Jimquisition: Monetizing Whales For The Retention Of Virality


New member
Sep 10, 2008
When I read the title for this video I figured it must be something to do with Jim having a stroke while writing it. Now I know about about whalers and now feel even better about playing those FTP games and never giving them a dime.


New member
Jul 16, 2011
Do what I do, avoid free to play games and games that got in app purchase. Most free to play games and games with in app purchase integrate their monetization into the game balance which ultimately fucks up the game. In addition avoid EA games like the plague.


New member
Oct 12, 2009
grimner said:
senordesol said:
*Sigh* Oh Jim. Your heart's in the right place, so I can't be mad at you.

I've been in the F2P industry for a while now, and I have to tell you: being up to date on monetization and retention techniques is crucial and invaluable. "Why not just make good games?" You may ask. "Take a look that the iOS 20 Top Grossing/Top Paid lists" would be my answer.

One company I used to work for, Idle Games, we spent more than a YEAR and a HALF crafting a heartfelt, painstaking, absolutely gorgeous Free to Play game (Idle Worship)(Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3uhzflV8QFQ) Hand-drawn animation, total non-monetizing progression completely possible, lots of humor and spirit. It lasted less than a year. Now Idle Games only makes casino games.

This isn't to say that you have to completely lose your soul in order to be effective in the F2P market; but you have to be aware of *who* is buying, how much, where, and why. My studio would *LOVE* to make a classic-style RPG for the mobile phone (in fact, I had all sorts of ideas about how to do it when I came on to my company) but there's no apparent money in that. Those exist in the mobile market; but people just don't seem to be buying them.

So be as mad as you want that the F2P industry is rather cynical in terms of how it views its clientele but remember that consumer entertainment is a democracy, and everyone votes with their wallets.

I believe that you make some serious and extremely valid points that are somewhat unadressed throughout the thread.

I would ask you this, though: What do you think went wrong with the release of Idle Worship? An overtly generous f2p system? Were many people downloading the game? If so, were many people playing, yet not paying? How was the game received? Was it well marketed? Sorry for 3rd degreeing you, just trying to get a handle on that side of things and think on ald the things that can conceivebly go wrong.

But, insofar as Jim is arguing from the viewpoint of the consumer, I do inevitably empathise with his argument. And I do believe there is a fine line in earning a living and turning a profit from a product ( which obviously implies studying the market and find ways to engage buyers to your product) and actively treating that same consumer base as "whales" and using exploitative and ethically questionable systems. There's little excusing in the business practices of an EA, Crytek or Square Enix, to name 3 examples of major studioes dabbling in microtransactions (with the first two actually including them in full priced games), and even less excuse for seminars on dealing with the fallout of shady business practices rather than avoiding them in the first place.
I'd say the issue with IW was that it was a little *too* polished. Had I any rank at the time I worked there, I would have argued we were release-ready five months before we actually released. Now the game sure did shine after an additional 5 months of polish; and we had a HUGE fanbase (for what we were), but making that money back just proved impossible; the spending just wasn't there. Then a lot of people (including me) were out on their asses. Could we have been saved if we had released early? I actually don't rightly know. It's quite possible that it was just *too easy* to not spend money on that game (there was many a heated meeting over that). The DAUs were rights, the DSPUs were right, but the almighty ARPDAU was all wrong.

My time there was wonderful; I met many warm, friendly people ready and eager to make IW the best game they could make it -some of whom remain my friends even today- but I learned some harsh, harsh lessons from the experience. Lessons I was able to apply to great (and very calculated) effect later at a new job. When Jim began listing the various monetization sessions in the video; I'm sure he meant to evoke ire or derision, but I heard nothing that struck me as unreasonable.

Are some companies shamelessly exploitative? Absolutely! Without question! And they're only making it harder for the rest of us. Do I wish there was more 'game' in F2P Games? Of course I bloody do! But a solid and studied understanding of monetization and retention models will not hurt your studio. Your ability to deliver what your players crave even if they don't know they crave it and (more importantly) how to leverage that to make money...well, it's everything. Because no one comes to your rescue on that final, dismal walk to the train station. As a company, not every decision you make is going to be a popular one; so you better know how to handle backlash. Not every game you make will be a profitable one; so the ones that are need to be milked for all they're worth. And it doesn't have to have anything to do with greed (some do, but you'd probably be surprised by how few). Can't monetize those teens? Say goodbye to half of your engineering staff. Can't get those Whales to sing? Well, the art department only needs to be *so* big.

So instead of thinking that every mobile or F2P dev is a Snidely Whiplash trying to fleece you; know that any money you give him is money you *chose* to give him; whatever practices he might employ. And know that if you offer a product for free with the mere option to pay, you had better hope you made something people are willing to pay for.


New member
Dec 4, 2008
truckspond said:
There was a distinct absence of mic drop in that episode. Maybe that's because I didn't purchase the expansion pack which adds said mic drop as well as a new character skin.

Seriously now: "Whales"? THAT's what they call their paying customers now? WHALES!? Anyone who uses that term to describe a paying customer can just f$&# right off!
No it's saddly worse
in FTP mobile "games" something like 1% of the player base is spending 80% of the money.
Whales are that small player base, the ones with possible addition problems and/or are kids.



Cynical bastard
Dec 9, 2008
F2P is a poison... yes, yes, those one or two games you know of do it right, but 99% is shit and they're trying to bush F2P shit on us even more.. more microtransactions... more DLC.

The more they strategize to squeeze money out of people for less content, the less I care about what piracy does to them.

Atmos Duality

New member
Mar 3, 2010
You, know, this talk of referring to customers as "whales" and "minnows" reminds me a lot of Blue Ocean Strategy.

And if you don't know what Blue Ocean Strategy is...at the risk of oversimplification, it's basically a market-business model that focuses exclusively on adage "There's a sucker born every minute."

There's a bit more to it than that, but the concept assumes that there's enough demand rotating in and out of a market at any given time that you don't need to focus on (or listen to) existing customers and should instead constantly court new customers.

Which unfortunately can lead to a mentality that treats customers as disposable sacks of blubber to be gutted and dumped, because, who cares? There's plenty more big spenders out there, might as well tap them for what they're worth.

"Hunting whales in the Blue Ocean" as it were.

Obviously, more savvy gamers will recognize a cash grab when they see one, but that's the trick of Blue Ocean; it targets the unknown, in this case the naive new potential customers; the new markets who don't necessarily know what's good and what isn't.

I'm not surprised that these strategies are being applied to the newer markets (casual and mobile especially) and game archetypes like F2P and Freemium.


New member
Dec 28, 2007
Well, I put together a bit of a post summing up my own response to this video: http://beyondthepolygons.wordpress.com/2014/03/24/a-response-to-jim-sterlings-monetizing-whales-for-the-retention-of-virality-video/

If you're not interested in my wall of text, however, my google searches did reveal a few fun links:

- Monetizing Teens in a Safe and Legal Manner: http://schedule.gdconf.com/session-id/828320

That appears to be the panel that Sterling opened up the video talking about.

- The #monetizing #teens #GDC panel: http://storify.com/10rdBen/the-monetizing-teens-gdc-panel-thurs-20th-march?awesm=sfy.co_qRdS

One of people at the panel put up a post about it too. Fairly innocuous stuff focusing on the legal issues surrounding teens playing F2P games and that you need to make sure the parents have control of the purse at all times. Granted, some of the innocuousness might be a reaction to the reaction to the panel's name... but hard to say at this point.

- You Own the Game but the Community Owns You: http://schedule.gdconf.com/session-id/826308

I think this is the "Backlash" panel that Sterling ended the video talking about. The desc is a bit douchey, I gotta say, but it's understandable given...

- I'm Going To Murder Your Children: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/jimquisition/7955-Im-Going-To-Murder-Your-Children

A video put out by Sterling last year about how the backlash to events in the industry can become hyperbolic, offensive and other shit that players can direct at the deveoplers and publishers and such. Seems like a panel on dealing and reducing backlash is... probably a good idea in the end.

Username Redacted

New member
Dec 29, 2010
Full disclosure: I did not thoroughly read the comments here.

Point of clarification: I believe the term 'whale' originated with the gambling industry to describe a high roller who isn't actually very good at gambling.

The extension of that term to high spending casual/social gamers sounds, sadly, like a pretty accurate extension of the traditional usage.

That said I think that 'Dishonered' had the right idea when it came to how to deal with whalers:

Redd the Sock

New member
Apr 14, 2010
Wow, don't hold back Jim.

One disagreement though: the handling backlash thing is something all companies need to deal with. Yes, any and all decisions based around screwing over the customer should be killed on sight, but even legitimate decisions about mechanics or artistic direction can get a lot of flak from the consumer base, and it can be made worse in how it gets handled. Complaints about gamer entitlement aren't unwarranted, but they can come off like you expect your audience to clap on your command like a trained seal even when you do something it seems unlikely they'd like. It surprises me how few companies seem to have anyone that knows how to sell an unpopular decision instead of just complaining the customers aren't giving them enough free reign to do whatever they want.


New member
Sep 11, 2008
Man this subject really got under Jim skin, but for very good reason // What was been talked about at GDC seems to be more along the times of "who to stops gamers from hating all the bad stuff we are doing" rather than "We really should stop doing all that bad stuff"



New member
Mar 23, 2009
This is by far the most awesome Jimquisition I have ever seen. Jim you are fast becoming my favorite person on the escapist.


New member
Jun 26, 2013
major_chaos said:
MCerberus said:
A cookie per game you identify from the lists.
I'll take a whack at it.
"Well you already gave us money. Enjoy the hats and free content." Hat Simulator 2012 TF2

"You won't progress as quickly to the big iconic tanks, but whatever." World of Tanks?

"Then you'll just have to play the game to unlock more characters." Marvel Heroes or League of Legends

"We've been giving you free currency since you've been around since before f2p. You'll have an xp penalty though. Oh, and have all these free xp boosters." The Secret World or Tera Online

"You're only renting the guns. Also you can't have these guns that are better than yours." 99% of F2P FPSs

"You're done playing, see you in 12 hours where it turns out no progress was made but log in anyway or you'll get penalized." Dungeon Keeper or facebook games in general

"The first two zones are free. Have fun grinding trash mobs to be able to afford what's next. Also no being part of the economy. Can't have that." No idea -1 cookie ;_;

"You payed for the game, enjoy the cash shop." Guild Wars 2?

"We realize that having a new character on our subscription game means a lot of leveling, give us $60." World of Warcraft
Do I win?

OT: Wow. I'm not surprised the industry has a low opinion of consumers, I'm just surprised that they are this brazen about it.
Cookie for TF2, WoT, LoL, every F2P FPS ever, facebook games, GW2 I guess since it does fit but looking for something else, and WoW


Turtle king
Apr 7, 2012
While I don't think it's wrong to talk about monetizing, since striking a balance between what makes companies money and makes consumers happy is also a way to spin that word. But I couldn't agree more with a seminar about 'managing backlash.' That does make 'backlash' seem somehow like an inevitable part of making mobile games, which I'm pretty sure it isn't. So that being said, lets be a bit cool headed, and say that the mobile game has been huge recently, and has grown faster and stronger then anyone could have expected. and the worst part is the industry doesn't really fit together and when bubbles burst, 3 new ones spring up in its place. So in all honesty, let people talk and realize that certain tactics are good, certain ones are bad, and certain ones really really really piss people off.

Or else EA is gonna reclaim its title as worst company again next year, and every year after that until we stop using cell phones.


New member
Jan 31, 2012
DirgeNovak said:
That was GLORIOUS.
I'd really like a list of people who gave those whale panels so I can never give them a penny ever again.
Of course all the worst offenders were advertising companies and micropublishers, who are greedy bastards pretty much by nature. There's a few shameful devs though. Here's a list of games/devs to avoid. It's not completely exhaustive, but I eyeballed all the panel titles on the list and checked which ones were by actual game developers:

Playmatics (you're not missing much... [http://www.playmatics.com/games.php])
Wooga [http://www.wooga.com/games/]
GSN [http://www.gsn.com/games/] (bunch of casino junk)
FlowPlay [http://www.flowplay.com/corp/products.shtml]
XEODesign [http://www.xeodesign.com/work.html]

Also a whole PILE of seriously shitty panels by Facebook, Google, and Amazon so draw from that whatever conclusions you will.

Edit: here's the list [http://schedule.gdconf.com/list] if you'd care to browse for yourself.


New member
Dec 8, 2013
That was amazing, i was grinning the whole time.. :)

(I did watch the Co-optional podcast and i love how you had to mention that JesseCox is a "fellow Dynasty Warriors fan")


Robots will replace your job
May 28, 2011
When there was a "featured article" about GDC panelists i just wanted to leave a comment of "i learned this year that peopel speaking at GDC are morons", but i thought that was being unfair as i only saw it from perspective of escapist articles. However now looking closer it seems that its more like escapist picked only the good ones and really was far worse. I knew GDC is basically a circlejerk for developers but this is a new low.

senordesol said:
TheHeinousAnus said:
Since when did making a fun game stop being the best marketing tactic?
Since Candy Crush started make $1.5M dollars a day.
The problem is Candy Crush is actually fun (that is, when it does not crash on perfect score BEFORE it remmebers it so you have to try again). I actually played it before the whole king fiasco that made me delete it sicne i dont support shitty companies.

And any microtransactinos in that game is actually optional. i done completely fine without paying a cent actually.