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[Gamesbriefers] Is it dangerous to focus on whales?

By on November 9, 2012


On our ARPPU page, we recently added a new benchmark for the whales-dolphins-minnows split:

Superdata research has whales as the top 15% of spending users and dolphins as the next 25-40%. Whales generate 50% of the revenue, while minnows – users who spend between $1 and $5 – generate 15% of a game’s revenue.

Teut Weidemann has criticised the way that we present the data, saying:

“This suggests whales is everything. But you simply don’t tell that 50% of the revenue is done by the rest of the users, no you even LOWER expectations by telling that 15% of users spend less than $5. Correctly you could have said 50% is from whales, and 50% is from the rest of the users while 15% spend less than $5. Whats the purpose on this whale thing? Its VERY dangerous for business to focus on whales. Check Zynga.”

Is a focus on whales misleading? Dangerous? How do you recommend F2P devs develop their whale strategy?


Melissa Clark-Reynolds Founder of Minimonos

We focus on getting the % paying increasing, along with the c/p per active user.  Plus increasing retention.

That means putting some emphasis on the whales – but also on getting enough compelling content so that a higher percentage of ALL players/users want to pay anything at all.  Small shifts in the number paying every month can make big differences to the total revenue.

If the rule of thumb is accurate – that 50% of revenue comes form the whales, why would we ignore the other 50% of our revenue base?

Oscar Clark Evangelist at Applifier

I’m starting to feel that the focus on just the spending habits of the few could well distract us from making good design choices as well as good monetisation choices.

For me I’d rather focus on the engagement level of the player and from that build lifetime value.  I’ve been thinking a lot about how we can map game user lifecycle to the technology adoption model outlined in my favourite product marketing text (Crossing the Chasm – Geoffrey A. Moore).  This to me provides a better lens to apply because it requires us to consider how to move users from Discovering our game to Learning how to play it. Then once they are comfortable and have made it a habit how we transition them to start paying; similar to Nicholas’ rule ‘Get to $1’. Once users are in this Earning stage their needs change, but also their willingness to spend increases (provided the first experience was good) and from there we look for product extension and events to maintain their interest before they start Churning.

Looking at Whales, Dolphins, Minnows and Lobsters (I made that last one up!) assumes that these are static people, when instead I believe they are just markers of different stages of the lifecycle of different players and we should focus on helping them all evolve.

Philip Reisberger Managing Director at Bigpoint

I always imagine revenue as a consequence. A consequence of many eqally important factor. A good service offering (which a good game is) includes foremost a fun gameplay. Plus a well executed infrastructure (cm, loca, tech, …). If all that is mastered, the ‘optimized revenue streams can be a focus…

Harry Holmwood Consultant at Heldhand

Certainly in Japan the best performing games we have are now very mature (2 years+).  Over time they’ve been tweaked and added to continuously, and their retention rate and, particularly, ARPPU has increased steadily throughout.  Of course, if you don’t start with compelling experience then people won’t play, but it’s important to be patient, and keep on refining and improving the game so that whales emerge as those who love the game the most, rather than the people you can get to spend large amounts quickly on a whim.

Patrick O’Luanaigh CEO of nDreams

Just don’t forget that not everyone can evolve upwards and become a whale; focus on delivering a fantastic experience for everyone and remember that players who never spend a cent can be some of the most important players in your game world (in terms of being vocal, promoting your game, rallying the community, running fan sites and helping your game reach a tipping point).

Tadhg Kelly Consultant at What Games Are

While the general principle of addressing all your customers is a good one, I wonder whether that’s more of an aspirational position for many developers rather than a real one. My reason is that it’s incredibly difficult to balance for both ends of any spectrum.

In massive multiplayer games they’ve had this problem for years. Making a good game for the high rollers (by which I mean high level players) in World of Warcraft is not necessarily the same task as making a great game for neophytes, and the presence of the former often pushes out the latter over time. In the same vein, high stakes Poker (million dollar events) is a completely different game to dollar-tables (or even free-to-play Poker).

Andrew Smith Developer at Spilt Milk Studio

Allowing players who want to spend as much as they can is the safest way.
Designing systems that support this is not hard, you just don’t put artificial caps on the high-end play.

The safest thing to do is make a great game, and make sure the monetisation aspect doesn’t compromise the fun (or player’s perceptions thereof).

The fun caters for all players, makes sure the non-spenders just plain enjoy themselves, and the ‘whales’ can entertain their whims because you’ve not introduced any pointless systems that prevent them spending lots.

Or is this too simple/idealistic a view?

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