Engaging With deltaDNA
JUNE 15, 2015 • While premium mobile games are still a successful model, the content usually played on smartphones is free-to-play. Not only do freemium titles incur the same high discovery costs as their premium brethren, but higher operating and support costs, as well. That has led to a surge of analytics firms who have stepped up to assist freemium developers learn more about how players interact with their games, and equipped with that better understanding, more effectively monetize those titles.
One of those new firms is deltaDNA. Launched in U.K. during 2010 as GamesAnalytics, the company rebranded itself in March of last year. The firm’s angle of approach on the boosting of player engagement is through further game personalization. To better understand how deltaDNA accomplishes this goal, DFC Intelligence spoke with chief executive Mark Robinson.
DFC: Can you give us the elevator pitch for who deltaDNA is and what problems you are trying to solve?
Mark: The games industry lives with low player retention rates. DeltaDNA’s technology enables publishers and developers to understand player behaviors and personalize the game environment to increase engagement and lifetime value. Through a combination of player segmentation and real-time messaging, the games are made responsive to different playing styles; novices are nurtured, experts are challenged.
DFC: The mobile space has seen a flood of developers looking to strike gold, as well as numerous companies looking to sell tools and solutions to those developers. DFC Intelligence is forecasting solid growth for the mobile game space, but nowhere near the numbers we see some companies throwing out to investors. The question is how much gold is really in those hills? Is there the possibility the bubble will burst in this space?
Mark: The games industry is benefiting from its new position as a mainstream entertainment channel, with new demographic groups now becoming gamers. Developers are getting much better at creating games efficiently by using external technology providers. In the last five years, the industry has moved quickly to use data to drive decision making about game design and managing the player experience. We are only getting started. There is much more growth to come.
DFC: Can an analytics solution really help drive, not just revenue, but more importantly, profitability?
Mark: When we started deltaDNA, data was used to populate dashboards reporting high-level revenue and retention metrics, so the developer knew how the game was performing. If retention rates were low (and often they were), these tools didn’t give developers the insights needed to fix the problem. They continued to guess how to evolve the game design.
Second generation analytics tools, like deltaDNA, allow users unlimited power and flexibility to ask questions of the data and interact with players. So, if you see novice players running out of resources too early in session one, you can give them resources to keep them playing. And, importantly, leave the other players alone. Precision in delivering the right experience for all players is how the industry is evolving.
Once you have maximized engagement and lifetime value (LTV) using these player management techniques, profitable acquisition is within reach. Our toolkit predicts LTV and retention rates for each acquisition channel, so the developer can make early decisions about the effectiveness of their marketing spend.
DFC: There are a great number of issues in the mobile space that really seem to limit profitability. Being driven by a freemium model, there is the basic issue of customer acquisition costs being greater than revenue per user. On top of that, you have the challenges of support costs, retention costs, converting users to payers, dealing with piracy and hacking and a general issue of game design, where many products were just not designed for a free-to-play model. Which of these areas is deltaDNA focused on solving for developers?
Mark: All of the above. First, our consulting team works with the developer to ensure the underlying game design is suitable for the F2P model. Our HealthCheck consultation process makes sure the game mechanics are complete and well balanced. Getting a good balance to your game design is not trivial it’s an essential foundation to creating game success.
Some developers also believe that this is the only element, whereas one of the main developments in the industry over the last few years is that expert marketing, analytics, and effective player management, is also required to maximize the game success.
The deltaDNA platform delivers fast, accurate and flexible data into an intuitive environment so that player experiences can become transparent. Fast is important, so that decisions can be made at the same speed the business requires. It is not viable to have to wait several hours for queries to return. Flexible is vital, so the analytics guys are not constrained by the data. Once you understand why players leave, and why players buy, then it is possible to devise messaging strategies to unlock player value.
DFC: You and Chris Wright started deltaDNA in 2010. What was the company originally intending to accomplish, and what was your business model?
Mark: We knew that online games gave the industry a unique opportunity to understand players, and to create game experiences that they would love. Game personalization is the term we coined to describe how we can adjust experiences to be responsive to different players. Novices need a gentler introduction to the game than experts, who need to be challenged.
Our vision was to develop a real-time platform that allowed developers to ensure players stayed between the two extremes of anxiety and boredom, and maintained their engagement with the game.
Our business model is to support and share in success. That’s why we chose MAU pricing.
DFC: We know you have worked with BBC Worldwide and Bigpoint. Who are some of your clients and how many do you have currently?
Mark: We work with many of the games industry’s most successful organizations such as EA, Bandai Namco and Nickelodeon, plus some of the most exciting and innovative new companies, such as Madfinger, Tactile and 505 Games.
DFC: You personally worked previously with British Gas, marketing services company CACI, and the consultancy Marketing Databasics. How did your previous experience exert itself with deltaDNA?
Mark: My training was in statistics, and I have always loved finding nuggets of knowledge from data. Even better is when this knowledge is used to improve business. At British Gas I developed models to forecast gas consumption, and at CACI I created retail performance models, helping big retailers manage their store portfolios. I ran a company focused on creating effective CRM programs for large organizations, such as Heineken and Office Depot, while at Marketing Databasics. This experience was particularly relevant to what we are doing in games.
DFC: You started out providing user metrics for PC and mobile games. Lately the emphasis seems to be on mobile alone. Have you abandoned the PC side?
Mark: Not at all. We have always have been cross-platform. Some of our biggest games are PC. It is interesting to us to see how games are becoming richer on mobile, and there certainly seems to be movement towards allowing players to switch between playing environments.
Developers are starting to think about how their players’ behavior changes as their game play develops, which makes for some interesting insights. For example, do you know that most IAP transactions happen during the hours of darkness rather than daylight? Recruitment is better on Fridays rather than Sundays. The essence of our approach is to enable publishers and developers to build environments that are responsive to the players.
DFC: Please tell us more about your technology – deltaDNA’s advanced analytics platform – how it tracks what people were doing in-game and how clients can get at the rich data and databases.
Mark: So, we have a set of data collection SDKs and verification templates to allow our clients to collect rich data. Unlike many analytics systems, which have a fire and forget approach, we provide event templates that are highly parameterized. This means that each event, such as Mission Start and Mission End, can carry snapshots of all useful player data. Items like XP, resource usage, grind currency, and so on. This data is vital in finding a good balance for all players.
We have sets of measure dashboards that enable our users to understand how their game is performing. This means Retention can be compared against similar games on our platform. Also, key words are mapped from reviews into a Word Cloud, so that qualitative and quantitative data can be combined.
The real power in the system is in the Analyze section, where a set of advanced analytics tools is available. This works in real-time, so that users can quickly move beyond dashboards to really unlock actionable insights from the deeper data. The functionality includes Slice & Dice, Retrospective and Real-Time Funnels, Player Segmentation, Data Visualization, Acquisition Optimization, LTV and Retention predictors.
However, the icing on the cake is our philosophy that data should be freely accessible. With this in mind, we have created an open environment. This means tools like Tableau, SQL, Excel, R, etc., can be connected to our high performance database so that extra flexibility and functionality is readily available.
DFC: How is your Player Relationship Management platform better at understanding complex player behavior than other analytics firms, and what are the benefits?
Mark: The power of the data drives precise interventions. For example, it is possible to ask very specific questions of the data: how many players have spent over four minutes in Level Four and are therefore a churn risk? Which players are accelerating their game play in later sessions and have the potential to convert to paying?
The complex questions return in seconds, not hours. So, data-driven decision-making is now a reality. Looking at the data in more sophisticated ways really helps build success.
Behavioral segments change the perspective of everyone involved in building and managing the game. You can start to use dynamic game balancing, in-app messaging, push notification and even email to personalize the environment. This allows you to nurture the casual players, challenging the accomplishment segment and monetize the strategic players, all of which dramatically improve retention and revenues. In one example, we increased the number of highly engaged players by 350%… and increased revenues six fold.
DFC: When you started the company, it was said that you took a very game-specific angle towards developing analytics. In practical terms, what did you need to do differently to service different titles?
Mark: We started and continue to have a strong focus on games, but most of the learning here is applicable to apps in general. It’s nice that games is now showing other business sectors how personalization is done well.
Some of the player specific measures that we developed to help insight into player experiences are equally appropriate; playing speed, momentum, competency, socialness etc., are all useful views of gamers and app users.
DFC: What led you to focus more on the marketing consulting services in 2014? Were your clients asking for more or did you see simply an opportunity to pounce on?
Mark: There was a skill shortage and many developers didn’t have the bandwidth to deploy analytics effectively. We wanted to educate the market into how to unlock their data and develop best practice.
In fact, our next set of developments is focused on adding an intelligence layer to our toolkit. This will let users see behavioral segments and use messaging strategies that will add value from day one, rather than having to build them themselves. The consulting team also supports our platform users.
DFC: Chris came from the game side and you came from data mining side. How has the combination worked and how can we see both of your contributions in the finished services?
Mark: I think the combination of experiences and background work very well, and parallels the journey the whole industry has been on – combining data and design to build great experiences. We learn a lot from each other.
DFC: What does the name deltaDNA mean?
Mark: Delta means improvement, and DNA indicates that we unlock the essence of individual players.
DFC: What makes deltaDNA different from competitors, such as Ninja Metrics?
Mark: Unlike our competitors, we believe that the data needs to deliver a view of all aspects of the game player: from acquisition, on-boarding, engaging, accelerating, monetizing and retaining.
Ninja Metrics are focused on social behavior. While we have spent time looking at social behavior in games, the truth is that the payback is limited. Only 4% of game players connect socially, and even the most incentivized games only have 8% of their players connecting via Facebook etc.
DFC: How can you help F2P studios build better player clusters that can improve retention and engagement?
Mark: Paying and non-paying is too blunt – one-dimensional segments are too broad. We help studios to look beyond this in adopting a more powerful and actionable approach, as described above.
DFC: How has your business changed over the years, and why?
Mark: We started as a consulting business four years ago, and we have been technology-led for the last two years with consulting providing a valuable wrapper. The consulting team creates wonderful marketing content and insights that shape how our platform evolves.
The use of data is expanding rapidly and getting more sophisticated. It’s an incredibly exciting time as there’s lots more to discover and the dialogue between us, our clients with the industry pushing forward best practice every day.
DFC: How is deltaDNA monetized? Are you profitable?
Mark: We share in the success of the game using MAU as the monetization metric. We also generate consultancy revenues by supporting our developer clients in delivering best practice.
We are in a rapid growth phase so are reinvesting in the business, recently opening our San Francisco office and expanding our marketing team to put our unique insights in front of as many people as possible.
Our revenues are tripling quarter-on-quarter, and we are working on some of the biggest game releases this year.
DFC: Last November deltaDNA secured $3 million in a second round of Series A funding. We understand that investment is being utilized to expand your distribution in Europe and North America, what are your expansion plans?
Mark: Following the last round of funding raise towards the end of 2014, the marketing team has been extended, with our content being delivered into the market and extending our profile further. We are adding to our excellent sales team and creating more client management and tech support in our Europe and U.S. offices.
DFC: Will there be more offices other than Edinburgh and San Francisco?
Mark: None immediately, but there’s a distinct possibility sometime down the line.
DFC: What other services and/or platforms can we expect to see from deltaDNA?
Mark: There is a natural extension of our advanced targeting into the world of ad mediation. We are currently in beta with several clients, using our SmartAds functionality to increase impressions from games without disrupting retention rates. Stay tuned!