Game Development Reference
users account for a disproportionate amount of the total revenue they collect.
Somewhere under 0.5 percent of a social game's average user base is likely
to give you far more money than is average. (The term favored by designers
for this type of user is the “whale,” as described earlier, which isn't intended
to be as impolite as it sounds.) By using metrics properly, you can ferret out
which of your customers fall into this category. These are the players you most
want to cultivate and reward. Just as Vegas offers complementary rooms for
their big spenders and strip bars keep a VIP section for their best customers, so
too should you determine a valuable reward system for those players who have
shown themselves to be most willing to reward you.
Zynga noticed this phenomenon and, according to many sources, 3 formed
a private club for their top spenders called the Zynga Platinum Purchase
Program. This program allows users to buy credits in higher than nor-
mal amounts and offers discounts on Zynga's virtual currencies. Zynga has
remained tight-lipped about this service, perhaps because it has already
received some negative publicity equating Zynga to a “dealer” servicing their
“addicts.” But despite this sort of sensational melodrama, the core business
principal is sound. By gathering metrics or using some of the programs built
in to certain platforms (like hi5's SocioPay), smart social game developers can
tailor their offerings to a particular customer subset. Not interested in paying
anything? We'll serve you up more ads, and the Farmer's Blimp will visit your
farm once per day (or hour, or minute). Comfortable with spending $3 per day?
Let's make sure to give you game challenges that encourage sustained, daily
spending at that level. Comfortable dropping $60 on a some new in-game gear?
Perhaps we should match you with other users who have formed a guild outfit-
ted in only the finest that money can buy. By studying your users' pay patterns,
you can custom-tailor the game experience to them. Doing this sort of thing
requires smart analyses of the various metrics, as well as creative, flexible game
design, but sustained efforts in this area can radically boost your revenue.
“But Tim, why can't we just do it all?” you may ask. The answer is, maybe
you can! Many of the above-mentioned models work well in concert, allowing
developers to appeal to a variety of users and monetize them in various ways.
As social games evolve in sophistication, the number that rely on only a single
one of these methods will continue to shrink. For example, Activision's Call of
Duty franchise (which evolved into a “social game” solely on the strength of its
multiplayer community) has begun incorporating both a traditional premium
sales model, the PDLC model and—as of last month—a subscription model for
users who want advanced functionality in their multiplayer experience.