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Fantasy, Farms, and Freemium: What Game Data Mining Teaches Us About Retention, Conversion, and Virality

This past Saturday I had the pleasure of delivering a keynote presentation at the 2011 Mining Software Repositories (MSR 2011) conference (part of the pleasure being the location, Waikiki beach in Hawaii). My slides are available in pdf (1.3M) and ppt (13.5M).

The talk explores how to use mined gameplay data to reduce the cost of developing games, and to understand the interactions between game design decisions and player retention. It also takes a dive into the design of CityVille, focusing on the techniques it uses for attracting new players to the game. It summarizes research performed by Ken Hullett, Nachi Nagappan, Eric Schuh, and John Hopson on Project Gotham Racing 4, as reported in the paper, Data Analytics for Game Development in the NIER Track at the 2011 Int’l Conference on Software Engineering, and research performed by Ben Weber, Michael John, Michael Mateas, and Arnav Jhala reported in the paper, Modeling Player Retention in Madden NFL 11.

Some tidbits I found interesting while researching the talk:

  • Games (14%), books (13%), and entertainment (10%) are the three largest categories of apps in Apple’s app store. Business applications are 3%.
  • This is part of a trend where software use is becoming volitional. People are using software because it provides an enjoyable experience, and not necessarily because it is solving some specific need.
  • CityVille achieved 6 million daily active users only 8 days after launch. What if this kind of adoption curve was achievable in existing software segments? This could be very disruptive.
  • Retention engineering is a new subfield of software creation that is focused on how to design software so users have high engagement, and continue to use it. That is, if software use is volitional, you can no longer depend on some need to force people to use it. How do you ensure people continue to use software they really don’t need to use?
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