Super Whales: Top Social Game Spenders Pay More than $10,000 Apiece for Virtual Goods

By now, most people in the social gaming industry have heard about “whales”, those players who spend massively on virtual goods and gifts in games like Mafia Wars or Happy Aquarium. Whales have become a significant source of revenue for social game companies, especially in light of the tiny numbers of users, well under 10 percent for almost all social games, who ever pay anything at all.

Payments platform Social Gold has spent a lot of time this year talking about whales, which it has defined as users spending over $1,000. That measurement seems to pose a new question: if $1,000 is the baseline for becoming a whale, how much do the biggest spenders — the pod leaders, if you will — spend?

We checked in with the company to find out. And, well, let’s just say that there are some social gamers out there who really like their games.

Listed above, you can see the top five individual spenders within Social Gold’s network. According to the company, most whales are “pretty single-minded” — meaning that you can assume most of them spent their money in a single, beloved game. And to give perspective, we’ve included the average for all spenders.

The amount these leading whales are paying out looks pretty shocking, but whales are not strictly a new phenomenon. Before social gaming took off, there were casual game players spending profligately on their favorite titles; for instance, several years ago Andrew Busey of (now part of Challenge Games, which just got bought by Zynga) told me that his game had attracted a set of hedge fund employees who competed to out-spend each other, paying over a thousand dollars each for armor and weapons.

But social gaming on Facebook has rocketed the casual market into the stratosphere, not only in terms of how many people are playing, but also in spending levels. What’s really surprising about the above figures is not just that someone would pay as much for virtual goods as they might spend on a new car, but that Social Gold tracked these five spenders over a period of just six months, since last November.

So what’s coming for the future? Spending on social games is open-ended, so some of the users who have paid out the most so far may simply continue their habits, racking up tens of thousands more dollars in purchases and eventually crossing into six-figure territory.

We can’t see any more about the five top spenders listed above — digging more deeply might present privacy issues — but the assumption of even larger whales in the future seems safe. The same features of social games that are designed to nudge non-spenders into shelling out a few dollars will also inevitably encourage people with large bank accounts to pour ever more money into their hobbies, even if social game companies don’t encourage extreme spending.

However, while it’s easy to imagine headlines about millionaires reduced to rags by their social gaming addictions, the future will inevitably paint a more complex picture. Social games are headed for real virtual economies, in which virtual goods retain value after being purchased; alongside people who make unwise investments, there will also be some who maintain their habit healthily, or even turn a profit.

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20 Responses to “Super Whales: Top Social Game Spenders Pay More than $10,000 Apiece for Virtual Goods”

  1. Patrick says:

    On the contrary, if the history of markets has taught us anything it’s that a reversion to the mean is inevitable. That we’re even discussing these outliers as being a “significant” source of revenue belies that the pullback in social games has some quarters yet to go.

  2. chris ennen says:

    Second Life seems like evidence that profit is available in a virtual goods economy.

  3. Cameron Ellis says:

    These are probably poker bots. Seriously, who on earth would spend that much? I don’t even think there’s $25,540 worth of virtual goods in the deepest games to consume for one individual.

  4. Super Whales: Spelers spenderen elks meer dan 10.000 dollar aan hun favoriete spel says:

    [...] redactie van de website Inside Social Games kregen exclusief inzicht in de cijfers van Social Gold, de maatschappij die de financiële afhandeling van deze virtuele [...]

  5. Very Important Trend: We are living in a… « /SAbackchan says:

    [...]   [...]

  6. DPH says:

    Me thinks Mark Pincus is taking that DST money and having his own employees use it on virtual goods on their titles.

  7. SG dev says:

    This happens way more than any social game dev will ever admit. Also 25k is no where near the highs I have seen. Some people have more money than you and I can imagine.

  8. Super Whales Spend Thousands of Dollars in Social Games | Frisky Mongoose says:

    [...] becoming a “whale” is $1,000. That’s a lot of money to be the starting point and Inside Social Games investigated what “super whales” are spending in the social game [...]

  9. Chris Morrison says:

    SG dev — Hearing some much higher numbers was actually what led me to looking into this article.. some nearing $100k. Could not confirm those figures, though.

  10. Sg dev says:

    Chris – yes I’ve seen over 100k. No dev will admit it but rev % are nearly identical to the casino industry. 90% of revs come from 5% of those who pay and 50% come from the top 1%. (of course I’m talking about cash payments and not revs from ads/offers)

  11. It’s Good To Be King – Social Games Monetization By User Segment (Part 1 of 2) « Social Gold | Virtual Currency. Real Commerce. says:

    [...] in more social gaming stats? To see our data on top spenders in social games, check out this article from Inside Social Games. If you’re interested in the impact of holidays on virtual goods sales, [...]

  12. Where in the World is the Money? (Part 2 of 2) « Social Gold | Virtual Currency. Real Commerce. says:

    [...] to learn more social gaming stats? To see our data on top spenders in social games, check out this article from Inside Social Games. To read about the impact of holidays on virtual goods sales, you can [...]

  13. Super Whales: Big Money Spenders in Social Games « Social Gold | Virtual Currency. Real Commerce. says:

    [...] Morrison’s recent article on Inside Social Games, “Super Whales: Top Social Game Spenders Pay More than $10,000 Apiece for [...]

  14. DLC and the New Face of Free | RunFish says:

    [...] party hats in Second Life, hold on to your butts because $25 is hardly the ceiling. An article at Inside Social Games mentions an online game that “…had attracted a set of hedge fund employees who competed to [...]

  15. Quora says:

    Who or what are “whales” in Social Games?…

    Whales are social game players who spend far more than average on virtual goods, the threshold currently being over $1,000 in a social game.  These “whales” basically carry all of the players who spend nothing or very little. There is also a concept …

  16. How about a gaming PaaS? – Jim Kaskade says:

    [...] users”, you know whether you have a dud or something with a nice ROI (lots of “whales” or gamers who spend massively on virtual goods and gifts). Also, if you’re fortunate, [...]

  17. Quora says:

    What percentage of social gamers purchase virtual goods? How much do they spend on average?…

    It varies significantly from game to game: A safe ballpark is 2-15% gamers “pay” for currency. MMOs with hardcore gamers end up converting much higher, whereas casual gamers convert lower. This percentage also strongly depends on the gameplay: how diff…

  18. A Flickr Founder’s Glitch: Can A Game That Wants You To Play Nice Be A Blockbuster? » The Global Market says:

    [...] make tens of millions of dollars off selling outfits seems preposterous until you remember that the business model behind many social games acknowledges that the key to success is not about getting everyone to fork over a certain amount of [...]

  19. Motivate. Play. - GDC Online – Playdom presents: The Year in Social Games says:

    [...] effective in that pursuit. In the words of the presenters, competitive games like these are “whale breeding [...]

  20. Zynga’ya Ne Oldu? | Sosyal Medya says:

    [...] daha rekabetçi hardcore oyuncular daha fazla para ödüyor. Bunun sonucu olarak, kumarhane dilinde “balina” diye tabir edilen astronomik harcama yapan oyunculara daha çok [...]

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