The video game industry is now worth somewhere north of $116 billion, with more than 1.5 billion people across the world playing video games. They are also increasingly download-only - both on mobile and console. This is producing a wealth of data, which is being used to refine games from development through to marketing, heralding a revolution in the industry.
Today, every time a player logs on to a game they are using code written to provide them with a particular experience. Their actions can be tracked from start to finish. Every movement, every bullet, every death is recorded, producing a virtual footprint that can be used to understand why and how people play games, helping to greatly enhance in-game experiences.
We've run down 30 of the most influential thought leaders in the sector who are leading the charge in exploiting this data.
This list is based on a range of criteria, as well as nominations from peers, including the degree to which they have:
- Played a key role in driving technological innovation
- Created research that has driven best practices in the field
- Been instrumental in the success of the organization or business they lead or are employed by
- Led the team at an organization that has exploited data to drive success
- Raised the field’s profile or been an influential media voice
This list is, of course, not exhaustive. If you have anyone you think we missed out, let us know!
1. Dr. Luke Dicken
Dr Luke Dicken is a well-known figure on the gaming analytics circuit. He is the Director of Central and Strategic Analytics at Zynga Inc, where he leads a multi-national interdisciplinary team to deliver analytics innovation and leverage new technologies. He is also the Chair of the IGDA Foundation - a charity for game developers, by game developers - for which he was the first person ever to be elected to the Board of Directors from outside of North America in the organization’s almost 20-year history. He is also a member of the AI Game Programmers Guild and was named as one of Develop magazine’s “30 Under 30” for 2013.
He holds degrees in computer science, artificial intelligence, and bioinformatics from the University of Edinburgh, as well as a PhD in AI specifically for games from the University of Stratchclyde. Luke is a regular speaker at gaming conferences around the world and writes extensively for websites such as AltDevBlogADay.com, Gamasutra, and IGDA Perspectives.
2. Dmitri Williams
Dmitri Williams is the CEO and Co-Founder of Ninja Metrics, Inc, a social analytics engine that measures the value of social contributions in applications and games. Dmitri is a 15-year veteran of games and community research and as part of the VW Observatory, formed part of the team that virtually invented the field of data-driven research for the game industry. Alongside co-founder Jaideep Srivastava, they developed a new analytical technique that meant they were able to "identify user trends, target key players, and predict when a player may cancel their account" - techniques now commonplace within the industry. He is a regular speaker at industry and academic conferences and a prolific author, with more than 40 peer-reviewed articles on gamer psychology and large-scale data analysis to his name.
Dmitri's work has been featured on CNN, Fox, the Economist, the New York Times, and most major news outlets. He has even testified before the US Senate as an expert on violence in video games. He holds a PhD in Communication from the University of Michigan.
3. Dr. Anders Drachen
Anders Drachen, Ph.D. is a Professor at the DC Labs, University of York, former Lead Analyst for SaaS provider Game Analytics, and a former member of the board of the IGDA SIG on Game User Research. He is the most published scientist worldwide on game analytics, virtual economics, user research, game data mining, and user profiling, authoring more than 100 research publications on these topics. He also edited “Game Analytics – Maximizing the Value of Player Data”, a compendium of insights from more than 50 top experts in industry and research, as well as "Games User Research", the de facto reference for user research across industry and academia.
His research has been covered by international media, including Wired, Kotaku and Forbes, and he was recognized with best paper awards at MindTrek (2009); AIIDE (2015) and ICEC (2016).
His writings about analytics can be found on www.andersdrachen.com as well as all the major trade publications, such as Gamesindustry.biz, Gamasutra.com, and ourselves.
4. Dr. John Hopson
John is Senior User Research Manager at World of Warcraft developer, Blizzard Entertainment. He has worked in the games industry for the last 15 years on everything from small indy projects through to massive blockbuster titles such as Halo 3, Destiny, and Hearthstone.
John was one of the earliest to see the potential of analytics as a means to understand player behavior and how this could influence game design. As a PhD student in Behavioral and Brain Sciences 2001, he wrote the widely read, 'Behavioral Game Design'. In an interview with endagadget, he said: "When I went to graduate school, I found myself doing behavioral psychology during the day and working on some of the early text-based online roleplaying games (MUDs) as a hobby at night. I kept seeing connections between the two and ended up writing an article called "Behavioral Game Design" that was pretty widely read within the industry. The Games User Research group at Microsoft decided I was their kind of guy and gave me a call. I didn't even know this job existed before they contacted me."
Today, he continues to publish articles on the subject and he is still considered one of the drivers behind the movement.
5. Joel DeYoung
Hothead Games was one of the earliest developers to realize the potential for player analysis in mobile way back in 2010. As Director of Technology, Joel DeYoung was central to this move, taking responsibility for the organization's global technology efforts, including core tech development, the cross-platform game engine, the operation of their mobile game service backend, and their proprietary big data analytics platform. Prior to joining Hothead, he was a producer at Radical Entertainment and worked on Crash Tag Team Racing.
In an article on gamesindustry.biz, DeYoung argued that, “Analytics have created an unprecedented opportunity for mobile video game publishers to gain a deep understanding of how players interact with their games. The effective deployment of analytics in your organization can have a real impact on your game KPIs and can ultimately make the difference between a hit title and a total flop.”
6. Morten E. Wulff
Danish serial entrepreneur Morten E. Wulff founded GameAnalytics, one of the biggest free analytics platforms in the world - 100% dedicated to game developers with more than 30,000 developers tracking more than 100 billion in-game player events monthly. In 2016, Morten sold GameAnalytics to Mobvista, China's biggest ad-tech company with a market cap of more than $1.5 billion. He remains as chairman.
7. Ben Weber
Ben Weber spent almost a decade in gaming analytics, during which time he headed up the analytics functions at some of the industry's biggest names. He managed EAX analytics team, which provides reporting and analysis for EA's subscription services, was a Director of BI and Analytics at Daybreak Game Company, and led Twitch's platform's science team. He also worked at Microsoft, Sony, and Daybreak. Although he recently moved over to data science specialist at Windfall (an article detailing his experience can be found here), he was one of the driving forces behind the use of data in gaming and still attends the major conferences.
We asked him what the future was for gaming analytics:
"The future of game analytics is migration away from vendor solutions towards portable, serverless systems that enable smaller teams to be more productive. Rather than building teams to collect data, game companies will be hiring teams to model and productize data."
8. Kazi Zaman
Electronic Arts is one of the oldest and most successful independent publishers in the industry, with major titles like FIFA and Battlefield drawing 275 million active users and generating around 50 terabytes of data each day. Its recent shift in focus to free-to-play and mobile will see this data become even more integral to the company's success, and as VP Engineering, Data, Kazi Zaman has a major part to play in shaping the future of a major industry player.
Kazi's research has also been widely published.
9. Emily Greer
Emily co-founded Canadian mobile, PC, console publisher and web gaming portal Kongregate in 2006 alongside her brother Jim. She took over as CEO in February 2014, leading the GameStop-owned company’s rapid rise as a free-to-play web destination with 30+ mobile games that have been downloaded over 100 million times. She oversees most day-to-day operations, including product development, game development, game publishing, marketing, community, and monetization.
Emily has become a leader in the game industry with her presentations on the economics and psychology of free-to-play games and is a frequent keynote speaker at conferences. She won the GameChangeHers award for women in gaming in 2012, was named by Fortune as one of the 10 most powerful women in gaming in 2013, and was included among GamesIndustry.biz's People of the Year in 2017, who wrote that "Emily Greer and her team's impact is keenly felt by developers across the globe - whether they're using the Kongregate platform or its publishing services."
10. Christian Loh
Christian Loh is an academic and editor of 'Serious Games Analytics: Methodologies for Performance Measurement, Assessment, and Improvement', a title for which he also contributed a large portion of the research. Along with Anders Drachen, he is one of the most cited academics on the topic of gaming analytics and is a Director at Virtual Environments & Reality Lab.
11. Renjie Li
Riot Games was founded with the USP of being focused on the player first, and as such data fits perfectly into the company ethos. It has become one of the gaming industry's most data-informed companies, and as Head of Data (Data Science, Data Architecture, Artificial Intelligence), Renjie Li can safely be considered a trailblazer. He was also one of the founding members of the organization's player behavior team, whose story was detailed on arstechnica. His team uses advanced analytics and machine learning models to better understand and service players of League of Legends - the "most played PC game in the world", according to Forbes. Before Riot, Renjie was a predictive analytics researcher at Blizzard Entertainment and received his Ph.D. in brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester. Renjie is also one of the few doctors in the world whose Ph.D. study focused on gaming research.
12. Dr. Jeffrey Lin
Dr. Jeffrey Lin is currently a Design Director at Magic Leap, leading design teams that are paving the way for the first generation of mixed reality content. He was previously a Lead Product Owner and Lead Designer of the award-winning PC game League of Legends at Riot Games, where he was one of the founders of the members of the organization's player behavior team alongside Renjie Li. He was also a Research Scientist and User Researcher at Valve Software, makers of the award-winning PC game Portal 2, and creators of the Steam platform. He obtained his PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience from the University of Washington where he was funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. You can join his 28k+ followers on twitter.
13. Ben Medler
Ben Medler is Director, Player Data Steward at EA. He was one of the first to propose using game analytics to personalize experiences, in his paper 'Generations of Game Analytics, Achievements and High Scores'. His work revolves around Data UX, understanding how engineers, data scientists, game developers and players create and use data.
14. Adam Sessler
Adam Sessler is best known as the former presenter of Extended Play and X-Play on the G4 channel, which likely explains his 235k followers on Twitter. Since his departure from the program, however, he has gone on to co-found Spiketrap, a machine learning-based data analytics company for the video game industry. He has passionately defended the artistic merits of the medium as it shifted from a niche entertainment into the ubiquitous cultural force it is today both on social media and numerous YouTube videos. Spiketrap is the result of Adam's "intense curiosity-about and belief-in the idea that truly knowing your audience is the best way to create good content." He also runs TheoryHead, a media and entertainment consulting firm.
15. James Gwertzman
James Gwertzman is CEO of PlayFab, a complete backend platform for live games that offers significant analytics capabilities. It has been used by more than 3,000 studios, can be found in more than 1,200 currently operating games, and has served more than 700 million players. Earlier this year, PlayFab was acquired by Microsoft.
Prior to founding PlayFab, James started and ran PopCap Asia, co-founded console game developer Escape Factory in 2000, and worked on server technologies at Microsoft, receiving 2 patents for web personalization work he led for MSN.
16. Mark Robinson
Mark Robinson is the founder of deltaDNA, winner of the 2017 EGR B2B Awards. DeltaDNA helps game developers and publishers optimize their game revenues by collecting and analyzing event data, predicting behaviors, and delivering in-game messaging to increase revenues, improve virality, and increase retention rates.
17. Joost van Dreunen
Joost is founder and CEO of SuperDATA, providing playable media market intelligence to the likes of Activision Blizzard, Apple, Electronic Arts, GameStop, Google, Microsoft, and Wargaming.net. He was one of the first academics to study video games and has fifteen years of commercial research experience in interactive entertainment and technology industries.
Anticipating the shift to digital games early on, he founded SuperData in 2009. Joost is a recurrent speaker at major industry events and is regularly quoted in both industry publications and mainstream press. In addition to his business adventures, Joost teaches at the NYU Game Center and the New York University Stern School of Business.
18. Vince Darley
Until his move to Deliveroo last year, Vince Darley was one of the most prominent figures in gaming analytics as Chief Scientist at Candy Crush developer, King gaming. He was responsible for defining King's data strategy and ensuring King has a great vision for both data and the sophisticated analytics technology platforms needed by their games, marketing, CRM and other parts of the business. His work in this role led to winning a Green Cubes for Excellence in Business Intelligence & Data and Excellence in Finance at the Digital Masters Awards.
Vince holds a Master of Arts and PhD in Complex Systems from Harvard University and a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics from the University of Cambridge. He is also a published author, having co-authored ‘A NASDAQ market Simulation: Insights on a Major Market from the Science of Complex Adaptive Systems.’
19. Jeremy Ballenger
Jeremy has headed up the analytics department of award-winning international game developer and publisher Wargaming since 2013. Wargaming's free-to-play online military-themed team-based title 'World of Tanks' is a world leader, with more than 180 million registered users, and as with any free-to-play giant, it is data that drives its success.
Prior to Wargaming, Ballenger held several senior management positions as the Head of Analytics at Jagex Games Studio, Senior Manager of Analytics for BioWare in Austin and Senior Business Analyst for Wizards of the Coast. In these roles, he managed the analytics and reporting teams to inform data-driven design and executive decisions for global AAA computer and console software titles, including Star Wars: The Old Republic, Magic the Gathering, MTG: Online, Duels of the Planeswalkers and Dungeons & Dragons.
20. Janelle Benjami
Janelle has spent the last six years building SuperData Research alongside Joost Van Dreunen. She has a long history as a trend researcher across a variety of consumer industries. She previously built financial models for Deutsche Bank, and served as an analyst for BuzzMetrics, a social media monitoring research firm, until its acquisition by Nielsen Online in 2007. She studied Statistics at NYU Stern.
21. Christoph Safferling
Christoph first became involved in the use of data for gaming at the University of Konstanz, publishing a number of well-received papers on subject, including his PhD, titled “Three Essays on the Economics of Online Games.”
In 2011, he left the university to join Ubisoft studio BlueByte to be a Game Metrics Analyst. Since then, he has worked his way up, and now holds the title of Studio Director of Data and Services, where he is in charge of monitoring online and "traditional" games such as The Settlers Online, Anno 2205 and The Division, as well as the mobile games Anno: Build and Empire and Assassin's Creed: Identity.
He still lectures and is a regular speaker at gaming conferences such as GDC.
22. Michael Leznik
Head of Data Science at leading social casino operator Product Madness. He previously worked at King and Greenlight, playing a pivotal role in hiring more than 70 data scientists and programmers altogether. Today, King has one of the strongest Data Science teams in Europe).
23. Jaideep Srivastava
Co-founder of Ninja Metrics alongside fellow researcher at the University of Minnesota, Dmitri Williams, Jaideep Srivastava is no less of a visionary in the field of gaming analytics. He is currently a Professor of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Minnesota, where he directs a laboratory conducting research in Web Mining, Social Media Analytics, and Health Analytics, and has experience at various levels in technology/products/engineering in the industry, including Amazon.com, Persistent Systems, Yodlee and Lancet Software.
He is a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), has been an IEEE Distinguished Visitor, and a Distinguished Fellow of Allina’s Center for Healthcare Innovation. He has been awarded the Distinguished Research Contributions Award of the PAKDD, for his lifetime contributions to the field of data mining. He has authored or co-authored over 400 papers in journals and conferences, and filed 8 patents. Seven of his papers have won best paper awards.
24. Tim Ward
Square Enix is best known for its role-playing video game franchises, such as Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Kingdom Hearts. In recent times, its main focus - as with EA - has been on mobile, a shift which helped to push the developer's revenues to $518 million in its Q1 of this year. As Head of Analytics for Square Enix West, Tim Ward is a vital cog in this machine. He is also active in the academic world.
25. Céline Holzmann
Céline leads the data team in the mobile games department at Bandai Namco Entertainment Europe - a team that she created from scratch from the choice of the technical solutions to the recruitment of the team members.
While Bandai Namco's console offerings have long dominated the market, their mobile games have perhaps lagged behind. However, the company announced at Bandai Namco’s Mobile Entertainment Lineup Presentation during GDC 2018 in San Francisco a number of new games, such as Dragon Ball Legends, that look to be moving their focus to mobile - a move that Céline will be at the heart of.
26. Dr. Elizabeth Owen
Elizabeth Owen is currently the Director of Learning and Data Science at Age of Learning, where they are developing adaptive learning games that can support students’ individualized needs at a large scale with engaging content. She's committed to optimizing adaptive learning systems through applied machine learning, and has held a number of roles in the industry, including as a researcher and data scientist with GlassLab Games (EA campus), LRNG, and Metacog. She holds a PhD in Digital Media (School of Education) from UW-Madison, focused on game-based learning analytics, and her doctoral work is rooted at the Games+Learning+Society Center (GLS).
27. Bysshe Easton
KIXEYE has managed to remain at the top of its game despite only raising $22 million in funding over the past six years, compared to others in the sector tier who have raised hundreds of millions of dollars and seen less success.
Key to this is their analytics efforts. Bysshe Easton is the companies Director Of Analytics at KIXEYE, responsible for the data around titles including War Commander, Battle Pirates, Vega Conflict. He was previously Director Of Analytics at MZ, producer of Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire and Game of War, and Director of Product at free-to-play mobile games specialist GREE International, Inc.
28. Dennis O'Brien
Dennis O’Brien is Director of Data Science at GSN Games, one of the industry's most data-led gaming companies. He is responsible for the full stack from data engineering, data analysis, and predictive analytics. His experience in the game industry extends more than 15 years, including spells as Lead Game Programmer at JellyVision Interactive, Software Engineer at LeapFrog Enterprises, and Principal Software Engineer at Electronic Arts. He studied Physics as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago and Computer Science as a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Chicago and worked for many years doing scientific programming, experimental design, and data analysis in Geophysics and Astrophysics.
29. Volodymyr (Vlad) Kazantsev
Volodymyr Kazantsev is the Head of Data Science at mobile game developer Wooga, creator of hits such as Jelly Splash, Pearl's Peril, and Diamond Dash
Prior to joining Wooga, Volodymyr was Head of Data Science at Product Madness, a social gaming company specialising in Social Casino apps. In this role, Vlad built a Data Science department, replacing Excel and Tableau with Python-based analytics stack and building Data Warehouse system capable of storing and processing 200 million events per day.
30. Dr. Danny Lange
Dr. Danny Lange is Vice President of AI and Machine Learning at game development platform Unity Technologies, where he leads multiple initiatives around applied artificial intelligence.
Previously, Danny was Head of Machine Learning at Uber, where he led the efforts to build a highly scalable machine learning platform to support all parts of Uber's business from the Uber App to self-driving cars. Before joining Uber, Danny was General Manager of Amazon Machine Learning providing internal teams with access to machine intelligence. He also launched an AWS product that offers machine learning as a cloud service to the public. Prior to Amazon, he was Principal Development Manager at Microsoft where he led a product team focused on large-scale machine learning for big data.
Danny spent eight years on speech recognition systems, first as CTO of General Magic, Inc., and then as founder of his own company, Vocomo Software. During this time he was working on General Motor's OnStar Virtual Advisor, one of the largest deployments of an intelligent personal assistant until Siri. Danny started his career as a Computer Scientist at IBM Research. He holds MS and PhD degrees in computer science from the Technical University of Denmark. He is a member of ACM and IEEE Computer Society and has numerous patents to his credit.