There’s no doubt about it: modernization of the game industry has brought us amazing graphics, powerful hardware and sophisticated design. Yet many of the most important advances in recent years have been behind the scenes and out of the spotlight.
Intense use of analytics, especially on mobile platforms, has created an entirely new industry for business intelligence application. As a result, data-driven game design has become an increasingly popular method of retaining players in free-to-play and online experiences.
Do You Know What Makes Your Players Keep Playing?
Let’s face it; the market is incredibly saturated. So what’s the most effective way to create a profitable product? It isn’t by having the biggest budget, the most ads or the most sophisticated design. It’s by knowing how to make players feel inclined and obligated to keep playing.
There’s only one way to uncover this magical formula: by tracking events both in and out of the game, to understand what kinds of players perform which actions, and what events mark transition moments for players.
There’s An App For That
Not only are there a plethora of tools that can help you, but interestingly enough, sophisticated metric tracking and analysis is an accessible and affordable. In many cases, it’s natively built into existing game engines (think Unity and Unreal).
By injecting a small piece of code into specific in-game events, the game engine sends user-specific data to an external database for review and analysis. Since many modern game engines build projects cross-platform, this gives any studio the ability to track the same events on different platforms, and compare which actions and content are most successful (on PC vs mobile, for example).
These trackable game events don’t have to be significant. The code can actually track anything in-game, even passively triggered events. Some of the most commonly measured events include tutorial completion, session duration, completion percentage at time of first app shutdown, completion percentage at time of uninstallation, in-game purchases (real and digital currency) and player deaths/failures.
Get the Whole Picture
Individually, these stats paint a useful picture of player performance and game design. But when combined in reporting, they give valuable insight into product performance, direction, community strength and expected revenue. I’ll illustrate what I mean.
Let’s say your data shows low average player spending (ARPDAU). You may automatically assume, therefore, that in-app purchases are simply unappealing. However, if you cross reference player spending with session duration and level completion (or lack thereof, i.e. "churn”), you may discover that most players are simply not getting past early points of frustration. Remember, players who succeed are likely to spend a significant amount.
This knowledge can then be used in tandem with external tracking (i.e., community engagement monitoring) to paint a picture of how far players are getting in your game. This will help you glean relevant information that matters, like “At what point are they compelled to interact with the community?” and “Are players posting to forums before or after they begin making in-app purchases?” Answering questions like this can give you valuable insight into the behavior and content you need to promote outside the game.
Ultimately, all of this information allows you to create a realistic, data-driven consumer profile. By tracking users on an individual level like this, it’s possible to get a very precise and accurate look at how existing consumers behave.
Another incredibly powerful yet underused approach to user tracking is enabling single sign-on between your game and your community. League of Legends does this, and it has undoubtedly contributed to their monumental success.
The ability to track users across your game and community gives you the power to pair data generated from your in-game reporting with that from your Google Analytics for demographic and other behavior metrics. This is the next best thing to predicting the future, as you now have an idea of your user demographics, performance and in-game performance. What a crystal ball!
You Must Know Your Audience to Design for Your Audience
Maybe your young audience isn’t receptive to sophisticated design choices and quickly loses interest. Perhaps your users are older than expected and the memes and Internet culture references you use don’t hit home as much as you want them to.
Every product and every audience is different. Lucky for you, modern tools and frameworks are versatile and powerful enough to work with any genre, platform and system. So start measuring! There’s no better way to create the game your players want to play.