While more and more companies are beginning to recognise the importance of analytics, actual using them effectively is still something of a dark art. The term applies to data gathered about player's behaviour, activity and their demographics, simple enough to act on at first, but what about when you game hits 10 million monthly active users?
Speaking exclusively to GamesIndustry.biz, Raj Pai is CEO and co-founder of Claritics, explained just why analytics are becoming such an important part of the success of online games, and why he warns against any developer or publisher taking a DIY approach.
I think a lot of games publishers, and people in general, don't know what analytics does and why a data driven approach is important for gaming. So why we're unique, let me start off with that point. I think a lot of people talk about metrics and analytics and my personal background and most of my team's comes from the the data analytics space, and I've dealt with big data projects for large companies, and we understand that is not just about finding out insights.
For instance, it's not just enough to find out that a million users came yesterday and a million and a half came today. What you do with that insight, and how you start acting on some of those insights that you seen in real time is critical. And our unique differentiation is that not only can you see the real time insights that are relevant for your game, whether it be virality, which channel is bringing in the most users, you can turn around and take those insights and create campaign actions. And create action that can drive further growth or monetisation within your game.
A lot of publishers I speak to the most common response I get is "we all know we have data, we all know we want to get metrics, but we don't know how to get started, and what to do with the insight that we gather." So a lot of our time is spent in just explaining the basics, saying here are the metrics you need to track, how it translates into tangible actions for user acquisitions for virality, virtual goods growth, virtual commerce growth within the game.
At the simplest level, if I put on the hat of a game publisher, it's two things. I as a game publisher spend a lot of money acquiring new users. So user acquisition, optimising, how I'm acquiring new users is critical. And watching that very carefully, because there's a lot of marketing spend that I do to do to acquire users.
Once I've acquired the users, how do I engage them and finally monetise the relationship with a small subset of those users, which is critical, especially in mobile and social games.
And I think those two are the big types of problems that publishers deal with, user acquisition and monetisation.
Absolutely critical. A good team, good content, good mechanics gets you started but launch is just the start of the game evolution, because as you launch and as you go from beta to early users and scaling it up, you need to have a very disciplined, data driven approach to see what's happening, and track almost on a daily basis what your users are doing.. So it can go from not just 50,000 users, but scaling it up to millions and millions. Because most of these games are based on a free to play model, so it's a small subset of the users that convert into monetisation opportunities. It's critical to monitor every day, every week, on how users are behaving within the games.
Interesting. I think it'll be hard to find any online games that you cannot apply metrics. If I were to answer your question in a slightly different way I think the challenge that larger publishers have, and that is something we're looking at very closely, is as you get into different platforms, social games, mobile, iOS, Android, and for some of the larger publishers there's console games, online game. How do you track what works on one platform? It may be the exact same game, but the way the users interact with those games on different platforms. maybe different, and the game mechanics may be different. If I were to answer your question how you collect the right set of metrics for a diverse set of platforms becomes a critical thing and how do you apply it becomes a thing for most companies, for larger publishers.
I think it's very early days. I think if I broadly speak about the two categories of users, the kind of users who got attracted to social games, more casual gamers who would have maybe one or two sessions, maybe involve their friends, the game playing wasn't for a very long time. Whereas contrast that with traditional console gamers, they spent a lot time, even today when you see Xbox or any of the larger game consoles, people spend an incredible amount of time in one or two sessions in a game, in highly deep interaction with the game. I think that given the fact that now you can play some of these games on mobile while you're on the go or on an iPad or a tablet, the way users are interacting with games in changing dramatically. Most games that are built for consoles do not adapt very easily to casual, quick game play, and I think most publishers are realising that. A good example of what has transformed from the online console game to social is Sims Social. I don't know if you've tracked the growth of Sims Social, it's gone from literally very few users to about 50 million users, and EA have done a fantastic job of bringing that same title from the online console world into the social gaming gap. I mean they've changed the game a little bit, but that's a great example.
To answer your question briefly I think we're still in the early days of how mobile and tablets and social gaming are transforming the gaming world.
I think definitely in the last 6 months what we've seen is, and it's not so much from the end user behaviour, but from a game publisher perspective, there's been a lot more interest from publishers in the Android platform just because of the economics involved. iOS you have to get it approved by the App Store, and they take about a 30 per cent cut of anything you make through the App Store. Whereas Android it's a more open marketplace and from a publishers viewpoint, publishers are more interested in getting out more and more Android games.
I think the biggest misconception is that as you start off building your game and rolling it out I think most publishers and developers think and believe that they can do this internally, and try to do this putting together a couple of developers, throwing in database, and what we've noticed over and over again is that as soon as the game starts picking up speed, as you get more users, as you get more data, even for a small to mid-size game you're pretty much looking at collecting tens of hundreds of millions off events a day, and it becomes a really big problem for these publishers to be doing it on their own.
That's one of the misconceptions people have, that I can do this on my own, I can start small. Yes most publishers start small with a few users, but as soon as the traffic and user base grows it becomes very cost prohibitive to do it in-house.
The three stages that we see are first, publishers wanting to get real time insights, the innovation that we are driving is saying we don't just give you insights, but then we can take some of the insights and turn it automated campaigns, whether it's through promotions, in game offers, new game features. That's the second step of the evolution. Looking ahead I think since these social games, online games, mobile games, are growing rapidly I think the need for automation is going to be critical.
Especially in analytics, where you see a certain pattern and you say if I see certain classes of users I'm going to automatically put a rule in the system that I'm using and generate some offers, or maybe reach out through social channels and interact with these users in an automated way rather than having an analyst or a games publisher having to do it.
So those are the three stages of evolution that we see, getting real time insights, acting on them and automating some of the actions that you do.
In the last six months we've expanded from Facebook data to HTML5, we're definitely pushing the automation side, what are we doing huge looking ahead is getting some of the actionable campaigns that we run and making them more automated, that's the next big thing for us in the short to mid term.
I don't know if you saw the infographic we put out a few weeks back?
When publishers and developer come to us the first thing they say "I need to do analytics but I don't know how to get to started," and the infographic is kind of a light hearted way of looking at analytics almost being like a game. You're transition through different lands, going through acquisition, going through user engagement and user monetisation, which puts it in a very simple, game like framework for publishers to understand. A number of publishers large and small have reached out to us. You ask me what's next for us? We're working on evolving that infographic from being just a static piece to something more dynamic and active. I can't give you specific information, but we will make that game part of our product offering looking ahead.