Gaming Whales: “From Hell's Heart I stab at thee” or.....perhaps not

Not the baleen kind, but a title given to a mobile game’s top spending players. Until recently I deemed myself one of these “Whales”, given the gasps and exclamation by friends and colleagues alike, as admittedly I spend close to $20 minimum a month on in-app purchases.

However, a recent study shows that I’m a mere run-of-the-mill Humpback compared to the ARPPUs (average revenue per paying user) that some whales pay for in-app purchases. These whales make approximately 7 purchases per month and have an ARPPU of $335; normally the top 10% of spenders by revenue. Whales are usually at the top level, have the best items and the best characters – so naturally there is a lot of negativity towards them and their “pay to win” attitude. If game developers want to keep the whales spending in their games then they need to be treated like the VIPs that they are and ensure that they do not migrate to another feeding ground. Teasing them with the finest, most expensive items; providing special offers; granting them exclusive access to new content and serving no ads are some of the methods used to keep whales focused on your app.

This study went on to categorise those players below the Whale’s value as “Dolphins” and “Minnows” which make up the next 90% of spenders by revenue. These users tend to make smaller payments and at a decreased frequency than whales but are never the less still important. I would most likely class myself in this category.

A new feature in the game I am playing (Star Wars Galaxy of Heroes) seems to cater only for players that have the best characters. Skimming through the forums and reddit many players are echoing my thoughts here. This new update has been specifically catered for whales; those 10%. Unsurprisingly there is uproar among the playerbase.

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However, the playerbase (including the whales) are fighting back. Venturebeat recently reported that Stephen Barnes, a clan leader in popular game Modern Warfare, has spent over $2million in game. He recently, got unhappy with the game and he helped organise a boycott where 22 different clans stopped spending on in-app purchases. What's interesting is that Venturebeat reports that other games have gone through boycotts, including top-grossing Game of War. Apparently it caused top players to stop spending and some to eventually quit the game; but they found that they were able to communicate better with Machine Zone and get improvements to the game by threatening to quit/stop spending.

Whales provide the most revenue for the games they are playing therefore it is not surprising that game developers will cater their games for them before the general playerbase. They are given special treatment and have a certain VIP privilege. They also have the power within the community of the playerbase to influence the amount of revenue the game generates (as mentioned above). It is important for game developers to understand the needs of the whales but also to balance this with the needs of the minnows, dolphins and free to play players. For if the 90% decide to up and leave it will only be a matter of time before the whales return to the murky depths.



Ediz Osman

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