RECAP: Gaming Analytics Summit 2015

by Jonathan Knopf
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The Gaming Analytics Summit held in San Francisco brought together a nice crowd of headliner video games such as Minecraft, Call of Duty, Destiny, Angry Birds, and Candy Crush. In attendance were the big gaming giants such as Sony PlayStation, Xbox, Activision, and Electronic Arts. Being an avid gamer and data analyst made this conference extremely informative. The topics ranged from in-game analytics to building a company structure that best handles big data. My focus at this conference was to see how the user’s voice was being heard in the video game development pipeline. Qualitative interviews meant very little to this group who focus more on big data and analytics, but some companies set themselves apart by emphasizing the importance of the user in maximizing their earning potential.

With so much data available from in-game selections, purchases, and behaviors; capturing and analyzing data in such volume has to be highly efficient, lightweight, and funneled into a visualization that is simple enough to consume and draw conclusions. Sega’s entire presentation was about the importance of simplicity and consistency in analysis and visualizations. It clearly demonstrated the challenges of presenting huge bar graphs in reports that are difficult to digest. Following Sega’s presentation, I noticed a theme: Big Data, Big Results, Now What? Attention was placed on displaying data, but not on determining the next course of action.

Candy Crush’s presentation also grabbed my attention. The presenter offered one listener a choice between a mobile power pack and a Rubix cube. The listener chose the Rubix and the speaker said, “now that we know what he chose we can determine some things.” I spoke up during Q&A. “My question throughout the presentation was ‘Why did he choose the Rubix? Doesn’t understanding ‘why’ make your content delivery algorithms more relevant?” He was a bit perplexed and said they just try to do their best to analyze the data they have to learn about users. I responded, “Wouldn’t it be easier just to ask?” It seemed that there was little attention paid towards why users behave the way they do. All focus was placed on A/B testing to determine the best conversion rates. While this method may work, it also presented a very wasteful practice of blind A/B testing.

Untitled2Just when I thought the user was being completely left out, Alex Leavitt from Sony PlayStation emphasized the importance of User Research in his presentation. He mentioned that his focus was on “Game Science”, which is comprised of game analytics, user research, and gaming design. He continued that integrating user research data into the design process is critical to challenging developers’ design intuitions. The slides shown in the picture Untitled1demonstrate the need for user research to be experience focused, data informed, and player driven; but also that it should be interwoven into the entire development cycle.

The smoking gun to tie everything back came in a case study of Angry Birds development company, Rovio. This study focused on re-activating gamers that have not been playing as frequently. More activity means more chances they will pay for something in-game. The solution was relevant content. Behavioral patterns, feedback, and ratings were used to better personalize the in-game rewards and messaging, which significantly improved conversion rates and reactivation. Minecraft followed suit by emphasizing the importance of building gamer personas to better understand users. The use of gamer personas by Minecraft demonstrated a big data trend for personalization. Personas may not give the details of every type of user, but it does create a personal connection to a type of users that may be a large portion of your customers. Personas can help narrow the gap between advertising and intrusion. Knowing the needs of the gamer and serving them relevant content or preferred in-game rewards makes a game more addicting and more profitable.