When social gaming started to take off, many people in other parts of the game industry were very excited about finally having an opportunity to create a game that responded to all players’ needs. By using analytics, there was the hope that we would take feedback from the player to improve a game continuously and thus optimize the player’s experience.
Business intelligence (BI) is an incredibly powerful tool and could be used to increase the gameplay experience exponentially. Instead, most social game companies primarily use analytics and other BI tools largely to manipulate customers. Rather than trying to see what would enhance the player’s overall experience, these tools are used to determine how to get an extra $0.05 or have them send one more wall post. As the analytic tools become increasingly sophisticated, most of these new capabilities are focused on better controlling player behavior.
While there is a role for using analytics to improve areas such as monetization, the bigger opportunity is creating a more compelling, engaging and entertaining experience. If a game became increasingly compelling and enjoyable, monetization, virality and engagement would all follow (assuming it was properly constructed). Yet, we have the tail wagging the dog in that these areas are driving the evolution of the games, with little concern about the overall enjoyment of the player.
While the focus on “manipulation” may work in the short term (and please investors or stock-holders), it is not the way to grow a superior, long-term business. Very few industries—beyond the used car business, banking, US airline industry and a few others—are built around continually tricking your customers. Those that are either rely on discrete purchases where you do not need repeat customers (e.g., used car sales) or government regulation that keeps out most competitors and thus prevents new entrants that offer superior service (e.g., banking). You can trick some of the people some of the time, but consumers are not stupid and will gravitate to stores, games and services where they have a great experience. Long term, Amazon and Nordstrom outperform Overstock and Kmart. My point is simply that you should be using your analytics to create the next social gaming equivalent of Amazon, not Kmart.