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Why You Shouldn't Design Games Through Analytics 134

An anonymous reader writes "Game designer Tadhg Kelly writes at TechCrunch about a trend many gamers have noticed over the past decade: designers increasingly relying on statistics — and only statistics — to inform their design decisions. You know the type; the ones who'll change the background color if they think it'll eke out a few more players, or the ones who'll scrap interesting game mechanics in favor of making the game more easily understandable to a broader market. Naturally, this leads to homogenization and boring games. Kelly says, 'Obsessed with measuring everything and therefore defining all of their problems in numerical terms, social game makers have come to believe that those numbers are all there is, and this is why they cannot permit themselves to invent. Like TV people, they are effectively in search of that one number that will explain fun to them. There must, they reason, be some combination of LTV and ARPU and DAU and so on that captures fun, like hunting for the Higgs boson. It must be out there somewhere. ... Unlike every other major game revolution (arcade, console, PC, casual, MMO, etc.), social game developers have proved consistently unable to understand that fun is dynamic in this way. ... They are hunting for the fun boson, but it does not exist.'"
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Why You Shouldn't Design Games Through Analytics

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  • Even more subtle (Score:5, Interesting)

    by EmperorOfCanada ( 1332175 ) on Sunday January 13, 2013 @07:01AM (#42573471)
    I hate any company that is driven through spreadsheet thinking but I think this story only really applies to the Zyngas of the world. My beef is a little bit different. It is where multiplayer games slowly cut off all the interesting discoveries. Too perfect a sniping spot; modify it to make it vulnerable. Room too perfect for a grenade tossed by a defender; change it. Gun a little too powerful; tone it down. All these fixes make eventual sense in that once enough people make one of these discoveries then they exploit the crap out of it and it really ticks the other players off. But at the same time these discoveries are cool. When I find that perfect ambush site I will annoy a bunch of players until they just start tossing a grenade into that spot every time they walk by. So if the spot is too perfect by all means fix it but then create another "too perfect" problem. Let people find it and then fix it. Too many multiplayer games get fixed until it is just a boring stalemate while other games never get fixed and that perfect sniping spot just runs all the other players out of town. In real war you often have move/counter moves the whole war along which is the thinking that drives the whole "Fighting the last war" syndrome where after the war the winning side keeps countering the enemy's last move better and better. But in many games all the counter moves just fix existing problems while not actively seeking to create new ones.
  • by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Sunday January 13, 2013 @07:05AM (#42573485)

    Close. Social games are generally F2P/Freemium. The objective isn't to get people to buy the game. There are three objectives:

    - Get people to play the game. A lot. This brings in advertising money.
    - Get people to promote the game to their friends, typicially by either offering some bonus to those who recruit others or by giving players an advantage based on how many friends they have helping them out.
    - Get people to spend money on the game. Usually this is by making the early stages fairly easy on time requirements to get players dedicated, but the later stages require a silly amount of dull and repetitive grinding to complete which can be bypassed with a small payment.

  • by niftydude ( 1745144 ) on Sunday January 13, 2013 @08:18AM (#42573649)

    The goal is money: get more people to buy the game and get more people to buy in-game purchase items.

    True. This behaviour isn't just limited to games though, but all commercial "creative" endeavours: music, movies, tv shows, etc. Everyone has seen the hollywood movies that have been run through so many test audiences that it has become just bland pap.

    This is the reason that indie music, games and movies can often break through and become a runaway success. People are tired of the dross that big entertainment keeps churning out.

  • by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Sunday January 13, 2013 @10:00AM (#42573977)

    I think that is called 'living.'

  • by Ironhandx ( 1762146 ) on Sunday January 13, 2013 @10:04AM (#42574021)

    See: The homogenization of WoW over the last 8 years while throwing more and more shiny at it to try to call that the creativity. They tried to go against the numbers ONCE but called it so badly that their subscriber base revolted and they lost a large portion of their North American/European subscribers.

    TL;DR for rest of this: World of Warcraft has shot itself in the foot for several reasons but mainly due to exactly the reasons stated in the article. They relied on numbers, and then when they realized numbers weren't getting them anywhere as a lot of people didn't like where the game design was headed... they relied on the absolute worst group of people to advise them: The hardest of hardcore gamers.

    They removed the wrong functionality based on the opinions of elite players. While overall class homogenization and general horribleness really started its massive downwards spiral in Wrath of the Lich King, Wrath had one thing going for it: Variety of raids. Elite players in wrath had difficulty filling raid spots even just a month after the world first lich king kill because there were things to do. Thus when consulted they put their own interests ahead of everyone else and voted in a removal of seperate cooldowns for difficulty mode of raid encounters. This was ostensibly done for good reasons but since gated raids with gear from previous raid instances being required to progress into harder raids are no longer there... removing this trashed the list of things to do for the folks that "populate" the game world. The people that are on constantly. The ones that have little to no life outside of the game. These are the guys that get made fun of the most and they are absolutely vital to your games success. Most of them are quite friendly and helpful and they deserve better. Besides that they broke the nostalgia factor of re-rolling alts for most of their older players, who no longer fully return to the game because they don't feel like re-learning the zones in addition to the classes.

    They continued homogenization while removing those things in Cata leaving everyone in the semi-hardcore(people who play a lot but not super competitively) bracket bored out of their fscking minds.

    The graphics don't help.... original gfx were grittier and less cartoony. When the graphics were updated for Cata they went wayyyy too far into the looney toons bin for myself and a lot of others. I would have preferred mildly more realistic environments than vanilla(but not too realistic, the original art style had a "fun-looking" appeal to them) with much more realistic player characters. The fact that my dwarf hunters nose and hands with the new cartoonier textures look nearly as bad as the graphics in Aidyn Chronicles from the N64 is fucking depressing. Especially when its stressing a computer with hardware powerful enough to account for a 20x10 server room full of N64s.

    Their numbers and polls state that graphics don't matter to their customers however, which is only partially true. Graphics quality doesn't matter AS MUCH but graphics style most certainly does. Its one of those intangibles that will likely never show up on most exit surveys unless you start forcing people to give you their top 5 reasons for leaving instead of one or two. Blizzardat the moment gets one or two.

    The thing is, once you start getting the 5.... if the top 1-2 reasons are varied and split around a relatively even-looking pie-chart... then they all need work but its probably already being worked on for your next expansion etc. If 95%+ of people leaving place an issue in their top 5... it needs to be addressed immediately.

    Additionally... don't just poll people who are currently playing. Poll those who have quit. Those who respond who have quit probably want to return but won't due to the reasons they list. If wow was trying to get its subscriber base back, this is where it needs to start.

  • by robthebloke ( 1308483 ) on Sunday January 13, 2013 @10:11AM (#42574059)
    No, it's really much simpler than that. Encourage a parent to install a free game from the app store, and then guide the child to the 'buy more gems' IAPs before the 15 minutes password window expires. The reason analytics has become so prevelant, is that its a way for game designers to mentally divorce the ethically dubious mechanics of their game, from the profit it's generating. I've actually had conversations with people about their daily graphs, which clearly show huge profits from new players within the first 10 minutes of play, followed by no profit thereafter. When I've pointed out what those graphs indicate, by and large the response was always "but the analytics says these people are all in the 30-40 year old age range, so we aren't exploiting children in the way you're suggesting". Sure there are some people who will make IAPs to get around some of the grind, but by and large, the vast majority of profit is made within that frst 10 minute window. It's a business ethic that made me quit the industry.

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts." -- Bertrand Russell