Spending money on microtransactions in free-to-play games is a rare thing for most games these days, with the average number of payers in most games being in the 2 percent range. Still, hundreds of thousands of players paying a little bit extra here and there to access additional items, including extra lives in Candy Crush Saga and other related goodies, can make games quite profitable if you have tens of millions of players. Surprisingly enough, though, the massive amounts spent by the players called whales don’t always generate the most revenue of any player for a publisher.

According to Forbes, games with a social element get the biggest revenue boost from players who spend the most time in a game and are the most social — even those who never spend any cash at all. That’s according to a report from analytics firm Ninja Metrics, which took a close look at how players interact with one another through games with strong social elements. Tracking such progress could be a key move for publishers in the future, giving them an idea of what features will be popular — and what to improve upon with updates.

“Some influencers spend no money but generate hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Ninja Metrics CEO Dmitri Williams said. “That also applies to game time, as well.”

One such game, Imperia Online, had 75 percent of social interaction, with players calling upon their friends to join them in online sessions. It just goes to show the power of bringing others online for a gaming experience, thus generating a larger interest in the title — and more people playing along.

“We can now find out where the influencers came from to find the game and so acquire more users,” Williams explained. “This helps a game retain the right people — and gets them to spend more money when it has them.”

Fatigue can easily set into an online experience if a developer doesn’t introduce new content or features that player scan get back into quickly. By bringing others in to enjoy the experience with them, games like Imperia can keep players interested in the long haul, thus generating more revenue than expected. Promotion can play a huge part in it as well.

“Businesses want to think ‘I have a relationship with my customer,'” said Williams. “But they often forget about the relationships their customers have with each other. But until now, it’s been hard to see those relationships. That means that promotions and marketing can be less about squeezing particular targets and more about what ensures people have a fun time playing.”

By taking required purchases out of the picture and focusing more on the general gaming experience, players can have more fun. “You can see which parts of the game create more social value than others, which is great for the product team because now they have better data about what works and what doesn’t,” said Williams. “So if the social values of level 1-9 are crummy, but the social value spikes in level 10, maybe there’s something you can take from level 10 to make the earlier levels more fun for people to play with their friends. You can’t manage the game experience if you can’t measure it.”

What do you think? Would you prefer an app that doesn’t pressure you to buy additional content, and instead eggs you on to invite friends into the experience?

Source: Forbes