Competition in the video game market is fierce, and expectations among players are exceptionally high. Games like Fallout 4 and Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 have raised the bar, providing the kind of immersive, engaging experience that saw the amount spent on console games in the US pass $8.4bn last year.
Data analytics has provided a boost to the industry in a number of ways. As video games are played in digital environments, almost every aspect of user interaction can be measured and leveraged for insights that can boost revenues, and keep players engaged and loyal.
The trend towards freemium games means that, for many, the main purpose of analytics is pushing people towards their paid-for products, usually in the form of gems or stones that make the game move faster. Something like Clash of Clans, the most profitable mobile game, can take an age to advance in, but with gems that time is significantly reduced. However, according to mobile advertiser Flurry, the percentage of people who spend money in free-to-play game ranges from just 0.5% to 6%, meaning that investment in server support, game development and other operational costs are going on people who are not paying anything in return.
Alan Miller, from GamesAnalytics, notes that, ‘Our objective generally is to increase monetization and improve player satisfaction. Usually, the publisher's objectives have to do with increasing revenues, but not always. Sometimes they want to increase the virality, the number of invites and notifications sent out from a game. Then we look at their data and we identify behavior patterns. It allows the publisher to learn a lot more about their game than they thought they knew.’
While data is useful in suggesting ways to draw money from users, as is so often the case, attempts to extract cash from someone do not necessarily translate into player satisfaction, and a careful balance needs to be maintained. People don’t want incessant notification and calls to payment as it distracts from the game and decreases enjoyment. Console games do not have the same problem, earning hundreds of millions simply from the sale price, which often exceeds $40. For console games, developers and publishers do not need to concern themselves so much with driving revenue, they simply need to ensure gamer satisfaction. Constant engagement is vital to the success of a game, and data analytics can be used during development to optimize every aspect of a game.
As such, many gaming companies employ focus groups which film a players’ every movement to gauge metrics like where they have the most enjoyment, which parts best hold their interest, and when they get bored. They also look at the huge amounts of unstructured in-game data to pinpoint the stages players most commonly abandon a game, which may suggest that a level is too difficult if people are constantly failing the tasks there and that the level needs to be made easier, or that it’s too easy and needs to be made more challenging if the opposite is true.
Data can also be used to adapt games for different consoles or devices. The Playstation 4 and XBox One are very different consoles, which results in a totally different playing experience. Data analytics offers insights into how games are played on different devices, and suggests changes that can be made to better suit the console. There is so much money to be made in gaming, and users invest so much time into them - a total of 3 billion hours a week in the US - that every aspect of a game needs to be perfect, and it’s only data analytics that can really ensure this happens.