Interview

Jobs in Games: Kolibri's Chris Ling on how data can impact a game's development

Jobs in Games: Kolibri's Chris Ling on how data can impact a game's development

The games industry plays host to a colourful cast of diverse individuals, from artists and coders to narrative designers and studio heads.

The skills to pull off these roles, however, are complex and differing, with each position requiring mastery in its field.

To highlight some of the brilliant work that goes on behind the screen, and help others who may be keen to dive in, PocketGamer.biz is reaching out to the individuals who make up the games industry with our Jobs in Games series.

This week we spoke with Kolibri Games head of game data Chris Ling.

PocketGamer.biz: Can you tell us about your current role and what it entails?

Chris Ling: My current role at Kolibri Games is head of game data. I work in cooperation with the chief technical officer to drive the direction and strategy behind data architecture and data usage in the company with a small and agile team.

For my part: I’m primarily responsible for the ‘usage’ part of the equation. I provide data analyses directly or train stakeholders to do their own analyses using tools we provide - in both cases, I also help provide context, action points and recommendations identified by the opportunities or risks we see when we look at the numbers.

Simply put: data plus games was a win-win scenario and so I started applying for jobs.
Chris Ling

How did you first get into games and how did you progress into the role?

Back at university, I studied statistics for my bachelor's degree. I had chosen it primarily because I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, but most folks universally agreed it was a very useful skill. Around the same time, statistics and data science was becoming part of the zeitgeist of video games - you would see the topic showing up at GDC, then on sites such as PocketGamer.biz and Gamasutra.

As a lifelong fan of games, it seemed like an excellent opportunity to apply what I had learned in school to something I was already passionate about. Simply put: data plus games was a win-win scenario, and so I started applying for jobs. This led to my first job working at a free-to-play PC games developer.

Is it something you ever imagined yourself doing?

In the beginning, certainly not! The games I played and the stuff that was grabbing headlines was mostly triple-A i.e. Call of Duty or Final Fantasy. It wasn't really until the concept of games-as-a-service started to pop up and companies began competing at that level that it really occurred to me that combining games and data as a career was a possibility.

What did you study (if anything) to get your role? What courses would you advise for aspiring professionals in the area?

I studied statistics but the world of game data combines a lot of knowledge and a lot of specialists. You can study a lot of things to get your foot in the door, such as economics, statistics, mathematics, business - even one of the best analysts I know has a physics degree.

The most important thing in data is context. The integrity of an analyst and the basis of their skill is not the ability to build a model or send a report but rather their accomplishment in presenting that data in an easy, defensible, and actionable way.

So, identify and play games that use data, understand what they analyse, why they analyse, and most importantly: what they changed when they finished analysing it. It doesn't hurt to have a few Python or SQL classes under your belt too.

What part of your role do you find most fulfilling?

The most fulfilling part of my job is not much different than the most fulfilling part of being any other games developer. Everyone wants their project to succeed and when you are able to give a voice to the silent majority of your players by using data to show the product team what they do, you'll inevitably make the game more engaging.

Do you think there are any misconceptions, public or professional, surrounding your area of expertise?

Analysis means providing insight and recommendations - not just a chart.
Chris Ling

Players often think data is only used to generate revenue and squeeze every dollar. Some companies only want data analysts to shovel data to stakeholders and provide reports, and even some data professionals see the job as only building churn prediction models, doing some academic research on mental health with regards to games, or just making LTV models.

I have to say is this: you can't make money if you have no customers. Analysis means providing insight and recommendations - not just a chart. Research and advanced models are super interesting but are even more powerful if you actually change something about the game when you finish.

Is there anything about the job/industry you wish you would have known when first joining?

The games industry moves really fast. It's so competitive in every aspect, that I wish I had started networking with more of my colleagues sooner, shared my knowledge with them as well as nagging them so I could learn more. Don't box yourself in, and remember, you aren't alone.

What other advice do you have for someone looking for a job in this profession?

The more you play different genres, the more you'll understand how they work and what kind of things players are likely to experience. This will help to use data more efficiently by providing the insight not just as a number but to help you construct a story in the language that your stakeholders are likely to understand.

Game designers and product managers want the context in retention or game experience, while monetisation experts and business specialists want the context in terms of how those things generate more value, etcetera.

Also, know your metrics! And I mean really know them. It's one thing to know the definition of the average revenue per daily active user (ARPDAU), it's another to know why and how it is used. Finally, remember that you are a game developer too. Just like anyone else working in games, your goal should always be to see your product succeed.

Ubisoft recently took another step into the world of mobile games with the acquisition of 75 per cent of Kolibri Games.


Staff Writer

Matthew Forde is the staff writer for PocketGamer.biz and also a member of the Pocket Gamer Podcast. You can find him on Twitter @Forde999 talking about Smash Bros. and everything pop culture related - particularly superheroes.

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