In the perfect marriage of technology and entertainment, smartphones have brought gaming into everyone’s living room, bed room and office – literally. Statista reports that revenue for gaming on smartphones was close to $63 billion in 2020 and predicts that will surpass $100 billion in the next three years. Middle-aged moms and teenage boys, doctors, teachers and grocery store cashiers – they are all within a phone’s reach, and they are all being entertained, distracted, or mesmerized by the same activity – mobile games.

Monetization of these games has also expanded in recent years to include in-app purchases as a significant revenue source. But knowing there is a huge demographic of everyday people participating in mobile gaming is only a small portion of the information that you need to be successful in your monetization planning. Knowing who those people are, what makes them tick and what draws them to a game in the first place, are the questions you need to ask to get players to your doorstep.

In order to get those players to walk through the door and stay a while, you need to understand player personas – the who, what and why of mobile gamers. It is not as simple as age, gender or economic status. Every player has a different motivation for gaming, as well as a different level of comfort and ability with spending time and money on their game of choice. Understanding the motivations of player personas is the key to tapping into what each person will consider a positive experience.

The number of mobile game personas is endless but there are a few basic personas you should get to know.

Player Personas Based on Spending


graphic showing the four main spending personas


A key category of mobile gaming personas is based on how much players spend on a game. Understanding a player’s spending habits is vital to increasing your revenue.

Big Spenders (Whales)

Sometimes known as “whales,” these are the big fish who are serious about dropping big bucks while gaming. These are the low hanging fruit of the marketing world and do not require much work to see results. While there may not be a lot of big spenders out there, there doesn’t need to be.

Although they are the lowest represented percentage of spending personas, big spenders make up the highest percentage of mobile gaming revenue. In fact, the most recent data released by Tapjoy indicates that while whales consist of only 10% of a company’s clientbase, they make up 70% of its revenue. These players are making over seven in-app purchases and spending over $300 a month. They are coming to a game ready to spend.

Mid and Low Range Spenders (Dolphins and Minnows)

While not at the upper echelon of spenders, dolphins (midrange spenders) and minnows (low range spenders) are still very comfortable with dropping some coin on their favorite mobile game. These players may not spend as much as whales, but shouldn’t be discounted.

While compared to whales they have far fewer transactions a month (less than two) they are still spending just under $20 a month. Not nearly the hundreds that whales bring in, but just like in the ocean, there are far more minnows than whales. Based on sheer numbers, the smaller amount this group invests still adds up to a large portion of revenue.


This group initially has no intention of ever spending any money in mobile games but show a high response to incentivized advertising where they can be rewarded by participating in in-app ads, particularly video ads. Like dolphins and minnows, offer-takers make up a large share of the market, so they are a great opportunity to diversify your target audience and shift some of the focus from whales.

Offer-takers are indirectly profitable gamers, as long as they are approached in a well thought out way. If they are bombarded by ads at inopportune times they will make a quick exit. But, if approached gently, they will continue to engage in advertised offers.

Non-Spenders (So Far)

Mobile gaming always has a segment of players who are trying out a game and do not spend money during that testing phase. While these players do not show an immediate profit, they hold the possibility of becoming big spenders if they like what they see.

These gamers are a blank slate, with open minds, and potentially deep pockets. Because they are an unknown entity, their experience needs to be very positive. You are getting to know who these personas are just as much as the gamer is getting to know your game. They could easily be whales in the making if the experience resonates with them.

Non-Spenders (and Never Will Be)

In the mobile gaming industry, the largest group of players are actually the ones who will never spend money or respond to ads. They remain passive participants in terms of revenue generation but they still play an important role in the success of a game. The non-spending players increase your user count overall, driving the popularity of your game on the app store. Non-spenders also have lots of friends that they will share with and compete against. Since some of those friends may be whales, minnows, or offer makers, non-spenders can still make an indirect but valuable contribution to revenue.

Key Takeaways:

Data on mobile gaming revenue generation can be most easily linked to spending personas because these are the players who show the most quantitative response (or lack of response) to a game. Although only a small percentage of players are spending the largest amount of money, each player persona can still significantly affect your revenue. It’s important to focus attention on more than just your whales. Monetization opportunities have grown exponentially with the growing mobile gaming industry and understanding player spending patterns is key to planning this process.

Player Personas Based on Personality

While simply understanding the personalities of mobile gaming personas may not be able to immediately help predict a direct link to long and short term profits, it can certainly give insight into exactly who those people are behind their phones.

Understanding player personalities can be even more helpful than understanding their spending patterns. Knowing this is the first step in developing game mechanics and marketing materials that draw a player in and keeps them interested.

graphic showing the three main personality personas


Casual Gamers

Casual mobile gamers play to relax, take a break and/or kill time. They are the most uncommitted gamers in terms of loyalty to specific games. They are not deeply invested in the win and can put a game down as quickly and as easily as they pick it up. Casual gamers are just looking for some entertainment during a break at work or while they are waiting for their child to finish soccer practice.

Although they may sound irrelevant to the gaming industry as a whole, casual gamers can actually take credit for the boom in mobile gaming opportunities. In order to keep casual gamers coming back for more, there has to be a large supply of possible choices in all gaming genres. They are also proving to be a significant growth market in mobile gaming. In a study by Appsflyer, hyper-casual games (games that attract the most uncommitted players) increased by 170% in 2019.

Casual gamers will keep you on your toes – you always have to be ready for the next best thing.

Competitive Gamers

Also sometimes called “hardcore gamers”, competitive gamers are in it for the win. They love the strategy involved in winning, thrive on competition and are attracted to games that involve teamwork. Competitive gamers have a difficult time putting a game down and can become stuck on the titles they win or the “lives” they have left. Competitive gamers are very loyal to their game because they have invested so much of themselves into it. The sub-culture of gaming owes its existence to this persona.

Social Gamers

This persona is into mobile gaming because of the social aspect. They enjoy games where they can compete against friends and family in a low key, low competition kind of way. The win is far less important to them than the process and interaction that leads up to a potential win.

Old high school friends, grandparents and their grandchildren, even budding romantic partners often find themselves in the social persona category. They use games as a quick check in that can happen at any time during the day. In some ways, social gamers are very similar to casual gamers in that they do not necessarily feel committed to a game. Social gamers differ from casual gamers in that they are very committed to the people that they connect with while playing.

Key Takeaways:

While the activity patterns of spending personas can help you understand the dollars and cents of your marketing strategy, personality personas are the psychology behind the player. Understanding these personalities is the key to game development, targeted advertising, and should be considered long before the game is created. Who are each of these individual players and why are they picking up a game in the first place? Do they just want to kill time? Do they want the endorphin rush of winning? Do they want to connect with friends? These questions personalize the process and can help you understand the individual people sitting behind a username.

In Closing…

Mobile gaming has become a multi-billion dollar industry with a player base that is vast and highly diverse – the marketing and revenue possibilities are endless! But endless possibilities can be paralyzing without a plan. By understanding your player personas you can develop marketing strategies that target the unique segments of your game’s audience and help you acquire new and profitable players.