The terms ‘games’ and ‘data warehousing’ used to hang about in different semantic ‘hoods. No longer. Social games publishers are bringing business intelligence bods on board by the bucketload:
- Playfish recently advertised for a Director of Analytics and Business Intelligence
- Moshi Monsters is advertising for a Business Intelligence Engineer
- Zynga hired, as a senior data analyst, a Ph.D. from Zhao’s large-scale network systems lab at UCSB, which has been doing research on Facebook, Twitter, and other on-line social networks (OSNs).
There is even a stealth-mode startup dedicated to social games optimisation, Turiya Media. The CEO, Chetan Ramachandran, and the CTO, Shalom Tsur, both have experience of Big Data and predictive analytics. Amongst other things, they are reportedly planning to develop a revenue stream based on the uplift they provide to vendors’ virtual goods revenue, though personalised recommendations. Any service provider willing to put skin in the game in this way is worth watching.
Of the developers’ actual and prospective hires, Zynga’s seems the most directional. Yes, it all boils down to KPIs – once you’ve boiled it all down. But the gotcha is that there is no set recipe for exactly how this boiling ought to be done. (Lighting a fire underneath your data is sometimes tempting but is fundamentally not productive.) It’s the conceptual route you take to understanding what drives your KPI’s that is important. It’s what winnows the wheat from the chaff, analysis-wise. And that’s where it starts to get fun. The Zynga hire is interesting because the fact that players are part of a social network is interesting, and important. Understanding how it is important is… interesting.
Any app worth the hassle of building it probably deserves to get some analysis that assesses the extent to which it is achieving its goals. But, for social games, the incentive to investigate user behaviour intelligently is even greater:
- barriers to customer loss are low, customers can ever so easily let their fingers do the walking, to another game, or to another leisure activity altogether, so high retention is vital for vendor success
- products are not physically distributed, so what’s on offer can be changed on the fly, to fix what’s wrong, to test variant configurations, or, in the limit, to dynamically personalise and optimise the rules of the game experience
- inter-player game play is a driver for distribution, satisfaction, and retention
There are some massive challenges associated with doing design-driven analytics for social games. But since the penalty for getting it wrong is death, everyone’s dong it. Vendors are under evolutionary pressure to get smarter faster – just like their games.