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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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