Getting all the juice of your game with data analytics

Gabriel Pineiro
2019-03-12T22:58:49-03:00By |
October 17, 2018

Motivations

Here @ Basecodeit we help different kinds of industries, projects and products. We’ve been able to identify some painpoints and misconceptions about data analytics in general, and game analytics in particular (this is: analytics applied to in-gaming data collection).

The main challenge is that people thinks that data analytics is for big big companies or big publishers only. This is absolutely not true.

Another common misconception is that, in some aspect, driving game development through game analytics is a way of kill creativity: why think in new mazes/paths for our character, if a heatmap of the room is going to give me exactly the answer that I’m looking for?

So the motivation of this post is basically to guide indie game development studios in some of the alternatives to collect in-game data, or do research on existing data, and how to use that data in a smart way, to improve the overall experience in your game.

Why you need to consider it?

So the main point here is the following: if you want to get better in game development you have to make mistakes and learn from them.

But how do you know when there is an area of opportunity with your game? Here is where analytics can help us. With them, you can understand the user behavior

and see if something is wrong with your game and eventually fix the errors and improve the game.

There are basically three stages in which you can plug game analytics to your game. Briefly:

Before the development

At this stage is important research the market. The amount of effort to change the direction of your game is not tremendous, as you still not have code or graphics.

You have the actual chance to improve your game even before start working on it.

Some topics worth researching:

  • theme
    leverage in, for example, movies, TV shows and comics stats for your theme. Most of it could be obtained through Statista, Box Office Mojo and IMDB. Or even Google Trends. With that data analyzed, you can ride the wave: an example of this are video games that came out at the same time that the movie The Martian were being play in cinemas around the world. Those games with a space theme manage to ride that wave in order to get attention and users.
  • genreS
    with capital S. Your game is a mix of genres. Dissect your game into several core mechanics that are easy to explain and (preferably) match Steam’s tags-this way it will be easier to research your competition on Steam Spy. Make a list of top games for each genre and list their strengths and weaknesses (gameplay-wise). You will later use this list to avoid making mistakes other people made while developing similar games and to improve your own game.
  • audience
    Your potential audience are people with access to the platform of your choice, who are interested in your game’s theme and its core mechanics, and not scared away by its visual style.
    You’ll have to use social media groups or forums. I’d start with the ones dedicated to your theme, but you can go with core mechanics as well.
    Go, introduce yourself and just ask people if they would be interested in playing something like your game. Make a poll if the social media of choice allows it. Take a look at reddit/r/indiegames y reddit/r/gamedevelopment
  • market/competitors
    Make a list of games that are using the same theme and some (or all) of your core mechanics. Both released and upcoming. Especially upcoming, because chances are you’ll be judged against them.
    “How is our game different?” The key word here is “different”, not “better”, so you won’t get caught in wishful thinking “we’ll have better graphics and better balance”. Why your target audience should consider your game instead of another one? People only have so much time to play.

During the development

It’s the time when you can get a reaction to your game, not just an idea of it. You can change many things without angering your existing audience.

Some topics worth researching:

  • audience reaction to your visual style
    You can now ask them about your visual style. Usually it’s enough to have several art drafts/mockups. Don’t ask if the audience likes them or not, ask if they’d play a game that looks like this.
  • player behavior
    By now you should be adding in-game analytics already. There are many options (Google Analytics, Unity Analytics, Flurry and so on), you can choose whatever you like. You can even create your own, as many people do.
    After collect the data, you need to analyze it to get the best information, in order to make the best decisions for your game. You can batch-process the info with a big data tool, like Hadoop, or even get real time analytics building a platform with Apache Kafka/Spark. The sky is the limit.
    Things to look for when watching people play your game:

    • What catches their attention?
    • What do they do first?
    • How much time passes before the person gets to the first major point in the game?
    • Did you expect it to take this long?
    • Do they understand the game rules?
    • Do they understand effects of the game items or enemy strategies?
    • How do they handle controls?
    • Is it balanced?

After the launch (or early access)

The game is done, fire and forget. Why are we still analyzing it? Because:

  • You have actual users playing the game!
  • You can still find and fix a lot of problems.
  • You’ll learn a lot for your next game.

You need to research:

  • in-game behavior
    You should be tracking user path through the game. Where does he/she starts? Does he/she go for the first enemy or wanders around clicking on every NPC? They’re playing the same game, but it’s now their experience, not yours, so watch them and learn.
  • in-game economics
    Don’t go for averages, always go for brackets or clusters, as averages are deceiving. You want to look into outliers to see the whole picture. Some questions to ask:

    • How many resources does a person have after 1 hour / 1 chapter into the game?
    • How many people have too much and how many don’t have enough?
    • What people usually spend their resources on?
    • Do they go for armor, swords, potions, artillery or tanks? Why?
    • Do “explorers” buy different items compared to “fighters”?
    • Do they have more resources or less? Should it be like this?
    • Research consumables (potions, gems, etc). Do people actually use them or save them for later?
  • in-game balance
    Some questions to ask:

    • Which character/class/role people choose more often?
    • Does it vary based on their behavior in game?
    • Based on the character selected, are there any differences in resources acquired, damage dealt, time spent in the game?
    • How many tries does it take a player to complete a level? What are the extremes?
    • In which part of the level do your players die most often?

Conclusions

At this point, I really hope that you found this useful and you’re ready to add game analytics to your game to get the best experience for your users. Reach us in case you’re looking to use Analytics to improve your game!