A number of analytic software packages are available with varying prices (from free to thousands of dollars a month) that offer different functionality, and some F2P companies choose to build their own. The aim of all of them is the same: To record metrics from the actions of the players in your game.
The software consists of two parts: an API (Application Programming Interface)—a protocol that allows two pieces of software to communicate—that sits in the game’s code and tracks the player, sending data to a server for collation; and a dashboard, usually web-based, that displays the data.
- “WE ASK, ‘WHAT ARE THE KINDS OF QUESTIONS WE NEED TO BE ABLE TO ANSWER?’ AND WE MAKE SURE WE HAVE THE DATA TO ANSWER THOSE QUESTIONS.”
- —ROBIN WALKER, PROGRAMMER/DESIGNER, VALVE
Whenever a trigger within the game’s code is activated, the game notifies the API to record that event. This is known as an event trigger, which allows for unique metrics specific to your game to be collected. These triggers may also pass variables—specifics relating to the triggers, such as which color was chosen during the purchase of a hat—allowing for further breakdown of a metric.
In addition, most packages also track some metrics by default, such as the length of the session and how often a player has played in a day or a month. These metrics give you industry recognized KPIs, such as DAU, MAU and average session length. Other packages might provide APRDAU or deeper usage data, such as common paths of usage.
Packages vary greatly as to what functionality they provide. Therefore, it is important to know from the outset the data you should be tracking. While knowing every metric you’ll need requires an inhuman level of foresight, there are some clear must-have metrics that will provide you with a solid base to build upon.
The Metrics You Need
Designing analytics—what you track and how—is an often-overlooked element of building an F2P game. Obtaining the right data gives you the best insight and let’s you make the most informed decisions. It also leads to more hypotheses and therefore the requirement for more metrics, meaning your analytics will iterate with your game design.
For example, if you see the majority of players abandoning their avatars at level 12, you might speculate that it is due to too few exciting customization options available at that level. As a result, you might require data on the customization purchases at each level, which you then place in a game update.
You can plan for future metric requirements to a degree: Whenever you make a contentious or difficult decision during your game’s development, note it, and then collate those notes and determine what data you need to define whether the decision was right or wrong. However, you should record a number analytics, if you can, as a minimum base.
KPIs are the most important metrics to improve. They are indicative of the financial success of your game and also highlight how your players feel about and play your game. Critical KPIs to track include:
- Revenue. The most imperative metric to track is the money you make. Without it you won’t know if your game can sustain itself, you and your company. However, you should track more than just a single revenue metric: You need details on which IAPs your players are buying and the amount of revenue you’re making from alternative sources, such as advertising or offer walls.
- Active users. DAU and MAU metrics will give you insight on the popularity of the game, including likely server loads and growth.
- Revenue per user. This metric provides the average revenue that you can expect from each player in a day (ARPDAU) or month (ARPMAU), which in turn you can use to calculate LTV (Lifetime Value) and the profit and loss of running your game.
- Conversion. This percentage (or occasionally decimal) of players who make an IAP in their lifetime provides a good indication of how effective your game is at getting players to break through the spend barrier, allowing you to monitor changes to conversion in response to IAP pricing or other factors.
- New users. This metric records each first-time player in your game. It describes how many new players a game is gaining on a daily or monthly basis and indicates the effectiveness of marketing, whether it’s viral, organic or paid. In the latter case it helps you to calculate a rough CPA (Cost Per Acquisition).
- Retention. The number of your users who are retained over a given time period indicates how sticky your game is, or how effective it is at keeping players playing. The longer they are engaged and playing the game, the happier they are and more likely they are to spend. Low retention might indicate poor goal systems or not serving Bartle types fully.
Demographic metrics allow you to know who your players are and get a deeper understanding of their likely habits and preferences, aiding in where to advertise and how to tailor content. These metrics also help you in selling advertising and product placement deals. The most important demographics to track include:
- Age. Age metrics provide a great deal of insight, from likely disposable income to the ability to grasp complex game mechanics. However, it can be ascertained only on specific platforms unless players opt in to be polled.
- Language and region. Language and region metrics indicate how content should be customized—from which language translations are most cost-effective to which virtual goods you should provide.
- Device. Knowing which devices, operating system, spec and the like are popular among your players informs you of how to test and optimize your game.
Play tracking provides insight into how players play; for example, how far they get through a tutorial, when they leave or when they make their first purchase. It enables you to improve the game with the intention of increasing retention and revenue. These vital metrics include:
- New user flow. What a new user does, such as dropping out of a tutorial or completing a certain mission first, provides data on how to tailor the game experience to new players, which can vastly improve retention.
- Drop out. A player’s status, such as level, limited resources or missions completed, at the point that player has churned (leaves the game permanently) provides awareness of what is causing the attrition.
- First purchase. When players make their first IAP, along with identifying which IAP it is, this helps you understand what causes your players to start to spend, allowing for better first-purchase deals.
- Missions and achievements. Which mission and achievements are completed informs you of what players enjoy and which things they choose to do when they are given options.
- Level. Knowing how many of your players are how far into the game will help to ensure that you deliver subsequent content at the right time and at the right point.
- Session length. This metric tracks when a player first starts the game until that player leaves. The average provides a good base for understanding the mode of play; that is, if players dip in while doing other things or if they play for extended periods. This insight allows you to build an experience that matches this type of play and helps balance sessioning. It is also handy for estimating advertising revenues or selling product placement.
- Sessions. The number of sessions in a given period (usually a day or month) indicates a game’s stickiness and can help you plan and improve return triggers. When used with session length, this metric defines what level of exposure players have to your game, which helps in forecasting ad revenue or selling product placement.
- Peak usage. When your players play, in addition to how often and for how long, helps to build a picture of play habits. It also allows for server load planning.
- “FIRST YOU BUILD SOMETHING THAT YOU THINK IS GOING TO WORK, AND THEN IT’S UP TO THE ANALYTICS TO SMOOTH OUT THE GAME EXPERIENCE.”
- —OSKAR BURMAN, GENERAL MANAGER, ROVIO ENTERTAINMENT STOCKHOLM
Resources and Items
Tracking supply and demand is essential in understanding how to balance your game’s economy. These crucial metrics include:
- Limited resource creation and spend. Tracking how much of a limited resource, such as a virtual currency or energy, is created per player over a session, day or month and how much is spent helps you find pinch points.
- Item creation, purchase and usage. As with limited resources, the creation and purchase of items is essential for balancing your game. However, also tracking which items are purchased and used gives you insight into what attracts players to use their limited resources. This aids in the planning of new content and ensures that your items are appealing to your players, especially when the data show the preferences of paying players.
There will be unique aspects of your game that will require custom analytics; for example, whether your players choose male or female avatars; if your players read help pages; or if your players find a hidden object. These features are integral to your design, so you need to spend time thinking about them throughout production to ensure that you’re collecting the data you need to understand how successful these elements are.
However, this kind of data only tells you a player’s response to the game as it stands, requiring you to make a change and retest before understanding if you’ve made an improvement. Fortunately, there is a method of testing a range of options in situ: It’s called AB testing.