Time whales
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 April 2013, 5:16 am
I find it interesting that there is a term ("whales") for people who spend a lot of money on a Free2Play game, but nothing equivalent for people who spend a lot of time. People like me, that is older gamers with a good job, a family, and lots of other things to do every day, are more likely to spend more money on games. Younger people with less disposable income, but more disposable time are more likely to grind their way to success. That isn't really a question of changing attitudes, it is simply a consequence of the fact that a unit of money or time changes value with age for most people: $1 gets less valuable over the years, while 1 hour of free time gets more valuable. People simply spend that what they have more of.

One game I am currently playing every day is Anno Online (in German beta, the English closed beta will start next week). You can't possibly play that for hours in one session, as you run out of resources after building a few new buildings, and then need to wait hours to produce those resources again. That makes this a perfect game for me, playing it for under 15 minutes each twice a day and making nice progress. You can play for free, but then the sequence of needs of your population, rarity of space to build on, and limited number of islands you can colonize will much restrict your options. So I spent money on buying three (out of four possible) island slots, which not just increases the speed at which I gain resources and thus progress in the game, but also gives me significantly more freedom, and the option to optimize things by moving production chains from one island to the next. But as those island slots get exponentially more expensive, the third island slot was already very much a luxury that I wouldn't recommend to everybody. Overall I ended up paying twice the price of a full-price game for this browser game, which isn't quite whale territory yet, but nevertheless more than most people would be willing to spend. But me, I don't regret that purchase, and continue having a lot of fun with the game. And I much prefer Free2Play models where you buy something that has a lasting effect on your game to those where what you buy is temporary or outdated after some time.

But I realize that we live in a culture where spending $100 on a game is considered somewhat weird, while spending 100 hours on a game is considered not very much. It reflects a time to money exchange rate which values 1 hour very low in $ terms, and is more in line with how somebody much younger than me would value his time vs. his money. And that makes me wonder whether we aren't heading for some shift in culture in that respect. First of all, games aren't just for young people any more. The average gamer is 30 years old, and the average age of the most frequent game purchaser is 35. And second we need to consider not just the value of games to gamers, but also the value of gamers to the people who make games: It is obvious that a game company would much prefer customers spending a lot of money on their games to customers that only spend a lot of time.

The reason I believe in a possible shift is somewhat Darwinian: There is an oversupply of games and too many game companies trying to survive, at at some point that turns into the survival of the fittest. And the fittest is the game company that at the end of the month can pay its bills, regardless of whether there are some people complaining in the forums about their business model being "Pay2Win". Which is a rather badly defined term anyway. I am pretty certain that in the long run you need to offer players some in-game advantage for their money, selling just hats isn't likely to be a valid survival strategy. Of course there are many different variations of selling advantages for money, some of which are perceived as being more fair than others. But ultimately success is based on using that difference in perceived value of time and money, and offering the same advantage EITHER for time OR for money, which tends to make the largest possible number of people happy, including the game company.
Tobold's Blog

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