Although it may seem like developers are getting the shaft when it comes to free to play games, the model is actually a win-win for gamers and developers alike. Unlike a demo, free to play titles give players the full game experience without having to pay a single dime.

Sure there are in-game extras that can be purchased with real money, but they aren’t necessary to progress through a story. It’s perfect for casual players as well as those looking to discover the next game that really gets them excited. The latter, of course, is exactly the reason why we’re seeing more games released under this model.

Gamers that are willing to invest real-world money in a free to play game essentially make it possible for everyone else to enjoy the game free of charge. Jared Psigoda, CEO of browser game publisher Reality Squared Games, says these dedicated gamers are called whales. For a number of publishers, whales make up a significant portion of revenue from free to play games.

Mobile monetization research firm PlayHaven claims that the top 10 percent of players can account for roughly half of all in-app purchase revenue. That sounds like a lot of money being shelled out from just a handful of players which leads to just one question: who are these whales?

Wired recently set out to answer this very question and found a couple of people willing to discuss their extensive in-app purchases. Lee is a 42-year-old businessman from California with an annual income in the six figures.

He admittedly spent close to $5,000 in the Facebook game Happy Kingdom before finding his latest obsession, Clash of Clans. He’s only been playing the latest game for about a month but has already invested nearly $1,000.

Lee says that spending money on video games like this is actually cheaper (and healthier) than his previous hobby: drinking. He said it wasn’t uncommon for him and a small group of friends to spend upwards of six grand between them in a single night. 

Lee’s spending pales in comparison to what other whales are dishing out, however. Vince is a 45-year-old divorced guy with a 16-year-old daughter. He claims to bring home between $200,000 and $400,000 each year.

His game of choice is Battle Pirates, another Facebook title. It’s in this virtual world that he has spent more than $16,000 since early 2011. Vince reportedly seemed shocked when he tallied up the total, believing it was probably closer to $5,000. It’s all for nothing, he told the publication.

“You want to be the top guy,” Vince says. “Once you convince yourself to spend two hundred dollars on it, another two hundred dollars isn’t that much more.”