Free-to-Play Whales Are Now Boycotting Spending in Games to Get Changes

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Here’s one of the crazier stories you’re going to read in a while. Dean Takahashi of VentureBeat reports on Stephen Barnes, a Houston resident who owns an appliance store, and has spent more than $2 million in Modern War (Free) by Gree, leading a long-running clan in the game. But that’s not the crazy part: when he grew unhappy with the game, he helped organize a boycott where 144 different teams stopped spending any money on the game, demanding Gree make changes. What spurred the boycott? Takahashi writes:

Barnes came to my attention because the top clans in *Modern War* staged a boycott with perhaps 6,000 participants, including 22 of the top 25 player teams in the game. They sent a letter that demanded Gree address problems with the game and communicate with them about changes. Gree had modified the power and value of virtual items after players had purchased them, and it rescinded an item that teams had spent a lot of money to acquire.

Yikes! What’s interesting is that Takahshi reports that other games have gone through boycotts, including top-grossing Game of War (Free). Apparently it caused top players to stop spending and some to eventually quit the game, but they found that they were able to communicate better with Machine Zone and get improvements to the game that way.

The story is worth reading as it goes into the community of these games and why people would do it. But it brings up an interesting aspect that because top-money players (and “social whales" that drive others to play and spend) are necessary for these games to do well, they wield a surprising amount of power. And if the developers don’t treat them well enough, they have tremendous power to sink a game if they so choose. Compare this to the existing model of paid games, where essentially any one player has the same power as any other. That means that any vocal complaints could be brushed off as an angry minority. But if someone who’s spending thousands, even millions, on your game is mad, well…might be time to listen.


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