Gaming Whales

For those not familiar with the concept, a gaming “whale” is someone who spends an inordinate amount of money as compared to the average. These people are what drive the free-to-play gaming model, where cash stops exist. If you have 1000 players, you may have 5 whales who account for 90% of the income. It seems strange to most, but it’s quite common for people to spend $1000 or $10,000 on a game in a short period.

Whales exist for 2 main reasons. First, because the game itself is a slot machine and they are addicted to the mechanics. It’s an addiction and certainly predatory in that the design is focused on that aspect. No different than the rules that exist around a casino.

Second, and not necessarily separate, is the artificial social value. A virtual popularity contest if you will. The kicker here is that these contests only exist if there are both competitors and spectators. In the same vein as being a SuperBowl champion is absolutely meaningless without the context of opponents and spectators. Think about it… those champions don’t help the economy, science, society, or any other portion. It’s a lottery for the players, and a money-making machine for the owners. Whales are similar in this concept, in that they have the ability to buy their way to the “top”, but need there to be folks to defeat and then the accolades from folks recognizing that achievement.

There are a few variables here… in older games, players often recognized the amount of effort required to achieve a given goal (which is more in line with athletes of prior generations). WoW raiders used to just stand around with their gear, as it was quite difficult to acquire. Larger and less educated player bases may not recognize the effort and simply enjoy the results (akin to 2nd generation athletes, who’s success is “bought” through the 1st generation wealth/contacts).

Whales aren’t necessarily the issue. If a cash stop sold a hat for $500, then that’s what a whale will pay to be above the rest. Lockboxes are the issue as they focus on the first type of whale, where the money spent is done so through predatory methods, in line with a casino and the addict issue it presents. Keep the lockboxes, treat them as the gambling mechanics.

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