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Why understanding analytics is critical to your game's launch

Alzbeta Kovacova of Massive Entertainment explains how analytics helped Ubisoft with a successful launch of The Division

This past March saw Ubisoft launch its long-awaited open world online-only third-person shooter, Tom Clancy's The Division, on multiple platforms. The game broke company records, including the highest number of first-day sales, not only garnering strong reviews across the board but boosting the company's profits for fiscal 2015-16.

Leading up to launch, those involved in the game's data analytics were in no doubt that the pressure would be on.

"There was a lot of preparation," says Alzbeta Kovacova, Massive Entertainment's analytics manager.

"The release of The Division was the biggest launch in Ubisoft's history. It took maybe six months before launch to get everyone on the same page with regards to analytics but it still proved to be a big challenge, especially when it came to our tracking infrastructure. When we launched, our capacity was slowly reaching its limit so we actually had to make a lot of decisions on the fly just to maintain our analytics pipeline. It was a lot of work, but we did it!"

Kovacova insists that the key differentiator between success and failure for a game of this scale - and within the game analytics world in general - is the people. However, while the significance of data to any commercial product is on the rise, people can also prove to be a hurdle.

"When we create a set of analyses, we monitor its usage across the company - who, when and how often people look at it."

"Almost every game company uses data these days, even if it is just following standard business KPIs," Kovacova says. "More directors and senior managers understand the need for analytics and want to use it. Analytics can help to improve games for all their players, inform development teams during the creation of new and better games, as well as make marketing efforts much more efficient. The issue is where to find the right people to deliver these benefits. I believe that further promoting courses and training for game-specific data analysts would help the industry greatly."

"However, right now, there is still a cultural hurdle to overcome within the game industry. Many departments are sceptical of using data. So even if you have the best analytics in the world available to you, you won't see any benefits as no action is taken following your insights. In this context our job cannot be about crunching the data, sending the results and not caring. Analysts must champion data in order to make an impact - tracking game features driven by requested analyses, making sure that any changes are properly tracked and can be evaluated up the pipeline until we have a clear answer if the change was good or not. I also insist on meta-analytics - analysing the added value of our department. When we create a set of analyses, we monitor its usage across the company - who, when and how often people look at it. It helps us tremendously to understand the nature of analyses that have a lasting impact apart from ad-hoc requests. Analysing our work in a similar way that we analyse our players helps us to continuously improve."

This sentiment is one that many in the game analytics field have mentioned in recent months, usually with an eye to raising awareness, encouraging more engagement, and making the process of analytics organic to all staff, regardless of their individual responsibility on the office floor, be they designers or marketers.

"Admittedly, there are reasons why this type of engagement is slow to happen. It's still new. The last 20-30 years, we haven't had the level of analytical insight we enjoy today," Kovacova adds.

"To make it work, you have to have a good analytics team behind you, good leaders, and people who are willing to make data-driven decisions. Meanwhile, I believe that good game analysts have to truly love games and play the games they're working on. You simply can't contribute to improve the experience of players when you only know that experience through numbers on a database. It can therefore be very difficult for analysts to transition over to gaming from a different industry because the culture is so different."

"What's more important to us is making smart decisions when it comes to how we use the data coming in"

Today, the analytics field is also ripe with technological solutions and innovations, with the likes of machine learning and predictive analytics claiming to revolutionise how games can develop and mature, before, during and after a launch. Knowing where to invest is therefore as crucial a question to ask as it is difficult to answer.

"Of course managing data for a game like The Division is much different from other games, but irrespective of size or genre, you do have to improve your technology all the time to ensure you're on top of what's state-of-the-art at any given time. We're using predictive analytics but not to a great extent. What's more important to us is making smart decisions when it comes to how we use the data coming in."

"It's also important that we deliver analytics insight internally in a way that's easy to understand. Insights and conclusions need to be presented clearly in order to make an impact."

In its annual effort to help those involved in this arena to come together and share their lessons and experiences, the Game Analytics and Business Intelligence Forum will be returning to London this September (20th - 22th), offering seminars from the likes of Rovio, Spotify, King and Miniclip.

In an exclusive talk, Kovacova will also be offering deeper insight into Massive Entertainment's launch of The Division at this forum.

"I hope the industry can learn something from my presentation," she says, "but I'm also looking forward to hearing more about different challenges and solutions from the other speakers on the panel."

Find out more about attending the Game Analytics and Business Intelligence Forum in London, 20th-22nd September 2016.

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