Poornima Seetharaman and Vimal Sathish on mastering data for engaging game design

“Games, as a business of entertaining people, is booming... but so is the competition.”

Poornima Seetharaman and Vimal Sathish on mastering data for engaging game design

The next round of MasterClasses are only just around the corner and we can’t wait to show you what we have in store for you this time.

If this is your first time hearing about our MasterClasses, they’re a series of deep-dive workshop sessions that take an in-depth look at practical games design topics. We work with the finest industry experts to create professional, half-day activities featuring tutorials, lectures and breakout groups, all accessible from the comfort of your home office.

On June 8-10, you can expect to explore a range of key topics, from game pitching and mastering data, to live ops and UX. Today, we’d like to introduce Zynga’s directors of design Poornima Seetharaman and Vimal Sathish. Seetharaman has 15 years of experience in the games industry, while Sathish has almost two decades under his belt. The dynamic Zynga pair will lead a session titled ‘Mastering Data for Engaging Game Design’ on Wednesday, June 9th from 10am to 1pm (UK time).

Seetharaman has had varying roles in her career, from game designer to producer to studio head and entrepreneur. She has worked on franchises like BioShock Mobile, How to Train your Dragons, Neopets, and FarmVille 2: Country Escape to name a few. She is a Women in Games ambassador and also a Hall of Fame inductee at the Global WIG Awards 2020, making her the first Indian game developer to receive such an honour.

Sathish has been at the helm of building games long enough to see the inception and growth of the free-to-play business model in the casual space, as well as the advent of the original iPhone and the consequent touch-screen games boom. He has worked on IPs such as The Walking Dead, UFC, CSR Racing 2 and many more. Tell us a bit about your company

Poornima Seetharaman and Vimal Sathish: Zynga is a social game developer and publisher. The company primarily focuses on mobile and social networking platforms. Zynga states its mission as ‘connecting the world through games’.

Zynga was founded in 2007 with the vision that play would become one of the core activities on the Internet. They pioneered social games with the belief that if they could make games simple, accessible and social the world would start playing. Zynga is one of the leading game makers across the globe in the mobile space. Zynga had recently expanded its games portfolio to include everything from hypercasuals to PC games to cross platform games.

What does your role entail?

As a director of design, we oversee a large game or multiple games within a franchise in its entirety, from a player experience, game design and vision standpoint. We are also responsible for building out the design function within the studio, as per the individual game’s requirements, as well as mentoring designers in our respective teams to hit their potential. Part of being a design director also involves establishing and evolving the existing design culture across the entire studio/company. Being in this position also makes it our responsibility to nurture and guide the young talent in the industry through different available avenues.

Is there anything you're working on currently that you’d like our readers to know about?

“Games, as a business of entertaining people, is booming... but so is the competition.”

Poornima Seetharaman: It’s really exciting to know that for an eight-year-old game like FarmVille 2: Country Escape, we still have the opportunity to build grand bold features, and exciting new events. This is because of the healthy interactions with our amazing players who are still heavily invested in the game, who’ve constantly helped inform the direction we’ve to take to make a game that everyone is proud to be associated with.

Vimal Sathish: I’m currently working on CSR Racing 2, which is a five-year-young game. Similar to what Seetharaman highlighted, the game is still constantly evolving and the potential for what it can become in the future is incredible! Part of getting to that beautiful future is building some brand new features that will appeal to our players and their crews. The near future also holds some exciting new partnerships and licenses that we are certain will absolutely blow our players’ minds!

What topic will you be covering in your MasterClass? (provide as much detail as possible eg: background, sections, key areas, basic or advanced etc)

This MasterClass will talk about data in game design. Data isn’t something to be intimidated or overwhelmed by. We often associate data or metrics with product management and number crunching, though it is a relevant aspect of understanding game design alongside player experience, psychology and the player’s journey.

If you have always wondered how data can be used to make informed decisions, how to identify issues before they avalanche out of control, or how to work towards getting the key results expected from your game, then this MasterClass is for you. Data can be used for all those and more!

The data in game design MasterClass aims to touch upon how we can influence game design and game experience with the help of data and also how to use game design to move different metrics. This will act as a starting guide for you when you are thinking about your next big idea or looking at improving your current game.

Who is this MasterClass for?

Anyone from a beginner to intermediate can participate in this MasterClass. For this MasterClass, we recommend that attendees have a basic understanding of the game development process and lifecycle. This session would be suitable for people from a range of disciplines including (but not limited to) design, product development, business intelligence, live ops and production. The takeaways from this MasterClass will be more relevant to the free to play genre of games.

Why is it important for your games industry peers to gain a deeper understanding of your chosen topic?

There are no guarantees that determine if a game is a hit or not, but to give games their best chance at success

There are no two ways around it: games, as a business of entertaining people, is booming... but so is the competition. There are no guarantees that determine if a game is a hit or not, but to give games their best chance at success, it is critical to trim the dead branches so that the focus remains on areas that help build out a great experience for a player. Our topic of data in game design helps do just that in terms of understanding what to look for and how to impact areas through informed decisions. This helps designers and game developers check all those boxes determining quality as well as probable success, that are still within their control.

Tell us a little bit about the key takeaways people can expect from the session

Key takeaways include:

  • Why data is important in free to play (F2P) games or games in general
  • What are the kinds of data available
  • How to interpret and understand player behaviour
  • Weaving data with game design

Finally, what are your thoughts on the games industry going forward? What major trends do you predict over the next 12 months?

This is a very interesting and timely question. There’s definitely a global trend that exists - and a more localised trend that is specific to geos themselves. For example, from a global perspective, we are seeing VR gaining more traction of late (VR has been the big trend that has always been on the precipice of blowing up for the last decade), so maybe this phase is what actually leads to it snowballing into an avalanching trend.

And from a localised flavour perspective, we are seeing a lot of casual games that are digital versions of physical family games hitting it out of the park during these times of social distancing.

NFT is the current buzzword and recent successes in other fields is sure to spur on a trend of getting this blockchain-backed feature into more games.

Considering that games have been catering more towards multiplayer and social (turbo-accelerated by the current world situation), cross-platform is only going to boost this trend. These times have also seen a lot of brand new casual gamers enter the mobile space and they are looking for simple, quick, and engaging games to pick up and play. That we’ve seen in the form of hypercasuals (that were already trending) gaining HUGE traction.

As far as the industry is concerned, we’re also seeing a lot more indie game developers and studios tasting success, while bigger studios are expanding on their IPs, product portfolio, and talent through mergers and acquisitions.

Don't miss!

You can hear Seetharaman and Sathish dive deeper into mastering data for engaging game design’ in their MasterClass on Wednesday, June 9th from 10am to 1pm (UK time). Spaces are still available, but they're filling up fast and with strictly limited numbers for these tightly focused groups, don't hang about or you'll miss out! Book now!