In F2P, chasing 'whales' is a mistake says Nexon CEO

For Nexon CEO Owen Mahoney, chasing the whale is the wrong tack, even beyond ethical reasons. It's just not good business.

When it comes to the free-to-play model, much has been said about the "whale"—that elusive player who spends exponentially more than the rest of a game's player base.

The concept of a whale carries with it ethical concerns—catering to specific big spenders in an attempt to extract as much money from them as possible draws a clear line to exploitative game design.

For Nexon CEO Owen Mahoney, chasing the whale is the wrong tack, even beyond ethical reasons. It's just not good business.

"We think [targeting whales] is a mistake, based on our experience." he said in an interview during the virtual GamesBeat Summit 2020.

Nexon, whose headquarters are in Tokyo, is known for F2P games including MapleStory, KartRider, and Mabinogi.

"What we've done is focus on having a very broad base of players, and big spenders are not what we really search for," said Mahoney. "We look for a lot of people in the game, a lot of activity, a lot of interaction within the virtual world."

He said Nexon actually looks for a "reasonable to a low amount of spend" among each individual player in a game's player base. Mahoney said Nexon currently has an active player base in the tens of millions, with about 10 percent of Nexon's players spending money on their games.

"There's not a massive disparity between the 'rich' and the 'poor,'" he said in regards to player monetization in Nexon games. "It's very much a middle layer," he said, and Nexon aims for hitting the middle of the highest and lowest paying players in terms of player spend.

"We try not to have these huge whales," he said.

Mahoney talked about the origins of the term "whale," which is said to be a term that comes out of Las Vegas. It describes high rollers coming into town and spending incredibly large amounts of money, with casinos paying extra attention and care to these highly-valuable customers.

When it comes to F2P games, though, Mahoney said "the problem is, that [approach] makes your business kind of fragile. If that whale leaves, then you're really in a tough position, so I don't think that's a very good way of going about it. We've sort of learned that over the years, the decades, just by experience."

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