Free-to-play: About addicted Whales, at risk Dolphins and healthy Minnows. Monetarization design and Internet Gaming Disorder

Addict Behav. 2017 Jan:64:328-333. doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2016.03.008. Epub 2016 Apr 13.


Introduction: Video games are not only changing due to technical innovation, but also because of new game design and monetization approaches. Moreover, elite gamer groups with financial in-game-investments co-finance all users of free-to-play-games. Besides questions on youth protection, the growing popularity of free-to-play games has fostered discussions on supposed associations to Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD).

Method: Children and adolescents using free-to-play browser games were examined in a German school-based representative study (N=3967; age range 12 to 18). Based on a clinical self-report AICA-S (Wölfling et al., 2011), students were categorized into non-problematic, risky, and addicted users. Psycho-social problems (SDQ; Goodman, 1997), perceived stress (PSS; Cohen, Kamarck & Mermelstein, 1983), coping strategies (BriefCOPE; Carver, 1997), and Average Revenue per (Paying) User (ARPU) were investigated as dependent variables. Furthermore, an industry classification (Freeloaders, Minnows, Dolphins, and Whales) for free-to-play gamers was used for additional relations regarding IGD, SDQ, PSS, BriefCOPE, and ARPU.

Results: Among free-to-play gamers the prevalence of IGD amounted to 5.2%. Subjects classified with IGD displayed higher psycho-social symptoms than non-problematic users, reported higher degrees of perceived stress, and applied dysfunctional coping strategies more frequently. Additionally, we found a higher ARPU among subjects with IGD.

Conclusion: ARPU is significantly associated with IGD. Whales share significant characteristics with addicted video gamers; Dolphins might be classified as risky consumers; Minnows and Freeloaders are rather non-pathological gamers. Vulnerability for stress, dysfunctional coping, and free-to-play gaming represent an unhealthy combination.

Keywords: Average Revenue per (paying) User (ARPU); Distress; Free-to-play; Internet Gaming Disorder; Monetarization; Psychopathology; Whales.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Age Factors
  • Behavior, Addictive / economics
  • Behavior, Addictive / epidemiology
  • Behavior, Addictive / psychology*
  • Child
  • Child Behavior / psychology*
  • Female
  • Germany / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Internet / economics*
  • Male
  • Play and Playthings / psychology
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Video Games / economics*
  • Video Games / psychology*