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Game analytics reveals games’ hidden impact

Anders Drachen, Magy Seif El-​​Nasr

A decade ago, the term “game ana­lytics” would have meant little even to those well versed in the fields of tech­nology and inter­ac­tive games. Back then, the trail of dig­ital bread­crumbs left by players as they nav­i­gated through games did not play a major role in game devel­op­ment. But along­side the rapid growth of social media, hand­held devices, and big-​​data tracking and analysis, a rev­o­lu­tion in the world of inter­ac­tive games has taken shape that matches the big-​​data-​​driven par­a­digm shift in IT.

“Ana­lytics has spread through the game industry like wild­fire and has pro­foundly affected game devel­op­ment at the global scale,” said Anders Drachen, an asso­ciate pro­fessor in the Col­lege of Arts, Media, and Design and lead game ana­lyst at mid­dle­ware ana­lytics provider Game Analytics.

Drachen has worked with Magy Seif El-​​Nasr, asso­ciate pro­fessor and director of Northeastern’s Game Design Pro­gram, and asso­ciate pro­fessor of game design Alessandro Canossa to impose some order onto the bur­geoning field with the pub­li­ca­tion of Game Ana­lytics: Max­i­mizing the Value of Player Data, the first cen­tral resource on the subject.

Drawing from more than 50 con­tributing authors and inter­view sub­jects across industry and acad­emia, the book addresses both the nuts and bolts of ana­lytics, as well as the psy­chology of game play, mon­e­ti­za­tion, and data mining and visu­al­iza­tion. According to Drachen, it serves as a foun­da­tional tool around which the field can organize.

Industry experts are using game ana­lytics to gain imme­diate feed­back about cus­tomers’ activ­i­ties, expe­ri­ences, and pref­er­ences, thus informing game devel­op­ment and man­age­ment. But the value propo­si­tion doesn’t end with com­pa­nies, Canossa explained. Players are using ana­lytics to eval­uate their own activ­i­ties and com­pare it to that of other players. Researchers are using it to answer ques­tions about topics ranging from human behavior, psy­chology, and social sys­tems to urban plan­ning, archi­tec­ture, and geog­raphy, just to name a few.

The highly inter­dis­ci­pli­nary field is growing rapidly, and to help meet the need for more industry experts to keep up, North­eastern has launched a first-​​of-​​its-​​kind grad­uate pro­gram with a game ana­lytics track. While the pro­gram trains stu­dents in the impor­tance of working across tra­di­tional work­place bound­aries, it also intro­duces them to the broader value of game ana­lytics beyond its finan­cial impli­ca­tions. While game ana­lytics has many com­po­nents, the ability to ana­lyze player behavior is at the center of the field’s growth. It also hap­pens to be the dis­tin­guishing fea­ture of Northeastern’s fac­ulty exper­tise and the program’s edge.

“Ulti­mately, you will want to look beyond game­play behavior and get con­tex­tual data about your players. This will allow you to get closer to the users and under­stand them better,” explained Seif El-​​Nasr. “This helps not only in enter­tain­ment games, but pro­vides a pow­erful tool for games that have a serious pur­pose, such as those for learning, health, or raising awareness.”

With the 800-​​page tome now on shelves, the trio has begun working on the next iter­a­tion. “We know there is mate­rial out there for at least a dozen more books,” said Drachen. This time around, how­ever, they plan to reg­u­larly pub­lish new con­tent online to keep up with the rapidly evolving field.

This article was originally published by news@Northeastern.