Analytics is the collecting and understanding of data generated by your players’ actions that allows you to use a scientific theory to constantly test, understand and improve your game. This chapter gives you the knowledge to make analytics work and includes how to collect, process, interpret and use data to understand your players.
Analytics have reached prevalence because always-connected platforms facilitate the transmission of live data constantly during play. Yet this connectivity has a second advantage: You can continue to update and modify your game. Together these elements let you better attend to your players. If you make the game better for your players, your KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) will increase; players will stay longer and spend more. They will become fans. You never finish making your game.
The Eternal Beta
An advantage of F2P is having your game remain in eternal beta. Beta is a stage of traditional development where much of the functionality of a game is decided upon, yet many small improvements continue to shape it. This critical period can result in a quality title or, if stunted, a premature mess.
In physical distribution the final version of a game is called a Gold Master—the version from which the manufacturer makes all other copies. Once a game goes “gold,” which it often has to by a set date, it is locked in and no further changes can be made. The gold version is what is sold over and over for years. This can result in small snags—bad controls, confusing menus, bugs et al—which can poison an entire game.
In contrast many F2P titles are released as MVPs (Minimum Viable Products)—a Silicon Valley buzzword popularized by Eric Ries in his book Lean Startup (Crown Business, 2011), which describes the release of the quickest and cheapest product that can prove or otherwise market feasibility of a product. An MVP game might have a very limited release in a single region with little or no marketing support: This is known as a soft launch.
The goal of a soft launch is to discover how the world interacts with the game: how much players like it; which bits work and which don’t; how much the game costs to run (servers and bandwidth are overheads); and anything else that indicates possible areas for improvement and the game’s chances of success. A soft launch occurs before the full development and marketing budget is spent.
After a soft launch, the MVP is in an indefinite period of rapid iteration—the process of making versions repeatedly with sequential improvement from the previous version. Hence, an F2P game continuously refines with age.
However, for your game to be improved, a yardstick of comparison is needed. First, you need to determine where alterations are required; second, you need clarity on if the changes you make are the correct ones. Without a comparison there is no understanding of whether the game is in fact getting better or worse.