萬字長文,關於遊戲中鯨魚玩家的不同維度解構分析,上篇

篇目1,免費模式遊戲和鯨魚類消費玩家

“我花了生日禮金,只能吃更廉價的午餐,還要求老婆付晚餐飯錢,好讓我省下10-20美元的遊戲零用錢。我想,我甚至沒坐在遊戲前都在想這回事。

Chris剛開始在《軍團要塞2》(以下簡稱TF2)中花上幾美元時正值20多歲的年齡。他所有的好友最近都搬離小鎮,妻子的工作要上夜班,他不得不從TF2網絡社區中尋找慰藉。

一開始他只是買了TF2中的“鑰匙”,用它們打開一些道具板條箱,然後自己留下好東西,將其他內容分發給在線玩家。他喜歡這種贈予形式的社交互動,他所花的錢也看似非常值當。

但Chris很快就發現了他的首個“非常”道具(帶有紫色烙印),他回憶稱:“當時我簡直欣喜若狂,從那時候開始一切開始改變了——我開始追求更高的目標。”

FarmVille(from kern-photo)

FarmVille(from kern-photo)

遊戲成癮

在這次發現的6個月之後,Chris發現自己的銀行帳戶已經分文不剩——所有的錢都被他用來尋找那些帶有紫光的道具了。

“我的存款很快就花光了——雖然說我剛開始的時候也沒有多少存款。真正麻煩的問題並不是它讓我銀行帳戶空空,而是它讓我陷入一個非常棘手的處境。因爲沒有錢買食物、交 房租和水電,任何意外的開銷對我來說都是一件大事。”

Chris在此過程中甚至還出現了一些健康問題,卻發現自己無力支付醫療費用,因爲他的存款都被TF2掏空了。

“事情甚至惡化到了Steam甚至拒絕我的信用卡帳戶,認爲我是盜了別人的帳號,我不得不通過客服告訴他們‘沒錯,這真的是我在花錢購買遊戲中的帽子’,與其他上癮的玩家一 樣,我的社交關係並沒有派上任何用場—–我多數非工作交往的人脈都是在TF2上認識的人。在上班的時候我只想着打開箱子,而打開箱子時我就只想看到更好的結果。”

當他這種不可抑制的花錢開始影響到夫妻關係時,他才終於認識到應該來一個了斷了。

“我從未對其他任何事情如此癡迷,所以我不能肯定地說一種‘真正的’上癮是否會比這更強烈。我覺得這就像是一種強迫性的賭博癮——社會壓力迫使我去尋找自己無法重複獲 得的興奮感,儘管它導致我的生活停滯不前。

“有些晚上我熬夜到凌晨3點,一邊喝酒一邊玩《軍團要塞》,執拗地尋找那些帶有紫色文本的帽子,忽略了賭徒謬論併發誓我再花50美元這次一定會贏。第二天早上醒來只發現我 又爲這些虛擬帽子花了100多美元,但卻並沒有達成自己的目標。”

有些早晨的感覺更加糟糕——自己的所做所爲讓Chris深惡痛絕。他會覺得極其沮喪和無助,並且發誓再也不回重蹈覆轍了……可一到發薪的時候,這些誓言又被拋到九宵雲外了。

Chris此時的行爲正是電子遊戲行業稱之爲“鯨魚”(在F2P遊戲中大手筆地消費)用戶的特點,他們實際上通過爲99%一文不花的非付費用戶平衡了F2P遊戲的商業模式,使之具有 持續可行性。

Chris雖然坦承這種成癮行爲部分要歸咎於自己的錯誤行爲,但也拷問:“難道建立於剝削像我這種‘鯨魚’玩家的商業模式就沒有一點責任嗎。F2P遊戲瞄準的並非手上有點閒錢 的羣體——而是意在讓那些自控力差的人掏出上百美元。”

鯨魚玩家

這正是我最近開始追蹤F2P“鯨魚”玩家,傾聽他們的故事而開始進行的思考。我發現自己也在拷問究竟有多少F2P遊戲開發者是圍繞吸引意志薄弱者,並迫使他們對其成癮,覺得 有必要在其中投入大筆資金這一理念來設計遊戲。

我着重思考的是這些“鯨魚”玩家是否真的完全贊成爲遊戲投入成百上千美元,或者說他們是被那些意在令其覺得別無選擇而不得不花錢的隱祕設計所操縱和剝削了。

這正是我在過去幾個月開始搜索遊戲論壇和社交媒體,詢問玩家在F2P遊戲中投入情況,以及他們爲何做此選擇的原因。

這裏需要注意的是,有相當比例的“鯨魚”玩家認爲儘管自己投入成百上千美元,但這些錢花得很值當。有許多玩家花錢只是因爲覺得自己可以擁有很多樂趣,並且也樂於向開發 者付費。

其他玩家則告訴我,他們喜歡F2P模式,並且如果發現自己在遊戲中投入過多,他們就會適時收手,及時退出。在這些受訪者當中,消費意願較高的用戶佔多數比例,而前文提到的 Chris只是一小部分特例。

但我們在此關注的並非感覺被剝削與非被剝削用戶的比例——而是假如一個商業模式會令最小部分的玩家失控並搞砸自己生活,那它就是一個必須面對(無論是行業還是政府幹預 )審查的商業模式。

雖然許多受訪“鯨魚”用戶認爲TF2是一款殺手級遊戲,但Valve這款團隊射擊遊戲卻並非唯一被點名的F2P遊戲。

Kyle將《Planetside 2》描述爲“危險的遊戲”,因爲他深陷該遊戲導致生活捉襟見肘。

他表示,“我現在的情況就是一發薪就去遊戲中花錢,導致拖欠房租(今年1月開始已經連續好幾個朋沒交租)。”

“有些時候我發現自己居然還沒錢吃飯,不得不連續一週吃拉麪,吃不起正餐。”

他稱這種即時滿足的感覺令自己不斷購買武器和裝飾性道具,從而不知不覺中花費成百上千美元。

他補充表示,“如果你的裝備即時到位了,你就可以馬上啓用。我不認爲自己處於一種‘我非要這樣東西不可,即使它令我拖欠房租’的情況——這是一種可以讓我承受結果,其 中的一點困難甚至會讓我更感激之前所做所爲的情況。”

Kyle並不後悔自己在《PlanetSide 2》中的投入,甚至認爲:“我從不認爲這些道具是一種投入,而更像是一種一性次娛樂產品,就好像電影票或者在一家精緻餐館的美妙晚餐, 誰知道遊戲能持續運營半年還是一年呢?”

他稱“我認爲這種消費方式讓我覺得自己比實際情況更富有一些。在現實生活中我可能只有一輛破車和一間破舊的公寓,但在網絡上我卻擁有許多人都捨不得花錢買的華麗裝備。 這真是一種讓你自我感覺良好的方式。”

戰地英雄

《戰地英雄》是另一款我採訪鯨魚玩家的過程中被提及的F2P遊戲。與Kyle不同的是,John非常後悔自己在F2P遊戲中的消費行爲——他爲這款遊戲所着迷之時正做着一份兼職,後 來在遊戲中花掉了大部分薪水,總計超過2000美元。

他表示“我認爲付費獲勝是一種誘惑”。

我的調查並不僅侷限於AAA級PC遊戲——許多Nexo的F2P遊戲的出現率也很高。有名玩家告訴我,他在《楓之谷》中消費約3000美元,其中有500美元用於創造遊戲中的單件武器。但 他認爲自己不過是一個低端玩家,因爲他認識不少在遊戲中投入高達1萬美元的玩家。

Team-Fortress-2(from einfogames.com)

Team-Fortress-2(from einfogames.com)

他現在還沒有停手的意思,“裝備磨損是無止境的,我現在暫時不玩遊戲並不是因爲錢的問題,而是要等待升級以及增加耗損上限,因爲這是在韓國服務器中的情況。”

另一名玩家發現自己在《Mabinogi》這款Nexon遊戲中投入超過5000美元,其中多用於購買裝飾性道具。他表示,“有許多時候因爲我在遊戲中花錢,導致拖欠房租。但我也不知道 這該不該怪遊戲,如果我不在這款遊戲中花錢,可能也會在其他東西上花錢。”

他稱“也不能說我很後悔爲遊戲花錢。我很喜歡這款遊戲,也很想念其中一起玩遊戲的夥伴。五六千塊錢買到這些樂趣也不算太奢侈。”

但他也承認這就像是上癮一樣。“購買點數,並將這些點數押在隨機掉落道具上可以讓我興奮。”

我還遇到不少更聳人聽聞的故事。有名自稱Gladoscc的玩家告訴我,他曾經玩過一款網頁MMO遊戲《eRepublik》(要求玩家向他人發動戰爭),在其中花費超過3萬美元。他稱“這 款遊戲最邪惡的地方就在於,你得花錢來抵消敵人的花費。它是一款PVP遊戲,其中的社交元素令我在遊戲中逗留。”

就在他終於成功戒掉這個毛病的時候,有名隨機陌生人在數週後加了他的Skype,這名陌生人居然就是《eRepublik》的開發者,他追蹤了Gladoscc的詳細信息,以便詢問他爲何退 出遊戲,並打算將其勸回遊戲。

目前我聽到的最糟糕的消息是,有名沉陷Facebook遊戲《Mafia Wars》的媽媽玩家在其中投入了成千上萬美元。她在遊戲中越是投入,就越無法抽身退出,並且無心理會自己周圍 的生活。

她兒子的一名老友表示,“我記得最後一次去她家時,她整個房間堆滿了成百上千個比薩盒、麥當勞的袋子。你一進門,就有惡臭撲鼻,雖然她一直呆在房間中。”

這名朋友甚至聲稱由於這名母親一直在遊戲中花錢,她兒子不得不去販毒來支付房租和伙食費。

前F2P遊戲公司員工的反饋

還有些自稱曾經在F2P遊戲公司就職,他們告訴我自己原先的僱主通常是以引誘這些“鯨魚”爲目的來設計遊戲。

有一名曾是某F2P遊戲公司的員工向我透露了一些驚人的幕後消息(在此我要隱去該公司名稱,因爲我認爲這適用於許多遊戲工作室):“我曾經在X公司就職,我在那裏薪水豐厚 並獲得了升遷。但我發現這家公司的遊戲對人們的生活造成了極大的傷害。他們是爲成癮而設計遊戲。公司會根據能夠最大化玩家投入的時間和金錢的參數來設計遊戲。這些遊戲 會找到並剝削合適的用戶,然後將他們一點不剩地榨乾。這與菸草行業並沒有什麼不同。”

該員工最終離開了這家公司,因爲他爲自己的所作所爲而內疚——這種工作讓他覺得自己的謀生基礎是犧牲部分玩家的生活。

他們持續表示,“爲了大衆的福祉,應該停止創造成癮導向的遊戲。如果這種遊戲公司拒絕改變其運營方式,那麼就只有等到它們破產了才能解決這個問題。雖然看到大家失業是 件不幸的事,但這可能是清除遊戲行業劣根性的一個痛苦的必要之舉。”

我向該員工說明了我調查過程中所聽到的消息,他表示對此非常不安。“人們玩遊戲的時候,實際上是將自己的時間和金錢託付給開發者。作爲開發者,我們有責任確保我們給予 玩家等值的回報。”

這名前遊戲公司員工總結了一個要點:“激發人們自我毀滅的行爲是錯誤的。”

“菸草和賭博行業的這一行爲就是如此,有相當部分的遊戲公司的類似行爲同樣令人遺憾。”

儘管如此,該員工表示他們並不認爲政府幹預會是解決問題的好方法。他指出,這類遊戲使用的某些機制能夠以更積極的方式運用於其他地方,“所以政府規範可能會給整個遊戲 行業帶來附帶損害。”

他補充表示,“根據他們過去的情況來看,我當然不相信國會通過處理電子遊戲的相關立法提案。”

但這一問題仍然存在:當遊戲找到和剝削鯨魚用戶時,F2P模式才最爲管用。

他指出,“如果玩家沒有在遊戲中花錢,就幾乎無法在遊戲中獲得進展,那說明這款F2P遊戲明顯是針對鯨魚用戶而設計。允許玩家在不花錢的情況下繼續向最高級的關卡挑戰的遊 戲,比較不具有剝削性。至少他們並沒有積極鼓勵成癮行爲。”

現在他已經不在F2P遊戲領域工作,也樂於製作不會剝削玩家的遊戲。“我現在正開發嚴肅遊戲,也就是那種可能對世界產生實際積極效應的遊戲。我很抱歉自己過去的作做作爲, 但我保證用未來的行動彌補過去所做的一切。”

F2P開發者的觀點

很顯然,雖然大部分F2P付費用戶推動了這一商業模式的發展,但也有不少人的生活因爲這些遊戲而被搞得一團糟。鑑於這一看法,我選擇了那些與開發者直接相關的言論,試圖查 明爲何這些人會在遊戲中如此揮霍。

《戰地英雄》就是開發者強調鼓勵玩家花錢的一個活生生的教材。該遊戲最初發布時是一款真正的F2P遊戲。玩家可以直接進入遊戲,試玩任何內容,通過刷任務獲得特定道具,一 般都能免費獲得不少樂趣。

不幸的是,花錢所投入的錢並不足以支撐遊戲運營,所以遊戲進行了大規模的價格調整。這樣玩家在遊戲中能看到和操作的內容進一步受限,並且需要刷更多任務纔可能解瑣道具 ——當然,除非他們花錢。

在前文提到的John開始對遊戲成癮時,Ben Cousins是當時的《戰地英雄》高級製作人。Cousins現在爲DeNA開發F2P遊戲,並且是F2P模式的堅定支持者。

在看過John的故事後,Cousins想起當初遊戲進行價格調整時,有無數玩家爲此不滿。導致遊戲的官方論壇出現了諸多消極評價,以及類似John的這種案例。

但Cousins也指出,價格調整帶來了遊戲收益,它保住了該遊戲開發團隊許多人的飯碗。實際上,由於迫使玩家爲道具刷更多任務,以及引進那些能夠給付費玩家帶來優勢的道具, 這個EA開發團隊引起了粉絲間的騷動——但與此同時卻保證了遊戲的長期收益,因爲有許多這種玩家一直在遊戲中逗留並服從了這種新的價格制度。

Cousins表示“我認爲控制產品或服務的開銷是用戶的責任,除非有科學證據表明他們對產品和服務的成癮就像酒精和賭博一樣嚴重。如果能夠證實遊戲與成癮存在關係,我認爲遊 戲行業應該首先進行自律,如果他們無法對此負責,那就要服從政府調控。”

他補充表示,目前尚無明顯證據表明F2P“鯨魚”與成癮性之間存在直接關係,“我個人希望,在我們做出任何有關消極心理效應的結論之前,有廣泛的獨立工作室來證明這一點。”

Cousins還熱衷於強調我所收到的過於消極的反饋也許只能代表一小撮“鯨魚”用戶的情況。

他稱“調查一小部分樣本,通常很難得到由此推及更大範圍羣體的準確數據。我認爲如果我們發現有大量付費用戶聲稱自己出現這一症狀,那麼我們才能夠說開發者發現了一種極 具破壞性的用戶心理操縱方式。”

“如果只有非常非常小部分的用戶有此反應,那就很遺憾了,我們只能認爲是這些用戶的個人問題,他們的消極情況可能不僅僅是出現於在F2P遊戲上花錢。我相信幾乎任何產品或 服務也可能發現這種極少部分的消極成癮案例。”

他對此澄清道:“我並不是這就一定是對的,而是說我們要蒐集更廣泛的數據才能下此結論。”

我詢問Cousins他在DeNA的團隊採用了什麼系統來減少可能被F2P遊戲剝削的玩家數量。

他答曰:“我們所採用的系統就只是團隊遊戲開發者自己的道德判斷。我們通常會拒絕那些我們自認爲存在剝削性的理念。我也建議其他開發者這麼做,但每款遊戲都有自身獨特 性,這裏並沒有什麼通用的金律玉律。”

有一名主流社交遊戲公司的業內人士告訴我,我所獲得的案例是“非常極端,非常規的情況”。

這位人士指出遊戲公司已經在服從諸多行業規範——消費者保護法要求遊戲公司公平對待玩家。他引據我收到的案例指出,“我們並不希望玩家這麼沒有節制地玩遊戲,因爲這一 點也不好玩,這也不是我們遊戲的本意。”

“我們遊戲的設計旨在讓玩家享受短時間而非長期的體驗,”——這位人士引據前文提及的《Mafia Wars》媽媽用戶的行爲指出,“這並非我們設計遊戲的初衷。”

他還表示,自己所在公司的遊戲回合都很短——其最熱門的遊戲回合一般爲10分鐘。公司有意設計短時間的遊戲回合,這樣玩家可以同他人聯繫。與多數F2P公司一樣,遊戲中的付 費用戶比例也相當之低。

我聯繫了其他F2P開發者,其中包括Nexon北美PR總監Mike Crouch,他很有興趣回答我的問題,但在幾周的接觸之後卻不再提及這一話題。

與此同時,Valve的Doug Lombardi卻並不發表對這些玩家反饋的看法,不過他之後卻有再同我聯繫談論與此不相關的話題。

雖然最初索尼在線娛樂似乎有意同我討論《PlanetSide 2》這款遊戲,但最後卻告知公司無意對此做出迴應。

更大的益處

並非每個F2P工作室都瞄準“鯨魚”玩家。在我執行調查過程中,《坦克世界》開發商Wargaming.net調整了其F2P戰略,移除了所有的“付費獲勝”選項,確保玩家無法花錢獲得戰 鬥優勢。

Wargaming.net發行副總裁Andrei Yarantsau表示,“我們並不想壓榨玩家,我們只想在公平對待玩家的基礎上傳送遊戲體驗和服務,無論他們是否在遊戲中花錢。”

他補充表示,“F2P遊戲有時候會被視爲低質量的產品,我們希望通過《坦克世界》證實F2P遊戲也有可能是高質量和平衡的遊戲。

Wargaming.net並非唯一信奉這一原則的公司。Hi-Rez Studios發佈了一系列F2P遊戲,其中包括《Global Agenda》以及更受讚譽的《Tribes:Ascend》。

這兩者的F2P模式都受到了玩家的歡迎:你可以免費下載遊戲,盡情體驗遊戲,可以花錢購買其中的炫耀性道具,但不會獲得戰鬥優勢。

Hi-Rez首席運營官Todd Harris表示,他的公司所奉行的F2P哲學很簡單:玩家會記得哪款遊戲和哪家公司具有剝削性,並逐漸退也這些吸金工具,轉向那些尊重玩家的遊戲。

他稱“你所提到的案例中的玩家很可能不會再去玩出自該發行商和開發者的遊戲,我們要目光長遠,維護工作室的品牌。我認爲有些遊戲有可能短期內能夠獲得商業成功,但我們 工作室的品牌和定位不一樣,我們瞄準的是那些希望在公平的戰場上玩遊戲的用戶,我們希望他們通過以往的經歷,認識到未來的Hi-Rez遊戲會提供公平的戰場而非剝削性的體驗 。”你可能會認爲Hi-Rez的收益並不像更具剝削性的工作室那麼可觀,但需要注意的是,約有10%的《Tribes:Ascend》玩家會在遊戲中花錢——這一數據遠高於我所聽聞的其他F2P開發 高1%、3%、5%的付費比例。Harris稱這就是信任的力量,玩家覺得自己所花的錢值當。

“我並不能預言未來,但我們工作室認爲有相當部分的玩家希望體驗更多公平的遊戲。我們所開發的正是這類產品。無論‘花錢買地位’的玩家數量會增長還是縮水……工作室都 應該有所準備。”

“我個人認爲剝削性的遊戲會隨着時間發展逐漸減少,如果你看看那些當前最爲成功的遊戲,例如《英雄聯盟2》、《Dota 2》,以及我們自己的遊戲,就會知道它們並不奉行付費 獲勝的理念。所以這些遊戲會更有吸引力。”

我詢問Harris他是否建議其他F2P工作室採用與Hi-Rez和Wargaming.net目前所運用的方法,他的回答很簡單:“亡羊補牢爲時未晚。”

Harris也認爲政府幹預並不是個好主意——事實上,他認爲這是“遊戲行業最不需要的東西”。

“但遊戲記者和評論員可以發揮很大作用——他們可以報道遊戲究竟有無‘剝削性’,我不認爲遊戲評論員爲某款遊戲貼上‘畫面質量卓越’或‘音效出衆’有多大用處——現在 有這麼多F2P遊戲,大家自己試玩一下就知道質量如何了。即便是付費遊戲,玩家也可以通過YouTube上的畫面和玩法視頻瞭解其質量。但‘剝削性機制’則難以通過一個預告視頻 中看出來,所以遊戲評論員應該在這方面多出點力。”

去年Griffiths發表了一篇論文,即討論了社交遊戲帶有博彩元素,並且未涉及到任何有關錢的內容,只是通過應用內部購買引進了博彩的原則。

他說道:“第一眼看來,像《FarmVille》這樣的遊戲與博彩並沒有多少聯繫,但這些活動背後的心裏元素卻非常相近。甚至當遊戲並未包含錢時,它們也有可能將玩家帶到博彩的 原則與樂趣中。像Zynga等公司便因爲利用博彩機制去創建遊戲世界而遭到指責。”

Griffiths發現免費遊戲中鼓勵博彩行爲的一個關鍵元素便是隨機強化內容——也就是贏得或獲得其它間歇性獎勵的不可預知性。

他說道:“較小的不可預知獎勵將創造較高的用戶粘性和反覆行爲。在少數情況下這也將導致癮性。”

Griffiths同樣指出了“越來越多研究”表明那些面對着虛擬貨幣的玩家將發現消費這些虛假的金錢非常有趣。

在這些例子中,當不再有錢消費時,玩家“便會發現博彩機制,並思考一個嚴肅的問題,即關於使用虛擬金錢的博彩是否會鼓勵他們對博彩採取一種積極的態度。”

在有關應用內部購買的主題中,Griffiths說道:“遊戲內部虛擬商品和配飾的引進(即人們用真錢購買的)是一種心理主線。”

“這變得更加接近博彩了,就像社交遊戲玩家知道自己在花錢並且未獲得足夠的收益回報。經常有人問我,爲什麼人們要在《FarmVille》等遊戲中支付真錢去購買虛擬道具。作爲 研究了老虎機玩家25年多的人,我發現這其中的相似處多得驚人。”

Griffiths認爲純粹的博彩遊戲與一些免費遊戲的真正區別在於博彩遊戲允許你贏回自己的錢,添加一個額外的維度而進一步驅動收益的發展。這也是爲什麼像Zynga等免費遊戲工 作室現在逐漸轉向純粹的博彩遊戲市場的主要原因。

Griffiths繼續闡述免費社交遊戲與博彩遊戲間界限逐漸模糊,並因此伴隨着“各種道德,倫理,法律和社交問題”的出現。

在年初與同事Michael Auer共同發表的另外一篇論文中,Griffiths說道:“伴隨着獨立博彩玩家的個體敏感性與風險元素的最重要元素是與遊戲的速度和頻率相關的結構特性,而 不是遊戲類型。”

他補充道:“這裏存在的一般規則在於,事件頻率越高,博彩活動就越能引起個體問題(特別是當個體是敏感且脆弱的時候)的出現。問題和病態博彩從本質上看來是關於獎勵, 以及這些獎勵出現的速度與頻率。幾乎任何遊戲都可以設計爲帶有高事件頻率或低事件頻率。”

結果便是,他認爲如果提供給玩家的獎勵更具有潛能,那麼活動將變得更具有問題且更讓人上癮。

Griffiths認爲這對於獲得“安全”情節具有潛在的可能性,因爲基於遊戲設計,玩家的消費不能超過一個強制的結構限制——這將保證玩家不會犯一個博彩問題,不管他們的敏感 性。

Griffiths強調,遊戲領域其實剛剛開始研究免費遊戲中的心理影響。

他補充道:“從經驗來看,通過社交網站我們幾乎不能瞭解有關博彩遊戲的心理影響,儘管有研究認爲,青少年玩免費遊戲是攝取真正的博彩與問題博彩的一大冒險元素。不管做 了怎樣的研究,我們都需要確保遊戲產業始終比研究者和立法者快兩步。”

爭鋒相對

最近,兩個關於免費遊戲消費強迫性vs付費遊戲消費強迫性的分析在社交媒體上傳開了。

產業顧問Ramin Shokrizade寫了許多有關免費遊戲盈利的論文,詳細描述了自己關於社交遊戲如何通過不完整的信息與虛擬貨幣欺騙玩家進行應用內部消費的研究。

部分方法包含提供給玩家“有趣的痛苦”——這是Zynga 的Roger Dickey在描述玩家進入一個不舒服的位置,然後能夠通過花錢刪除這種“痛苦”的情況所創造的術語。

也存在一些與之相反的盈利方法,Shokrizade將其稱爲“獎勵刪除”。即免費遊戲提供給玩家巨大的獎勵,而如果玩家不花錢的話便威脅他們要沒收獎勵。

他說道:“爲了有效使用這一技巧,你必須告訴玩家他們已經獲得了某些內容,然後再告訴他們這一內容沒了。在剝奪玩家的獎勵前允許他們擁有該獎勵越久,這一方法效果便越 大。”

Shokrizade說道,而虛擬貨幣的使用是當強制性真正發揮作用時。在Griffiths陳述虛擬貨幣教授玩家博彩機制前,Shokrizade搶先一步討論了當玩家將現實貨幣當成虛擬貨幣時, 他們的憂患意識便會降低,從而不會因爲自己花太多錢而憂慮。

此外,Shokrizade還詳細描述了他所謂的“賭注遊戲”——當你一開始接觸這些遊戲時,它們扮演的是免費遊戲,但逐漸地它們將演變成基於金錢的遊戲,即更有經驗的玩家將投 入真錢去打敗其他玩家。

在那之後幾天,Spry Fox的Daniel Cook發表了一篇名爲“Coercive Pay-2-Play techniques”的博文,在文章中他帶着一種半玩笑式口吻反駁了免費遊戲。

他強調付費遊戲會邀請玩家在還未開始遊戲前投入大量的金錢,而一些公司還使用了視頻,廣告以及預告片去提高用戶對於他們即將問世的遊戲的好奇度。

Cook補充道,事先的“宣傳”意味着開發者不需要擔心真正的遊戲設計,可以簡單地通過“設置一個吸引人的主題,華麗的圖像以及能力去快速呈現出較短的序列遊戲”而進行銷 售。

他也瞄準了斯金納箱的遊戲設計,像捆綁銷售和限時折扣等各種銷售方式。最後他開玩笑地說着付費遊戲正在傷害產業,並且是一種不道德的實踐。

當然,Cook有點輕視免費遊戲參數,儘管整篇文章的要點是比較免費遊戲模式到底有多“強制”——特別是當用這些最糟糕的情節與付費遊戲的最糟糕情節相比較時。

其它觀點

Laralyn McWilliams是電子遊戲設計師兼製作人,曾經作爲SOE的免費兒童遊戲《Free Realms》的創意總監。她也曾就免費遊戲模式的優勢與劣勢做出了詳細描述。

我將自己在寫這篇文章時所找到的許多信息發送給McWilliams,她告訴我:“從實踐角度來看,人們總是會選擇那個能夠讓自己拋棄其它活動的活動。”

她強調,不管我們是受到鼓勵還是阻止,這一場景的人類行爲都會歸根爲兩個主要元素:

1.不管所包含的活動是被當成“有價值的”或者“值得做的”,不管被排除的活動是否是“必要的”。

2.像食物,睡覺,健康,衛生,維持收入來源以及支付重要費用等普遍元素。

她說道:“第一個標準是主觀的,基於不同人的評估會出現不同的結果。大多數人同意當在賭場花錢時,如果你不去支付自己的賬單便會被驅逐出去是一種不受鼓勵的行爲。大多 數人也同意一天花許多時間,不睡覺或不吃飯而沉迷於遊戲中,搞垮自己的身體也是不受鼓勵的行爲。”

McWilliams認爲,當你開始比較免費遊戲消費與傳統零售電子遊戲消費時,交談將變得混亂。她還說到,當我們不能理解那種長達一年往一款免費遊戲中投入數千美元的人時,卻 爲許多在同樣時間短購買了主機和PC遊戲的用戶辯護。

她在談及我所收集的一個故事時說道:“我猜,如果他是花錢購買一款零售遊戲,他便會離開並說道‘因爲每個月都在購買一款新遊戲,我都沒錢交房租了。我必須回頭。”

她繼續說道:“他可能不會從客觀角度上思考遊戲是否值得這些錢——只是考慮到自己是否太過頻繁地爲遊戲花錢了。在免費遊戲中有些內容會阻止他花錢,儘管這會讓他質疑自 己的錢是否花得對。當然,從社交角度來看這些免費遊戲以及虛擬商品的價值與我們對於其它興趣(包括零售喲徐i)費用的價值評估是不同的,但我猜他是基於同樣的方式進行思 考,甚至未考慮到任何社交元素。”

記着這一點,McWilliams認爲免費遊戲開發者應該問自己兩個基本的問題:

1.我們是否該嘗試着看清楚玩家的不健康消費模式並想辦法限制他們?

2.我們是否該爲消費提供有效的機制,如果我們已經這麼做了,爲什麼許多玩家不能感受到這點?

McWilliams說道:“當你着眼於數據時(遊戲邦注:如將其與博彩遊戲中不健康癮性行爲模式進行比較),當發現第一類別的玩家數量很少,我們就應該意識到公衆(甚至是我們 自己的玩家)將更多玩家歸類到‘不健康消費’類別中,因爲他們認爲不管往遊戲中投入多少錢都不會創造出有意義的價值。”

簡單地來說:“如果你現在坐下並在《勿忘我》中投入60美元,並且遊戲質量就是你所期待的那樣,那麼你的想法是否與投入60美元與《Clash of Clans》一樣?許多人不會這麼 想,即使他們是基於同樣的時間長短在玩遊戲。”

她繼續說道:“虛擬商品是否是無形的?實際上當你購買了《勿忘我》後,當你下一週再打開遊戲時它並不會要你再支付同樣的費用。”

國際社交遊戲聯盟(ISGC)是年初所成立的一個組織,其目標是幫助他們瞭解社交遊戲業務的內部運行。我與該組織的首席執行官Luc Delany分享了我的發現。

(需要說明的是,ISGC是由Zynga以及一些社交博彩遊戲公司所設立的,與我進行交談的是來自Zynga的代表。)

他告訴我:“許多人都認爲社交遊戲中消費與真錢博彩行爲是一樣的。但是玩博彩遊戲與任何其它遊戲,或者其它類型娛樂的動機卻是不同的。”

他繼續說道:“從歷史上來看,人們總是會在電子遊戲和其它娛樂形式中上癮。就像我花了很多錢在iTunes上以及一些甚至從未看過的電影中,只是因爲之前一時的衝動購買了它 們。人們會花許多錢購買手提包,去高爾夫球俱樂部,或者其它形式的娛樂,但博彩卻是明確被定義爲存在投機,機會,與勝負的遊戲。”

關於Chris購買了《軍團要塞2》的鑰匙並洗憑藉“不尋常的”道具獲得獎勵,然後便繼續購買鑰匙直到發現這樣的道具,我問他在這中間是否存在機會元素?

他回答道:“我不會將其當成是與博彩一樣的問題。在這樣的情境下,你會如何將其與基於相同本質的電視節目進行比較?人們會輸入文本去玩遊戲,嘗試着在盒子裏找錢—-然而 這並不是一種常規博彩服務。作爲一個社會,我們認爲這具有花費動機,並在玩家間創造了一定的風險。因此我們認爲這種標準的管理是必要的。”

Delany還強調社交遊戲已經受到了嚴格的管理—-這裏存在消費者權利,數據保護法,不公平的商業行爲指令等等,他還問道:“是否有證據能夠證明這種娛樂形式比其它娛樂形式 更有害或更讓人上癮?”

這時候,我突然好奇,在我們認真看待這一問題時前,免費遊戲到底是具有怎樣的危害性或上癮性?

Delany回答道:“我也不知道。如果你着眼於有關人們對某些事上癮的故事,那麼不管是怎樣的娛樂形式都會被戴上這一徽章。在90年代是遊戲主機,80年代是電視機,更早之前 是收音機—-之前甚至有人說收音機將摧毀我們的文化呢。所以這並不是一個新的話題,人們總是會在新時代中仔細考察一種全新的娛樂形式。這是社會健康發展的一環。”

他繼續說道:“但在今天卻不存在任何證據能夠說明這是一種特別危險的娛樂形式,即不同於人們花錢所進行的其它娛樂形式。我們知道人們花了很多錢在所有的娛樂形式上面。

未來之路

這裏還存在許多可挖掘的內容,而我所討論的有關免費遊戲的內容卻只是冰山一角。不管怎樣我們仍需要大量的研究去填充這一領域發展的背後宏圖。

很顯然,沒有一個人的理念涉及到政府機構,不管它是否受益於免費遊戲玩家。但是爲了對本篇文章負責,我聯繫了聯邦貿易委員會以及英國公平交易局的相關人士,並追問了他 們的看法。不過考慮到他們每天都會收到大量信件,我並不期待能夠聽到迴應,但一旦我收到了迴應,我一定會與大家分享的!

我希望在我繼續研究免費遊戲設計的潛在心理元素的同時,免費遊戲工作室至少能夠着眼於當下傳播的設計理念,並考慮它們是如何影響玩家的生活。

篇目2,認識“鯨魚”玩家的含義及其與普通玩家的區別

作者:Stephanie Carmichael

對於大多數人來說,社交遊戲世界中的“鯨魚”還是很神祕。作爲爲遊戲投入最多金錢的人,他們也是爲這些遊戲發行商們帶來大部分利益的羣組(大約2%的用戶)。但是“鯨魚”卻不是一個討人喜歡的術語,並且也不是與之相關聯的數字。這是關於所有人,而不只是用戶。

我們不知道鯨魚玩家是誰,也不懂他們的想法——因爲他們身邊總是圍繞着一些特徵。我們知道他們會玩社交遊戲,但這是否就意味着他們具有社交性?他們是習慣於休閒體驗還是被強迫的?他們是怎樣的人?

鯨魚玩家擁有多種含義

在鯨魚玩家出現於西方市場之前它便已經存在於在線和手機電子遊戲中了。遊戲分析師Michael Pachter便說道,早在15年前亞洲便出現了帶有免費模式的微交易,但是我們卻有種這還是新模式的感覺,並且我們也非常好奇在未來這一模式是否還能佔得一席之地。

如今,“鯨魚”理念對於每一家公司的重要性也不同。5th Planet Games(遊戲邦注:面向休閒玩家和硬核玩家開發社交遊戲)便將那些一個月花費100美元以上於遊戲中的玩家歸爲鯨魚玩家。而在Facebook上的社交遊戲玩家每個月只要花費25美元便能夠享受到同樣的資格。

Clash of the Dragons(from urgametips)

Clash of the Dragons(from urgametips)

5th Planet的首席執行官Robert Winkler在2012年的Game Developers Conference Online上揭示到,旗下《Clash of the Dragons》有40%的收益是來自2%願意爲遊戲花費1000美元,甚至更多錢的玩家。90%收益是來自那些花費100美元以上的玩家,而最高鯨魚玩家甚至投入了6700美元。

還有其它公司,如社交博彩遊戲開發商Blitzoo便基於一些組合元素去定義各種類型的鯨魚玩家,這些元素包括:總共花費的錢,遊戲時間,玩家在遊戲中掙得的經驗值等等。甚至鯨魚玩家的遊戲時間總是比一般玩家長3,4倍。

當然,這些仍是關於各種數字而非特徵或個性。Winkler說道,爲了鼓勵鯨魚玩家沉浸於遊戲中併爲遊戲花錢,開發者就必須具有強烈的社區意識。

他說道:“我們發現,大多數玩家都願意掏錢去幫助同伴玩家而不是擊敗他們。舉個例子來說吧,那些加入我們的‘公會’或致力於共同任務的玩家的盈利率是不屬於公會的玩家的8.5倍,並且公會中的玩家的ARPU(每用戶平均收益)比其他玩家高出了53倍。”

因此對於5th Planet來說,創建社區便是他們優先考慮的內容。這是吸引更多鯨魚玩家併成功盈利的一種方法。

Winkler說道:“我們可以鼓勵玩家加入論壇,舉辦比賽並給予贈品,組織特別的公會,或者直接與玩家進行交談並讓他們知道你有在聽取各種反饋而做到這一點。當玩家認爲自己是社區中的一部分時,他麼便會更關心遊戲的結果。而當他們投入更多情感於遊戲中時,他們便更樂意爲遊戲掏腰包了。”

鯨魚玩家與“普通”玩家不同?

與鯨魚玩家進行交流並不輕鬆;他們的興趣以及與社交遊戲發行商之間的關係是個敏感的話題。但是在與一名玩家交流時我發現只要卸下他們身上的防禦便可。除了每個月會投入大量的錢於遊戲中外(一般來說是100美元,但是有時候會達到400美元),他也具有許多與一般玩家相同的興趣的關注內容。

與許多鯨魚玩家一樣,Genega也總是會堅持於一兩款遊戲中,就像他所堅持的遊戲便是5th Planet的《Clash of the Dragons》(免費多人社交在線角色扮演卡片遊戲)以及《Legacy of Heroes》(免費卡片收集類遊戲)。他並不會輕易轉向其它平臺。

Genega說道:“對於我來說,遊戲與其伴隨着的社區是一樣的。如果一款遊戲不能讓我花時間去等待競爭事件或者缺少熱鬧的論壇,它便不可能吸引到我的注意。”

Genega也表示他並不是完全離不開電腦屏幕。他說道,自己會在早上玩20多分鐘的遊戲然後在晚上再玩1至3個小時的遊戲。雖然在遊戲中投入了許多錢,但這並不代表遊戲會與其日常生活相抵觸。

他說道:“工作時,我幾乎沒有時間去想遊戲。但是在與好友相處的社交時間,我卻會全身心投入於遊戲中。不管是玩桌面遊戲,卡片遊戲還是博彩類遊戲,如《萬智牌》等等。所以在我們的社交生活中游戲扮演着非常重要的角色。”

這是遊戲外部的社交生活,而不一定是遊戲中。Genega的工作是在一家大公司監管網絡操作中心的運營,所以總是會有人邀請他去吃飯或徒步旅行。這也是爲何他不喜歡單人玩家體驗的部分原因。

他繼續說道:“從本質看來我就是一個社會人。如果沒有人能夠與我分享遊戲體驗,不管是友好的交談還是在完成任務時進行虛擬的擊掌,遊戲對我來說便失去了樂趣。”

他並不會拋棄在遊戲中所發展的友誼。他說道:“我擁有長達10年的好友,並且我會不時與遊戲中所認識的好友相約出來見面。可以說遊戲是推動我的在線和現實社交生活的主要力量。”

與大多數忠實玩家一樣,Genega也會積極關注與自己玩的遊戲相關的新聞,而真正吸引他反覆回到遊戲中的還是頻繁的內容添加。就像在玩《Clash of the Dragons》時,他總是會回到遊戲中去檢查新更新的內容,但是在玩《魔獸世界》時,他可能會隔個一年,也就是直到暴雪在推出新的擴展內容時再登錄遊戲。

當我們深入交談時,Genega對於當今產業中的問題的思考也更加深入,但是這裏還遺留着一個問題:對於被叫做“鯨魚”玩家他有何感想?

對於這一稱法,Genega是喜憂參半。

他說道:“有很多輸不起的人不願在自己喜歡的遊戲中投入大量的錢,並且在面對那些有錢人時他們甚至還會生氣。關於自己在這些遊戲中所投資的錢我還是感到有點窘迫,所以我會努力避開各種負面關注。自從出現了《FarmVille》,公衆對於社交遊戲就產生了消極的看法,並且人們總是很厭煩Facebook上所有的遊戲請求。”

鯨魚玩家並不都是相同的

我們也採訪了其他三位經常訪問社交網站Tagged的鯨魚用戶。前兩位是成功人士:“Guiseppe”,來自Bronx的41歲用戶,以及“Andy N.”,選擇匿名。這兩家公司都非常積極,就像Genega那樣。

Guiseppe已經是兩個女孩的爸爸,擁有一個所得稅業務,並是當地一所高校的主廚。他每週會與別人打幾次桌球——這便說明了社區和社交活動(不管是在線還是離線)對於鯨魚玩家來說非常重要。同時,Andy每週投入60小時於工作中,並會頻繁地出去旅遊。他的興趣包括投資和學習語言。

除此之外。我們的採訪對象還包括來自奧克蘭(新西蘭港市)的49歲Ngarangi Chapman,他主修創作,並在業餘時間代理出口自然和有機土產品。同時他也會進口服裝,寫博客,培養自己的在線市場營銷能力和商業野心。

這三個人都在玩《Pets》這款遊戲——遊戲帶有虛擬經濟,玩家可以將其他玩家當成“寵物”進行購買和銷售,從而在此認識其他人。

Chapman承認每個月會投入100至500美元於遊戲中,但是她也會適當管理自己的錢。

她說道:“我不抽菸,很少喝酒和外出,也不喜歡逛街。有時候我會爲遊戲花錢,有時候不會,而我也不去強調這些,因爲我知道即使不購買金幣遊戲也是很有趣的。但是當我產生虛榮心時,我便會購買金幣,讓所有寵物玩家能夠嫉妒我,並幫助我始終維持在新西蘭排行榜單的前10位名的位置上。”

每個鯨魚玩家都承認會關注與《Pets》相關的公告,或掌握Tagged何時更新,甚至無需閱讀這些內容就知道做出改變,就像Chapman那樣。所有的這些玩家都會在休息後再次回到遊戲中,有的甚至從未停止遊戲。

Guiseppe和Chapman都強調《Pets》的社交元素是吸引他們反覆遊戲的部分原因;但是他們卻不一定會利用遊戲中的社交功能。Guiseppe表示喜歡“與世界各地的人交朋友,並瞭解來自不同文化的人的生活方式。”Andy並不會使用社交工具,除了電子郵件和即時通訊。Chapman也是如此。

她說道:“我只是單純地喜歡玩遊戲。一開始我會利用遊戲中的各種功能去加入羣組。但是現在我只是喜歡遊戲並與過去四年裏所認識的,來自世界各地的玩家進行交談。”

她補充道:“我之所以喜歡社交遊戲是因爲可以再次看到不同人的不同表現,即他們在遊戲中的行動也就代表着他們在各自領域的生活方式。有時候,吸引我再次回到遊戲中的主要元素是過去幾年裏所接觸到的所有真誠朋友。我喜歡人與人之間的互動和分享(興趣)。”

他們未必具有明顯的“社交性”

有趣的是,這些鯨魚玩家雖然喜歡社交遊戲所呈現出的社區感,但卻不會過度投資於“社交”機制中,如羣組或即時通訊。

作爲《Clash of the Dragons》和《Legacy of Heroes》的玩家,Genega表示他不喜歡那種要求玩家必須召集大量好友以提供幫助的遊戲,儘管他也會與許多玩家建立友好關係,並在電腦之外維持忙碌的社交生活。相比之下他更喜歡“帶有挑戰,競爭和認知”的遊戲。

他說道:“我認爲社交遊戲不應該太過依賴於玩家所帶來的好友,而應該更強調讓玩家自己在遊戲中尋找好友。”

這也是適用於他的生活中的一種特性,如果你在回首之前的過度消費,你會認爲“鯨魚”只是用於形容那些充滿激情的“玩家”的華麗辭藻。他們並非隱士,他們拒絕被進行單獨的分類。並非每位鯨魚玩家都是相同的。有些鯨魚玩家喜歡競爭而獲得的榮耀,即成爲最厲害的玩家或獲得最多內容,並且也重視在遊戲中所收穫的友誼。

篇目3,業內人士探討開發者該如何定義鯨魚玩家

作者:Zoya Street

問題:

Nicholas Lovell

我一直在琢磨有關鯨魚玩家的定義,即“那些貢獻了50%遊戲收益的玩家”,這意味着開發者可以同此快速認識到鯨魚玩家對於自己業務的影響。

而這是否是一種正面的想法或基準,如果不是的話,又是爲什麼?

答案:

Tadhg Kelly——Jawfish Games創意總監

這種想法不會太有針對性嗎?我認爲鯨魚玩家之所以引人注意是因爲他們總是與一些有形的數字(大於100美元)維繫在一起,而大多數管理者,會計人員以及金融家們總是能夠感性或理性地理解這些數字。

Patrick O’Luanaigh——nDreams首席執行官

這種定義只適用於免費遊戲——如果你想要定義“鯨魚玩家”,你就必須確保這種定義也適用於盒裝遊戲玩家(也就是50%的盒裝遊戲收益也是來自於50%的玩家)。對於我來說,鯨魚玩家是指那些“願意投入大量成本於他們所喜歡的遊戲的玩家”,並且更重要的是不同遊戲對於“大量”的價值定義也不同。

Oscar Clark——Applifier倡導者

我同意Tadhg的看法,即這種基準太有針對性,並且不具備真正的統計功效。

並且從User-Centric的角度來看,我們可以基於不同類別去理解玩家的動機,而基於收益比去定義類別則不能幫助我們進行有效的分析。舉個例子來說吧,如果你面對的是經營慘淡的鯨魚社區,你每個月便不可能獲得100美元的玩家生成收益,這時候50%的利潤比例便不具有任何意義。

最好是根據一致行爲劃分用戶羣體,這樣你便能夠獲得最有意義的數據——例如35至40歲的女性女性玩家每個月會在遊戲中投入100美元以上。我們可以基於這一定義在不同遊戲中進行用戶劃分。

Teut Weidemann——育碧在線專家

擺脫了“50%”這個束縛就容易定義了:

鯨魚玩家是指那些貢獻了10倍以上每用戶平均收益的用戶。

這種定義同時適用於Facebook(遊戲邦注:擁有較低ARPU)和其它免費遊戲(擁有較高ARPU)。而因爲ARPU同樣也包含了非付費玩家,所以這便避免了將轉化率作爲一種參數。

Andy Payne——Mastertronic創始人

在我們的兩個遊戲世界中,也就是飛機和火車模擬遊戲(10年前是基於盒裝產品銷售,現在開始趨向於數字化),我們將鯨魚玩家定義爲願意花費10倍以上ARPU的玩家——每個月都會不斷往自己的虛擬世界中添加新內容。我們便擁有數百名鯨魚玩家,並且我也一直在收集各種新數據。

Eric Benjamin Seufert——Grey Area Labs市場營銷總監

我認爲自上而下的方法並不適用於定義“鯨魚玩家”——鯨魚玩家主要是基於行爲進行定義(收益上的開銷也是取決於行爲),而將其劃分爲“50%的收益”羣組並不能幫助開發者更好地理解這些用戶。相反,如果你是基於自下而上的方法,也就是根據大多數鯨魚玩家所表現出的行爲進行判斷,你便能夠使用這些信息去發展遊戲。

作爲一種高級基準,50%的收益真的已經很不錯了。基於自下而上的方法以及大量的收益額,我們可以將鯨魚玩家定義爲那些投入了至少1%的總產品收益的玩家(遊戲邦注:例如總產品收益爲5000歐元,那麼願意花費50歐元以上的玩家便屬於鯨魚玩家)。

篇目4,分析鯨魚&海豚&小魚用戶的劃分標準

作者:Nicholas Lovell

免費遊戲的成功關鍵不在於數量。它的目標不是獲得大量用戶,而是依靠少數能夠創造大量收入的用戶。

這涉及能量定律。免費遊戲的成功要訣是:

免費模通過讓玩家免費體驗遊戲移除體驗障礙;且還通過去除價格或訂閱費用消除忠誠粉絲的消費上限。

我知道某家公司註冊用戶25萬,年收入300萬美元,還有一家公司的MAU不到150萬,但年收入達2000萬美元。這就是能量定律商業模式的作用所在。

能量定律及其於在線平臺的運作

能量定律傳遞這樣的理念:用戶並非人人平等。有些人喜歡你的遊戲,有些人則覺得遊戲馬馬虎虎。有些人有大量金錢和時間,有些人則相反。用戶掏錢的原因也各不相同,或圖方便,或希望提高社會地位。

通過合理設計遊戲,讓用戶能夠進行不同程度的消費(遊戲邦注:通過提供消耗品、美化道具、升級道具及以金錢換時間機會),開發者得以令遊戲忠實粉絲在遊戲中投入大筆資金。

(術語註釋:將遊戲的高消費者稱作“鯨魚”如今非常普遍。我不喜歡這個稱呼,因爲這過於直白。我更喜歡真實粉絲這個叫法。但後來我發現鯨魚用戶和真實粉絲間存在差異:真實粉絲因你而掏錢;鯨魚用戶因自己而掏錢。真實粉絲因喜歡你的作品而投入大筆資金,這合情合理;但瞄準缺乏自控能力的鯨魚用戶則就不是如此。)

模式化免費增值能量定律

我將玩家分成三大類:

* 每月投入極少資金的小魚,通常是1美元。

* 花費“中等”數額的海豚。他們平均每月花費5美元。

* 投入大量資金的鯨魚。他們平均每月花費20美元。

* 免費體驗者屬於第四類。

三類用戶的分佈比例如下:

* 小魚:50%的付費用戶

* 海豚:40%的付費用戶

* 鯨魚:10%的付費用戶

arpu from rashimgupta.com

arpu from rashimgupta.com

注意這是能量定律模型的近似估值。你可以調整分佈比例和ARPPU數值。但調整分佈比例和ARPPU數值會改變預期的曲線。

劃分基準

我們很難設定區分小魚、海豚和鯨魚的準確普遍標準。很多公司都只是粗略談到自己的ARPPU(遊戲邦注:例如,Bigpoint只是表示其ARPPU高於《魔獸世界》,這就避免將焦點轉移到鯨魚用戶)。

我們不斷探究鯨魚、海豚和小魚的分界點。但這不過是能量定律曲線的近似估值,所以我們可能還要花費很長時間。

我建議你採用此標準:

* 小魚:50%

* 海豚:40%

* 鯨魚:10%

篇目5,Mike Lu對手機遊戲鯨魚玩家的4個發現

作者:Mike Lu

我是GREE產品副總裁Mike Lu,曾管理我們多款成功的熱門遊戲(遊戲邦注:包括《Modern War》、《Kingdom Age》、《Crime City》),我本人也是一名遊戲發燒友。在電子遊戲行業中工作最棒的事情之一就是“市場調查”這部分工作。也許對人們來說這並沒有什麼稀奇,擔對我們來說,調查就意味着玩大量電子遊戲。

這並非電子遊戲行業所獨有的傳統,但向他人取經確實是一個提高自我的絕佳方法。例如,我最喜歡的舊金山壽命餐廳是Akiko’s。

在他們下班時,Akiko的大廚會去各種餐廳觀察和學習,以便更瞭解自己的潛在主顧的需求。這也正是我們爲何喜歡玩各種遊戲的原因!

手機遊戲行業也不例外,我有許多工作就涉及玩手機、主機和PC等各類遊戲,以便了解玩家或潛在玩家的需求,尤其是瞭解所謂的“鯨魚”玩家類型。

免費遊戲如此獨特的一個因素就在於,我們免費開放遊戲,玩家如果喜愛遊戲就會在其中花錢購買新內容。其主要收益來源於更小的羣體(“鯨魚”用戶)。所以何謂鯨魚用戶,爲何他們要在自己所喜歡的遊戲中投入成百上千美元?

作爲手機遊戲開發者,我清楚地知道其中一些原因,但直到我自己也成了鯨魚玩家時我纔開始真正理解這類用戶的心態。我曾在另一家公司的手機遊戲中投入上千美元,這讓我瞭解了玩家在我的遊戲中的許多行爲習慣。我將在本文中分享自己對手機遊戲鯨魚玩家的4個發現,以及開發者如何將其運用於自己的設計。

whales(from businessweek.com)

whales(from businessweek.com)

1)鯨魚玩家從不輕易花錢。

在我成爲鯨魚玩家之前,我曾一度認爲鯨魚只是爲了減輕麻煩而花錢。“花9.99美元無需等待10分鐘,就可以立即補充命值”。當然,我也曾在這方面花過錢,但經常覺得這並不是很好的投資。我可以將這9.99美元用於購買那些會對我的遊戲產生長期影響的東西。即使花了上千美元,我仍然很在乎自己到底把錢花在哪了。不要以爲你在遊戲中推出一項200美元的道具,鯨魚玩家就會無緣無故買下來。或者如果你讓X加速了,所有鯨魚都會趨之若騖。應該爲他們提供能對遊戲產生長期影響的東西,例如允許他們研究比X更多的插槽,或者以n%的比例更改資源輸出量。確保他們所買到的東西真正物有所值,這樣你就會看到他們反覆購買。

這就引出了我的第2個要點。

2)真正的性價比。

鯨魚玩家這一身份讓我開始意識到玩家通常會評估自己在遊戲中所購買之物的真正價值。這一概念非常簡單,如果新道具售價100美元,但卻“價值”200美元,我就會欣然買下,因爲我覺得自己賺到了。付費玩家在遊戲中都有這種性價比的觀念,關注遊戲所購之物的回報或投入產出比。這方面的一個例子是發生於我們一款遊戲中的情況。我們的一個限量包只允許玩家一次購買一件。但是,由於出現了一個工程漏洞,系統卻允許玩家購買多個內容包,當玩家發現時基色購買量已上升了1000%。有些玩家甚至購買了上百個內容包,害怕我們會很快發現漏洞並關閉交易。玩家購買了如此多個內容包這一現象並沒有讓遊戲受挫,但卻讓鯨魚玩家相信自己獲得了極高的性價比,他們願意繼續購買。

3)碰運氣。

當我正處於對某款遊戲極度上癮的狀態時,我就非常關注其中的運氣系統。我發現自己會繼續利用這一玩法,腦中不斷閃過“我知道自己將獲得傳說中的下一個內容包”的念頭。我並不能保證自己能得到心儀的物品,這一理念似乎有違傳統遊戲設計,但這種免費遊戲設計卻正真的很適用於像我一樣的鯨魚玩家。我實際上是在“打賭”自己每次所能獲得的獎勵,相信我,當我真的得到那件傳說中的道具時,我幾乎樂得跳起來了。

4)鯨魚玩家與你我並沒有什麼不同。

當我們想到這些“鯨魚”玩家時,我們通常將他們想象成擁有大量零花錢的富人。調查顯示,“鯨魚”羣體實際上再普通不過了。幾乎任何人都有可能成爲鯨魚。我們無法通過個性或背景來分析、預測哪些人會成爲鯨魚,或者特定的瞄準對象。鯨魚有可能是男性、女性、軍人、醫生、律師、媽媽、學生——在各行各業中幾乎無處不在。這是什麼意思?這意味着我們應該專注於爲所有玩家創建擁有出色內容的優質遊戲。

那麼這些發現對遊戲開發者又意味着什麼?首先,我希望你認識到遊戲如何獲得玩家認可的重要性。這一規則適用於F2P遊戲、主機、手機、PC、RPG等任何類型的遊戲。要了解玩家,玩遊戲並理解他們操作的過程和原因,這樣你就知道該向他們提供什麼內容,該在人們實際需要的內容上投入資源。

第二個關鍵就是,記住玩家會策略性地花錢。隨便拋入昂貴的道具並寄希望於人們會購買,這並不會獲得成功——付費內容必須具有意義(遊戲邦注:這正是瞭解玩家和了解遊戲的重要性所在)。玩家並不會無故掏錢,要優化他們的遊戲體驗,他們會考慮自己每一操作的長期價值。這是件好事,玩家會投入遊戲,那你就該確保對他們作出同樣的回報。

最後,記住並不存在所謂的獲取“鯨魚”用戶的寶典。沒有完美的目標羣體或玩家類型。即使你去尋找這些玩家模式,最終也會發現真正重要的還是趣味因素。遊戲質量和玩法體驗是吸引玩家,尤其是“鯨魚”玩家的招牌,所以我的建議是要專注於這些層面。

篇目1篇目2篇目3篇目4篇目5(本文由遊戲邦編譯,轉載請註明來源,或諮詢微信zhengjintiao)

篇目1,Chasing the Whale: Examining the ethics of free-to-play games

by Mike Rose

July 9, 2013

This story is being highlighted as one of Gamasutra’s best stories of 2013.

“I’d use birthday money, I’d eat cheaper lunches, I’d ask my wife to pay for dinner so I’d have a spare $10-$20 to spend in the store. Which does mean, I guess, that I was thinking about it even away from the game.”

Chris was in his mid-20s when he began spending a few dollars here and there on Team Fortress 2. All of his friends had recently moved out of town, and his wife was now working a nighttime job, leading him to take solace in an online TF2 community.

At first he’d simply buy some TF2 “keys”, use them to open some item crates, then dish some of the contents out to players online and keep the good stuff for himself. He enjoyed the social interactions that came with these giveaways, and it seemed worth it for the money he was paying.

But soon Chris discovered his first “unusual” item, marked with a purple seal. “I had this unbeatable rush of adulation and excitement,” he says. “For someone who didn’t get out much I was on cloud nine. And at that point things changed — I started chasing that high.”

Addict-to-play

For around six months following this discovery, Chris found himself draining his bank account until he didn’t have a spare dollar to his name — all for a selection of pixels that would hopefully be wrapped in a purple glow.

“My savings got wiped out pretty quickly — although it should be noted that at the time I didn’t have much put away to begin with,” he explains. “The real trouble wasn’t that it cleaned out my bank account, but that it put me in a really delicate situation. With no savings and every dollar not spent on food, shelter, or utilities going to digital hats, any unexpected expense became a really big deal.”

Chris even had a few health scares along the way, and found that he couldn’t afford to pay the medical bills because his savings account had been stripped for TF2 money.

“It got so bad that at one point Steam actually blocked my credit card, thinking I was some sort of account scammer, and I had to open a support ticket to tell them, ‘No, that really is me spending whatever savings I have on this stupid game with fake hats.’” he says. “And like any addicted user, my social element didn’t help — most of my outside-of-work contacts were people I just played TF2 with. At work I just wanted to be uncrating things, and when I was uncrating things I just wanted to see better results.”

It was when his out-of-control spending began to have an effect on his relationship with his wife, that Chris finally realized that this needed to stop.

“I’ve never really been addicted to anything else, so I can’t say for certain whether a ‘real’ addiction would be stronger,” he notes. “I would say that it felt akin to what I’d expect a compulsive gambling addiction would feel like — social pressures reinforced a behavior that kept me searching for an adrenaline rush I’d never be able to recapture, even as it kept me from making progress in life.”

“There were nights where I’d be up until 3 am drinking beer and playing Team Fortress and chasing those silly hats with purple text, ignoring the gambler’ s fallacy and swearing that if I dropped another $50 I’d be sure to win this time,” he adds. “Then I’d wake up the next morning and see that I’d not only spent over a hundred dollars on digital hats, but failed my only objective by uncrating a bunch of junk.”

Those were the mornings that felt the worst — when the reality of what Chris was doing hit home the hardest. He’d feel hugely depressed and worthless, and swear to himself that he wouldn’t be back again… and yet, the moment another paycheck came through, it was gone as quickly as it came.

Chris’ behavior during this time is how people in the video game industry would describe a “whale”– someone who spends large amounts on free-to-play games, and essentially makes the business model viable by balancing out the 99 percent of players who don’t ever fork out a dime.

And while Chris is happy to admit that a portion of his addiction was no doubt down to his own silly mistakes, he reasons, “I have to question whether a business model built on exploiting ‘whales’ like me isn’t somewhat to blame. Free-to-play games aren’t after everyone for a few dollars — they’re after weak people in vulnerable states for hundreds, if not thousands.”

Whales in the woodwork

This exact musing is why I recently began tracking down free-to-play “whales” to hear their stories. I found myself questioning just how many free-to-play game developers are building their games around the concept of pulling vulnerable players in, and rendering them addicted to some banal yet compelling activity that they feel they must spend large portions of their money on.

In particular, I pondered whether these “whale” players are fully consenting to the hundreds and thousands of dollars that they are spending, or whether they are being manipulated and exploited by underhanded design that purposely aims to make the player feel like they simply have no choice.

That’s why I began trawling game forums and social media over the last couple of months, asking players how much they spent on free-to-play games, and why they chose to do so.

It must be noted at this point that a good portion of the “whale” correspondence I received was from players who felt that, despite spending in the thousands, they had got their money’s worth. To many players, they had simply spent a lot of money because they were having lots of fun, and felt that they were happy to throw cash at the developer.

Other players also told me that they loved the free-to-play model, and that if they ever did feel like they were spending too much on these games, they could easily stop any time they wanted. There are plenty of happy free-to-play customers out there, and the aforementioned story from Chris only makes up a very tiny portion of the tales I received.

But it could be argued that to focus on the ratio of exploited to non-exploited customers is to completely miss the point — that a business model where even the smallest portion of players can find themselves losing control and essentially ruining their lives, is a model that must surely face scrutiny, whether on a industry or governmental level.

Although Team Fortress 2 was brought up by many of my “whale” respondents as a real killer, Valve’s team-based shooter was far from the only title named.

Kyle describes PlanetSide 2 as his “danger game,” thanks to the financial situations his obsession with the game put him in.

“I’m in a position where I’m living paycheck to paycheck for the moment as the result of that spending — beyond incurring overdraft for my rent (for a few months in a row starting in January this year and a couple other scattered times),” he says.

“There were a few times I found I ran short for food budget and had to eat ramen for a week instead of something decent,” he adds.

He says that the feeling of instant gratification, allowing him to purchase weapons and cosmetic items with a couple of clicks, is what lead him to spend in the hundreds.

“You know you’re getting your stuff right there on the spot, and you can do whatever you want with it right away,” he says, adding, “I don’t think I ever found myself in a position where I said ‘I really need to have this one thing, even though it will put me over for rent’ — it was more a case of deciding I could ride out the consequences and that a mild amount of hardship might even make me appreciate what I obtained even more.”

Kyle doesn’t regret his PlanetSide 2 spending, however: “I never thought of the items as investments, more like disposable entertainment, like movie tickets or a night at a nice restaurant, because when it comes to free-to-play, who knows if the game is going to be around in six months or a year?”

He adds, “Now that I think about it a bit, it’s almost a way for me personally to feel a bit richer than I really am. I might have an older car and a bit of a run down apartment, but online I’ve got all this nice swag that lots of people aren’t willing to spend on. It’s a nice way to make yourself feel special.”

Heroes of spending

Battlefield Heroes was another free-to-play game brought up on my journey to find big spenders. Unlike Kyle, John hugely regrets his free-to-play spending — he was working a part-time job at the time that he became addicted to Heroes, and he ended up splashing out the majority of his paychecks on the game, spending over $2,000 in total.

“I would call it the creme of the crop in terms of pay-to-win,” he says.

My research didn’t just focus on triple-A PC games either — many of Nexon’s free-to-play titles came up numerous times. One player told me that he has spent around $3,000 on MapleStory, including dropping a whole $500 in an attempt to create a single weapon in the game. But he says that he is easily one of the lower-end players, and that he regularly talks to people who have spent upwards of $10,000 on the game.

“It’s pretty much for more numbers, if I had a gun put to my head,” he says — and he’s not done yet. “The gear grind is pretty much infinite, and the only reason I’m not playing right now isn’t because of the money, but because I’m waiting for the level expansion as well as a raised damage cap, which are out in the Korean server but not the global one.”

Another player I talked to found themselves spending more than $5,000 on a Nexon game called Mabinogi, mainly on cosmetic items. “There were plenty of times when the rent would go unpaid because I had spent the money on the game instead,” he says. “However, I don’t know if I can blame the game for that. If I hadn’t spent the money on Mabinogi, I would have spent it on something else.”

“I can’t say I really regret the spending,” he says. “I loved the game, and I still miss the friends I played with. Five or six grand isn’t too much to pay for the amount of happiness I got out of it.”

However, he admits that it definitely felt like an addiction. “Both buying the points, and gambling those points on random drops would give me a rush,” he says.

I also came across numerous far more outlandish stories. One player, who called himself Gladoscc, told me that he used to play a web-based MMO called eRepublik, in which players waged wars against each other.

In total, Gladoscc spent more than $30,000 on the game. “The geniusly evil part about eRepublik is that you have to spend money in order to neutralize the enemy’s money,” he says. “It’s spreadsheet PVP, though. The social aspect is what kept me in.”

When he managed to finally kick the habit, a random stranger added him veryon Skype weeks later, only to discover that it was the creator of eRepublik. He had hunted down Gladoscc’s details so he could ask him why he had quit, and try to entice him back.

By far the worst story I discovered was that of a mother who became addicted to Mafia Wars on Facebook, and ended up sinking tens of thousands of dollars into it. As her obsession grew, she began to withdraw into the game and care little about the life going on around her.

“The last time I can remember going over, her entire room was filled with just hundreds of pizza boxes and McDonalds bags,” says an old friend of her son. “When you enter the house, the smell just smacks you in the face, even though she basically just stays in her room.”

The friend even alleges that as a direct result of the mother succumbing to the allure of spending more and more on the game, her son ended up dealing drugs simply so he could afford to keep payments up on the house and keep food on the table.

Ex-free-to-play

I also received messages from people who claimed to be ex-employees at free-to-play companies, and who told me that their respective employers would often build games purposely to entrap these “whales.”

One such response in particular (for which I was able to verify the respondent as having worked at the company he named) gave a stark picture of what’s going on behind the scenes. I’ve chosen to blank out the name of the company as I see this as being able to apply to multiple game studios, rather than just the one discussed.

“I used to work at [company], and it paid well and advanced my career,” the person told me. “But I recognize that [company]‘s games cause great harm to people’s lives. They are designed for addiction. [company] chooses what to add to their games based on metrics that maximize players’ investments of time and money. [company]‘s games find and exploit the right people, and then suck everything they can out of them, without giving much in return. It’s not hard
to see the parallels to the tobacco industry.

This employee chose to leave the company as a direct result of feeling dishonest due to the work being done — feeling like they were making the lives of a select few players worse.

“The creation of addiction-driven games needs to stop, for the sake of everyone those games take advantage of,” they continued. “If companies like [that company] refuse to change how they conduct business, then the problem will only be solved if they go out of business. While it is unfortunate that people are losing their jobs, that may be a necessary, painful step in ridding the world of one of the harmful aspects of gaming.”

I showed the stories I had found to the employee, who found them upsetting. “When people play games, they are entrusting the developers with their time and money,” they told me. “As developers, we have a responsibility to make sure that we give them something equally valuable in return.”

The ex-employee says that it all comes down to one main point: “Enabling self-destructive behavior is wrong.”

“It’s wrong when the tobacco and gambling industries do it, and it’s a shame that portions of the game industry do it too,” they added.

Despite this, the former free-to-play employee says that they don’t believe government regulation would be a good way to fix the issue. As they point, some of the mechanics utilized in these games are used elsewhere in a more positive way, “so regulation could cause collateral damage across the games industry.

They added, “Based on their track record, I certainly don’t trust Congress to pass responsible legislation dealing with video games.”

And yet, the trouble still remains: The free-to-play model has been proven to work best when games find and exploit whales.

“Any [free-to-play] game that makes it virtually impossible to advance beyond a certain point without spending money was almost certainly designed with whales in mind,” the employee notes.

“Games that allow players to advance to the highest level without spending anything are less exploitative. At least they don’t actively encourage addiction.”

Now that my source is out of the free-to-play space, they are happy to be making games that don’t exploit players anymore. “I’m now working on serious games, which have the potential to produce a substantial, positive effect on the world,” they tell me. “I’m sorry for what I’ve done, but I promise to more than make up for it in the future.”
Free-to-play developers speak.

It’s clear, then, that while a large portion of free-to-play consumers are able to take business model in stride, there are also those whose lives are being strained and, in some cases, even ruined by a number of these games. With this in mind, I took the commentary I had found straight to the developers, to gauge what exactly is going on, and why these people are spending as much as they do.

Battlefield Heroes is an instructive example of a developer moving toward an emphasis on incentivizing players to pay. When the game originally launched, it was a true free-to-play game.

Players could jump into the game, sample everything it had to offer, grind a bit to unlock specific elements, but generally get plenty of enjoyment out of it for free.

Unfortunately, the amount of money coming in wasn’t good enough to keep the game afloat, and so a large-scale price restructuring was developed, as detailed in this article. With this in place, players were now a lot more restricted in what they could see and do, and had far more grinding to go through to unlock items — unless, of course, they chose to pay real money.

Ben Cousins was the senior producer on Battlefield Heroes back at the time when John (whose story is told above) found himself addicted to the game. Cousins now works on free-to-play games for DeNA, and is an outspoken proponent of the free-to-play model.

Upon reading John’s story, Cousins remarked that numerous Heroes players were upset when the price restructuring occurred within the game. This led to lots of negative comments on the official forums, and stories such as John’s.

However, Cousins notes that the restructuring led to an influx of revenue, it had the effect of safeguarding of many jobs on the Heroes team. Essentially, by forcing players to grind just that little bit more for items in the game, and by introducing weapons that gave paying players an advantage, the development team at EA caused an uproar among fans — yet suddenly its long-term revenue was assured, as many of these very same players stuck around and submitted to
the new pricing regime.

“I believe that the responsibility to control spending on any product or service lies with the consumer, unless there is some scientifically proven link to addiction as is the case with products and services like alcohol and gambling,” Cousins tells me. “When these links are established, I feel industries should self-govern first and if they fail to act responsibly, be subject to governmental control.”

He adds that there is currently no proven link between free-to-play “whales” and addiction. “I would personally like to see wide-ranging independent studies done before we jump to any conclusions about any negative psychological effects.”

Cousins is also keen to stress that the overly negative responses that I received may well only represent a very small proportion of “whales.”

“When looking at a small sample size there is always going to be a lack of certainty in extrapolating that data to a larger population,” he says. “I think if we see a broad proportion of the spending userbase reacting as they claim to have in these accounts, it’s easier to read this as the developers having discovered a damaging method of psychological consumer manipulation.”

“When a very, very small proportion of the userbase react in this manner, while sad, it’s easier to read this as perhaps individual issues with those people which may be expressed in any number of negative ways, not just with spending in free-to-play games. I’m sure small numbers of very negative stories could be found for spending on almost any product or service.”

He clarifies: “I’m not suggesting either is true, just that we would need to do a broader set of data gathering before I’m comfortable reaching any conclusions.”

I ask Cousins what systems his team at DeNA has in place to reduce the number of players who can potentially be exploited in its free-to-play games.

“The systems we have in place are simply our own moral judgment as a team of game developers,” he answers. “We regularly reject ideas out of hand because we feel they are potentially exploitative. I suggest other developers do the same, but individual games are unique and there are no hard-and-fast rules.”

An industry source at one major social game company told me that the stories I received are “pretty extreme, and definitely not the norm.”

The source noted that game companies are already subject to a number of regulations — consumer protection laws that require companies to treat players fairly. Citing the stories I received, the source said, “We wouldn’t want our players to be playing like this, because it’s just not fun, and it’s not what the purpose of our games is.”

“Our games are made so that you have short play sessions,” the source added. “Our games aren’t meant for these long play sessions where” — the source references the story of the mother playing Mafia Wars — “those are not what [our] games are about.”

The source said the company’s game sessions are short — about 10 minutes for some of its most popular games. The company purposely makes game sessions short, such that players will connect with others, the source said. Like most free-to-play businesses, very low percentages of customers pay any money at all.

I also got in contact with other free-to-play developers, including those mentioned in the stories I received. Nexon’s North American director of PR, Mike Crouch, appeared to be interested in providing me with answers, but after weeks of correspondence went quiet on the topic.

Meanwhile, Valve’s Doug Lombardi chose not to respond to my multiple requests for comment, even though he did get back to me on an unrelated topic in the meanwhile.

And while it at first appeared that Sony Online Entertainment might talk to me about PlanetSide 2, I was eventually told that the company wasn’t interested in responding.

For the greater good

Not every free-to-play studio is gunning for the “whales.” While I was conducting my research, World of Tanks developer Wargaming.net revealed to Gamasutra that it is changing up its free-to-play strategy, removing all “pay-to-win” options and making sure that players cannot pay money to gain an advantage in battle.

“We don’t want to nickel and dime our players,” Wargaming.net’s VP of publishing Andrei Yarantsau told us. “We want to deliver gaming experiences and services that are based on the fair treatment of our players, whether they spend money in-game or not.”

“Free-to-play games have the challenge of being sometimes viewed as low quality, and we want World of Tanks to serve as proof that a quality and balanced free-to-play game is possible,” he added.

Wargaming.net isn’t the only company that feels this way. Hi-Rez Studios has released a string of free-to-play titles, including Global Agenda and the more widely acclaimed Tribes: Ascend.

Both are notable in that players are very accepting of these versions of “free-to-play”: You can download the game for free, and then play for as long as you want, with no advantages given to those people who choose to purchase vanity items and the like.

Todd Harris, COO at Hi-Rez, tells me that his company’s free-to-play philosophy is simple: Players will remember which games and companies are exploitative, and gradually over time, we’ll see a shift away from these money-grabbers, to the games that treat the players with respect.

“The players in the stories [you’ve related] are likely to not play a game from that publisher or developer again,” he reasons. “Our perspective is a long-term thing, thinking about the studio brand.”

“I think there’s cases where it financially works in the short-term for that title,” he continues. “In our case, our studio brand and positioning is different, and we are particularly looking for gamers that expect a fair battlefield, and we want them to know that in a future Hi-Rez game, from past experiences, that they should get a fair battlefield and not get an exploitive feeling.”

While you might guess that Hi-Rez doesn’t make as much money as some of these more exploitative studios, it’s notable that around 10 percent of Tribes: Ascend players choose to pay money — a figure that is much larger than the 1, 3, and 5 percents that I’ve heard from the majority of other free-to-play developers. Harris reasons that this is down to trust, and players feeling like they are getting their money’s worth.

“I don’t have a crystal ball, but our studio thinks that there are enough players that want more of a sports-like fair game,” he says. “That’s the type of titles that we are developing. Whether the audience of the other type — ‘pay for status’ — whether that is growing or shrinking… you know, studios have to place their bets.”

“I personally think that it’s going to go down over time,” he adds, “because if you look at the games that are having the most success — League of Legends, Dota 2, as well as our own titles — they are not perceived that way, not perceived to be pay-to-win as much. So those games seem to be having more traction.”

I asked Harris whether he would advise other free-to-play studios to consider taking the approach that both Hi-Rez and Wargaming.net are currently running with. His response was simply, “Better late than never.”

Harris is also of the view that government regulation would not be a good idea — in fact, he describes it as “the last thing gaming needs.”

“But game journalists and reviewers could play a valuable role — in reporting how ‘exploitive’ specific titles are or are not,” he says. “I don’t think a game critic’s rating of ‘Graphics Quality’ or ‘Audio Quality’ is all that important anymore — now that so many games are free-to-play, people can try for themselves. And even with buy-to-play, potential buyers can see graphics and gameplay on YouTube or via live streaming.”

“But ‘exploitive mechanics’ could be harder to detect in a single ‘Let’s Play’ video, so game critics could help a lot in that area,” he adds.

Dr. Mark D. Griffiths is a psychologist and director of the International Gaming Research Unit in the psychology department at Nottingham Trent University. The professor is well known for his research in the field of video game addiction and gambling.

Griffiths published a paper last year in which he argued that social games have gambling-like elements, even when there is no money involved whatsoever — rather, they introduce the principles of gambling through in-app purchases.

“On first look, games like FarmVille may not seem to have much connection to gambling, but the psychology behind such activities is very similar,” he argues. “Even when games do not involve money, they introduce players to the principles and excitement of gambling. Companies like Zynga have been accused of leveraging the mechanics of gambling to build their empire.”

One element that Griffiths has found to be particularly key in encouraging gambling-like behavior in free-to-play games is the act of random reinforcement — that is, the unpredictability of winning or getting other types of intermittent rewards.

“Small unpredictable rewards lead to highly engaged and repetitive behavior,” he says. “In a minority of cases, this may lead to addiction.”

Griffiths also points to a “growing body of research” that indicates that players who are presented with virtual representations of money (virtual currency) will find that spending and gambling with this fake cash is hugely exciting.

In those instances when there is no money changing hands, players “are learning the mechanics of gambling and there are serious questions about whether gambling with virtual money encourages positive attitudes towards gambling.”

On the topic of in-app purchases, Griffiths says, “The introduction of in-game virtual goods and accessories (that people pay real money for) was a psychological masterstroke.”

“It becomes more akin to gambling, as social gamers know that they are spending money as they play with little or no financial return,” he continues. “The one question I am constantly asked is why people pay real money for virtual items in games like FarmVille. As someone who has studied slot machine players for over 25 years, the similarities are striking.”

Griffiths argues that the real difference between pure gambling games and some free-to-play games is the fact that gambling games allow you to win your money back, adding an extra dimension that can potentially drive revenues even further. This, he says, is why some free-to-play game studios like Zynga are currently moving into the pure gambling market.

Griffiths goes on to reason that the lines between social free-to-play games and gambling is beginning to blur, bringing along with them “various moral, ethical, legal, and social issues.”

In another paper published earlier this year with his colleague Michael Auer, Griffiths argues that “the most important factors along with individual susceptibility and risk factors of the individual gambler are the structural characteristics relating to the speed and frequency of the game rather than the type of game.”

“The general rule is that the higher the event frequency, the more likely it is that the gambling activity will cause problems for the individual (particularly if the individual is susceptible and vulnerable),” he adds. “Problem and pathological gambling are essentially about rewards, and the speed and frequency of those rewards. Almost any game could be designed to either have high event frequencies or low event frequencies.”

As a result, he argues that the more potential rewards that are offered to the player, the more problematic and addictive an activity can become.

Griffiths goes on to argue that it would be potentially possible for a “safe” scenario to be achieved, by which a game is designed such that players cannot spend money past a enforced structural limit — this would ensure that players were not able to develop a gambling problem, regardless of their susceptibility.

Griffiths is keen to stress that, as of yet, the psychosocial impact of free-to-play games are only just beginning to be investigated by people in the field of games.

“Empirically, we know almost nothing about the psychosocial impact of gambling via social networking sites, although research suggests the playing of free games among adolescents is one of the risk factors for both the uptake of real gambling and problem gambling,” he adds. “Whatever research is done, we can always be sure that the gaming industry will be two steps ahead of both researchers and legislators.”

Tit for tat

Most recently, a pair of analyses on the topic of free-to-play spending coercion versus pay-to-play spending coercion was spread far and wide via social media.

Ramin Shokrizade, an industry consultant who has written numerous papers on the topic of free-to-play monetization, detailed his research into how social games will trick players into making in-app purchases through incomplete information and virtual currency.

Part of this method involves providing the player with “fun pain” — a term coined by Zynga’s Roger Dickey to denote the situation in which a player is put into an uncomfortable position, and then offered the chance to remove the “pain” by spending real money.

There’s also a sort of opposite monetization method to this, which Shokrizade calls “Reward Removal.” A free-to-play game offers the play a huge reward, and then subsequently threatens to take away the reward if the player doesn’t fork out cash.

“To be effective with this technique, you have to tell the player they have earned something, and then later tell them that they did not,” he says. “The longer you allow the player to have the reward before you take it away, the more powerful is the effect.”

But the use of virtual currency is where the coercion really takes off, says Shokrizade. Griffiths stated before that spending virtual currency teaches players the mechanics of gambling, but Shokrizade goes a step further and argues that when players see their real-world cash in terms of virtual currency, it lowers the sense of anxiety and allows them to be less apprehensive about spending larger amounts.

Elsewhere, Shokrizade details what he calls “Ante Games” — those free-to-play titles that appear to be games based on skill when you first boot them up, but gradually turn into a money game, as the more experienced players put real money in to beat other players. It’s worth reading Shokrizade’s entire article on the topic, which also delves into “Progress Gates” and sales boosts.

Though there’s no reference to Shokrizade’s piece in it, Spry Fox’s Daniel Cook posted a blog a few days later titled “Coercive Pay-2-Play techniques,” in which he takes to task many of the arguments against free-to-play with a tongue-in-cheek rebuttal of his own.

He notes that pay-to-play games invite players to spend large amounts of money without ever having played the game first, while some companies purposely use videos, adverts and previews to artificially increase excitement for upcoming and released games.

Cook adds that this pre-release “propaganda” means that developers don’t need to worry as much about the actual game design, and can simply make the sell by “having a catchy theme, pretty graphics and the ability to turn out short sequential games rapidly.”

He also targets Skinner Box game design, the various methods of sale such as bundles and time-limited discounts, and other forms of manipulation in free-to- play games. He closes by jokingly suggesting that pay-to-play games are hurting the industry, and are an immoral practice.

Cook is, of course, is making light of the free-to-play arguments a fair bit, although the overall point of the article is to compare just how “coercive” the free-to-play model actually is — especially when these worst-case scenarios are compared to the worst-case scenarios for pay-to-play games. Cook’s blog is well worth a read.

Other perspectives

Laralyn McWilliams is a video game designer and producer who has previously worked on SOE’s free-to-play kids’ game Free Realms as creative director. She has written at length about the strengths and weaknesses of the free-to-play model.

I sent McWilliams much of the information I had uncovered while researching this article, and she told me, “From a practical perspective, people will always find an activity that attracts them to the exclusion of many other activities.”

She notes that whether we should be encouraging or discouraging this common human behavior comes down to two main factors:

1. Whether the activities being included are considered “valuable” or “worthwhile,” and whether the activities being excluded are (or are considered) “essential.”

2. Universal elements like food, sleep, health, hygiene, maintaining a source of income, and paying important bills.

“The first criteria is largely subjective and varies tremendously based on who’s doing the evaluation,” she notes. “Most people would agree that spending money at the casino to the extent that your bills go unpaid and you get evicted is a behavior we shouldn’t encourage. Most people would also agree that playing a game so many hours in the day that you don’t sleep or eat and your health deteriorates is also something we shouldn’t encourage.”

Where the conversation gets muddy, McWilliams argues, is when you begin to compare free-to-play spending with traditional retail video game spending. She notes that while we might pull a face at someone spending thousands of dollars on a single free-to-play over a year or so, you could argue that many players who purchase console and PC games may spend just as much over the same period of time.

“I suspect that if he’d spent the money on retail games, he’d walk away saying, ‘I keep having trouble making rent because I’m buying a new game every month. I have to figure out a way to cut back,” she says of one of the stories I collected.

“He probably wouldn’t question too much whether games in general are worth the money from the objective perspective — just about whether he’s buying them too frequently,” she continues. “There’s something in the way he spent money in the free-to-play game, though, that made him question on a fundamental level whether his money was well spent. Sure, some of that’s probably the social perspective right now that free-to-play games in general and virtual goods in particular are not expenses we value as much as expenses for other hobbies (including retail games), but I suspect he might still feel the same way even without that social input.”

With this in mind, McWilliams believes that are two fundamental questions that free-to-play developers should be asking themselves:

1. Should we try to be aware of unhealthy spend patterns in players and find ways to limit/discourage them?

2. Are we providing good value for money spent, and if we are, why doesn’t it feel that way to many players?

Says McWilliams, “Even if the percentage of players who fit in the first category is very small when you look at actual data (and compare it to the behavior patterns recognized as unhealthy addiction in gambling, for example), we should be concerned about the fact that public perception — even from our own players — would put far, far more people into the ‘unhealthy spend’ category, because there’s a fundamental feeling that any significant amount of money spent in the game is money that didn’t result in meaningful value.”

To put it simply: “If you sat down right now and dropped $60 on Remember Me, and the quality of the game was what you expected, would you feel the same about that as if you sat down right now and dropped $60 on Clash of Clans? A lot of people wouldn’t, even if they play the games for the same length of time.”

She continues, “Is it the intangibility of virtual goods? The fact that once you buy Remember Me, it doesn’t ask you to spend that same amount again next week?”

The International Social Games Coalition is a group that was set up earlier this year, with the aim to better educate people about the inner-workings of the social games business. I spoke with the group’s CEO Luc Delany regarding my findings.

(I should note at this point that the ISGC was set up by Zynga alongside a variety of social casino game companies, and it was a Zynga representative that suggested I talk to Delany. I say this not to undermine any of Delany’s points, but rather to give you the full picture when reading his views, and to explain why much of the discussion is focused around comparing free-to-play “whale” spending with “whale” spending in the gambling industry.)

“Lots of people have tried to draw the parallel between people spending money in social games, and real-money gambling,” he tells me. “However, the motivations for playing a gambling game versus any other game, or any other type of entertainment, are very different.”

He notes that in gambling games, there is a risk of loss, and the opportunity of winning — therefore the addiction that players have to free-to-play games is very different.

“There is a documented history of people being addicted to video games, and other forms of entertainment,” he adds. “I spend too much money on iTunes, and films I’ll never watch, just because I make an impulsive buy. People spend so much money on handbags, on golf clubs, on all kinds of other forms of entertainment, but gambling is very clearly defined as games where there is a stake, a chance, and a win or loss.”

I ask him about the example of Chris purchasing Team Fortress 2 “keys” in the hope that he will be rewarded with an “unusual” item, and then continuing to purchase keys until he found such an item. Isn’t there an element of stake and chance there?

“I don’t see it as the same issue as gambling,” he answers. “Under that scenario, how do you compare it to certain TV shows that are essentially the same thing? People text in to play along with a game, trying to find the money in the box — yet that’s not a regulated gambling service. As a society, we’ve judged that to be the motivation of a payout, that creates a certain risk amongst players. Therefore we’ve decided that this level of regulation is necessary.”

Delany is keen to stress that social games are already heavily regulated — there are consumer rights, data protection acts, unfair commercial practice directives, and more — and he questions, “Is there proof that this form of entertainment is more harmful or addictive than other forms of entertainment?”

At this point, I questioned how harmful or addictive a free-to-play game would have to be before we, as an industry, should have to take it seriously.

“I don’t have an answer for that,” answers Delany. “If you look at stories about people being addicted to things, whatever is the latest form of entertainment gets hit with that badge. In the ’90s it was games consoles, in the ’80s it was television, before then it was radio — radio was going to destroy culture etc. So it’s not a new discussion, that people scrutinize new forms of entertainment. It’s a healthy part of society.”

“However,” he adds, “today there is no evidence to suggest that this is a particularly dangerous form of entertainment, as opposed to any other form of entertainment that people spend money on. We know that people spend too much money is all forms of entertainment.”

The road ahead

There’s a lot to take in here, and clearly my delving into the underbelly of free-to-play is just the tip of the iceberg. Whichever way the signs appear to point, a hell of a lot more research is needed to truly paint the full picture of what is going on behind the scenes.

It’s clear that no-one’s idea of a good step forward is to get government bodies involved in the process, regardless of whether it would benefit free-to- play players or not. As part of my due diligence for this article, I did get in touch with both the Federal Trade Commission and the UK’s Office of Fair Trading, to assess their views. I don’t expect to hear back from them for a while, given the volume of correspondence they no doubt receive, but I plan to relay any response to do receive.

In the meantime, it would seem foolish to let the topic lie, especially while the conversation is well and truly flowing. While research into the potential psychological elements of free-to-play game design continues, it’s my hope that free-to-play studios will at least take a hard look at the current design manifestos being carted around, and consider how they may be affecting the lives of their players.

篇目2,What it means to be a ‘whale’ — and why social gamers are just gamers

By Stephanie Carmichael

The “whales” of the social-gaming world are a mystery to most of us. As the biggest spenders, they make up a tiny group (think about 2 percent of audiences) that drives most of the revenue for publishers of these games. But the word “whale” isn’t a flattering term, and neither are the numbers associated with it. These are people, not just customers.

It’s easy to think of whales anonymously because we’re not quite sure who they are or how they think — they’re often elusive due to the stigma that surrounds them. We know they play social games, but are they social? Are their habits casual or obsessive? What kind of people are they?

Whale’ has many meanings

Whales existed in online and mobile video games long before they started appearing in the West. Longtime game analyst Michael Pachter told GamesBeat that Asia has used free-to-play with microtransactions for 15 years, but it still feels like a relatively new phenomenon here as we wonder whether the business model holds a place in our future.

Today, the idea of a “whale” carries a different weight for each company. 5th Planet Games, a developer of social games for both casual and hardcore audiences, starts classifying its players as whales when they spend $100 or more a month. That’s a big jump from whales on Facebook, for instance, where social gamers could drop $25 per month to meet the same qualification.

5th Planet chief executive Robert Winkler revealed at the Game Developers Conference Online in 2012 that with its game Clash of the Dragons, 40 percent of revenue came from 2 percent of players who spent $1,000 or more. Ninety percent came from those who spent $100 or more, and the top whale had spent $6,700.

Other companies, like social casino developer Blitzoo, defines various categories of whales based on a combination of factors: total money spent, playtime, experience points earned in-game, and so on. Play sessions tend to be three or four times longer than what an average player’s would be.

But these are all still numbers, not faces or personalities. Winkler told us that a strong sense of community is important for encouraging whales to not only engage but also monetize, and that’s a clue to who they are as people.

“We’ve found that most players are more willing to spend money to help out their fellow gamers than to try to defeat them,” he said. “As an example, players who take part in our ‘guilds,’ or groups of players who come together to accomplish communal missions, are 8.5 times more likely to monetize than players who do not belong to a guild, and the ARPU [average revenue per user] of players in our guilds is 53 times higher than other players.”

For that reason, building community is a huge priority for 5th Planet. It’s a way to attract more whales and monetize more successfully.

“This could be by participating in your forums, by running contests and giveaways, by forming special guilds or councils, or simply by talking directly with your players and showing that you’re listening,” said Winkler. “When players feel like they’re part of community, they become more invested in the outcome of game. And when they’re more emotionally invested in the game, they’ll invest with their wallets as well.”

5th Planet declined to inform us whether their whales receive any special benefits, and as for whether these players subsidize the game for others, it only said, “As with any free-to-play game, there are a group of paying players, including whales, whose in-game [spending] allows game houses to bring new, fresh, and updated content to all players.” We were unable to acquire responses from the other companies we spoke with for this article.

Are whales different from ‘normal’ gamers?

Talking to whales isn’t easy; their habits and relationships with social-game publishers are touchy subjects. But as I found with one player, Greg Genega — who allowed us to identify him by name and also goes by the handle “Bludex” — all you have to do is disarm their defenses a little. Aside from the amount he spends every month ($100 on average and sometimes as much as $400), he shares many of the same interests and concerns of regular gamers.

Like many whales, Genega prefers to stick with one or two games — in his case, 5th Planet’s Clash of the Dragons (a free social massively multiplayer online role-playing card game) and Legacy of Heroes (a free collectible card game). He doesn’t stray much into other platforms.

“To me, a game is only as good as its following and associated community,” he said. “Without quick queue times for competitive events and a bustling forum, games tend to lose interest with me.”

He’s not exactly glued to his computer screen, though. Genega says he plays for roughly 20 minutes in the morning and one to three hours in the evening. Just because he spends a lot of money doesn’t mean this routine conflicts with everyday living.

“When I’m at work, I barely have any time to think about games,” he said. “However, most of my social time with friends involves lots of gaming. Board games, card games, going to a casino, playing Magic [the Gathering], etc. So gaming is very important to my social life.”

That’s social life outside of games, not necessarily in them. Genega supervises a network operations center for a large company and enjoys active pursuits like hiking and eating out at restaurants. That’s part of why he doesn’t prefer single-player experiences.

“I’m a social being at heart,” he said. “When there’s nobody to share my experience with — whether it be some friendly trash-talking or a virtual high-five of an accomplishment — the games just become less interesting.”

He doesn’t leave those friendships solely online, either. “I have friendships going on 10 years or more with people I game with online that I’ve almost all met in real life at some point or another,” he said. “I would definitely say gaming has been the main driver in my social life both online and offline.”

Like most dedicated gamers, Genega actively follows news announcements related to the titles he plays, but frequent content additions are what keeps him coming back. With each break he took from Clash of the Dragons, for instance, he returned to check out a new update. And when he played World of Warcraft, he would quit for as long as a year — until Blizzard released a new expansion.

The more we talked, the more Genega opened up about his passions and thoughts on current issues in the industry, but one question remained: How does it feel to be called a “whale”?

Genega sees the term both positively and negatively.

“There are many sore losers out there who can’t afford to put a lot of money into a game they enjoy, and they tend to get angry when they face somebody who does have that money,” he said. “I do feel a little embarrassed about how much I spend on these games, so I tend to downplay it to avoid negative attention. I feel the public generally has a negative opinion on social games since the main one people know about is FarmVille, and generally people get very annoyed with all the game requests on Facebook.”

All whales are not the same

We also interviewed three other whales who frequent the social network Tagged. The first two are highly successful: “Guiseppe,” a 41-year-old from the Bronx, and “Andy N.,” who chose to remain anonymous. Both own companies and are fairly active, just like Genega.

Guiseppe is a father to two daughters, owns an income-tax business, and works as a chef at a local college. He also plays pool a few times a week — on a team, which again shows how important community and social engagement, both offline and online, are to whales. Meanwhile, Andy puts in about 60 hours a week at his job and travels regularly. His hobbies include investing and learning new languages.

In addition, Ngarangi Chapman, a 49-year-old from Auckland, New Zealand, is majoring in creative writing and works part-time as an agent exporting natural and organic native products. She also imports clothing, blogs, and fosters some online marketing and business ambitions.

All three of them play one game, Pets — a virtual economy where you can buy and sell actual users as “pets,” which helps you to meet new people — so they don’t do more than dabble occasionally on other platforms.

While Chapman admitted to spending $100-$500 a month, she does have to budget her money.

“I don’t smoke, rarely drink, don’t go out, don’t like shopping,” she said. “Sometimes I don’t have the money, sometimes I do, but I don’t stress about it because I know how the game works so much without the use of purchasing gold. However, when I’m feeling vain, I purchase gold so all my pet players can stare at me green with envy as I continually maintain top 10 status in New Zealand.”

Each of the whales confessed to either following announcements related to Pets or knowing when Tagged is updating, maintaining, or making changes without needing to read about them, as in Chapman’s case. And all either have taken breaks and returned or never stopped playing.

Guiseppe and Chapman both emphasized the social aspects of Pets as part of the reason why they enjoy it; however, they don’t necessarily take advantage of the in-game social features. Guiseppe mainly just plays the game but loves “meeting people from around the world and understanding the way of living in different cultures.” Andy doesn’t use the social tools, either, except for e-mail and instant messenger. And Chapman gave a similar response.

“I simply like to play the game,” she said. “In the beginning, I used to take advantage of the features — [such as the capability to] join a group. But now I just like to play and chat to other players I have acquainted with from around the world over the last four years.”
She added, “What I love about social games is how people act. The thing is how they play and act is usually how they are in other areas of their life. Sometimes how they behave is a [reflection] of their true selves. However, what keeps me coming back are the genuine people I have made close friendships over the years. … I love to have that human interaction and shared interest.”

It’s not always about what’s ‘social’

It’s interesting that these whales can appreciate the sense of community that social games offer but not overly invest in their “social” constructs, such as groups or instant messenger.

Genega, the Clash of the Dragons and Legacy of Heroes player, said he actually disliked the types of games that require you to have a large number of friends to help even though he’s developed relationships with many players and leads a busy social life away from his computer. Rather, “the challenge, the competition, and the recognition” are what he loves most.

“I believe social games need to rely less on the amount of friends you bring to the game and more on finding friends within the game,” he said.

That’s a quality that applies to his life as well, and it shows that if you look past the excessive spending, “whales” is just a fancy word for “gamers” who are as passionate as we are. They’re not hermits, and they defy one neat attempt at categorization. Not every whale is the same. Some of them relish the glory of competition — being the top player or owning the most — just as much as they value the fellowship that comes out of it.

篇目3,How do you define whales?

By Zoya Street

Question:

Nicholas Lovell

I’m toying with the idea of defining whales as “those players who represent 50% of your revenue”, meaning that you can quickly get a sense of how whale-dependent your business is.

Is this a good idea and/or benchmark, and if not, why not?

Answers:

Tadhg Kelly Creative Director at Jawfish Games

Is it maybe a bit too relative? I think whales has caught on because its usually tied to a tangible number (> $100) that most managers, accountants, financiers and so on can emotionally understand as well as intellectually.

Patrick O’Luanaigh CEO of nDreams

That definition doesn’t work outside of F2P games – if you’re trying to define ‘whales’, it would be best to have a definition that makes sense to boxed product guys as well (obviously 50% of the revenue for most boxed game comes from 50% of the players). For me, whales are “people who are willing to spend a substantial amount of money on a game that they love”, and the key is setting a value for what a ‘substantial amount’ is – that value being different for different games.

Oscar Clark Evangelist at Applifier

I agree with Tadhg that its too relative and that as an approach is not really statistically useful.

From a User-Centric view (marketing) we want to understand the motivations of the player by category or segment and to define a segment by percentage of revenue doesn’t allow us to understand what is going on. For example if you are poorly monetising a Whale community you may not be getting any players generating (for example) $100 per month or more, and the 50% of profits proposal is of little value as a data point.

Better to segment your audience and identify consistent bands of behaviour to which you can apply meaningful data – e.g. 35-40 female spending $100+ pcm. Only if we can apply this same definition across multiple games does the segmentation stand up for itself and become useful.

Teut Weidemann Online specialist at Ubisoft

Its easier to define once you get rid of the 50% of whatever:

Whales are people who spend 10x ARPU or more.

I guess that also works for Facebook (low arpu) or other f2p games with high arpu. As arpu also includes non payers this also gets rid of the conversion rate as a parameter.

Andy Payne Founder of Mastertronic

In two of our [ little ] worlds namely flight and train simulation, which used to be completely boxed goods about 10 years ago at which point we went digital, we define Whales as those who spend 10 x ARPU which sort of equates to a piece of add on content for their virtual world (flight or train) each and every month. We have hundreds of those. I may even run a report to get the up to date data. These are the same customers who come and visit us at Aviation and Railway shows.

Eric Benjamin Seufert Head of Marketing at Grey Area Labs (via comments)

In my opinion, a top-down approach doesn’t work for “whale spotting” — whales are primarily defined by behavior (revenue spent is the artifact left behind by that behavior), and I feel that grouping them as the “50% (or whatever arbitrary number) of revenue” group doesn’t actually add anything to the organization’s understanding of its players but another graph on the dashboard. If you know, bottom up, who whales are because you’ve identified the behaviors that most whales tend to exhibit, then you can actually use that information to inform the evolution of your game.

As a very high-level benchmark, 50% of revenue is pretty good. One way to proxy bottom-up while still using broad revenue numbers could be to define a whale as someone who has spent at least 1% of the total product catalogue (i.e. if the total product catalogue is €5k then a user who has spent 50€ is a whale)

篇目4,Whales, Dolphins and Minnows–the beating heart of a free-to-play game

By Nicholas Lovell

The secret to a free-to-play game is not volume. It is not about getting millions of users and relying on only a tiny percentage of that enormous volume to cover your costs.

It is about understanding the power-law. You can read more about the concept in my post How much is your game worth? but the secret to success in free-to-play is this:

Free to play not only removes barriers by letting players play the game for free; it removes the upper limit on how much a committed fan spends by removing the purchase price or subscription.

For an ironic take on this concept, see this cartoon on free-to-play from Penny Arcade.

I know of one company with around a quarter of a million registered users that is grossing $3 million a year and another with fewer than 1.5 million MAUs that grosses $20 million. The power-law business model works.

What is the power-law, and how does it work with online

The power law simply expresses the idea that not all customers are equal. Some love your game, some will think it’s so-so. Some will have lots of time and no money, others will be vice versa. Some users are happy spending money for many reasons, ranging from convenience to social status.

By designing your game to allow users to spend different amounts of money – by offering consumable items, aesthetic items, power-ups and the ability to exchange time for money – you unlock the ability to let your biggest fans spend a lot of money with you.

(A note on terminology: the term “whales” for your biggest spenders has become dominant. I don’t like it, because it is a deeply unflattering term. I prefer true fans. But then I realised there is a difference between whales and true fans: true fans spend money because of what you do; whales spend money because of who you they are. Enabling true fans to spend lots of money because they love what you do is entirely ethical; targeting whales who can’t help themselves may not be. For more on this, read Whales, true fans and the ethics of free-to-play gaming.)

Modelling the freemium power-law

For the purposes of this spreadsheet, I split your gamers into three groups:

* Minnows spend the smallest amount possible in a month, typically $1

* Dolphins spend a “middling” amount. Typically I forecast they spend an average of $5 per month

* Whales spend a lot. Typically I forecast they spend an average of $20 per month.

* Freeloaders (see Whales, power-laws and the future of media) are, of course, the fourth group. They are covered by the conversion rate and not considered here)

For more details on ARPPU, see the separate post on this topic – ARPPU in freemium games.

My starting point for what percentage of your users fit in which bucket is:

* Minnows: 50% of payers

* Dolphins: 40% of payers

* Whales: 10% of payers

Note that this is an approximation of the shape of the power law. You can change the percentages and change the ARPPUs as you like. Just be aware that changing the percentages and ARPPU changes the curve that you are predicting. The diagram below illustrates how the spreadsheet approximates the curve.

Benchmarks

It is pretty hard to get accurate, public benchmarks for how to separate the minnows from the dolphins and the whales. Many companies talk about their ARPPU in round terms. Bigpoint, for example, says that its ARPPU is larger than that of World of Warcraft. That hides a massive concentration amongst the whales.

We’ll keep digging to find publicly available splits of users into whales, dolphins and minnows. However, since it is an approximation to the power law curve, that may take us a long time.

In the meantime, I suggest you work with:

* Minnows: 50%

* Dolphins: 40%

* Whales: 10%

It’s what I’ve seen across many of my clients, but you’ll just have to take that on trust.

篇目5,Lessons on Mobile Gaming from a Whale

by Mike Lu

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.

The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

My name is Mike Lu and I am the VP of Product at GREE. I’ve worked on many of our successful top-charting titles – Modern War, Kingdom Age, Crime City – and I am a huge gamer myself. One of the best things about working in the video game industry is the “research” part of the job. This is probably not a shock to people, but research for us usually means playing a lot of video games.

This tradition is not just limited to our industry, but learning from others is a great way to improve one’s craft. Take for example, my favorite Sushi restaurant in San Francisco: Akiko’s.

On their days off, the chefs at Akiko’s make it a point to try various restaurants to observe and learn in order to get a better idea of what their potential patrons like and don’t like. Which is exactly why we like to play all kinds of games!

This is no different for mobile and a lot of my work involves playing other games which include mobile, console, and PC – all to understand the needs and wants of the players or potential players out there – and specifically to understand the type of player known as “whales.”

One of the elements that make free-to-play unique is that we give the games away for free and then are dependent on players enjoying the game and any new content enough to spend within that game. The majority of the revenue comes from an even smaller group (the “whales”). So what is a whale and why do they spend thousands of dollars in the games they love?

As a mobile game maker, I definitely had some ideas about the “why,” but it wasn’t until I became a whale myself that I started to understand the mentality. I had spent thousands of dollars on another company’s mobile game and in doing so I learned a lot about what players are doing in my game. In today’s blog post I hope to share my top three findings of being a whale in mobile games and how someone can incorporate this into their own design.

1) Whales never spend frivolously

Before I became a whale I was under the impression that whales simply just spend to alleviate their inconveniences. “Spend $9.99 to replenish your health instead of waiting ten minutes.” Sure, I spent in these areas but I often felt it wasn’t a good investment. I could put that $9.99 into getting something that will have a long-term impact to my game. Even after spending thousands of dollars I was still very careful about what it is I spent that money on. Don’t assume that if you put a $200 item in the game that whales will just grab it up for no reason; or that if you added a speedup in X, all whales will just gobble it up. Each purchase I made was calculated, and it had to make sense to the game. Give them something that’ll impact the game in the long term, like allowing them to research more than X slots, or changing the output of a resource by n%. Make the value of what they’re buying truly worthwhile and you’ll see them purchase again and again.

That brings us to my second point.

2) The true value ratio.

Part of being a whale allowed me to understand that players often associate a true value to what they’re spending in the game. The concept is fairly simple, if a new item came out that cost $100 but was “worth” $200, I’ll gladly buy it because I think I’m getting a good deal. Spenders have all created this association in game and the reward or ROI from what’s being purchased is very clear. A great example of this occurrence happened by accident in one of our games. One of our limited-edition packages was set to only allow players to purchase one at a time. However, there was an engineering bug that allowed players to buy multiple packages and when players found out purchases went up by 1000%. Some even bought a hundred packs in fear that we would soon discover the bug and turn it off. There was no set back to the game for players purchasing that many packs, but the whales were driven to believe that they were getting such a great true value ratio that they were willing to keep purchasing.

3) Leave it to chance

When I was in the height of my addiction to one particular game, I was really drawn to the chance system. I would find myself continuing to take advantage of that gameplay feature with the mantra ”I know I’ll get the legendary in the next pack” constantly running through my head. The idea that what I was getting wasn’t guaranteed seemed to be counter intuitive to traditional game design, but this aspect of free-to-play design really works for players like me (whales). I was essentially “gambling” on what my reward was each time; and trust me, the one time I did get a legendary item I was so happy that I literally jumped up and high fived the guy next to me.

4) Whales are just like you and me

When we think of these “whales” we often imagine them as rich people with a ton of disposable income. Research has showed that “whales” are way more average than that. Basically – they can be anyone. There is not one defining characteristic or profile that allows us to specifically pre-determine who could be a whale or a specific demographic to target. We have had whales that are male, female, in the military, doctors, lawyers, mothers, students – basically all walks of life. What does that mean? Well it means we need to stay focused on building great games with great content for any and all players.

So – what do all these findings mean for game developers? Well, the first take-away I hope you get here is how important it is to get to know and understand what makes your players tick. That rule applies whether you are free-to-play or not, console, mobile, PC, RPG, racing – basically anything. Know your players. Play the games and understand how and why they do things, so you know that you are giving them and spending the resources on content that people will actually want.

The second key piece is to remember that players spend strategically. There is no success in throwing up expensive items and hoping people buy them – there has to be meaning in the content (which is why it is so important to know your players and know the game). Players aren’t looking to line your pockets, but to make their gaming experience better and they are thinking long-term about each move they make. That’s a good thing. Players are committing to your game. It’s your job to make sure you are equally committed to theirs.

Third and last, remember that there is no playbook on how to reach “whales.” No perfect demographic to target or type of player to look for. And, despite looking for those player patterns, it turns out that it really is all about fun. The quality of the game and gameplay experience is what will draw in players – and specifically “whales” – so my advice is to stay focused on making those great.