free), you don't really need anything else.

I'm very much enjoying exploring the world; it's more densely packed than Breath of the Wild, without being as fatiguing as your Ubisoft open-world icon hoovering.
posted by Merus at 4:54 AM on October 14


Important vocabulary for discussing this game: Gacha Game. It's the specific form of gambling that is the core financial model. Loot boxes, more or less, but gacha games have a sort of specific aesthetic.

Personally I think any business model that involves gambling is predatory and should not be legal for children, maybe not for adults.

What I think is interesting isn't just that it's F2P, but that it's Chinese. And had a simultaneous world-wide release. A bunch of Chinese games have been dumped into the US market after a year or two and do sorta OK. But is this the first huge game to do a simultaneous global launch? (While the game is made in China it's very much borrowing off of JRPG gameplay and tropes.)
posted by Nelson at 6:43 AM on October 14 [2 favorites]


Gacha and gameplay aside, does anyone know anything more about the technical side of GI? It's only a 10gig download on playstation, but it looks amazing. How did it make that happen?
posted by Braeburn at 7:14 AM on October 14


When I read the word "Gacha" I naively pronounced it "Gotcha" which seems appropriate upon learning the meaning.
posted by mrgoldenbrown at 7:30 AM on October 14 [2 favorites]


Maybe I am misunderstanding the links, as I haven't seen the game itself, but I find the idea of a monetization model based on getting men to fetishize and pay for female characters in the game gross and disturbing. It's not like video games aren't routinely male-gazey to the extreme, but making that the explicit profit model...
posted by jacquilynne at 7:31 AM on October 14 [3 favorites]


It is a longstanding business model already. The mobile game Fate/Grand Order famously does about $1 billion every year in revenue on a model of selling lootboxes in which you can win sexualized anime girls as servants (master/servant is literally the in-game terminology). And even outside of video games it's a big part of anime marketing and merchandising. it is definitely troubling.

The novelty with this game is this business model being tied to a game that is actually good otherwise -- like it would be fun to play and could have been sold for money.
posted by vogon_poet at 8:39 AM on October 14 [3 favorites]


The game is pretty fun (I've played it a grand total of twice) but as most have pointed out it's really male-gazy. One interesting detail that stands out for me as a Westerner is that the men are very feminine as well. Here is how the avatar looks if you play as male, and the others are similar. In Western media they would probably be gruff Batmen all of them, and probably not wearing a crop-top.
posted by Harald74 at 9:11 AM on October 14


One interesting detail that stands out for me as a Westerner is that the men are very feminine as well. Here is how the avatar looks if you play as male, and the others are similar.

As vogon_poet notes, the comparison isn't to Western games, but to Japanese RPGs, where both the "feminine" male characters and the gacha gambling mechanic are longtime mainstays. These may seem new to American players who don't play many Japanese games, but they're completely old-hat if you've been paying attention at all to what's been going in Japan for the last 10 years or so.
posted by star gentle uterus at 9:19 AM on October 14


This game is an unashamed clone of Breath of the Wild, which I think a lot of non-nintendo users will find novel. I think that might be reason for a good chunk of its success. That said the game ultimately feels very hollow, even more so that BotW. There isn't much life to the NPCs and the world is less reactive than BotW, a little less mysterious, and a lot more game-y.

This is early days for a gacha game. Everyone is still in the honeymoon phase and there haven't been enough updates to establish "the wall" yet. It is only a matter of time before events and content are added that will be very difficult to complete without specific characters, gear, or significant grinding. There are time gates (that can be bought around) in the form of Resin, which become increasingly painful as you need to hunt for rarer and rarer items to upgrade you gear and characters. I think a lot of people haven't really run into them yet, but they became pretty painful after you've completed most of the world challenges. It's also worth noting that in order to unlock abilities for the characters via the constellation you need to pull them multiple times through gacha/wish system.

With regard to the fetishization aspect (termed waifu/husbando hunting) I'll note that Genshin Impact is actually pretty light on this right now. Most of the character designs are pretty tame and there hasn't been any "play now, my lord" sexualized marketing. I do find the whole waifu thing a deeply problematic part of anime culture, especially when it is divorced from the fanshipping aspect of animes and comics like it has been here, but I do think you are misreading the culture somewhat, Jacquilynne. There is a sexualized element for sure, but this aspect of anime culture is much more about the emotional connections of fans to these characters than it is about titillation or eroticism. It sure does look questionable to Western eyes not familiar with otaku culture, though. I'm also not saying it isn't problematic, just that it is a different kind of problematic.

The closest analogue I can think of in Western media is fanfiction communities and their attachments to certain characters or relationships. Imagine if a game was designed around creating characters that had traits those communities often enjoy and then it was monetized around baiting them with cliffhangers or insinuations towards specific character developments. If they continually released new characters that targeted every possible trait that the fan fiction community likes and even pays attention to what they are creating so they release alternate models or stories that reference that writing. You know how popular Blaseball has gotten over the last few months? It's like that, but in the hands of someone intent on milking out every dollar possible.
posted by forbiddencabinet at 9:25 AM on October 14 [6 favorites]


Played for a bit over the weekend, the game feels very heavily BoTW inspired, but with like, even more budget. Voice acting is rare in Nintendo games, and its everywhere in the game. Otherwise, very similar visual aesthetic, cooking as crafting, and enemy goblins just doing their thing at campfires.

However, the combat I saw felt a bit less deep -- the lack of stealth mechanics meant that archery felt less fun, and I dont' think it supported anything like z-targeting.

And the story did not feel well explained. Someone is super upset with me, and captured my sibling, and now a fairy guides me through a new world as if no biggie. Obviously BoTW gets to lean on the franchise's history for lore. So far it's been super railroady, with the game outright resetting you if you stray too far from guide mascot.
posted by pwnguin at 10:08 AM on October 14


To me it's a little gross and kind of soulless? I know it's not fair but I can't help but link anime-waifus to the alt-right here in the states either, which doesn't help. The fact that the characters disappear when you tilt the camera up while they climb ladders is telling. You want a good game with uncomfortable anime characters play Nier:Automata, at least that has some art and personality.

Anway, as pointed out by xdvesper in the OP there are tons of HUGE expensive AAA f2p games on PC/Console (Fortnite, Apex Legends, Valorant, etc). It's true they are all competitive games not single player, but there's another important distinction: All of those games you only pay for cosmetics which do not effect gameplay.

GI uses the mobile model where you can pay for gameplay improvements. Its success has me worried more studios are going to be looking at this and carrying mobile monetization into mainstream PC and Console games. Which would be a real bummer.
posted by malphigian at 10:21 AM on October 14 [3 favorites]


I played GI for a few hours and if anything, all the buzz around the game makes less sense than it did before I played.

There doesn't seem to be any real challenge or game. I ran around spamming attack and special abilities, without paying attention to what they did, and everything seems to die anyway. I cooked some food but have no reason to care about eating it. I don't even bother switching characters. Unused game mechanics are usually a bad sign.

Every time you pick up a new item or crafting materials, you get hit over the head with what rank it is and how you need to buy more or roll more or something. Every accomplishment is followed up with "now do it 32 more times to unlock XYZ" or some other nonsense.

I didn't even notice the waifu stuff. Dumb anime characters/clothing are common in the games I play, and a few voice lines aren't enough to make a character noticeable. I may have played far too much of the Persona games though, where the bland soulless idiot is the main character and all the supporting characters have deeper, more interesting backstories.

I've also played a fair amount of Fire Emblem: Heroes, which is Nintendo's (only successful?) mobile gacha game, and may have already hit my limits for these types of games.
posted by meowzilla at 10:50 AM on October 14 [1 favorite]


FE:H made around $15 million in the first half of 2020. Dragalia Lost, the Nintendo gacha with original IP, made about $4.7 million. source

GI has passed $100 million in two weeks.
posted by persona at 11:16 AM on October 14




GI has passed $100 million in two weeks.

We're not really comparing apples to apples.

FE:H is over three years old. You can compare its gameplay to an 8-bit NES game, and costs considerably less to develop and maintain than GI. It probably broke even a long time ago, and I'm impressed that people have spent $15 million on it recently. FE:H is an anomaly for Nintendo, which prides itself on full-priced games on its own systems.
posted by meowzilla at 11:39 AM on October 14


I wouldn't call FE:H a Nintendo anomaly, it was part of a concerted effort on Nintendo's part to develop mobile games. Nintendo has a long, long tradition of trying out new ideas to see what sticks. I wouldn't characterize Labo or Ring Fit Adventure or Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit as anomalies either, despite being different than more expected Nintendo offerings that mine nostalgia like Mario 3D All Stars or the Link's Awakening remake.

Of course like many of Nintendo's other experiments the mobile games did not perform as well as hoped, and Nintendo has indicated they're less likely to continue making them in the future but one of the secrets of Nintendo's long life is even their experiments are financially conservative.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 11:50 AM on October 14


One interesting detail that stands out for me as a Westerner is that the men are very feminine as well.

The idea is that they are non-threatening for dudes and appealing to women--if you want to see what a game like this looks like when it's aimed at women, look up Touken Ranbu or Twisted Wonderland.
posted by betweenthebars at 12:20 PM on October 14


I made this post because it struck me how unusual it is for a studio to fund a $100 mil budget game (currently 10th most expensive video game of all time) and then release it for free and hope that they earn enough from in-app purchases

Fortnite and League of Legends, the by far the two largest games these days (some years, more people watch the LoL championship than the Super Bowl) are both free to play.
posted by sideshow at 12:40 PM on October 14


Fortnite is interesting in that respect, though, considering it started as a trend-chasing spinoff to the non-free game it was built on. It's not a case of Epic making a deliberate decision to do high-gloss development on a free-to-play game so much as them lucking into a tremendously successful phenomenon with a side project. The actual original non-battle royale Fortnite was a commercial flop, and the Fortnite we know was lightning in a bottle. Epic has certainly committed hard to its resulting success but it's not the same kind of up front financial commitment.
posted by cortex at 12:50 PM on October 14 [1 favorite]


Gacha and gameplay aside, does anyone know anything more about the technical side of GI? It's only a 10gig download on playstation, but it looks amazing. How did it make that happen?

Much of the size of modern games comes from the massive high-rez uncompressed textures and intricate 3D meshes you need to make a photorealistic HD game. If you commit to a simpler more stylized look the amount of space you need for textures and assets drops dramatically.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 2:30 PM on October 14


Just addressing a few comments!

There doesn't seem to be any real challenge or game. I ran around spamming attack and special abilities, without paying attention to what they did, and everything seems to die anyway. I cooked some food but have no reason to care about eating it. I don't even bother switching characters. Unused game mechanics are usually a bad sign.

The game mechanics are actually fantastic it just makes the distinction between what should be easy content versus challenging content. I'm typically of the view that single player games are too trivially solved / mastered and I only play them for the story (I'm mostly a ranked competitive player), but I was very much drawn into how good Genshin Impact's game combat is.

The "easy" content is stuff that happens in the overworld, and I get that they can't make it too hard initially because they're also trying to appeal to casual gamers who are mostly interested in the exploration and story and playing casually on their phones while doing other things. The enemies are there kind of as flavor for the world.

The "challenging" content is very exciting. The combat and elemental counter-system is quite cerebral, a mixture of a puzzle type game (given these enemies, what team is best suited to fight them), action combat game (can you dodge through bullet hell and perfectly time invulnerability frames), and even has roguelike elements - given these random gacha pulls the game has given me, what is the best team I can make given these limitations. The actual endgame is a series of chambers in the Abyss where you fight different compositions of enemies with various strengths and weaknesses under a strict time limit, so you'll be fighting at the literal limit of your capability without wasting a single second, rotating through your different offensive / defensive skills. There's a Ruin Guard in the mix? Make sure you take at least one bow user. There's two Cryo Abyss Mages? Better make sure you have a mage type with the correct elemental attack. You pick random buffs / debuffs each level, some carry forward for a period and some don't. You'll need a roster of 8 characters as your party splits in two at some point in the Abyss. Because resources are limited you can't level up everything, so you'll be running with some underleveled characters and weapons, so you have to pick and choose who your main damage dealers are and who your supports are. Example of an Abyss Floor 9 Chamber 2 showcasing the typical mechanics required - it's so exciting to play and watch.

Fortnite and League of Legends, the by far the two largest games these days (some years, more people watch the LoL championship than the Super Bowl) are both free to play.

Both are multiplayer battle arena games that play out in a single static map, which can be created for a (relatively) small budget, and appeal to a very specific set of competitive gamers that is already well served by free-to-play competitive games. Genshin Impact was notable I felt because it's essentially a single player game, with a scope, scale and quality of AAA full priced RPG releases like BOTW or Witcher 3 - something we have never seen before.
posted by xdvesper at 2:41 PM on October 14 [4 favorites]


With regard to the fetishization aspect (termed waifu/husbando hunting) I'll note that Genshin Impact is actually pretty light on this right now. Most of the character designs are pretty tame and there hasn't been any "play now, my lord" sexualized marketing.

And not just that, but there's none of the "relationship simulator" kind of gameplay that's typical in Western games like, say, Mass Effect / Dragon Age / The Witcher 3 with some kind of branching story and different interactions / outcomes with the main character where you can have sex with them and stuff. The characters in Genshin Impact don't really interact with you in any way, they're just there to, well, kick ass and look cool.

I find it funny that the biggest chase character at launch is a pretty boy, too. (Venti), so the husbando aspect is indeed present. Kaeya / Diluc are really something...
posted by xdvesper at 2:49 PM on October 14


So how much does it cost to play with characters I wouldn't be embarrassed to play with my family watching? Is it possible to play as an adult male?
posted by straight at 3:58 PM on October 14


Genshin Impact was notable I felt because it's essentially a single player game, with a scope, scale and quality of AAA full priced RPG releases like BOTW or Witcher 3 - something we have never seen before.

Guild Wars 2 didn't start out free-to-play, but I'll wager the amount of GW2 you can currently play completely single-player (except for other characters occasionally joining you to fight a wandering monster) without spending a dime is as big, beautiful, full of secrets to explore, and tactically interesting as Genshin Impact. I played two different characters from different parts of the world with their own story line up to the level cap and had only explored about 2/3 of the world available. I easily got a Skyrim or Witcher 3 amount of action RPG for free (except like this game, with very little character interaction or interactive storytelling).
posted by straight at 4:05 PM on October 14


straight: Traveler (MC) is always a teen who has a twin but you can change characters to anyone except for cutscenes. Their character designs are relatively plainer than some other gacha.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 4:07 PM on October 14


I really wish that, before deciding that Chinese artists are "gross" or "problematic", people would instead take the opportunity to reflect on their own culture.

The Genshin characters are all cute, and dressed more for a costume party than a battlefield. That's a decades-old manga/anime convention, which doesn't prevent them all from being badass warriors. Compare that to US superheroes, where the convention is that they are essentially naked with bodypaint, with a utility belt for the males.

It's worth comparing what Western artists do with similar material. I love Jade Empire, but check out the costume designs. Now that's sexualized. And plenty of games— like just about everything from Bioware and Bethesda— have a huge focus on romancing characters; you can't do that in Genshin.

On the same lines, if anyone tries it, I hope they'll stick around till they get to Liyue. The starting area, Mondstadt, is pretty but very generic-medieval-European; Liyue is far more interesting.

I've played for several days, and haven't had to spend money, nor been nagged to do so. Compare (say) Dragon Age Origins, where a character hawking paid DLC is inserted into your camp, or Overwatch, which has a "Buy" button right on the loot box screen. The game has also been, I think, quite generous— e.g. of the four top-tier characters, I got two just from playing. (And figuring out the absurdly complicated leveling and character-acquiring systems.)
posted by zompist at 4:22 PM on October 14 [4 favorites]


You also unlock Kaeya as a playable character within the first hour or two and he is about as close to an adult male as you're going to get with this kind of aesthetic. Maybe they'll add some more muscular/large framed characters at some point, but they'll almost certainly be gacha drops only and not unlocked by gameplay.

I don't think any of the "free" character unlocks are particularly cringey except for Lisa and she's honestly somewhat restrained as far as that archetype goes. The other starter characters are Amber and Traveler.

Linked them all just because I figure some people might be curious what the character art we are discussing actually looks like.
posted by forbiddencabinet at 4:24 PM on October 14


It's worth comparing what Western artists do with similar material.

I was comparing it to Breath of the Wild (which, yeah, the Gerudo aren't great but you don't have to play as one) and Guild Wars 2. (GW2 has sexualized outfits, but it's pretty easy to play either a male or female who wears pants and a trenchcoat instead of short skirts and bustiers).
posted by straight at 4:50 PM on October 14


(But then GW2 has a playable race of plant people whose women inexplicably have breasts...)
posted by straight at 4:54 PM on October 14


But in general, I don't think we need to grade video game sexualization of women on a curve. We can criticize it even if we have a hard time pointing at something better.
posted by straight at 5:04 PM on October 14


massive high-rez uncompressed textures

Speaking with my AAA gamedev hat on, "uncompressed" is generally not a thing.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 8:00 PM on October 14


The Genshin characters are all cute, and dressed more for a costume party than a battlefield. That's a decades-old manga/anime convention, which doesn't prevent them all from being badass warriors. Compare that to US superheroes, where the convention is that they are essentially naked with bodypaint, with a utility belt for the males.

Thanks for this, yes. The character I'd like to get is Keqing, her introduction video is very cool..

By the way, the voice acting here is literally what I would like movies / games with Chinese characters to have - use a proper American or British accent, but please pronounce your Chinese nouns correctly!

The ultimate worst is where I've seen movies and games tell actors to use Chinese / Japanese accented "Engrish" that is simply so disrespectful, and worse they mispronounce all the Chinese nouns anyway.
posted by xdvesper at 1:33 AM on October 15


Trying this out to say that I did. Early notes, mostly positive so far but some nitpicks:

1) What I am assuming might be minor memory leak issues. Not uncommon with apps of this type. Despite having a 4GB RAM phone with a decent processor (Moto G Power), every so often in a prolonged session, things... just... slow... to... a... crawl... and... then... a... stop. It happens more often in complicated texture-filled areas such as the first large city.

2) Weapons and characters coming from the same gacha is an interesting design choice. My last (for a good long while, I assume) 10-pull gave me a 4* weapon and nine 3* weapons, which felt like much more of a WOMP WOMP WOMP WOMP fail than it actually is when characters are so hard to come by. (It boosted the raw power of one of my newer chars by a substantial amount, but I was also lucky enough to have one character who used that type of weapon.)

3) One of the best moments I can think of in reasonably modern gaming was that point in Morrowind when I got through the basics, left the first mini-village, and realized that while I had a Main Quest to go sink my teeth into... I also had this huge open world in front of me, full of places to explore and critters to fight and subquests to find and doors leading to Parts Unknown.

I kind of felt like that when I finished the first big main-quest objectives -- clearing three temples -- and found that collecting the reward/taking the next step was locked behind Adventure Rank 10. I was at 7. The game basically thrust "go explore and do random stuff and subquests" in my face at that point, and made it clear that that's all I'd be doing for a while. Which was not an unwelcome development, entirely... but it was also a bit jarring when the early progression was largely on rails up to that point.

4) The minimap really needs a compass on it.
posted by delfin at 6:26 AM on October 15


(But then GW2 has a playable race of plant people whose women inexplicably have breasts...)

Two of the five playable races in GW2 have almost no gender dimorphism - female lion people have fluffier tales, and female science goblins have slightly smaller ears (and can notably go just as bald), and the other three are basically human shaped. So it's kind of an awkward example - the GW2 artists were clearly willing to abandon human sexual signifiers (during development, one of the staff publicly insisted that the female lion people would either have no breasts or six).

The plant people still having human sexual characteristics turns out to be a subtle bit of foreshadowing; the plant people aren't 'naturally' occurring, but specifically mimicking human form. The game admits as much up-front; later plot twists explaining how come were clearly thought out well in advance.
posted by Merus at 8:49 AM on October 15


Also, Amber's gliding-license exam is some HORSESHIT.
posted by delfin at 9:01 AM on October 15 [2 favorites]


The plant people still having human sexual characteristics turns out to be a subtle bit of foreshadowing; the plant people aren't 'naturally' occurring, but specifically mimicking human form.

Ah, now that I recognize the secret reason the plant women have breasts, I feel ashamed of my words & deeds.
posted by straight at 2:15 PM on October 15 [2 favorites]


By the way, the voice acting here is literally what I would like movies / games with Chinese characters to have - use a proper American or British accent, but please pronounce your Chinese nouns correctly!

Preach it!

They butcher the German and Latin though. I cringe when the Adventure Guild lady says "abyssosque" as if it were French.

Also, Amber's gliding-license exam is some HORSESHIT.

Also amen. It feels like you need to fly up to do it, which you can't do. :(
posted by zompist at 2:40 PM on October 15


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