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High-rolling 'whales' sometimes spend thousands in free-to-play iOS and Facebook games

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The top 10 percent of players in free-to-play games account for as much as 50 percent of money made through games' in-app purchases, research firm PlayHaven CEO Andy Yang said in a recent report on the business model in Wired.

Publishers call this small percentage of players willing to invest large amounts of money over a period of time "whales," a term that originates in the casino business. In most games, a handful of players make up a significant percentage of a game's revenue.

User "Panda" in SuperCell's iOS strategy game Clash of Clans has spent over $7,000 on in-game microtransactions, helping him achieve a slot in the top 10 worldwide Clash players. "Panda" told Wired the money spent in-game accounts for 7 percent of his monthly income. To other players' accusations that he is buying his way up, "Panda" says, "You don't have to spend less, you have to earn more."

Last month, Supercell announced that it's two games, Clash of Clans and farming game Hay Day, bring in over $500,000 daily.

"Whale" Vince P. has spent over $16,000 in the Facebook game Battle Pirates. Vince told Wired his income is between $200,000 and $400,000 a year, and that he is not proud of how much he has spent on the game. In one week in February he sunk a total of $700 into the game, and recalled a conversation in which he and a fellow player seriously discussed purchasing a $500 fleet of ships in order to win an in-game tournament.

"You want to be the top guy," he said. "Once you convince yourself to spend $200 on it, another $200 isn't that much more."