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A long tail of whales: Half of mobile games money comes from 0.15 percent of players

Attendees play video games on Nintendo Co. 3DS handheld game players in the GungHo Online Entertainment Inc. booth at the Tokyo Game Show 2013 at Makuhari Messe in Chiba, Japan, Sept. 19, 2013.
Kiyoshi Ota | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Attendees play video games on Nintendo Co. 3DS handheld game players in the GungHo Online Entertainment Inc. booth at the Tokyo Game Show 2013 at Makuhari Messe in Chiba, Japan, Sept. 19, 2013.

In a mobile monetization report released today, app testing firm Swrve found that in January, half of free-to-play games' in-app purchases came from 0.15 percent of players. Only 1.5 percent of players of games in the Swrve network spent any money at all.

The latter finding is in line with what the advocates of free-to-play have been saying for years: Players don't have to pay anything to enjoy the game. But the former stat underscores the importance of big spenders, or "whales" in industry lingo, to the app ecosystem.

(Read more: What's shaking at the Mobile World Congress)

Not all game companies talk openly about the fact that they have whales. It costs money to develop and keep a game running, just like those fancy decorations and free drinks at a casino; whales, like gambling addicts, subsidize fun for everyone else.

Read the whole story at Re/code.

By Eric Johnson, Re/code.net.

CNBC's parent NBC Universal is an investor in Re/code's parent Revere Digital, and the companies have a content-sharing arrangement.

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