Are you a whale or a shrimp? Video game developers know it

By Elliot Bullman

Through the use of algorithms, games software developers recognize the trends in players to make them spend money while playing video games.

“Whales”, “shrimp” and “dolphins” are marketing categories for gamers.

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In the current videogame industry, titles like Clash Royale and Pokémon Go are free for most people, while there are a small number of players who are willing to pay for extras like owning special weapons and gaining more lives. Game developers must achieve a delicate balance between this free model that attracts the masses and at the same time, motivate the big spenders.

And they need both to achieve a successful game. Videogame environments are an important source of data because each interaction is recorded.

A key challenge in free games is to maintain a healthy ecosystem of players who spend a lot (called whales) and those who never pay (shrimp). In the industry, which tends to use terms of marine biology, they call occasional dolphin spenders.

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Whales usually represent 1 percent of all players, but they generate half of the revenue. Although shrimp may seem irrelevant to developers because they do not pay, they are essential, because users do need competition from others to deliver their money. Whales need bait constantly.

For years Japanese and South Korean game developers have specialised in the art of making money with free download games have used the so-called live operations teams that use events, competitions and limited time offers to loosen gamers’ wallets. As these techniques mature, companies seek artificial intelligence to influence players: strategies similar to those used by Google and Facebook in targeted advertising.

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Tokyo-based software company Silicon Studio Corp. tries to help by offering developers complex algorithms to create a psychological profile of each player. They can predict how long people will play, what levels they can achieve, how much money they can spend and on what.

"The game data is perfect for studying human behavior," said Africa Perianez, data scientist at Silicon Studio and nuclear exphysics at the European nuclear research organization, CERN. "It will change the industry, it will change the direction of personalized games."

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