What can a video game company teach you about your business? For one thing, how to take vast amounts of data produced by thousands of people, analyze it, and use it to improve the customer experience.
We sat down with Ian Brillembourg, Senior BI Manager at Motiga, Inc., to talk about how he and his team of data analysts are applying this data approach to Gigantic, a new strategy game from the designer of one of the most popular games of all time, Starcraft. Here’s what Ian had to say about the importance of data analysis for business and the ways any small business can glean insights from the data they have.
MS4W: Tell us a bit about yourself: your background, and how you came to work at Motiga.
Ian: I did my undergraduate major in biology and focused on simulations. I looked at evolution and the origins of life and what would happen in certain conditions—how variables might affect evolutionary paths. I devised simulations and wrote code that replicated these conditions. When I left school, I went to work at Procter & Gamble doing consumer market research, using many of the same analytical skills.
But rather than focus on what was happening in the market, I started to explore how to shape it—to make good use of the information. After I got my MBA from UCLA, I worked for several years at 1st Party Games at Xbox, where I started looking at player behavior on Xbox live as a good tool to find business opportunities.
MS4W: Is that what you’re doing at Motiga, on Gigantic?
Ian: My responsibility is to interpret game data in a way that’s meaningful. Really, that’s what “data-driven decision-making” means. I respectfully disagree with that buzzword: I prefer data-informed and design-driven decision-making. It’s not just the data itself: it’s what the data shows, it’s what trends look like over time, and what does it mean in the context of whatever you’re trying to study?
Motiga wanted someone to look at how players are actually behaving as they play the game. At Motiga, we make sure to include metrics and measures to validate our theories from the very early in the design process—after all, we design games and features based on what we believe players want or what we believe they do when faced with a given situation. Let’s test those assumptions. We start by identifying the relevant questions, then working to build a solution that gathers the data that helps us to answer it. Questions could be: where do players run into challenges with the game that might cause them to quit in frustration? When a player received in-game currency, what is the first item they purchase?
How do they react to certain stimuli or situations, and do the designers believe they will respond in a certain way, in a certain place? Does the data show players are having the experience you thought they were going to have?
MS4W: Does this go beyond the game?
Ian: It’s all part of the same system, really—measuring what in-game items players purchase the first time gives us insight into what they need at that point in the game, but also opportunities to convert them into eCommerce customers. Expand that to acquisition and retention: we can look at how ads are performing on different ad networks and work with our marketing team to refine based on need. We look at every part of our business as “the funnel,” so we’re constantly checking to make sure it’s going the way we expect it to go.
MS4W: What about businesses that aren’t making games? Can they do this?
Ian: Absolutely. Any business can apply these principles either for workflow or output. The key is to look at everything as “a funnel”. If you sell books, for example, think about: how many people are eligible to buy my book? What’s my market? Am I only publishing in, say, braille? How many people would buy that book? And of those, how many are knowledgeable that the book exists, and of those people, how many would be interested in it?
The challenge for a non-digital business is how to measure and track things in detail. Games (or anything online for that matter) have a distinct advantage in this regard, because data collection is easier. It’s easier to measure and easier to visualize.
MS4W: How important is the visualization of the data once its collected?
Ian: This is where you need to be clever—in the measurement and the visualization. The advantage of video games is that your data tracking and telemetrics are easier to gather, and games themselves are naturally visual.
Visualizing the data is extremely useful, because it’s how you sell your story to decision makers. The more people are removed from a problem, the easier it is to find common ground with visualization. A person armed with good data and a good way to tell a story can make an entire corporation dance at his or her fingertips.
MS4W: Thank you for your time, and good luck with Gigantic!
Ian: Thank you!
Follow Ian on Twitter at @TheEdgeCase, and get updates on Motiga and Gigantic at @MotigaGames and @GoGigantic respectively.