Social games: getting smarter faster

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: 

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.

3 thoughts on “Social games: getting smarter faster

  1. Excellent post, I’ll be dropping by more often now that I’ve found you. I’ve been noticing significant investments in quantifying data as well, but while everyone is focusing on KPIs, where are the benchmarks?

    Using the automobile industry as an example may be instructive. the Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet boasts 385 horsepower @ 6500 rpm, has a top raceway speed of 188 mph and goes from 0 to 60mph in 4.7 seconds. There’s alot of data/analytics there. But is that fast?

    The answer of course is “compared to what”?

    Compared to a Toyota family sedan which goes 0 to 60 in 8 seconds, sure. Compared to the Ferrari F350 tweaked models which go from 0 to 60 in 3 seconds, not so much. There’s two elements we need to make analytics meaningful here:

    1. An industry standard measurement (mph, 0-60, DAU, MAU, ARPU), and
    2. External data points to compare those measurements to.

    The second is relative benchmarking, and that’s what’s missing in most analytics packages developed internally. Otherwise, you’re just taking a guess. What is a good DAU/MAU ratio? is 1. ok? how about .2? Now if I told you Frontierville’s looks like .45, now we have a basis for comparison that is meaningful. That’s where we’re headed to next.



    • Welcome! The space the virtualdoubloon lives in is a very interesting one. Look forward to hearing more. Don’t know about you, it just be my glasses, but everywhere I look at the moment, I see AI. Whoa. Deja vu. Re. Benchmarking, yes indeed, if you also consider how much the fuel costs (and the car… and how much it costs to service).


      • Deja vu indeed. Glad you’re interested in the space. We’re pretty psyched on benchmarking and bet big on it. So far, we’ve seen a pretty large groundswell of publishers and developers of casual games in particular who want to feed into a “NASDAQ” of virtual goods, so it seems to be resonating!

        (BTW, I’m @ericgonzalez on Twitter – feel free to reach out anytime to chat about this stuff)


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