Thought Leadership

How a mobile-gaming company competes at a new level with a modern data stack

Nick Amabile


January 18, 2021
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In today’s business, failing to recognize the trends and insights found in your own data constitutes falling behind.

That reality is especially harsh in the hyper-competitive world of the gaming industry. As users navigate through virtual worlds, their every move generates a tidal wave of information. Each in-game action produces another data point open for analysis. As the volume and complexity of this information mounts, companies often find their technologies can no longer compete.

How a data-driven organization recognized a clear area for improvement

A casual, mobile-friendly gaming company based in Seattle, Big Fish Games (BFG) faced this very situation. Like most companies in the gaming industry, BFG is a data-focused operation with an understanding of the value of their information. As a result, they knew they could do more with the way their data impacted their business decisions.

BFG’s legacy tools allowed for some analytics functions, but the company had consistently met difficulties in keeping pace with the demands of their business. Every new title they launched introduced different analytical requirements, and they faced delays when incorporating each game into their database. Their current system lacked the flexibility and governance capabilities to incorporate new complex data sets and generate much-needed insights.

Recognizing how data could improve their operation but unable to bring those goals to life, BFG contacted DAS42.

How a scattered, siloed infrastructure hampers analytics efforts

With digital customers that generate a wealth of data, entertainment companies are well-positioned to use data analytics to recognize customer habits. For gaming, which finds players generating unstructured or semi-structured data with every move, this is especially true. Gaming companies enjoy a wealth of possibilities to improve gameplay, recognize player behavior, and incorporate in-game promotions when data is centralized, governed, and accessible.

For BFG, their data system was built upon multiple platforms sourced from different providers. From a business intelligence standpoint, BFG was hampered by a lack of a cohesive, centralized data source. As a result, their data analytics team spent a disproportionate amount of time aggregating data and generating reports rather than focusing on higher-level insights.

BFG wanted to empower their business users to generate self-service analytics built on standardized metrics and data definitions. The company already recognized the value in the data at their disposal. What it needed was to shift the question from the business-centric “How are we doing?” to their users: “What are our players doing?”

The transformational power of a cloud-based, full-stack solution

BFG’s current data platform was not flexible and dynamic to keep pace with their needs. The company was already in the process of migrating to a cloud-based data warehouse and now use Snowflake.

To complete a new and improved data stack, DAS42 implemented Looker as a new, more flexible business intelligence platform. Given the platform’s strengths in providing data governance, Looker provided BFG with a single source of truth for self-serve data analytics.

However, DAS42’s focus centered more on helping BFG design their storage solution than implementing new capabilities with data engineering. Our process focused on understanding the organization’s different analytical requirements. Given the volume of data produced in gaming, these requirements were deeply complex, but very well thought-out and understood by BFG’s team.

By translating those requirements into a data model in Looker, we helped BFG architect the solutions they needed to establish self-service analytics capabilities. The company frequently launches new games, and BFG wanted to avoid reinventing the wheel each time to establish analytics requirements. Through LookML, we came up with a model to ensure the KPIs BFG needed for every new title were already available. In addition to working from a trusted set of metrics shared across all existing games, BFG now has the ability to quickly customize analytics for each new title they launch.

Once implemented, BFG was well-positioned for proactive and informed decision-making about their games and their marketing.

Recognizing the use cases for your data builds a better data model

To go further with their business, BFG needed to upgrade their existing technology. But for an impactful, transformational change in how a company uses its data, a different platform isn’t enough.

Implementing a new business intelligence software for BFG began with understanding their specific use cases. When building a data model, we always want to understand what an organization’s business user is really trying to analyze. Whether BFG wants to analyze a player’s progress or when they stop playing, they guide us through their use cases. From there, we determine where the corresponding data can be found.

A lot of our process comes down to pattern-matching abilities derived from years of experience recognizing techniques that can resolve certain use cases. The process is akin to working backwards. We start from a messy, chaotic place in the backend of a system, and then lay out the data in the data warehouse in a way the use case can be fulfilled. From there, resolving the use case is just a matter of ensuring the data is in the right format to generate the right calculation in terms that are most meaningful to the user.

Some firms may take the opposite approach – the data is messy, so it should be cleaned up. But if you don’t first recognize the use case and how the data needs to look, you’re probably going to miss the mark. With a data model built on the use cases BFG needs, the company’s users can quickly access the reports they need. Plus, Looker allows them to use business terminology they understand.

A modern data program provides the scaffolding for business intelligence

With a centralized, single source of truth at its fingertips, BFG is on its way toward realizing its data-driven goals. Previously, they didn’t have the flexibility or capabilities to recognize and analyze specific player sessions or advertising performance. Now, using Looker, they can slice and dice and drill down into their data as needed.

As a casual, mobile-oriented gaming company, BFG primarily wants their customers to download the company’s app. Using Looker, they can now recognize how effectively paid ads from Facebook or Google are attracting customers. Plus, once a customer downloads the app, BFG can analyze how long customers take to play their first session. From there, they can assess how long they keep playing, and if anything in the gameplay impedes their progress.

Factoring in the costs of advertising and promotions, BFG builds a picture of their Customer Lifetime Value. From a strategic standpoint, BFG is operating at a higher level than before.

No matter your industry, contact DAS42 if your current data stack is keeping you from gathering the insights you need. While technological improvements can help bridge the gap between where your business is and where you want it to go, they’re no guarantee of success. We have the expertise to analyze your needs and tailor a solution that can keep you in the game.