F2P Game Monetization: How to Market to Whales?

by Game Marketing Genie, on 24-Mar-2022 11:02:15

Implementing an effective game monetization strategy is tricky, now imagine it’s for Free-to-play (F2P) games. An F2P game is available for free, and usually the players aren’t motivated enough to spend on in-game items. The number of players who do in fact make in-app purchases in F2P games is not a big number, but they spend a lot and are the game's most valuable users. Meanwhile, industry experts are expecting 2023 to be favorable for free-to-play games. According to Statista, F2P revenue will likely reach $14.94 billion in 2023, up from $13.78 billion in 2021.

Because, even though the game's are free, some players tend to spend on in-game items: skins, power ups, boosters, gated game content and exclusive events. You need to strike a balance by offering a range of appealing purchase options while ensuring that non-paying players still encounter a fair and competitive gaming environment. This is essential to maintain a thriving, active, and profitable game community.

Given the different types of players and spenders that access the free-to-play games, game developers should decode the spending habits of their player base. It will help you craft effective monetization strategies, ensuring a balanced and engaging experience for all players. To know more about how you can target these big spenders keep reading this article.

What is the power-law?

The power-law states that no player is the same. Different players have different spending powers. Some players love your game and are willing to spend more time and money on it, while others may not be as motivated to spend on your game. Then there are players who have the time to commit to your game but no money to spend on in-game items. Meanwhile, there are others who have the money but not the time to play your game. 

By taking the power-law into account, you should be able to design your game in a manner that allows players to spend a varied amount. You can offer interested users consumable items, power ups, and other extras that can elevate their gaming experience. With a myriad of features, you’ll be able to give your player base several reasons to spend money, thus helping you generate more revenue.

3 player categories based on their spending patterns

Free-to-play gamers fall into three categories: Minnows, Dolphins, and Whales. Minnows spend the least out of the three, about $1 a month. Dolphins are moderate spenders who fork out an average of $5 per month. But, Whales spend a lot on microtransactions and drive the most revenue for game developers.

Although Whales account for 1 to 2 percent of your player base, they are the most valuable. And the key to marketing your game to Whales lies in implementing the right game monetization strategy. Before we know how to do that, let’s first understand these player categories.


Minnows are the lowest spenders. They will spend a few dollars here and there, but not on anything significant like battle passes or VIP membership. But Minnows don’t take long to make a purchase. On average, it takes a minnow around eight days to make a purchase, while it goes up to 18 days for Whales.  

average number of days graphic

Source: Game Analytics

This means that a few days after discovering your game, Minnows are ready to spend on it. This is every developer’s dream, and you can achieve your revenue goals when you acquire more of such users. But are Minnows really invested in the games they sign up for? Not really.

Minnows play an average of two sessions per week, which is low compared to the others. The reason why Minnows have fewer sessions is because they play other games at the same time.

Compared to Whales and Dolphins in gaming, Minnows play up to three games at a time. By spreading their time and commitment across multiple games, Minnows cannot invest in a game to spend large sums on it. This explains why they are low spenders compared to other players who are loyal to the video games they play.


Dolphins are decent spenders, but they still have a long way to go to reach the level of spending of Whales. It takes about 12 days for Dolphins to spend on anything. That's four days more than Minnows, but they spend more on video games than the Minnows. Dolphins are like Minnows in the number of gaming sessions played. They play two sessions per week on average, and this is because they play many games at the same time. 

dolphins graphic

Source: Game Analytics

The average Dolphin plays two to three games at a time. This limits the amount of time they can spend on the game, and as such, the number of sessions per game remains low. But despite the low number of sessions, Dolphins have a higher retention rate than Minnows. This is due to to the fact that they have spent more money on the game and would like to gain most value from their investment. 


Whales are massive game spenders and are more loyal to the games they choose. They spend a lot on microtransactions in an attempt to enhance their gaming experience. Data from the top-grossing games show that Whales make up for more than 50 percent of a game's revenue. 

Game developers are after these users because they are the difference between breaking even and making a profit. Some developers are even willing to pay more than $500 to acquire a Whale since they know the user can spend in the tens of thousands. 

These massive spenders have no limit when it comes to acquiring extra features to improve the game. They will keep going until they get what they want, especially in gacha games. A Whale will spend a huge amount of money in a short time as they attempt to get the best collectibles. Such transactions are also very addictive, and the gamer’s lifetime value will skyrocket as a result. 

Genshin Impact home screen

Source: Genshin Impact

For instance, Genshin Impact is an AAA gacha game with an open-world design and smooth hack and slash gameplay. The game allows users to buy in-game currency they can use to acquire banners with detailed chances to win various items. This interactive format has drawn hundreds of thousands of players to forums such as Reddit to brag about the powerful characters they have acquired when playing the game.

How to catch Whales with your marketing strategy?

Whales are quite valuable to your game. And you'll need effective game monetization and marketing strategies to reel them in. Every gaming marketing agency that has helped a gaming brand acquire Whales knows how difficult this task is. Keep reading to know what these marketing techniques are: 

Identifying and analyzing whales:

To reel in those big spenders, early detection is key. Keep an eye out for these signs:

  • High engagement levels, as whales are committed players, logging in frequently and spending substantial time in the game.
  • The speed at which a player progresses through levels, as Whales do so faster than the average player, showcasing their dedication.
  • How soon they spend, as even a small initial spend in the first few days is a strong indicator of future investment.
  • The way a player responds to discounts, because Whales seize opportunities to buy in-game items on sale, seeing it as a chance to maximize their gaming experience.
  • How actively they take part in gaming communities signifies a deeper emotional and financial commitment.
  • Their purchase patterns, which tend to be more frequent, showcasing their eagerness to invest in the gaming journey.
  • The time they spend after making purchases, as whales tend to linger in the game, exploring the newly unlocked content.

Once you identify and analyze the Whales' behavior, you will know their likes and dislikes. With this information, you will be able to optimize your offers in a way that makes them want to spend more time and money on your game. 

Optimize your ad campaigns for these high-valued in-game actions

Once you know how Whales behave, you can optimize your ad campaigns for in-app actions. Popular ad platforms like Facebook and Google help make this happen. For example, when you notice that your high spenders make their in-app purchases in batches, you can create a campaign that displays the other offers the player can consider after making a purchase.

If the users are attracted to discounts, you can set up an ad campaign that sends targeted discounted offers to select users. Apart from this, keep the below points in mind when creating your campaigns:

  • Craft ad copies that resonate with their desires; high-value messaging is the key.
  • Build campaigns specifically for potential Whales, showcasing in-game items and features tailored to their preferences.
  • Keep your game on their radar with retargeting ads featuring exclusive content or limited-time promotions.
  • Consider higher Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) bids when targeting Whales, knowing their long-term value justifies the upfront cost.
  • A/B test different elements of your campaigns, from visuals to messaging, and use the data to refine your approach.
  • Keep a close eye on key performance indicators (KPIs) like return on ad spend (ROAS), engagement rate, and CPA to measure campaign success.

Track each in-game event

Whales are different from other users in the manner in which they interact with your game. While other users only want to play and accumulate as many points as possible without any external help, Whales are always looking to acquire extra features to enhance their player profile. They will often interact with your content upgrade page as they look for the best features to improve their gaming experience. 

Remember, it's not just about gameplay for Whales; it's about feeling valued and engaged on a deeper level. Tailoring campaigns or game environments not only keeps Whales happy but maximizes their lifetime value, ensuring a steady stream of revenue for the long haul.


Free-to-play games continue to gain popularity raking in millions, even billions of dollars for gaming companies. But, having a game monetization strategy that hits the sweet spot for Whales, Dolphins, and Minnows requires expertise. You have to offer up a variety of things the players can buy. And keep the game fun for both the big spenders and little ones. You need to also foster community building, make data-backed decisions, and release regular updates to keep the game interesting.

In the end, it’s not about catching the Whale; it's about keeping everyone in the game, no matter their spending style. Moreover, holding onto those Whales isn't a one-time deal. It’s a  continuous cycle of identification, targeted marketing, and personalized user experiences. Something that we at Game Marketing Genie have done before for our gaming clients. And if you’re interested to know more about how we did it, get in touch today!

Topics:Mobile Game MarketingApp Store OptimizationVideo Game Marketing StrategyVideo Game MarketingDigital Marketing StrategyApp Marketing Strategy

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