Fishing for whales and what it has to do with the F2P model

By Dan Maloney

Guest Writer Dan Maloney joins us today to talk about whales… he probably thinks we’re a nature website…

With every free to play game, the developer or publisher know full well that the average consumer will play it without spending a cent. They know for many of us, spending real money on cosmetic items, or virtual goodies is a hard sell. We really would have to love a game to even consider coughing up our real currency, for the virtual kind. So how do these companies survive? Why is free to play, as a model, thriving?

Whales!

“Look at this smug git”

And no, I’m not saying that free to play gaming is being supported by large, amphibious mammals (although, that’d make for a more interesting article.)

“Whales” is a term used by companies to describe the sort of consumer that becomes so engrossed, so addicted to their free to play games, they will spend amounts of money on a game that would make you and I weep. It’s quite the insult actually. The term various wildly between various developers and publishers, as well as the figures. This makes it almost impossible to truly gauge just how much of a percentage of profit, these avid addicts to the free to play model actually help contribute to.
The stats bit:

According to DeltaDNA, on average 2.9% of users have spent up to $200 on an average of 11 IAP per game (working out at $19.40 per IAP). With “mega spenders” accounting for 0.1% of players spending $1000+ over the lifespan of a game.

What is seen as truly problematic for many, are how a “whale” might not even know they are one. With many small purchases mounting up over time, and for many gamers, this has added to the “dirty” image that free to play (and a lesser extent mobile gaming) has received over the years.

The Ethics of it all:

One of the biggest problems that people seem to have with this market seems to be a problem with being sold a product under false pretense. Not that our industry is short of its unethical moments! Many games force users more often than not to become “whales” if they wish to progress further in a game, using psychological methods to feel like they are getting to not experience their game without it. Wait timers, that ramp up, becoming longer and longer, the more the player advances in the game, the more intrusive the requirements to pay become. At a point you will reach a crossroad, to pay for the luxury to play at a pace that more conveniences you, or at a difficulty level that doesn’t make you want to throw your phone at the wall or leave.

The “disturbing” bit:

You may have noticed I have picked on purely free to play games in this article, however, there is a much bigger issue at hand. With free to play games, this attitude could at least be justified. You get to play the game for free, but you will have the constant allure of a “better” experience if you just pour a nice bit of money their way. However, it becomes almost inexcusable that this culture of trying to exploit the “whales”, has crept its way into big budget, “full priced”, triple A titles. Surely this practice shouldn’t exist if you’ve already paid the price of admission for your work right?
When the Xbox One and PS4 launched, there was an outcry at the sheer amount of these games that “double dip” their fanbase financially, the notable example spearheading this was Ryse: Son of Rome on the Xbox, but as the generation progressed, our outcry faded. It seemed that instead of the problem being solved, we just became accustomed to it. Today, it’s a bigger deal when a game isn’t bloated with IAP’s, even if the game is free or not.

Can it be done unobtrusively?
Now, this is the big question, and there are subjective opinions aplenty for it, and no “right” or “wrong” position. So what do you think, are you anti-microtransactions all together? Anti-microtransactions in non-f2p games? Or totally all for them?

Source for the statistics:
https://deltadna.com/blog/how-whales-spend/

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