The console and PC gaming space is changing as we speak, and one might argue it’s changing for the worse because of how games companies are integrating the monetization system of free-to-play mobile games into full-priced games—essentially you pay up front for the privilege to sink more money in order to obtain something that would otherwise require a ton of time to acquire. Now, granted, these micro-payments or popularly known as “microtransactions” are optional, so if you don’t want to sink money into the game, you can avoid it, but you have to work hard to get what you want.
But if you decide to pay more in order to skip the grind, or increase your chances of getting that rare item you want, or get the upper hand by buying powerful weapons early on, and have a compulsion to get everything possible, then you are called a “whale” and you are part of the main revenue stream of these free-to-play game developers.
A BIG FAT WALLET
The usage of the term “whale” has been around ever since free-to-play mobile gaming became popular in Asia, especially in countries like China and Japan. Originally, the term “whale” is used in casinos to refer to gamblers with a very large amount of money to spend. A “whale” is a rank above a “high roller” with a spending budget to upwards of $1,000,000 and the casinos give them preferential treatment. In gaming, however, a “whale” is someone who spends a lot of money on microtransactions, and stereotypically, a whale is a spender with no self-control or with too much disposable income. A whale can spend from $5 to $1000 every week. Game developers giving preferential treatment to gaming whales has yet to be confirmed.
PAY MORE TO PLAY MORE
In order to raise whales for their games, developers employ psychology to tempt people to pay for items that are hard to obtain. Humans are extremely obsessive creatures in nature and when they see something they want, they’ll do whatever is within their power to obtain them. There are several ways to tempt a gamer to spend, but for this article, we are going to mention three of them.
1. Endless Grinding
Grinding for rewards or resources is very common in games and there will be a point when progression moves at a snail’s pace. For example, a unique item requires a huge amount of gems to purchase and grinding for the gem takes hours, days, or even weeks to accomplish. Once the tedium sets in, you’ll be tempted to buy gem bundles in the in-game shops that significantly cut grinding time from 50-90%. Though it depends which bundle you get; the $4.99 gem bundle that lets you gain 2 levels? or the $99.99 gem bundle that lets you gain 10 levels?
2. The Waiting Game
This is somewhat similar to grinding, but with a few caveats. Some games have a stamina or energy meter system gamers use to engage in events or missions. Once the energy is depleted, the player must wait for a set time to recharge enough energy so they can continue. The wait time increases as the player levels up and certain events or missions require a ton of energy to play. If you’re grinding for specific items, you need to keep your energy full and players will be forced to either use rare resources to restore energy constantly or buy these finite resources using real money.
Another example of waiting is in the building and crafting mechanics. Crafting a level 1 weapon will take minutes, but as you continue to reinforce the weapon to higher levels, wait times increases from minutes to hours and even to days. Sometimes, the players are forced to pay to skip the waiting because they need their gear as soon as possible in order to deal significant damage to high-level monsters.
3. A Game of Chance
The randomized loot drop strategy is perhaps the most popular monetization method free-to-play games employ that rewards players with a random set of items by opening virtual loot boxes. A loot box is a consumable virtual item that contains a random item inside and they can only be obtained by either random item drops, or as a reward when leveling up. Loot boxes contain several items in varying levels of rarity, so the more the player unboxes, the higher the chances for rare items to drop.
While you can obtain these loot boxes for free through gameplay, the number of boxes you receive is very limited, and certain games impose a set limit on how many loot boxes you can get every week. This drop limit and the 1-2% chance of obtaining the best items forces the player to either grind on for hours or continuously spend money until they get the item they want.
Being called a “whale” gives off a negative connotation because a whale is often seen as someone with no self-discipline and it’s encouraging game developers to have many opportunities to wring every drop of money from their player base. On the flipside, being able to afford to progress faster and increase the chances of getting the rarest items is very gratifying, and as long as you’re enjoying the games, it rarely matters what people think.