In recent years there has been some good cloud based games platforms emerging covering everything from allowing in-game authentication, economies to in-app notifications. Indie games developers are now able to begin writing a game with a set of services that has already been written for them and that they can spend days customising instead of months writing.
Microsoft Azure has seen some large titles emerge (such as Titanfall) and scale across hundreds of thousands of virtual machines in order to meet launches without running out of resources.
One often overlooked necessity is the ability to build in analytics into a game from the start. Many game designers seem to bypass this one fundamental thinking that good games will sell themselves. Without analytics it's impossible to understand what your players are telling you. Take Zynga for instance, they called themselves an analytics company rather than a games company and regularly talked about the 3 R's. Reach, Retention and Revenue.
Reach is important since you need to get players to play your game. Retention is important since you have to keep your players playing your game and revenue comes when you have the other two. Zynga and many other games companies understand that you need to have the right kind of balance between Reach and Retention, e.g. marketing campaigns that peak too early will affect retention.
These metrics and others such as Monthly Active Users, Daily Active Users and Virality allow game reports to be made about how the game is being played so that games designers can address issues and change game variables to get better levels of retention and monetisation.
Azure offers a number of benefits for people planning to build analytics into their games. Firstly, there are a set of boilerplate services which allow you to build these. In this post I'll reference some of these services since some of our customers are using these in abundance for games and non-game service creation.
Azure allows you to build high-scale messaging systems by allowing automatic scaling of Web API services which allow games designers to send JSON messages to without worrying about latencies as this can scale to receiving hundreds and thousands of messages per second. Similarly we support scalable messaging subsystems called the Azure Service Bus and Event Hubs which are designed to support multiple publisher-subscriber models which and can feed a variety of native Azure systems such as HDInsight (Apache Hadoop, Storm and Spark).
Microsoft Hadoop-based platform service and Azure Stream Analytics, provide a real-time feed to give you a window on the data. Data can be stored in open-source or SQL Server databases or natively in Azure Storage, which can scale to half a petabyte per account. It can be searched, queries and displayed in real-time using Azure Search and PowerBI or used to build a rules engine to send back in-app notifications to any client device using Azure Notification Hubs. When all of these things are combined you get a very powerful system!
Newer platform services such as AzureML have democratised data science and machine learning as they offer a way for developers to build simple AI models that can easily be leveraged in existing games.
Over the past year I've been working with one of our BizSpark partners ElastaGames to help bring some of these analytics services "out-of-the-box" to some of the Indies that are using our platform already or are not using cloud at all and want an analytics backend.
The title of this post is very important because ElastaGames product Brisk4Gaming exemplifies this by bringing the sort of analytics that would allow you to excel within your game. Let's decompose the terms.
Hindsight offers us the ability to look back at yesterday and determine what happened?
How many users used my game?
What was the average playtime?
How many people from what country played my game?
What was there average time?
How many players who installed my game 30 days ago are still playing today?
These questions tell developers some vital information for success.
How is your game progressing? Deeper insight on data that's really important, it's no good knowing the data from yesterday so if you have already lost a player and they have become bored of your game.
Understanding data is vital in today's economy, it will allow us to do is to understand this message and then change our game and understand the next feedback cycle.
Then we move to Insight. Well players are generating events in the game all the time so if we can capture this we can define some simple business rules which will allow us to interact with the player. We have this insight all of the time in game when we build in leaderboards and rewards but generally don't understand the real-time view of the game.
Having this would allow us to ask question of the game...
Such as how many players are currently playing with similar playstyles?
Are people playing this game now in their lunch break?
Can I incentivize them to spend more time playing at lunch?
The most powerful - however very few companies except for the largest ones are doing this - is around foresight and relates to machine learning and artificial intelligence.
We can ask questions like:
Can I predict what my player will do next?
Who are the "whales" in my game now?
How can I entice them to stay playing my game at the level that they are currently playing?
When will my player end their session?
1 minute, 2 minutes or more?
What is the best thing I can do to allow them to extend their session lifetime?
Make the game easier or harder?
Will this be the last session that the player will undertake?
Am I going to lose them?
What can I do about that?
Some very powerful questions and responses. This is what Azure can empower your game to aspire to which will provide the best gameplay experience for your players and also allow you to monetise your game better by knowing your player.
If you want a pre-built experience on Azure which will give you the things I've described then feel free to reach out to me or sign up at www.brisk4gaming.com and http://www.azure.com/ for a free thirty day trial.
ElastaGames are looking for dev partners to playtest their solution and will offer the first 20 games companies a year free on their service so check out www.brisk4gaming.com