Anders Drachen

Anders Drachen, Ph.D. is a veteran Data Scientist, Game Analytics consultant and Professor at the DC Labs, University of York (UK).

If you are interested in game analytics one of the best things to do early on is to read up on what other people do. While this does not result in a plan for how to implement analytics in your game, it provides useful information guiding the design of the plan.

In this post we provide suggestions for some of the best material out there on game analytics. Part one focuses on books and online writings. 

Game analytics has in some ways been a part of games since developers started looking at how people actually play games, i.e. from the very beginning, but it is in recent years that analytics has become more deeply integrated in game development across the indie and AAA. Unfortunately, the level of available information has not followed this rather explosive development, meaning that for a non-expert interested in analytics, finding useful information can be difficult. The goal here is to provide a guide to the literature that is available, with an emphasis on the non-expert. (If you know of good analytics resources that you think should be on the list, drop us a line on anders[at]gameanalytics.com).

Books on Game Analytics

There are currently two books on game analytics on the market. One is a comprehensive mastodont which covers a variety of topics, while the other focuses on social online games and monetization. These can be supplemented by a few excellent texts on business intelligence and analytics in general, as well as books on data mining.

Game Analytics: Maximizing the Value of Player Data  Edited by El-Nasr, Drachen and Canossa, this 800-page mammoth covers a variety of topics in analytics, with a focus on behavioral telemetry and its role in game development and research. Aimed at both beginners and experts, and authored by more than 50 experts from industry and research, it covers many important bases such as game data mining, visualization, monetization and user research, as well as topics such as metrics for learning games and quantitative user testing. The sheer scope of the book means that everyone will find something of interest inside, but it should be noted that the book is aimed at providing information and coverage rather than a how-to volume. (disclaimer: I am an editor on this book and therefore horribly biased).

Social Game Design: Monetization Methods and Mechanics Authored by the highly experienced developers Tim Fields and Brandon Cotton this book focuses on the design and business side of social game development, and outlines what makes games compelling and why people will pay to play them. The book handily outlines different business models, player acquisition strategies, analytics strategies and retention considerations. Recommended for both beginners and experts in analytics who work with social/online games. An excerpt is available from Gamasutra.com.

Online Articles on Game Analytics

Introductory articles

Game Analytics 101 In this great post by Ben Chong, a tutorial is delivered which covers the very basics of doing analytics for iPhone games, with some great insights for aspiring game analysts. Ben Chong highlights that analytics is useful because it provides the knowledge to change game design to increase engagement with the users.

Intro to User Analytics Magy Seif El-Nasr, Alessandro Canossa and Anders Drachen (disclaimer: that’s me – horribly biased), writes about feature selecting, i.e. finding out which user behaviors to track in games.

Better Game Design Through Data Mining Written back in 2003, David Kennerly was one of the first people to write publicly about game data mining – the process of discovering patterns in e.g. telemetry data. He focuses on MMOs but the insights are broadly applicable. Kennerly focuses on four applications of data mining in MMOs: Balancing economies, catching cheaters, cutting production costs and increasing subscription renewals. This feature article on Gamasutra is a must-read for those interested in online game analytics.

Finding Out What They Think Ben Lewis-Evans has with the backing of the IGDA Special Interest Group on Game User Research written an excellent introduction to game user research and the methods used – which includes analysis of telemetry data. The primer is available from Gamasutra and is a long read, but definitely worth it, and nicely explains how analytics go hand in hand with user testing.

Game Analytics Applied to Games – Great Examples

Halo 3: How Microsoft Labs invented a new science of play The article by Thompson in Wired Magazine about Microsoft Studios Research’s and Bungie’s work on game user research is one of the fundamental pieces of writing in game analytics. Thompson focuses on the specific situation of user testing in AAA-level contexts, and outlines how Microsoft and Bungie started integrating analytics in their studies of player behavior with great success.

Game Telemetry with Playtest DNA on Assassin´s Creed Ubisoft has started up their own development/analytics blog, The Engine Room, where the teams there write about the highly interesting work they are doing on game analysis. The three-parter on analyzing player behavior in Assassin´s Creed are highly interesting stuff, covering trajectory analysis, heatmaps and the relationship between user testing and design.

Tracking Player Feedback to Improve Game Design Phillip DeRosa from Bioware wrote this piece for Gamasutra during the development of Mass Effect, focusing on time spent reports, i.e. logs of player behavior or activity, categorized into specific bins ”combat mode” or ”journal”. It is a good example of how a basic metric can be used to great effect to inform design.

Hot Failure: Tuning Gameplay With Simple Player Metrics Chris Pruett wrote this insightful story in Game Developer Magazine about his own beginning experiences with analytics during the process of developing an indie mobile game, Replica Island, outlining how he used basic analytics tools to get actionable insights for tweaking the games’ design. Additional analysis are shown on his website for Replica Island.

Predicting Churn: Data-Mining Your Game Dmitry Nozhnin provides an excellent account for how an indie company with no experience in data mining started looking into and predicting the behavior of their players.

Feature Articles

Freemium Games are Not Normal Nick Lim writes about the fundamental properties of player behavior, describing a surprising discrepancy between many forms of human behavior and player behavior, which has earlier been described in academic research but is filtering through in the industry: that player behavior is not normally distributed but follows a power law distribution. This has a ton of important connotations for F2P games (and all other games for that matter), notably that there is no limit on player spending, and that “elder” players should not be slighted. It also highlights once again the importance the few power-spenders that drive the economy of F2P games.

Staying Power: Rethinking Feedback to Keep Players in the Game Bruce Phillips is a veteran in the industry and someone it pays to listen to. In this Gamasutra feature he writes about why people stop playing games and backs it up using analytics. He discusses different strategies for encouraging players to keep playing.

The Metrics are the Message: how analytics is shaping social games Keith Stuart writes about Facebook and online games and the need to analyze player behavior to ensure success in the UK Newspaper The Guardian’s online blog. He describes the need for information about players as the origin of a new generation of companies dedicated to social gaming analytics.

Beyond free-to-play: The future of game monetisation Will Freeman, writing for Develop, examines the games beyond Free-to-Play, including the role of analytics. F2P is not the frontline any more, but rather the norm inthe online and business space, and revenue generation via in-game transactions an established business model. However, handling aggressiveness and friction remains a challenge, and the article highlights that we are only seeing the beginning.

5 Common Pitfalls or Mobile Game Analytics Trevor McCalmont writes on develop-online.net about common mistakes made in mobile game analytics.

Blogs on Game Analytics

Game Analytics – Big Data and Business Kevin Flood has an excellent set of posts on his blog that covers some of the basics of game analytics, discussing data capture, player experience, the game state machine, funnel analysis etc.

AltDevBlog contains a lot of unique and interesting articles which relate to game analytics, such as Sean Houghton’s article on Balance and Flow Maps. Or Colt McAnlis’ article on Brewing your own game analytics service , which tackles the challenges of implementing a system for collecting and storing gameplay data.

Ben Medler’s Blog  Ben Medler is a former academic who has done a lot of work with the industry, e.g. EA, focusing on how to visualize behavioral data from games, and was recently lured from the cozy halls of Georgia Tech to the industry. His blog has a number of good posts on visualization of telemetry data, and a link to his PhD-thesis, “play with data”, which is a good introduction to data analytics and –visualization in game development. He has also contributed an excellent chapter about data visualization to the book on Game Analytics mentioned at the top.

In the next post we will look at material outside games, research papers and various middleware providers 

Anders Drachen

Anders Drachen, Ph.D. is a veteran Data Scientist, Game Analytics consultant and Professor at the DC Labs, University of York (UK).

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