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Expert View: 'The Way A User Interacts With VR Allows For Extremely Pervasive Information Collection'

We sat down with Cindy Mallory, Business Analyst and VR Game Developer at DreamSail Games

24Mar

Cindy Mallory is a Business Analyst and VR Game Developer at DreamSail Games, creator of award winning titles that includes Blade Ballet. Her focus at DreamSail is on analytics management and she assists in virtual realitydevelopment by defining, analyzing, and documenting requirements for game creation with emergent technology. She also created and maintains a company database to log KPIs and archive pertinent audits. 

We sat down with her ahead of her presentation at the Gaming Analytics Summit, taking place this April 26–27 in San Francisco.

How did you get started in your career?

I studied biochemistry with an emphasis on mathematics and physics. Methods for lab research primed me for data analysis; it’s what I was already doing when I calculated enzyme reaction rates, ran kinetic assays, read UV wavelengths and modified experiments for a better run. That was my first brush with trend analysis and predictive modeling. My project was the isolation and purification of a recombinant cloned enzyme for biofuel application. I ran experiments geared toward yield purifications of a protein grown in E-coli until I made a profile on a dating site...

A NYC game designer threw a 3D model of my research project into a game engine. I was hooked. I started dabbling with a few coding languages, business strategy, and data-driven marketing. I accepted a position at DreamSail Games, a Midtown VR creative studio, as their business analyst. I geek out whenever I can transfer my methodologies from biochem to business.

Why are KPIs important to track in video game development and which do you feel are the most important?

Every studio has different analytical documentation requirements based on size, funding, methodology, and industry standards. I think it’s important to first break down the needs of your studio and create a list of stakeholder aligned goals. You can split the goals into dimensions with metrics and then figure out what tools for measuring data work best for you.

I created a KPI database for DreamSail Games that segments indicators into Marketing, Financial, and In-game. During the developmental process, KPIs can serve as thermometers gauging interest. Alexa, Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, SteamWorks Financial, GameAnalytics, and StreamHatchet all provide data that can be used to monitor social mention and efficacy of marketing campaigns.

What challenges do you face in tracking KPIs and what advice would you give for those looking to overcome them?

I created a system to record and archive weekly snapshots for my KPIs that allows me to interact with webmaster and analytic suites in a consistent and thorough method. Logging the information isn’t difficult. The toughest hurdles present themselves with effective report generation and data visualization.

I’m a girl that’s familiar with methodically pouring over data sets. It’s easy enough to list and tally values, the real challenge hits with evaluation. The ability to sort through troves of information and pick out trends to strategically bolster marketing proposals...that’s a skill I constantly hone. It’s important to be able to translate information from a spreadsheet format into clear, visual reports that allow your team to make informed decisions.

What challenges do you see in analytics that are unique to the VR space compared to other fields in gaming?

The advent of new technologies to collect data for VR gaming is already exciting. Platforms such as cognitiveVR and Ghostline are analytic solutions that map out user interaction, visualize sessions, collect hardware data, and encourage A/B testing and feedback fueled design. There are so many SDKs being developed to assist with game analytics that the challenge is not about innovation; it’s an ethical problem. A lot of the new techs depend on real-time processing of the player’s physiological and behavioral information.

The way a user interacts with VR allows for extremely pervasive information collection. Bio-haptics and positional tracking will granularly improve with each iteration of virtual reality hardware. As tech improves the feeling of immersion will as well, but it shouldn’t cost personal data to access. A reason I joined the VR/AR Association Entertainment Industry Committee was to help establish standards for the VR space in regards to data collection, consent, storage, and transmission of personal information.

What do you see as the most exciting developments in VR? Where do you see the industry heading?

I try to map out progress in the industry by following startup acquisitions and venture capital financing. A new wave peripheral VR company to watch, Ultrahaptics, is offering developmental kits for tactile virtual button technology via ultrasound transducer arrays. Inside out tracking is also a hot tech for VR and AR, along with volumetric capture. I’m keeping a close eye on 8i (high fidelity volumetric video) and Fove (low latency eye tracking and foveated rendering). I’m also excited for the OEM ecosystem explosion. High-end VR will become more accessible as PC powered HMDs in the range of $300-500 become available to consumers. Manufacturers such as Dell and Lenovo are hustling to put out HMD kits to accompany a line of Windows 10 VR ready computers.

On a personal level, I am really excited about mixed reality. It’s challenging to share a spatial experience through traditional 2d mediums such as photo or video. A shaky, flattened recording of a player’s POV doesn’t convey the presence of virtual reality. Mixed reality is a fantastic way to introduce an audience to VR...and it just looks really cool. Tell me you never stared at a video game and wished yourself in the environment. Traditional green screen set ups require aligning a physical camera with a camera in the virtual world to composite capture mixed-reality gameplay. This method is time-consuming and tedious. I’m so geeked about the prototyped LIV Cube. It’s a portable green screen room that will revolutionize how content creators approach VR streaming. I’m happy to announce that DreamSail Games partnered with LIV to bring one of the first 50 LIV cubes to NYC (and the Game Analytics Summit!).

Do you think gender is still an issue in gaming? Do you see companies doing enough to improve the issue, and what else do you think could be done?

We all remember Gamergate. The struggle for inclusion in gaming culture for women and non-cis individuals is still raging. White papers demonstrate a disparity in access to virtual reality and highlight a gap in wages and hire for women working in VR development. As a woman accustomed to being a minority in my field, it’s devastating to compile audience segmentation reports that indicate the “smart” thing to do is design a game geared towards placating the male millennials dominating the pool. This being said, VR is a space that is ripe for equality. There are amazing communities of developers and evangelists formed around the movement to support Women in VR.

An issue that has to be addressed is harassment in the virtual space. Traditional platforms for gaming kept trolling and intimidation limited to voice, messages, and avatar actions on a 2D screen. With the advent of social VR, cases of spatial harassment have already sprung up. Developers need to proactively address concerns over VR etiquette and strive to stamp out toxic behaviors. I feel like companies are aware of inequality issues and as long as the community is proactive in demanding safe game spaces, developers are more than happy to comply.

Will games studios be able to share data and analytics insights to develop better VR or is the competition too great?

Absolutely, it’s already happening. I’ve been lucky enough to meet some amazing game developers while exhibiting at conventions like GDC, Twitchcon, and PAX that are kind enough to answer my ridiculous emails. I send out requests (with smiley faces) that ask intimate development questions regarding active session stats on their games, efficacy of marketing campaigns, and developmental systems inquiries ranging from production duration to team size to agile software preferences. The industry guidance and support system I’ve cultivated for my team demonstrate a willingness in the VR space to share for the greater good. We are in uncharted territory with a disruptive technology. Online communities offer support while developers create tutorials, give talks, and publish devlogs.

Coincidentally, my talk will be on my intellectual collaboration in the VR space. Coopetition, otherwise known as cooperative competition, is a principal chronicled in game theory. The mechanisms of juxtaposed competition and cooperation take place in industries where there is a congruity of interests. The collective contribution of competing companies creates a phenomenon of encouragement that fosters research and knowledge sharing. This, in turn, accelerates content creation, VR development accessibility, and the rate of consumer adoption. As DreamSail progressed past R&D and pre-production into vertical slice development, I’ve gained mentors and friends who work for VR studios vying for the same small demographic. In the early stages of production, insights, and partnerships provided by pioneering developers, who are rooting for us to succeed, have made all the difference.

You can hear more from Cindy, as well as other industry leading speakers in the space, at the Gaming Analytics Summit. View the full agenda here.

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