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. Additional reading resources are available under “Publications” on this site, and there are links to other sites that cover game analytics under “Analytics Sites”. Enjoy!
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, please drop me a line).
The Awesome Project
Leonardo Mauro has put together a great site with resources for game AI and game analytics projects including datasets and lists to games with API access to telemetry.
Books on Game Analytics
There are currently five books on game analytics, or very closely related to it/mentioning it, on the market. One is a comprehensive mastodont which covers a variety of topics, the others are focused on a variety of topics either directly game analytics or related to it. These can be supplemented by a few excellent texts on business intelligence and analytics in general, as well as books on data mining.
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).
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.
Your freemium product generates vast volumes of data, but using that data to maximize conversion, boost retention, and deliver revenue can be challenging if you don’t fully understand the impact that small changes can have on revenue. In this book, author Eric Seufert provides clear guidelines for using data and analytics through all stages of development to optimize your implementation of the freemium model. Freemium Economics de-mystifies the freemium model through an exploration of its core, data-oriented tenets, so that you can apply it methodically rather than hoping that conversion and revenue will naturally follow product launch. Written by Eric Seufert.
This book covers a wide range of topics from psychology of players, game design techniques, how to measure analytics and most importantly, monetization tricks. In fact, considering the success of games such as Farmville, Candy Crush, Clash of Clans and Temple Run, we’re surprised there are so few books about this topic. By Will Luton.
In The Curve, Nicholas Lovell weaves together stories from disparate industries to show how smart companies are solving this puzzle. From video games to pop music to model trains, the Internet helps businesses forge direct relationships with a vast global audience by building communities and offering bespoke products and experiences. By Nicholas Lovell.
Associated books (useful resources)
- Drachen, A. Mirza-Babaei, P. Nacke, L. (2018). Games user research. Oxford.
- Han, J., Pei, J., Kamber, M. (2011). Data mining: concepts and techniques. Elsevier (my go to basic introduction to data mining)
- Hennig-Thurau, T. Houston, M. (2018). Entertainment science: data analytics and practical theory for movies, games, music and books. Springer.
- Loh, A. Sheng, Y. Ifenthaler, D. (2015). Serious games analytics: methodologies for performance measurement, assessment, and improvement. Springer.
- Russell, S. J., Norvig, P. (2016). Artificial intelligence: a modern approach. Malaysia; Pearson Education Limited.
- Yannakakis, G. N., Togelius, J. (2018). Artificial intelligence and games. Springer (a great introduction to AI in games)
Online writings, articles and blogs
This is an early version of a document that later became an introduction chapter in the book “Game Analytics – Maximizing the Value of Player Data”. It is intended as a basic introduction to what Game Analytics is for the non-expert and forms a good place to start.
It is shameless self-promotion, I know, but on this blog Game Analytics (the company, not the R&D field) actually try to discuss topics of broad interest to everyone interest in game analytics and game user research. At the blog, we have also started up a series of guest posts from industry veterans who will write about their favorite topics on game design and analytics. If you would like to contribute, or have requests for a topic, drop us a line.
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.
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.
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.
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. Update: The Engine Room has shut down, but Jonathan Dankoff has published the material on Gamasutra (link updated).
In this white paper for Versant Corporation, industry veteran Larry Mellon provides advice on how to set-up an run analytics for MMOGs. It is one of the few texts freely available that discusses analytics for QA, customer support and other areas outside of behavioral analytics and monetization. Larry Mellon’s personal website contains more goodies from his many years of work:
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.
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 analytics. Ben Chong highlights that analytics is useful because it provides the knowledge to change game design to increase engagement with the users.
Kimberly Chulis from Core Analytics talks about the move from retail-based to F2P business models in the game industry, and discusses the role of big data and analytics to drive monetization in the new market for games. Quick introduction to some of the core business metrics in F2P, technology advances in data storage and a analytics examples from games.
Justin Johnson provides a quick vocabulary of the key metrics in online/F2P, defining terms like event, DAU, MAU, K-factor and similar. He describes the more common terms and acronyms used in monetization analytics, and also provides a quick overview of funnel analysis, split testing (A/B testing) and cohort analysis.
Sean Houghton shows a great case example of how heat maps is just the beginning in the application of behavioral telemetry data in the spatial domain of games – simple spatial visualizations remain a state-of-the-art but as Hougton shows on the altdevblogaday (worth reading in its own right), there is an untapped potential in using the actual dimensions of gameplay as the basis for analysis.
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.
Nick Lim, founder of analytics company Sonamine, writes about the fundamental properties of player behavior, describing a surprising discrepance 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.
Yet another piece of shameless self-promotion, but hopefully useful, in this article for Game Developer Magazine, Anders Drachen writes about spatial game analytics, outlining how heatmaps merely form the beginning for how to analyze and visualize the spatial and spatio-temporal behavior of players, and the insights that can be obtained from such analysis.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Playnomics, a third-party provider of tools specialized for segmentation and prediction analysis of players, released this report about US gamer’s behavior in online/social games. It includes a few interesting insights, e.g. that players less likely to churn play more the first day they play a new game, and shows off some of the factors Playnomics use to score and rate players in terms of e.g. how likely they are to churn.
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.
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.
Colt McAnlis, writing for the excellent Altdevblogaday, tackles the challenge of implementing a system for collecting and storing gameplay data. He includes links to source code for sample implementations.
Trevor McCalmont writes on develop-online.net about common mistakes made in mobile game analytics.
An exercept from Tim Field and Brandon Cottons book on Social Game Design, focusing on monetization methods and mechanics.
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. The follow up focuses on veteran players.
Presentations and events
Industry events are a great place to go to see presentations from people working with analytics from a variety of viewpoints. Analytics has in recent years become one of the major topics at e.g. the Game Developers Conference, Casual Connect, the GDC summits, Nordic Game and other big events. Most of these conferences make the presentations available after the conference, in some behind a paywall like GDC, in other instances openly available e.g. via YouTube (e.g. Casual Connect). There are currently somewhere between four to five dozen talks available online which focus on game analytics to a greater or lesser degree. A complete list is out of scope here, but we can mention a few:
Ramon Romero explained in detail at the Game Developers Conference in 2008 how user testing and user research go hand in hand with analytics, outlining how triangulation between methods were used to great effect during the development of the Halo series.
Georg Zoeller, lately of Bioware, showed some stunning visualizations of spatial behavioral data from the MMORPG Star Wars The Old Republic at the Game Developers Conference in 2011. A source of great inspiration for those interested in investigating player behavior to improve game design. The work of Georg and his colleagues set a new standard for spatial visualization.
Nick Lim from Sonamine gave this presentation at Casual Connect in 2011. It is one of the first presentations to openly discuss the power of more sophisticated forms of data mining such as predictive analytics in a form and format that is broadly understandable. Nick Lim surveys the range of analytic goals and methods currently deployed for social media and for games, and present predictive analytics as a general social-network analytics framework with a view towards specific results for predicting customer-specific probabilities of conversion.
Mark Gazecki from HoneyTracks gave this presentation at Casual Connect in 2012, focusing on identifying key metrics for monetization during different stages of the lifecycle of a casual/online game. One of Mark’s key points is that different metrics are important at different stages of the lifecycle of a game.
Yes, we know it is shameless self-promotion, but GA’s Anders Drachen gave a presentation at the 2012 Berlin Data Science Day on the future of game analytics, outlining some of the broader perspectives about analytics, including the ethical considerations a company needs to consider when working with personal data. Look for other great presentations from the same event from e.g. the incredibly succesful F2P provider Wooga.
Chris Wright from Games Analytics presented some of his ideas towards using analytics as a source for driving game adaptation and individual experiences at Casual Connect 2012. He discusses various ideas and solutions as well as some of the ethical consideration involved.
Jefferson Valaderez discusses analytics for F2P games on mobile platforms, and the changes needed to game design strategies in order to flourish on the mobile market, including topics such as monetization, design iteration, engagement and retention.
This is an article by Eric Seufert, answering the most frequent questions he has received from indie mobile game developers regarding bringing their games to market. Seufert addresses the issues related to test marketing of the game, and talks about the analytics that support it.
Using a simple infographic format, Eric Seufert breaks down the variety of job titles within the field of Big Data. Setting buzz words aside, the infographic focuses on what the practitioners of big data analytics actually accomplish.
This article explores the subject of access to data – what are the ways organizations can approach it, who should have the access, and how to prevent unfortunate events, such as employees that are no longer with the organization still having access to internal data, from happening.
In this 23-minute video from Game Developers Conference (GDC) Europe 2013, Gabriel Hacker, the general manager of Perfect World in Europe, covers the launch of Dungeons & Dragons Neverwinter, as well as the strategy behind monetization of the game. Hacker also goes over the sales data, revealing that content updates, not sales or discounts, caused the biggest spikes in sales.
In this blog post, Michail Katkoff from Game Analytics focuses on game mechanics that drive growth for one of the best growing Facebook games – Criminal Case. The blog post covers the breakdown of the core loop, as well as retention, virality and monetization aspects of the game.
Time Wicksteed, who runs a one-man indie game studio called Twice Circled, based in Bristol, UK, wrote this guest post for Game Analytics. In the blog post, Wicksteed shares his perspective on the launch of his latest game, Ioanage, focusing on the performance of the F2P implementation.
This is another Game Analytics article exploring the field of Facebook games – this time the focus is on Pet Rescue Saga (PRS). While PRS is quite a hit on Facebook, Michail Katkoff, one of Game Analytics experts, examines factors such as focus on monetization, strategy, difficulty, graphics, storyline and others, to argue that PRS will not repeat the success of Candy Crush Saga.
In this blog post, Eric Seufert, a quantitative marketing and mobile user acquisition specialist, examines different publishing model scenarios. Seufert analyzes the factors a developer should take into account before signing a publisher agreement, modeling the revenue streams under each publishing scenario.
Joe Stanhope from Forrester Research argues that the Games Industry is ahead of its time when it comes to Digital Intelligence. Stanhope further identifies key Game Industry capabilities that organization could learn from, including management of big data, evaluation of complex customer experiences and continuous optimization.
Big data is bulging. This articles is based on an interview with Chethan Ramachadran, the CEO of Playnomics, discussing how the world of informatics will reshape play. Ramachadran describes the future as ‘personalized games’, arguing that there will still be a place for creativity and artistic expression.
This is another interesting article on big data. Nick Lim, one of Gamasutra experts, explores the area and argues that knowing the reason ‘why’ certain big data findings are observed is not always necessary before the action is taken. Lim also tackles the implication for Game Analytics, giving advice to practitioners.
In the second part of the article mentioned above, Nick Lim dives into the changing role of the subject matter experts. Describing the new, emerging big data expert, Lim discusses the implications for the industry, and explains how it could leverage the new specialists to improve upon design, marketing, and monetization.
This Virtual Labs article provides an overview of the world of data in game analytics. Some of the themes uncovered in the article include: the way game data can be used to study human behavior, the challenges that come with game data analytics, and the ethical aspect of studying user data.
This article is based on Ars Technica’s interview with Dr. David L. Roberts, an assistant professor at NCSU. Roberts uncovers the study behind his work on linking WoW rewards to player interest. Ultimately the analysis led to the ability of predicting user behavior based on acquired rewards, with an 80% accuracy.
Without a doubt, the field of game analytics has great potential when it comes to increasing player engagement, improving game design & development, as well as monetization of the game. But game data has applications outside of the virtual world as well, by acting as a sandbox for studying human behavior. This Live Science article examines the implications for the real world, going over some of the studies, as well as the limitations for the approach.
‘Whales’ is a term that describes players who spend large amounts on free-to-play games. Becoming addicted, the whales often can’t afford to pay rent or buy food, but keep buying the 99 cent add-ons in the game. This article examines the ethics behind free-to-play business models that completely rely of the contributions of whales, balancing out the 99% of players who don’t contribute a cent.
As the free-to-play model is growing and becoming one of the most dominant game models on mobile devices, developers face a growing need to understand the analytics behind it. In this blog post, Eric Seufert examines what factors contribute to the positive ROI of F2P games, and presents a tool that developers could use to make data-driven business decisions about the economic viability of their F2P games.
Tom Farrell, one of Gamasutra’s experts, wrote this post to argue that Daily Active Users (DAU) metric, despite its popularity among analysts, should not be used to measure the rate of success. Farrell argues that DAU is a ‘vanity metric’, as it makes the developers ‘feel good’ about their game. Later in the article Farrell proposes alternative metrics, such as new users, retention and conversion, as daily measures of success.
Because analytics is not just used in games but rather everywhere, there is a wealth of useful material in e.g. web analytics that can be adapted and adopted for use in games. The sheer scope of material available is too big to discuss here, but we can recommend the following books as being of particular interest to anyone interested in game analytics.
Thomas Davenport and Jeanne Harris has written this excellent introduction to analytics in business, focusing on the goal of obtaining data-driven insights rather than making decisions based on gut instinct. The authors provide a good overview of analytics in business contexts, and include a number of case examples that provide inspiration to game development as well, notably in the area of performance and production analytics.
Jiawei Han, Micheline Kamber and Jian Pei are not up to the third edition of this classical textbook about data mining. This book is for those who are interested in taking their analytics a step further, and begin explore more sophisticated methods such as prediction, clustering, and machine learning in general. Readable by non-experts, used as a textbook for tertiary students.
Eric Peterson wrote this seminal guide to web analytics which democratized analytics for web sites, and brought the concept of actionable data to the masses. It is a very good introduction to web analytics, from where many of the key business metrics used in games such as DAU, MAU and ARPU have been directly derived. It is also written in straight-forward language.
Heather Stark recently published a very interesting post on her blog, based on a talk by Christophe Safferling from Ubisoft. He talked about using matching estimators as an alternative to A/B testing in games – notably in situations where A/B testing is not possible – and that sparked Heather Stark’s curiosity, prompting this very interesting analysis and writeup. Head over there to read about jelly beans …
Outside of the industry, an increasing number of academic researchers have started looking into game analytics, and a lot of very interesting knowledge is produced, although sometimes there is the problem that academic research needs a bit of translation before it can be adopted to a development context. However, there is a wealth of ideas to be found in academic research. More than 300 research publications exist that touch on game analytics in one way or another, here we mention but a few. Notice that most of these are behind publisher paywalls, but most local university libraries will have access, or alternatively chase down your cousins wife’s brother’s wife who is a professor to get them for you. Some people also make their publications available via their personal websites.
We will write more about these in the future, taking them up individually and in groups and describing the most essential results.
Here are a couple of examples:
Analytics of Play: Using Information Visualization and Gameplay Practices for Visualizing Video Game Data (Ben Medler and Brian Magerko)
How Players Loose Interest In Playing a Game (Christian Bauckhage et al.)
Spatial Game Analytics (Anders Drachen and Matthias Schubert)
Third-parties and tools
Finally, there are number of third-party developers who provide analytics services. Although typically focused on more than just games, some of these have useful material and guides on their websites which can be worth reading. Here are a few of them in no particular order of importance.
SteamWorks (website with analytics from Steam)
Weka (excellent open source data mining tool)
See the Game Analytics blog for additional material on how to get started with game analytics.