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  • Natalie Markovits

The next big whales

Updated: Sep 6, 2022

Check out our latest webinar hosting Chris Zerathe, a gaming expert with 16 years of experience on the webinar called: "The next big whales", where we discussed how gaming companies can track heavy users of gaming called whales.

What will you listen to in this episode?

1. Chris touches base on what are whales in the games industry and why are these players so crucial for gaming companies.

2. A conversation about how can companies locate these whales and what can they offer to them so they keep spending on the game and stay loyal to it.

3. Chris shares how player feedback can be utilized to understand what these whales want and think about games so companies can improve and optimize to cater to these important players.

4. Lastly, Chris shares some tips on how to reduce player churn and reduce player fatigue to maintain game loyalty and satisfaction.

Audio file



Great. So let's start. Hi, Chris. Thank you so much for joining us.

Speaker - Chris Zerathe:

Hi, Natalie.


So hi, everybody, and thanks for joining us.

What are gaming whales and how do you catch them?

Hi, everyone and welcome to Affogata's Webinar. Today we have the pleasure of hosting Chris Zerathe for our gaming conversation. But first, let's say hi again to Chris. How are you?

Speaker - Chris Zerathe:

I'm very good. Thank you. It's sunny in Paris for now. So crossing my fingers for more good days.


Chris is a gaming industry veteran with 16 years in the industry working on AAA/PC, console games, and mobile games. He spent the last six years developing methodologies and buying listening solutions. In his spare time, he plays a lot of games, whether console or mobile, and he supports his industry a lot.

Today we're going to discuss the issue of catching whales. Don't worry, we're not talking about hunting big fish, but rather the way gaming companies attract heavy users of gaming.

According to data, core gamers called whales represent an extremely small percentage of all players, but they are the ones responsible for up to 50% or more in revenue sales. Since gaming apps usually handle millions of simultaneous users, they are not succeeding in locating them. We want to hear today from our expert, a little about the ways companies can track and catch these whales.

So let's start. Please remember, if you have any questions, write them in the Q&As and we'll ask them at the end.

So, Chris, what can you tell us about the phenomenon of gaming whales?

Speaker - Chris Zerathe:

So it's an exciting topic for sure. As you said. First, what's interesting basically is why the hell are we talking about fish and whales and dolphins, right? So initially what's interesting is that the term comes from the gambling community. It comes basically from the poker scenes where they would see people based on their skills, but also the amount of money that they're able to play at the poker table as either fish or like a shark if it's a professional player.

The free-to-play industry that has been using these terms for a long time now also uses this. And so the way basically the rating systems work a little bit, if you spend basically up to $10 on a regular basis, you would be considered as a fish. If you spend between ten hundred, dolphins. And if you start selling a bit more like buying a bit more like above 100 Euro, you start to be labeled as a whale. But I've got my own category as well. For the people that actually spend like $1,000 or euros, basically on a monthly basis, starts to be a lot of money, which I call Kraken, basically because within the whales, there's a huge difference between someone that spends 100 Euro and someone that's going to spend €1000. It's just ten times more. So it's crazy.

You said it already basically like a very few people can generate a really high number of money basically for the game. So it's super important to understand where those whales are, where they're coming from and things like this. And what's important is that the KPI, the return investment for the whales is not just the money as well. What we've seen a lot is that people that are super invested financially are also super invested in the game, but not in terms just of how much they played the game, but also how socially connected they are to other players. So you will see basically like maybe above 40% to 50% of the whales actually being clan managers or people that basically help with managing clans and clans, basically for mobile games are super important because they help basically keep people retaining the game because the games put a lot of things around how you are just playing on a regular basis.

But more than a game, it starts to be like just a way of life, like it's your friends, you discuss them. So the whales are so super important for sustaining that social aspect of the game as well.


Right? I love the analogy. I love that you have everybody from the sea in the gaming world, so I really, really like it and I can understand why everybody's looking to catch these whales. So what do you think of the importance of locating this world for gaming companies? And also, once they are found, what should companies offer them?

Speaker - Chris Zerathe:

So what's interesting, basically, is that there's no real recipe for catching whales. That's why basically the sea life analogy as well works so well because it's like mobile game companies spend a lot of money on their organization, on the content they create for their ads to capture a lot of players. But it's like they're casting a huge net over, like Facebook ads, TV ads. When you see basically those guys spending money to get Arnold Schwarzenegger to do a TV commercial, you know that if they could basically find a much smarter way and cheaper way to capture whales, they would have thought about it already.

So the way it works is actually kind of like casting a huge net and then crossing fingers that they're going to be able to capture very quickly who is a whale and who is basically going to be like someone's not going to spend money on their games.


Right. I actually really like the analogy of throwing a big net because it seems that there is no direct way of attracting this world, but rather just try to make the best game possible and then you just wish to catch them.

So for the next question, we would love to know what are the ways companies can catch those whales? How is it possible to catch them out of millions of players? I know you mentioned it's so hard, but do you think there are certain tactics that companies can implement?

Speaker - Chris Zerathe:

So, unfortunately, I don't think there's a tactic to catch them. But there are of course basically things that you can do to very early on be able to understand who might be in the future a high standard in your game. So what's interesting to know is that for example losing 80% of your players that started to install the game within the first seven days is considered normal in the mobile industry. Well, which is crazy. Insane, right? So you spend a lot of money basically trying to capture basically a lot of players only to know that you're going to lose 80% of them basically within the first seven days.

So what really is important is you don't have a lot of time to be able to analyze the data and to be able to capture who might be basically the next whale that we absolutely want to keep in our game and that are going to help us basically sustain the game on the social level but also on the economical level. And so it's kind of like very simple on some aspects.

Of course, there are a lot of KPIs mobile games are super driven by data, but one of them is very simple. If you have someone that installed the game and is able to spend €50 within the first hours kind of got a good hint that basically you have someone that might be a potential whale, so after that, it's sort of a matter of how fast you can identify these people, how much basically communication you can send their way and hoping as well that the game that you have is going to interest them. Because of course if you have a lot of people that install games, you also have a lot of people that uninstall or stop playing games because they see an ad and maybe the ad sometimes is not as close to the reality of what the game is. And then if there's a disconnect, basically like there's a high chance of course that you might, unfortunately, lose the person.


Right! At the end of the day, retaining players is way cheaper than acquiring new ones. So it is super important to always optimize your game to decrease churn. So in your opinion, what platform features can gaming companies use in order to retain these whales?

Speaker - Chris Zerathe:

Definitely one of the most important things like I said, is the social features. The first thing basically that whales we want to have. It's super important for them that the social aspects of the game are very present, that they can find people like them that are very invested in the game not just in terms of game time, but also not shy of spending things as I've been in games where some clients call them: “the wallet warriors”, for example. You can see kind of like how some people are bragging about the fact that they are actually spending basically for their favorite mobile game and they're not shy basically to advertise this to the rest.

The other stuff, basically our kind of standards is everything that has to do with rewards. So it might be counterintuitive, but people that spend a lot of money on games also want to get a lot back, not just for the money that they spend, but also, just from playing the game and from the investment in general. Some games are very good at this. Like, they understand, for example, that they need to build features where you may need a lot of resources. You may need to invest not just time, of course, but money as well, to get the best character, the most important resources, basically, in order for you to be able to achieve some events that they are going to have, like very high levels, but they're also going to have very good rewards. And having basically very high-level rewards is super important.

Otherwise, you get people that are like, Why am I spending €200 on the game? But then when I spend those €200, I feel that I'm not progressing. I feel that I'm not able to get to what the game is, what are the best things that the game has to offer? So it's always that balance. That's very hard for me to play games, which is how much free stuff do I give? How much do I gain behind basically content for which you will have to put basically a bit of money? And how much basically, do I ask people to pay to get access to all of this.


Right, getting the right balance is the hard part. And how important do you think is player feedback in finding these whales and providing them with exactly what they're looking for?

Speaker - Chris Zerathe:

So that's wherein the mobile market, what's interesting is that they have, of course, a lot of data, so they see engagement, they see spending levels. What's harder, basically, is how do I get the qualitative aspects of what are people feeling and what they're complaining about and stuff like this?

Because when you look at your app ratings, when you look at Facebook, who's a whale? Who's not a whale? We know from experience, I've been doing some surveys that whales tend to be also very active members of the community. It's normal in a sense because it comes hand in hand with the fact that they are very socially involved with the game in terms of being primary members of clans and stuff like this. But if you have to build the report basically and show it to your product manager, he's going to wonder, like, okay, on Facebook, how much are my whales representative of this opinion or not?

So that's why if you've been around and played games, you'll see that a lot of games will send surveys to their players on a regular basis because they can match the answers of the surveys to how long have they been playing for, how much money have they spent? So that's how they're able to build net promoter scores, for example, for whales versus dolphins. And also for new players versus old-timers, for example.

Surveys are at the heart basically of a lot of qualitative data. But like all things, when you're hunting for answers on surveys, you need to sort them out. So sorting out answers, it's easy if you just have to track the NPS score. But when you have to do a synthesis of thousands of answers, that's where you need to have the proper tools to help you do that qualitative analysis. Otherwise, it's going to be tough.


Especially in gaming. The companies release tons of features, tons of tokens characters on a monthly basis. On a weekly basis. So you do need all of these platforms and tools, such AI, to kind of like gather and analyze all this data. So it makes total sense.

So I also heard that you are tomorrow attending the Paris Blockchain Week Summit. Can you tell us a bit about what you're expecting there? Can you tell us a bit about the event?

Speaker - Chris Zerathe:

So the event is going to have a lot of people very active on the blockchain. So you have a lot of people there. You have some gaming companies that want to build their games using blockchain technologies and using NFTs. You have a lot of platforms that allow you to just trade your currencies, connect you with your wallet, stuff like this. So it's very techy. There are a lot of things. And it's fun because it's a lot of people that are also learning together and building things as they go. Like, I was listening this morning because they started with the NFT Day just today and they were talking about how to work on the biggest challenges, like how do you get a common framework, how do you get things to work together, how the market is going to evolve, which technology is going to win it all, or is there going to be several standards?

So it's still like very much a lot of people building new tech. And as they go and as they work with their own communities, they also build things in a different manner. So it's interesting to see as well how blockchain and community management are very intertwined. There are companies that use a lot of Discord, Telegram, and a bit of Reddit as well. But it's super fun to see how invested they are in listening to their users and understanding. Okay, where should they go? What's the next thing that they need to develop in order basically to ease or to facilitate trading or the whole industry that's using blockchain and leveraging NFTs, and on my side, I hope that I'll be able to meet more actors there's.

One thing that really interests me a lot as a community expert, an avid gamer, is the fact that for many years, listening to the community for games has been really up to the producer. Like, do I have a producer that's super interested in hearing out the community, making changes to what is the community saying? It's a goodwill gesture. But tomorrow with blockchain, if I have players that are very invested in the game, the more they play, the more they spend on their game, the more shares in the form of tokens they gain.

And so what's interesting with the blockchain is the world aspects of what they call the DAO, which is like a form of decentralized organization where the users with the tokens that they've acquired, will be able to vote for how part of the money that the project has been earning will be spent, like developing a new feature, developing basically a new game mode or improving features, for example. So that's super exciting because it's like, okay, power to the community, but not on the goodwill gesture, but with a framework. And we've given basically to the people that will be the most invested in the game. It's still a part that basically is not talked about a lot because NFTs have been trusting all of the discussions and, which blockchain should be used and what currency. And we forget basically that that part is to me, at least the most exciting and refreshing that we could have, especially in the gaming market. So I'm super excited to see this. And I'm pretty sure a lot of whales that spend a lot of money on their game would be delighted to have the ability to get hurt. But in an organized way. It's not just like I talk to you, it's like, okay, you have shares, you have voting rights, this is what you can vote for. What do you want?


I agree. These whales are the core gamers and are the ones that can influence the most. And it's insane how intertwined now gaming and blockchain can be. So it's super interesting. We would love to hear about it afterward.

So, actually, that's on our side of the question. But I already see that there's one question in the Q&A, so I will add them here on the screen for you, and I will continue with the rest because I see that there are a few more.

So here we have a question from Ross. Is it really that important to measure online brand game community reputation to attract or create more whaleish, users, and why?

Speaker - Chris Zerathe:

So it's actually very interesting. It's a very interesting question. So if I rephrase this, in a sense, how much basically your online reputation is going to allow you to attract whales, right? If I understand correctly, Ross. I think it's important, basically, because of course, whales are going to look basically at the state of the game. They're going to look at how people basically talk about the game. And if you have a toxic community, it might put them off.

Should I invest myself and my money in this game? If people are talking about boycotts or if they're talking about the fact that the game is not worth your money, it might be definitely a big issue. That's why all the gaming companies always try to make sure that their ratings are very high so they spend a lot of effort making sure that their ratings are high. But if on Reddit, you have a very toxic and angry community, it can definitely not help, right?

It's funny because, at the same time, you have a lot of active committees like the hardcore committees of the game that are trying to attract people. So I've seen this basically in my previous experience where you had people very very negative about the game but at the same time, they complained that they're not able to attract new players to their clients. So you're like yes, you complain about the game, but at the same time, you want new people to go into the game. So that's one of the controversies.

Definitely, your brand reputation is not going to be a detriment, but it sure as hell basically not going to help and not going to make your UA as efficient as what it could be making.


Thank you Ross for your question. I'm going to continue with the rest of the question. So Robert says: Hi Chris. Firstly thanks for taking the time today and for the really great insights. What in your experience are the best key points to consider in retaining whales and ensuring their loyalty to a game once you bring them in?

Speaker - Chris Zerathe:

So definitely super important is keeping the content fresh. That's super important. Games operate on the basis that we call a live operation. Meaning when you build a game you're supposed basically to add over time new features, new content, and stuff like this. If your game is not able to sustain a healthy flow of new content and feature, the whales are going to consume that content very fast, and then if the whales arrive at what they feel is the end game and there's nothing for them to do anymore, it's like oh I finished the game but in a free to play market you're never supposed to have your customers feel that. They're supposed to always be on the lookout for what's going to be the next meta, not Facebook, but the meta in terms of like what is the best combination of a character, of a weapon, of a gear that makes them basically the most powerful in the game because most free to play games basically play what we call the power creep strategy which is like always have the highest stat, always have the best character and stuff like this.

So if your game is not able to have this, you're going to have a very big problem, some retention. It's a nice problem to have like oh I don't have enough things to sell to my customer, right? it's terrible because that means if you already have that problem, that means you're probably already losing a lot of those whales. And those guys we've talked about that they're very hard to retain once you have like, this is the basics, after that, like I said, you have the calendars, you have the events, you have everything.

Basically, that makes people think, oh, I'm spending a lot of money, but I'm also getting a lot of money, a lot of things out of the game. So that healthy balance also is super important. I've seen games that are too stingy with their economy, where they have whales, a lot of whales, they spend a lot, but they're not happy because they feel that they're spending too much compared to what the game is supposed to give them. So that's not a good place to be at as well. So it's a lot of economic balance and things like this. So yeah, content pipeline, back and forth and testing and optimizing. So yeah, you need to have a very good content pipeline and you need to have basically an economy that's well balanced, that will give basically a lot of things but also be very demanding in terms of how much you spend. But finding the right balance takes a lot of data and takes a lot of time and it takes some very good monetization managers that know what they're doing and are able to build very good economies.


That's super interesting. I'm going to continue with the questions. Raz says: Hi, you spoke about retention, but I was wondering what insights can you share with us about how to reduce player fatigue?

Speaker - Chris Zerathe:

That's an interesting question. So player fatigue, from what I've experienced myself and what I've seen, mostly comes when the games stop, when there's too big of a gap between new exciting features, and then that's when basically people start to be tiring. Because the big problem is that all of those mobile games build routines, they're made in a way that you'll connect in the morning, spend your energy, connect in the noon, collect your free energy, spend that energy. You play your arena at 06:00 p.m. So sometimes I felt it myself, it's a job, you're super invested, it's like you have a job, it's like, okay, I have to do this and then you have the pressure from your clan members because everyone's supposed to contribute. Because when you spend your energy, you contribute points to the clan. Those points basically are spent to create gameplay where you can spoon, for example, the game mode, thanks to this.

So everything is interconnected and fatigue can arrive when people basically have it's starting to be too much of a core. So that's where you be able to rotate things and sometimes say, okay, for three months we've done these types of features or things and then switch to a different thing would be good, but unfortunately a lot of games don't do that.

They pile up features and after a while basically, I don't have any free time. Like I've stopped some games, for example, because of this, because I was giving food to my kids in the center. Like food, kids clan.

The best thing that I've seen in like some games do is that they would create seasonal events, for example, where they would put on hold basically some features and then add new ones for a certain amount of time. But like I said, unfortunately, a lot of games, sometimes they do the seasonal event, but they still keep all of the other stuff that you have to do. So instead of being fresh, it's like, more things to doing the game. So that's something that definitely mobile game companies need to be super aware of. It's like, yeah, you need to create a routine, but you also need to keep the experience fresh. And that's something that I've seen is much more complex to do.


I totally understand that. And we have one more. So Shachar is asking. It seems game developers should be most worried about making well satisfied. Does their voice of customers weigh more compared to free-to-play players? How would you go about tuning in to the whale community specifically?

Speaker - Chris Zerathe:

So it's something that I didn't touch upon. So thank you very much, Shachar. It's a very good question. So you have to know that the mobile gaming industry, like the poker industry for that matter, has what we call VIP managers.

So VIP managers are the equivalent of what Or is doing. Or is one of our account manager that we have at Affogata, right. And it's the same, a VIP manager will have a portfolio of customers. It can be between 500-1000 depending on how basically how much they give that person to do. But they have people that are going to be considered like the top of the players for which is people basically, like, they don't have to send a ticket if they have a problem, they have a WhatsApp, they can go to its private Discord, they can take their phone and call basically directly the person. So they are super VIPs. And those people, they're the top spenders. Like, they're the Krakens that I was talking about. They're beyond the €100 that we talk about. They are the people that might be spending a million euros within a few years. I've heard the story of a woman that spends more than a million billion euros on the game. Crazy, insane.

And I heard other stories where someone actually hired people to actually play his game and so he had a clan of only people that he hired. It goes to levels where it's crazy so those people have specific access to the game, to the developers so their feedback basically comes in merely like directly.

The VIP managers will discuss with the product managers directly and say, okay, the whales, the VIPs, they're not happy about this feature and stuff like this. Most of the time, what's interesting is that the discussion turns around like, or lack of content or they want more challenges or stuff like this.

That's how the mobile industry basically tunes in to the whale community. They have dedicated people that they hire just specifically for these people.


Chris, this has been so interesting really, and thanks so much to the audience also for asking such interesting questions.

I want to thank you again for taking the time to participate in today's webinar. It is really interesting to learn about the gaming industry from such an expert like you.

Speaker - Chris Zerathe:

Thank you very much. It was my pleasure.


Thank you all for listening and don't forget to visit and see you next time.

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