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Starhawk developer finds social-style analytics are "king"

Lightbox Interactive turns to social game development practices for its new shooter

Starhawk developer Lightbox Interactive says that it learned from social game companies like Zynga, using analytics heavily during the development process. Lightbox CEO Dylan Jobe told GamesBeat that the studio uses player data to keep the multiplayer-centric title balanced.

"One of the other big changes that we did, to help make more informed design decisions about balance, was putting in place a really massively robust backend system for game analytics. We're able to track far more statistics than we ever could," said Jobe.

"Analytics is king. With it, you can make some really amazing business decisions, and also really smart, well-informed design decisions. We invested a lot of time putting in place a great telemetry system in Starhawk. We track every single event for every player in every game on the planet every single day. We know what skill you activated, when, how long you had that skill activated, when you switched," he added.

"Down to very specific game design and tuning parameters, like, for every missile that is fired at another aircraft, we know how their controller was configured. So that we can make sure that the different control schemes have balance and are not providing advantages one way or another."

Jobe said that he sat in on sessions with Zynga and Nexon at the Game Developers Conference Online event, learning about how companies handled backend analytics.

"Many of them kept referring to a piece of software called Tableau, which is a really great data visualizer. And I really didn't know anything about it at the time, but I knew that this was something that I needed to know more about, that we needed to integrate with Starhawk," he said.

"I remember coming back to the studio, sitting down with our systems designer and saying, 'You know what? This software looks like something we need to use. It's going to be a great way for us to visualize all kinds of design stuff. Get on it.' Of course we use a very involved custom Sony backend, but Tableau software is a really great visualizer, and I would highly recommend that for any game studio. And we did exactly what you said regarding the learnings that we've all gotten from social games."

According to Jobe, the company uses the data to make quick changes to the game, bypassing Sony's own patching system.

"We developed, at a very foundational level across the entirety of our engine in Starhawk, the notion of a 'hotfix' system. Which was very much inspired by Zynga A/B testing and what Naughty Dog did with Uncharted 2. It's basically a way for us to take all of the parameters that would otherwise be encoded into the executable itself, extract as much of it as possible, including art assets like texture maps and the placement of pickups and bunkers and walls and all that stuff, and extract that out into a layer that can, for all intents and purposes, bypass Sony's potentially slower patching system, so that we could take advantage of the analytics."

Starhawk hits store shelves today in North America, with a release tomorrow in Europe. The full interview with GamesBeat covers other topics, such as the studio's founding, and is worth a read.

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Mike Williams avatar
Mike Williams: M.H. Williams is new to the journalism game, but he's been a gamer since the NES first graced American shores. Third-person action-adventure games are his personal poison: Uncharted, Infamous, and Assassin's Creed just to name a few. If you see him around a convention, he's not hard to spot: Black guy, glasses, and a tie.
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