I used to think that, of all the jobs in a creative agency, analytics had to be one of the dullest.
It was something for the corporate tech guys, not a games company creating high-octane entertainment where Lego starships blow one another into far-flung galaxies! But now I’m thinking – what do I know?
As technology gets faster and better connected, knowing exactly what your audience gets excited by and what they think sucks, suddenly seems like a pretty smart idea. It’s a change which is happening quickly. Only three years ago clients would give us a budget, a time line, and we’d create then launch a game. That was it. Job done. Now, however, we’re expected to allocate large parts of the budget, up to 50 per cent, on analysing and adapting a game after it has launched.
Technology has allowed the publishing of creative products to become much more fluid. When games were only released on cassettes or CDs, it was very difficult to get any decent consumer feedback. Of course there were market research sessions, where you could sit down and interview players, or watch them interacting with your game, but it was too subjective.
What’s more, there was nothing you could do about it, anyway. The game was already out there. With digital publishing we can now mathematically measure how many players use a particular character or on which level most players are turning off, then make changes in real-time to keep future players ‘in’ the game for longer.
These analytics are reinventing industry practice. On the Android platform you can now measure this data in the morning, re-create around it and have a new release for players to download by the afternoon.
While this level of analytics is helping to create some incredible work, as with any new process it takes a while to learn the best way to do it. For instance, there’s a real danger in thinking that because something has worked well once, doing it again will be just as successful.
So some people will take data from one product – like ‘average play time’ – and then apply the ‘success points’ it highlights to all their other work – but it doesn’t make any sense. There are just too many variables in creative products to create any meaningful benchmark from it. There’s no way the creative is similar enough to mean anything and so you’re essentially building from meaningless statistics. While that might sound like pretty game-centric issues, I bet there are directors out there measuring how long one particular film is viewed for compared to their own. Stop it!
One problem with all this analytic potential is that some supposedly creative games are now run by accountants. They’ll analyse play data for the most profitable aspects and tell creatives to endlessly recreate it – like a Hollywood production model, I guess! The risk is, does that become too formulaic to be any fun at the end?
If used properly, analytics should make it easier to listen to your audience. We ask our players what they find fun, what they want more or less of and then cater to it. It helps us to create alongside the audience, taking their suggestions and crediting them for it. Personally, I think that’s the opposite of formulaic.
Data has to be used, however. Too often agencies will measure a game’s success and then use the data to just pat themselves on the back: “Ooh, we had a 72 per cent retention rate; let’s go to press!” What they should be doing is measuring why they had that retention rate and using those concepts to plan for another success.
As you might imagine, the use of analytics has gone far beyond the creative-technical process and now trickles down through marketing, sales and business planning. If you can measure which character is the most selected in a game, which character do you think is going to be on our banner ads? It’s not just the creatives who need to be on top of the data, it’s the sales people and account managers too. Even office managers should probably be looking, if they know that on a Friday ‘levels’ outsell ‘weapons’ then whoever manages your staff should be diverting your manpower accordingly.
It’s a tricky process and, as with any data, we had to learn which of it actually matters for the business. But whether you’re in games, film or advertising – any company which still thinks that analytics is just for the geeks should be looking over their shoulder. The geeks are working out how to blow your business into a far-flung galaxy.
4T2 is an award-winning web agency which specialises in creating online games and fun websites for kids. Recent clients have included CBBC, Lego and Mobil.
Illustrated by Jamie Jones
- One Thing I Know