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What do we know about whales

In game analytics, users who pay very large sums of money are called whales. Do you know how to find them?

Eugene Matveev, Blogger

April 18, 2016

6 Min Read

In game analytics, the users who pay very large sums of money are called whales. Though there is no certain amount of money that makes a whale out of a user: the value is defined for each project by their own rules.

Whales bring a significant part of the game revenue. You all know the Pareto principle (80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes); in game analytics this principle can be formulated as 20% of the paying users bring 80% of the game revenue. In other words, a small number of paying users brings a significant share of the total revenue of the game. In particular, in a recent study published on VentureBeat, it states that 0.19% of the players bring a half of the game revenue.

This is how the report on segments of paying users looks like in devtodev. We distinguish a separate category: Grand Whales (top-1% of the most paying users).

Screenshots are taken from devtodev

How to find whales?

This question analysts are asked very often. If the answer was so simple, all the whales would have been long carried off. It should be understood that the whale in your net - is an unlikely event that is difficult to predict (about the same as predicting the earthquake).

So, if you suddenly found out that through one of the traffic channels a whale "swam in" to your project, it does not mean that the entire marketing budget should be sent to this channel. Rather, even the opposite: in the analysis of the traffic channels quality it is better to subtract this whale, in order not to spoil the statistics.

Try searching for whales through the analysis of your project by country or platform. Here, for example, statistics of Newzoo on the percentage of players who pay large sums by country.

Screenshot is taken from Newzoo report

We in devtodev generally agree with such statistics, but let us add that it is possible to look for whales also in the Arab countries (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates), we've found them there before.

And here is statistics of the whales from GameAnalytics. It is evident that among iOS users there are more whales and dolphins (players with the average amounts of spend) than among Android users.

Screenshot is taken from GameAnalytics report

How do whales behave?

In the first place, whales have retention rates slightly higher than the other paying users and even more than non-paying users. This is understandable - the whales "invested" considerable sums into the game and are interested in getting return on their investment in the form of emotions.

Screenshot is taken from  GameAnalytics report

Though it is interesting, that the regularity of the entrances to the game of paying users, and whales in particular, is much lower than non-paying users. This can be explained by the fact that non-paying users need more sessions and time to earn virtual currency in the game. And those who pay may play less often and skim the cream.

Screenshot is taken from GameAnalytics report

Let us turn to why the users prefer to pay in the game. Newzoo has a good research on the subject:

Screenshot is taken from Newzoo report

Why those who spend small amounts of money pay (the reasons listed by 20% of respondents and more):

  • to unlock extra levels;

  • to make it more fun to play.

Why those who spend a lot pay:

  • to buy a premium account;

  • to unlock extra levels;

  • to make it more fun to play;

  • to be able to compete with other players.

It turns out that users pay for making it more fun to play, for access to additional features (premium account) and to gain skills to compete on equal terms with other players. Some of them are willing to pay very large sums of money for it.

Whales are very difficult to find, but finding them is a serious and necessary task. Your player may well be a whale, he just does not know about it until he needs to pay. It is important that the project brings pleasure to the player no matter how much money he paid if paid any. If he does not want to pay - let him enjoy the game for free. If he is willing to give a lot of money - give him such opportunity.

In this case, a good example (as, indeed, and in many other situations) would be Clash Royale game.

The player gets new cards from the chests, but each chest requires time to be unlocked. The more valuable is the chest, the longer it takes to open it. This process can be accelerated by paying crystals. However, the crystals tend to quickly come to an end, and purchasing more of them is possible by paying real money.

Those who do not want to pay may just wait: for example, leave the chest for opening over the night. And those who are willing to spend real money may purchase crystals and open the chests immediately. Thus they will get an advantage (that very return on investment in the form of emotions), but sooner or later face a more serious contender. In addition, those who do not pay for opening of the chest "catch up" with the paying users in a while, and they have to invest more money into the game to keep the advantage.

It turns out that in Clash Royale a player may spend any amount of money or not spend it at all. The game suits well both non-paying users and whales, everyone just has his own speed of the game and his own need for emotions.


  • whales are those who pay large sums of money;

  • whales are better be excluded from the analysis, so that they do not spoil the statistics (especially the traffic channels quality analysis);

  • whales are hard to find, but you must try (look for them in different countries and on different platforms);

  • players pay to make it more fun to play, to get additional features and to compensate the lack of gaming skills;

  • whales can be found among the existing players, just give the player an opportunity to spend the amount of money he wants to spend (from zero to infinity).

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