That Free-to-Game may not be entirely free, especially if Social Whales are playing. Influencers can turn a Free-To-Play game into a cash cow. Social Whales, as expert Ninja Metrics Co-Founder and CEO Dr. Dmitri Williams calls them, wield tremendous power in driving sales and activity. But are they gaming plants just to encourage spending? At the DMW LA Games conference, Dr. Williams explains the magnitude and origins of their influence.
What are social whales?
By understanding a player’s social networks and the spending habits within them, we are able to detect which players wield an out-sized level of social influence. These Social Whales drive spending among others. They are super-influencers. When they play, others play more. When they buy, others buy. For any one of them, you get increased revenue created out of thin air thanks to their social connectedness and their personalities. Social Whales don’t necessarily spend the most or sometimes spend at all, but they drive others to spend. This is why they are so valuable.
In what manners can they affect monetization?
If a Social Whale leaves, their friends will play and spend less. So, losing them really hurts and knowing how much tells you the true value of a player. This is precisely what we show. In addition, Social Whales can be marketed to, kept happy within the community, thereby potentially increasing their spending and keeping them in a game or app longer. This in turn leads to more spending in their social circle.
How did you go about measuring the influence of these social whales?
We measure them via a sophisticated system called the Katana Analytics Engine. The first step is creating a network graph that is automatically analyzed by Katana. Then we look at actions, which is a huge contrast to looking at what people might say. We look at what they do, and then what their friends do. For example, if Sally takes an action, then her friend Sam follows, that begins to show influence. When this action happens again and again with her friends and others, our machine learning engine gets better at detecting it, and even predicting it with high confidence.
Why would social whales be influential to other players and is there a certain mode or style that works best?
People play games in part because they have great mechanics, graphics, or story, but a large part of why we enjoy them is the other players. In much of life, if our friends are somewhere, we want to be there too. The ones we want to be around the most are a huge magnet for us, and are also therefore very important to game developers.
Your theory goes beyond stealth marketing ala the movie Keeping Up With the Joneses because the social whale isn’t necessarily a high consumer.
That’s right. A big spender is not necessarily a big influencer. In fact, they are often not an influencer at all. If you think about social dynamics and friends in the real world, the person who buys the most stuff is not necessarily the one that others follow. It’s that way in games as well. The guy spending tons on in-game items is rarely the person that others are logging in to hang out with.
Are developers planting influencers?
Influence is an organic, community process. You can’t plant it, but you can support it by helping the right people in the right way. You can give influencers good experiences, but the best approaches are often those that support friendships that are already in place. When developers let the influencer have a great experience with their friends, those friends spend more. Done right, this is a positive social feedback loop that truly supports friendships. Ninja Metrics helps developers do exactly that.