Save the Whales! And exploit them I guess.

ImagesA report just out from the fine folks at Playnomics confirms that much of the money spent in digital economies is spent by a fairly small share of the players. Vegas calls them "whales." Playnomics says that fewer than 1 percent of players spend any money at all in games, on average. Most of us free ride on the top 1% of spenders who contribute a third of the money.

I still like the game Lord of the Rings Online. It's free to play. When I look around in there, I see a very cool version of Middle Earth. It is interesting to know that one-third of everything I see there has been built because of the support of just one person out of 100 that I meet. And, if the power law holds throughout, I can fairly say that just about everything in that place exists because of the ten percent or so who love it enough to pay for it.

Here's the rub, the political economy problem. Given the above, what rights do I have as a player to express opinions about the environment? Suppose the entire thing is run for the benefit of those 10 percent. Does my voice count? Should it?

Brought to you by the 10 percent

Comments on Save the Whales! And exploit them I guess.:

Anon says:

The rest of non-paying players in a F2P MMO still help keep the game healthy feeling, busy and relevant. The Whales don't stick around unless the game as a whole and the community participating in it remains vibrant and passionate, and so your opinions as a non-paying player still count! Given that you are not the primary focus for marketing means that you are, essentially, discounted from some considerations on what to sell and how and at what price point, but in terms of the overall direction and life of the game, your opinion is still valid, and valuable :)

I say this as a member of an MTX team of a F2P MMO (sorry to not be more specific, but I am posting this from my own perspective, not under the authorization of the company). We tend to be quite clear, internally, about who we're developing a feature for. Sometimes it's really with a focus on the whales, but for the most part we develop for the community as a whole, and try to make sure that there are good-feeling (we hope) ways for those who are able and choose to monetize to do so.

Posted May 30, 2013 6:18:42 PM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Your voice doesn't count, Ted. Then again, neither do the voices of the whales. MMOs aren't run as democracies. That said, you have rights as a player to express opinions. So do non-players. So do whales. They just don't have to be listened to by developers.

In Vegas, 100,000 regular people spending an average of $200 a day will generate $20m. One oil-rich sheikh or oligarch will spend that in a single sitting. The thing is, they wouldn't do that if it weren't for the presence of the other 100,000 people. If you want to be a high roller, there has to be someone higher than whom you can roll.

With MMOs, many of the 1% who are paying are doing so to be better than the 99% who aren't paying. Without that 99%, there would be no-one for them to feel better than.

I'm surprised at the figure of 1% spending money, though; I thought that for MMOs it was higher, especially for cosmetic items.

Posted May 31, 2013 4:22:51 AM | link

Bill says:

So, I'm a whale now is it? LOL

Posted Jun 1, 2013 12:23:31 PM | link

CherryBombSim says:

If only 1% of players monetized at all, then all the money would be coming from that 1%, not most of the money coming from 10% of players. )You can't actually calculate this from what they reported, because the "less than 1%" of players who monetize just looked at brand new players.) Still, just from guessing what the real numbers might be, it looks to me like a lot less than 10% of players are putting in most of the money.

Posted Jun 4, 2013 2:33:10 PM | link

Mike says:

If you take Lastowka/Hunter's example of the dispute over the goose that laid the virtual golden egg and assume the matter is to be settled within the game (online dispute resolution), should a 99%-er stand on the same legal footing as the 1%-er? That is, if you're drafting the game's Terms of Use, do you favor in any way the paying member? Or, do we assume all players 'mix' their labor with the environment equally and completely disregard the nature of an investment even if the outcome of the dispute resolution process might threaten the value of the paying member's cash investment?

I'm not sure but I think framing the issue as a "right to speak" is troublesome because a paying member's participation will tend to look like it has better influence (as Anon notes above) on what would amount to 'public policy.' Am I wrong in thinking that there's a real difference between a paying member's cash contribution and a high-roller's tax liability? In my mind, the difference between a Whale and a High-Roller is that the High-Roller occupies the same position as any other player within the justice system - at least in principle.

Posted Jun 5, 2013 10:17:10 AM | link