Dan Bergin-Holly is Engagement Manager for GameSparks.
The competitive mobile market has become a tough platform to conquer.
Developers now need more intuitive ways to gauge their progress, track the usage of what they create and make improvements. It takes analysis. And of course, the easiest way to examine is with analytical tools.
Until the advent of the internet, and tools that helped developers track usage, the only measurements of success developers had were sales figures, rates of return and how many letters of complaint they received. How the world has changed.
For a tool which helps developers improve their games in the testing and release phase, a lot of developers fail to harness the spirit of curiosity through their use of analytics.
Many are concerned primarily with what Eric Seufert terms the so-called 'Minimum Viable Metrics', and with good cause. The wide range of games, business practices, and game designs has led to developers needing to find consistent touch-points to gauge success.
Analytical proof points such as Retention and ARPDAU (average revenue per daily active user) have provided a neat touchstone to see ‘what’s good’.
If you’re only catching a churned user at their last action - you’re already too late.
While these figures are relevant and useful, their prevalence has led to a somewhat myopic approach to analytics for games. Many developers focus solely on narrow details like: ‘when does a user make an IAP?’ or: ‘what's the most common last action before churn?’.
Interesting questions, sure. However, if you’re only catching a churned user at their last action - you’re already too late. And while the ‘when’ is useful when considering IAP, ‘why' is a far more compelling question.
By not casting their nets wider in the pursuit of answering intriguing hypotheses, developers risk missing out on the real epiphanies that analytics can provide.
For example, in titles that use a ‘hard currency’ (i.e. some in-game currency that can be purchased for real money), tracking what all players are spending their hard currency on will give you a sense of what players value in your game.
You may also find that there are regional or other demographic differences. Optimising towards those considerations can then subsequently drive in-app purchases much more efficiently.
This same practice can then be applied to your game design. Don’t just ask yourself what level players are ‘churning on'. What levels are players replaying? What configurations of obstacles are players finding the most rewarding? What in-game events drive the longest sessions?
By diving into the elements of your game that engaged players love, you can identify what exactly makes your title shine.
By diving into the elements of your game that engaged players love, you can identify what exactly makes your title shine. Then you can start building upon those glittering gems, making sure your new players get a chance to experience it sooner.
You can also use analytics to ensure your game is well balanced. Asking questions like ‘what is the most common load out among players on a given leaderboard?’ can help you find out if your game is suitably flexible.
A well-balanced game will tend away from a single ‘optimal’ approach to winning, to one that allows for a broad range of 'playstyles'.
Evidence of this is evident in the leaderboards. If everyone in the top 10 of your leaderboard is using the ‘mega sword’ power-up, you might need to see if it’s overpowered, or if other power-ups should have their stats boosted to compensate.
Titles like DomiNations, Clash Royale and Rival Kingdoms all use similar thinking to inform their game balance.
What do you need to do then?
It's quite simple. Be curious. Don’t just rest on the answers you find, keep digging. Create a hypothesis - then prove yourself wrong.
Using a flexible system for quick iterations of game configuration and A/B testing can help you cement your discoveries - or prevent you investing too much resource into the wrong thing.
Robust 'server-side game management tools' can aid this process, without needing new client releases, further reducing your iteration time. Testing and proving (or disproving!) your theories as quickly as possible allows you to ask more questions, dig deeper, and ultimately - will help you make a more engaging game.
In summary: stay curious, ask questions, test often.