The free to play (F2P) business model has been with the games industry for years, yet we hardly understand it. This past week I’ve chanced across a few different items which explore aspects of the F2P model.

Back in November, the IGDA Phoenix group had a presentation on F2P methodologies. It’s a good presentation and provides some insights into a few popular F2P games and how their design decisions make sense.


Whales are people. In social and F2P games, developers refer to people who spend a lot of money on a game as whales. The vast majority of gamers (>90%) who play free games never spend on them regardless of how many in-app purchases a game offers. So the business model has boiled down to getting as many players as possible then hoping that someone out there will love the game so much they spend a TON of money on it.

Game developers have always assumed that this random approach is logical. Even though, developers also assumed that the people spending ~$50 on a game must be crazy.

Ubisoft just did some research on whales and why found out that whales are more rational than assumed.

“One thing that came across was this concept of ‘whales’ was really framing how developers and our marketing folks were thinking about what drives high-value spenders. [The assumption was] it’s impulsive, more irrational, kind of hedonistic behavior,” Yee said. “What we found was almost the exact opposite. Instead of being impulsive, they were long-term thinkers, cool-headed, methodical, and they really supported the game.”

The article continues…

“It’s really understanding those people as hobbyists,” Ducheneaut said. “They’re committed to a hobby. They invest resources in their hobby, just like someone would in model trains, figure skating, or whatever. It’s no different than that.”

Ducheneaut and Yee can relate, as they have their own sometimes costly hobbies. For Ducheneaut, it’s sailing. As for how Yee gets rid of pesky disposable income, he said painting miniatures helps. Of course, they’re no strangers to gaming either, and hope that their work will help make the industry a better place for anyone who counts gaming among their hobbies

Clash of Clans

Supercell’s Clash of Clans has been a huge success and their sequel of Boom Beach looks to prove Supercell’s design choices are rather smart.

Redditor wolfawap spent some time and researched how Clash of Clans puts a price on time. The short of it is “they seem to set fixed prices for fixed time milestones like 1 minute = 1 gem, 1 hour = 20 gems, 1 day = 260 gems, etc.”.

Having looked into F2P social games on a few occasions it’s nice to see pretty graphs backing up what we already know:

Let’s try interpreting the data differently. Think of it in terms of cost in gems to skip 1 second. Skipping more time costs more money, but you get a better deal. Think of it as a set of increasing discounts.