As the first in a series of interviews with speakers from this October's GDC Online in Austin, Kabam's VP of product and platform services, Sheridan Hitchens, outlines the benefits of using metrics to guide design decisions for persistent online games.
By analyzing data gathered from its existing games and players, Hitchens says that Kabam can quickly and objectively identify problems and opportunities that arise, allowing the studio to update and develop its games more efficiently.
Prior to joining Kabam (developer of popular social games such as Kingdoms of Camelot and Edgeworld), Hitchens spent four years at casual game developer and publisher PlayFirst, where he oversaw the growth of the company's community, multiplayer, and microtranscation platforms.
Before entering the game industry, he graduated from the University of Cambridge and earned an M.B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley - Walter A. Haas School of Business.
Here, Hitchens provides some insight into Kabam's metrics-focused approach to game development, and offers a glimpse at the topics he will cover in his upcoming GDC Online session, "Data Driven: How Creating a Deeply Analytical Approach Drives Success."
Why does Kabam embrace metrics so heavily? What benefits does this strategy offer?
I think as much as anything it's a cultural norm that's driven from the top; our CEO, COO, CMO, and Chief Product Officer all are very analytical. When you make a pitch, or provide a recommendation, you're expected to have some level of data and analysis to back it up.
But there's more at work than cultural or executive biases. In our view, metrics provide an objective view of performance across a range of functions. Carefully tracking a variety of metrics, enables us to establish measures of success, and alerts us to problems and opportunities quickly. Perhaps just as importantly, it reduces the amount of subjective, "I think/you think" debate that wastes time in meetings and in running a business.
What sort of data do you look at when making internal decisions at the company?
We tend to look at a wide range of data and not just the common acquisition, retention and monetization metrics from marketing and production. We'll spend time looking at customer satisfaction data, ticket volume, even tech ops data to overlay onto our common game metrics to understand problems and identify opportunities.
We also conduct research to understand the continually shifting market; we survey our own players, survey the market, analyze market growth trends and so on.