Free-to-play: About addicted Whales at risk Dolphins and healthy Minnows. Monetarization design and Internet Gaming Disorder (2016)

Addict Behav. 2016 Apr 13. pii: S0306-4603(16)30110-1. doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2016.03.008.

Dreier M1, Wölfling K2, Duven E2, Giralt S2, Beutel ME3, Müller KW2.



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).


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.


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.


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.


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