How to Use Data to Create Profitable Games

by Jacob Serebrin

Data was one of the hot topics at the Montreal International Game Summit, a gaming industry conference that took place on Monday and Tuesday.

Gathering data about what works and doesn’t work is an important part of building a profitable mobile game, says Keith Katz, a cofounder of Montreal’s Execution Labs, a development hub for independent developers.

For Katz, studying what works starts even before development begins.

“I think a lot of indie developers don’t think about the context of their game in the overall market,” he says. While it’s important to find similar products that have “demonstrated success,” indie developers shouldn’t jump on trends, he says, because they could end up competing with big publishers by the time a game launches.

“What’s more important and harder is to find failures like the game you want to build,” he says. “You won’t know if the game is going to be successful but you will be able to avoid some of the major pitfalls that sunk a similar game.”

For Execution Labs, studying what works is extremely important both when it comes promotion and the actual game itself.

The company tests a variety of ads for each of its games, across several advertising platforms, even testing a game’s icon. “It’s crazy not to do it, that’s what people see first, that’s what draws them in,” says Katz.

Execution Labs teams will do multiple iterations of a game’s tutorial, to ensure that players stay engaged.

Long-term retention is key, according to David Chiu, the director of developer relations and business development at games hosting site Kongregate. Among the site’s most popular games, an average of seven per cent of users played an individual game more than 50 times but those users accounted for more than 84 per cent of revenue.

“People don’t buy virtual goods the same way they buy physical goods, it’s not a rational decision,” he says. “The longer someone plays your game, the more likely they are to buy and the less price sensitive they become.”

While data on users is important to Tybor Voyer, the project manager for A Thinking Ape’s popular Kingdoms at War, so is community feedback.

“I think that community feedback is as, or more, important than data or intuition,” say Voyer. “We’re creating interactive designs, data driven design is too shallow.”

While he says data is useful for fixing bugs, improving first-time user experience and monetization, only looking at the data can cause developers to miss what’s really driving engagement.

Voyer says that his team introduced a limited-time promotional offer into Kingdoms at War, while the data suggested that users were engaged, when they tried to replicate the offer it failed. Using consumer feedback, the team was able to discover that it wasn’t the only the offer that was driving engagement, it was the particular battle featured in the offer.

The team then changed the promo, which Voyer says “created new social dynamics” in the game. Now, they’re developing around those new dynamics. But, he says, when it comes to feedback, there may be a “difference between what people say and what they do.” Players may say they don’t want a new feature, like an item that will allow them to pay-to-win but may ultimately spend money on it.

Even though online comments about a game can be negative, he says developers should listen—the people downloading the game, playing it and then taking the time to comment on it are important.

And he’s got some advice for developers who don’t have many players. “Build communities,” he says. “Find the players that you do have and give them robust channels to communicate with you, those people will become your game’s biggest champions.”

A Thinking Ape
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

A Thinking Ape is a small yet driven team that is dedicated to building strong mobile communities. With our collaborative approach to product design, we ensure the best ideas get the space they need to grow. Our team seeks out intuitive solutions to complex problems, and maintains strong ties to our hacker culture. more

Execution Labs
Montréal, Québec, Canada

Execution Labs is a first-of-its kind, hybrid game incubator and go-to-market accelerator. English translation: we help independent game developers produce games and bring them to market. More than that, our goal is to enable experienced developers to become true entrepreneurs and pursue their dreams of creative independence. We’re based in Montreal with a business outpost in San Francisco.... more

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Jacob Serebrin

Jacob Serebrin

Jacob Serebrin is a freelance reporter based in Montreal. He specializes in covering small business and the business of tech. His work has appeared in publications including The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star. Having previously covered higher education and politics, he started covering business almost by accident, but talking to passionate people about interesting things soon had him... more

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