“Back when we were in the console days, it was ship your game. maybe it was successful, maybe it wasn’t. But you didn’t necessarily know how players were engaging deeply with your gameplay,” Allison Bilas explained during her session at Casual Connect Eastern Europe 2014. “Now with mobile, of course there’s this influx of data; it is a fire hose of data coming at you and allowing your to optimize your game. So it is an exciting time for using data, I think. It’s still surprisingly underused however.
Prior to joining the games industry, Allison Bilas worked in banking doing user research for advertising campaigns. While she enjoyed using user data and feedback to make more creative and tailored advertising campaigns, she found the banking industry boring and “a bit slow” for her taste overall.
On the other hand, the games industry seemed like it had just what she wanted. “I love the dynamics of (the game) industry: things are changing and evolving at a high velocity,” she says. “I like the fact that the
games market right now allows for many types of studios to participate.”
Looking to get in on the excitement — while still putting what she learned in banking and her MBA education to use — she took on an internship at PopCap, which eventually turned into a full time job as their first game analyst, leading to her building a full-fledged analytics team from scratch.
“I was struck, when I first started, at how eager teams were to try out new ideas, even if those ideas came from somebody with a business degree and a banking background,” she says. As PopCap continued to have success using data analytics to optimize their games, the company decided to integrate analytics into the creation of all their games — requiring more people to analyze data.
The most challenging part of running an analytics team for Bilas was the fact that the analysts were “embedded partners” rather than members of the game teams themselves. “This separation meant that they could be non-biased in their work, but also required that each analyst build up a rapport with the game teams in order to influence operations,” she says. She notes that while she thinks this is the right approach to organizing an analytics team, it can be difficult when a game team favors “gut feelings” over data and insights.
The Next Level
Now, as vice-president of product at GameAnalytics, Bilas is taking her analytics game to the next level. The company seeks to put the ability to work with data into the toolset of all game companies — not just the large studios. That means a lot more people for Bilas to think about.
“Instead of thinking about a handful of game teams, I’m thinking about thousands of game teams,” she says. “The type of analysis needed on a strategy RTS game for tablets is very different than a mobile puzzle game with over 1 million daily active users. And it’s challenging to make a tool that works well for everyone.” However, she believes acquisition, engagement, and monetization are important, no matter the scale.
The main focus of Bilas’ job is to turn data and theory into actionable insights. She says she is “super excited” about the role and calls working on the “best, free game analytics tool” for developers “humbling.”
The Growth of Analytics
During her time working on analytics, she’s also seen some big changes within the gaming industry — the most notable being the recognition of the important role game analytics play in gaming. When Bilas started in the industry, people were just discovering analytics. Now it’s become a must-have function with dedicated personnel.
Along with that dedication comes a new wealth of information. Companies are now getting past core metrics such as DAU and revenue and starting to tackle concepts like progression, virtual economies and social behavior, and how they impact the top line.
“I think understanding behaviors at a deeper level allows for game designs to be more nuanced (no more cut and copy mechanics) and is pushing creativity in the industry,” says Bilas, who notes that she’d like to see more creativity and analytics used in game design. “This may seem paradoxical to some, but in fact, it isn’t. Data doesn’t need to kill creativity, but it also can’t replace it. I think the two can and should make an awesome team.”
She also sees potential in analytics allowing games to present dynamic content based on actual and predicted player behavior, allowing games to cater to more than one type of player style, in very personalized ways.
A Bit of Advice
For those looking to dive into their analytics and try and achieve some of these things, there is one thing she recommends first and foremost: ask questions. “When someone has data at their disposal, they often dive in and start fishing for interesting things,” she says. “But in any large set of data, patterns will always exist that don’t help or provide insights that are actionable. It’s really important to start by asking the question you want to have answered, as opposed to trying to find explanations for random patterns in the data.”
Since the data at an analyst’s fingertips can be overwhelming, it’s best to start by writing down the questions you have about your game — such as “How many of my players get past level 3?” or “What is making me the most money?” Second, see whether or not you have the data necessary to answer the questions and go from there. “It’s a simple exercise, but helps you know what to do next and avoids the bias error that can occur in fishing expeditions.”
And GameAnalytics will be there to help — now and in the future. While the company continues to provide a lightweight and easy-to-implement analytics tool for game studios, they’re also looking to add more advanced features to help game studios access and refine their data — turning it into insights that can improve the quality of their games.