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Why targeting 'whales' shouldn't be a cornerstone of free-to-play design
Why targeting 'whales' shouldn't be a cornerstone of free-to-play design Exclusive
June 4, 2012 | By Staff




In Gamasutra's latest feature, Splash Damage CEO Paul Wedgwood slams the idea of free-to-play games targeting so-called "whales," and describes the practice as disrespectful to users.

Because free-to-play games generate most of their revenues from often modest groups of paying players, some developers have resorted to targeting whales, or a small subset of users who spend exorbitant amounts of money on virtual goods purchases.

Wedgewood, whose studio intends to enter the free-to-play field by publishing iOS strategy game Rad Soldiers and two other upcoming titles, took issue with the term and the idea of making whales a focal point of game design.

"It's such a horrific term, isn't it?" he says. "Philosophically, the problem with that approach, if that's the cornerstone of your game's design, is that you then consider the 94 percent of people who aren't into doing that."

Many big spenders often make so many purchases -- or a few very expensive purchases -- in free-to-play games to buy virtual items that would normally take them many hours to acquire. Wedgewood believes some developers have started to value those players more.

"I just think that's bullshit," he adds. "You have to value people's time equally to the money that they can spend. People generally have more time than they need, more money than they need. ... At the same time though, if I've got an abundance of time, I want the game to value that time -- I don't want to be told that it costs me 20,000 gaming hours to grind for a fountain, because that's just stupid. It makes no sense."

"It's bad business practice to think of the ones that spend money as the community that you should serve the most," says Wedgewood. "It's a mistake to build your game with whales in mind."

The full feature, in which Wedgewood talks about Splash Damage's past, future, and community, is live now on Gamasutra.


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Comments


William Volk
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Over 13% of the players in our word puzzle game (Cricklers) make in-app purchases. Simple model. Players get 30 credits when they download the app. Each puzzle played consumes one credit. New puzzles created daily.

That being said, the new version (soon) has alternative ways users can earn credits (watch a video ad etc.) and a heck of a lot more puzzles to consume.

Keith Carpentier
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It is a mistake to build a game only for whales, I can agree with that much. In a game for whales, becoming/being a whale is less valuable since that is expected, tarted experience. However, saying that you should not have whales in mind when you build your game is also a mistake.

Focus on building a good game that all players can enjoy, but build in the possibility for whales to emerge and exist. Letting players get to that level of spending does not need to happen at the detriment of the overall user experience.

Jeremy Reaban
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While that's an admirable statement, I think what will be telling is how well those F2P games do.

Or in other words, basically, it's easy to say stuff like that when you haven't actually launched a F2P game and are relying on the revenue generated. A lot of Western companies that went F2P had rather idealistic talk when they switched over, only to soon realize that they had to start chasing these "whales".

Greg Back
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What is wrong with having exclusivity for pay items if they don't affect game balance? I agree with you when referring to OP gear in a competitive game, but I have seen nothing but positive feedback over hard to get essentially visual items. In the F2P MMO I work on (Uridium Wars), we offer ways to get every item in the game without spending money, but we have a select range of essentially visual elite ship skins that are very time consuming to earn. They are available for direct sale for big spenders, but can be bought with in game currency after enough work. I think the issue with many F2P titles is that the game doesn't have the longevity or isn't fun enough to put the work into getting those long term goal items.


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