Analyzing and tracking the impact of social connections in the context of games is an important part of managing a game and game properties. When most people think of social games they think in terms of Facebook and the social mechanics of the Facebook environment. Facebook is an environment we will cover. However, Facebook is not the only social environment to consider when analyzing the impact of the social graph or social engagement of a game. This is especially true for games that are inherently social like poker, bingo, MMO's some RPG's. In fact, when designing a game thought should be given to how a game will stimulate social interaction because this form of engagement usually improves a game's popularity, decreases the cost of acquiring players and improves player retention.
So what data points should a game platform track to determine how social a game is performing and how a game's social popularity impacts the profitability of the game? I mention profitability because in some cases a social game or a game with built in social mechanics can attract large numbers of players. You may say that this is a good problem to have. However, for a game company that is working hard to balance the budget and grow a company, an extreme spike of sustained traffic has implications for the infrastructure costs of supporting that traffic. The last thing you want is for a game to become popular and not be able to handle the traffic.
1.) Social Trail - Every player that participates in a socially connection environment should be tracked in a way to determine all of the connections they have spawned. This seems simple enough. However, if a game is not hosted in Facebook and is on the web, in a mobile environment or in a game environment that does not support this tracking the game developer will have to add the tracking.
2.) Social Monetization - It all comes down to showing how a game generates revenue. Just because a game is social and has the capability to grow large communities does not mean it is a successful game. We all view Angry Birds as a big success because of its social distribution. However, was the game an economic success? I suspect that merchandising and licencing of the Angry Bird brand was more profitable then the game itself. Build monetization into the social structure of the game. Each of the monetization opportunities should be tracked by game and by player. Each player's connections should be rolled up to determine the monetization power of a single player.
3.) Game Cycle - I mentioned in a previous blog the notion of a game state machine. Games do differ from standard applications because they are usually not fall through applications. Instead they engage a player in a cycle of some kind that can keep players in a game for prolonged periods of time. This does have implications for social connections because there are more opportunities in a game to interact socially or to invite others to join in on a game. From a game development perspective hooks and features should be added to a game to encourage social interaction during a game cycle. Each of these events or opportunities should be tracked to determine how many connections have been made, determine if they are existing or new connections and if the social interaction
4.) Influential Players - It usually comes down to a small percentage of players that either generate most of the connections and or revenue for a game. Analytics that provide an understanding of the semantic social web created by players helps to determine the true power of an individual. Quite often a player that generates the most players does so because they have people in their network that are also influential. The same goes for revenue generation. A "whale" most likely attracts other whales to a game. Game companies can get lost in the number of social connections without focusing on the important protagonists a social game. Analytics will help to identify who the important players are.
5.) Facebook - The Facebook environment and any other legitimate social network facilitate social connections outside of the context of a game or application. Social connections exist for a variety of reasons and Facebook does a good job of exploiting that. Facebook no longer supports application virality for this very reason. There was a time when application developers could exploit the Facebook platform to produce a truly viral effect. Facebook has removed these features for obvious reasons (covered in one of my previous blogs). This does not mean that social connections do not occur in Facebook and Facebook games they do, However, a game environment has to work harder in Facebook to acquire and retain players in a social game environment. This means higher cost of acquisition and more focus on the "influencers" previously mentioned. Thus the reason for developing special Facebook social game analytics to maximize revenue and acquisition in Facebook.
Tracking this process is important with a number of off the shelf analytics packages advertising that they can do this. The challenge is to combine the analytics provided by these packages with the special social analytics developed for your own game. This intersection is required to give the management team a full view of the impact of the social factor of a game.
6.) Cross Game Social Fertilization - There is a growing trend to cultivate the social connect factor across games and potentially across environments(mobile, Facebook, web, etc). Essentially, if you acquire a gamer and their social semantic web one game why not exploit this is another game. The key is to determine how successful this is. What percentage of the players network transfers and or how is their network and the game community enhanced.
7.) Big Data - There is no doubt that games have largely contributed to the concept of Big Data, NoSQL DB's , emerging data storage, retrieval and reporting on non-relational DB data stores. This space is still evolving quickly and does have an impact on social game network analytics. When building a social game analytics platform consideration has to be given to the trade off of game performance and the capture of data for analytics purposes. Storing data in NoSQL depositories still creates a big challenge for game business interested in farming this data for business intelligence purposes.
In summary creating analytics to capture game data for the purpose of understanding the game connect factor and the influence of key players in the context of a community and social network is critical to the success of a game, game platform and the success of a game company. Standard funnel analysis will not suffice requiring a different set of analytics to address social game data sources. Games are growing in popularity as powerful ways to acquire, engage and monetize applications. However, this trend also challenges the conventional wisdom on how best to create a business intelligence system for these games.
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Kevin Flood is the CEO of Gameinlane, Inc. Kevin writes extensively about online games and their impact and integration into iGaming and E-commerce environments. Kevin is a frequent speaker at online game events and conferences in Asia, Europe and the US. Kevin and his Gameinlane team are currently working with online gambling, social gaming and e-commerce companies integrating social gaming with online gaming operations and integrate game mechanics into e-commerce applications.