Pretty much every game that involves micro-transactions has a large amount of their micro-transaction revenue coming from a very small percentage of their players, the so-called "whales" that spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars per month on them. I've also sometimes heard gamers that spend lower amounts of money as "dolphins".

Why are these players called whales and dolphins? Does it have to do with the whale hunting or something?


2 Answers 2


The term "Whale" is borrowed from the casino industry, where it is used to describe a rich gambler who bets extraordinarily large amounts of money. Just like in the game industry, casinos want to "catch" the most high-betting whales, because they provide a lot of income for comparably little expense. Casinos often go out of their way to form personal connections with whales and provide them with personalized service to ensure their loyalty and make sure they lose their money in their casinos and not those owned by the competition. Some game companies in the microtransaction business are also known to do this.

The casinos, in turn, took the term from the Poker community which has a tradition of using fish-themed terms for different categories of players, like "fish" for weak players and "shark" for strong players who prey on the "fish" in order to take their money. A "whale" is what every "shark" hopes to find: a very large fish* who has a lot of money and likes to play high-stakes games despite not being skilled enough to compete in them.

*Yes, I know that whales are mammals and not fish.

  • 9
    I’d also like to add that “whales” is a term I’ve seen used in investing communities such as stocks and cryptocurrencies. Commented Dec 1, 2018 at 4:38
  • 4
    "A "whale" is what every "shark" hopes to find" Especially if that whale thinks they're a shark. I think that part of the definition of "whale" is not merely betting a lot of money, but losing a lot of money. Card counters tend to pretend to be whales, when it fact they're not. Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 21:36

The term originated in casinos, where's high rollers (rich people who play for large stakes) are well-looked after by the casino, in order to ensure that they gamble at their casino instead of some place else.

These high rollers were referred to as whales by the casino, which can loosely be translated to "people with money to spend and who are likely to spend it on us". The same loose description applies to people who spend a lot of money on microtransactions, so the description was reused.

"Dolphin" is a wordplay on "whale", as a dolphin is a "small whale" (not biologically accurate but it fits the figure of speech).

  • 27
    It may be good to better link to the gambling establishment, and how it tends to be marine based. history of fish/sucker, shark, whale are well described in this article, but not different enough to warrant a new answer: realonlinegambling.com/terms/whale Dolphin refers to someone who "dips in and out" with their money. Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 15:42
  • 20
    In order to complete this answer you would now also need to tell us how the casino industry came to use the term "whale".
    – Philipp
    Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 16:19
  • 3
    Related, the term is also used in retail to indicate returning customers who spend a lot.
    – Kevin
    Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 20:32
  • 3
    @TKK I wasn't aware that there were both mammal dolphins and fish dolphins...? Commented Dec 2, 2018 at 3:01
  • 3
    @immibis Dolphin Fish. As a kid, I had a field guide (probably from the 1950s-1970s) in which they were simply labeled dolphin. It was many years later that I first heard them called by their now more common name mahi-mahi. Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 16:46

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .