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


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 (Wolfling 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.