Column: Data-Driven Success: Web3 Gaming and Market Intelligence – by Sam Barberie

Column: Data-Driven Success: Web3 Gaming and Market Intelligence – by Sam Barberie

The Importance of Market Intelligence and Consumer Insights in Web3 Gaming: Ignoring Data Will Kill Your Game Development

Real talk, gang. No developer can shrug off the importance of data in building a game. But web3 devs have a history of breezing past the most vital denominators in successful games: market intelligence and consumer insights. As the space gets more sophisticated, with long-experienced developers setting up new web3 gaming studios and AAA publishers like Square Enix and Nexon going all-in, squeaking by with some GM tweets and luck is no longer a viable strategy.

Here’s some context: I used to work with every game publisher and developer in helping them use data to build, monetize, and grow the best games on the planet. And in that process, I saw the major differences between companies that understood how data—especially contextualizing, competitive intelligence and trends data—were key to their success, and those that didn’t. Email me and we’ll look at the market caps of the ones that cared, and the ones that didn’t.  

There are two common rebuttals from game developers who shy away from data:

  1. We’re heads down on development, check back later
  2. We’re doing well, we’ll look at this later

No one would say they don’t care about data, but developers find roundabout ways of saying it. Whether in a panic leading up to launch or under the influence of hubris, both excuses say “We’re busy doing other things.” I get it. Data ain’t sexy, there’s nothing tantalizing about consumer insights. But games will live or die by the decisions made during those “other things,”. If those aren’t data-driven, you’re likely to fall into the latter category.

Data Management in Web2 and Web3

In Web 2, competitive intelligence can be hard to come by. Everything is proprietary, with few public benchmarks around which game developers can assess vital health metrics like conversion rate, ARPPU, and MAU. This means that market intelligence companies typically triangulate from a few different sources. They can be email receipts, payment service providers, and sometimes bits of data coming from developers. It’s often expensive, and devs think of those costs as something “extra” and superfluous. It’s not development money, it’s not marketing money, so is it worth it? As we’ll see: obviously.

In web3, a lot of developers take for granted that data are public, while others continue to ignore even that. There’s a theory that being able to openly query info from the chains is a silver bullet that will make everything easy, or that they can look at it “later.” (Whether Web 2 or 3, I want to illustrate why data can’t wait.) As I’ve already written about, blockchain gaming data contains a whole host of complications. It’s also only a partial picture. While it’s easy to see secondary market activity, it’s near impossible to equate that to actions in-game. An active wallet is not necessarily a player (it might not be a human at all). A flurry of aftermarket activity can be from a random influencer’s shill tweet, not a smart game design decision.

There are platforms that are aiming to close the gap with comprehensive coverage (disclosure: some of which I’ve helped create). But, let’s take a deep dive into gaming business intelligence and consumer insights broadly. How developers—especially in web3—need to leverage them to see success.

For this exercise, imagine I’m planning to make a shooter game. Let’s take a look at how data need to play into every decision throughout my game’s journey.

Inception and design

What should I build, and can I build it?

For some devs, making a game is an artistic pursuit that isn’t beholden to sanitized, calculated business decisions. Cool, but statistically that doesn’t jive with getting funding, launching a game, or successfully growing it.

Even before I design a single thing, data are already informing me if I can and should build, and even whether my intended art style and genre: audience match could work. From the earliest days of deciding what to build, I need to look at whether there’s a future.

Historical genre and game data (revenue and MAU)

  • How is the shooter market doing? Is it trending upwards, showing that gamers have appetites to spend?
  • How top-heavy is the market? If games like Call of Duty and Battlefield own 80%+ of the space, is there enough room in that 20% for me to find success?
  • What are the averages for conversion rate and ARPPU, and what MAU will I need in order to make a profit? Will I have the user acquisition money to acquire that install base and MAU?
  • What platforms are shooters successful on? If the console and PC are too saturated, is it a good idea to move to mobile?

Consumer insights (genre preferences, localization)

  • What markets do I want to go into, and what are the art style expectations of players in that territory?
  • Do the players I want to reach even play shooter games?

I’ve seen NFL players licensed for match-three-style games (like Candy Crush), a genre that none of their core fans play. I’ve also seen games with slick anime styling try and fail to enter Western markets where sci-fi artwork works better.

I might take a gander at the wallets of existing web3 gaming item holders. But the anonymity of the blockchain means I don’t know the human behind the wallet. Right now, there’s also the fact that most of them bought these items for speculation, not playing. All this makes predicting the user’s location, genre preferences, or even status as a gamer near impossible. But wallet data also opens a lot of opportunities, which we’ll explore later.

Launching, Monetizing, and Refining

Improvements with context

I give myself the green light and I build my game. Data comparisons to successful games help me hone the design. If CS: GO has a better retention curve than Crossfire or Warface, I might prefer to take design cues from the former. Here are some other crucial places where data play a role:  

Item pricing

  • Should skins cost $15 or $7? Looking at the average mint price and aftermarket data can help shed light on what users expect to see. 

Design Improvements

  • Speaking of items, even the items I design will be informed by what seems to be working on the market. Avatars vs skins vs consumables vs weapons upgrades, etc. I can look at other games to see what items seem to have the most trading.
  • The same is true for game economy changes. Let’s say I make a design tweak intended to boost the conversion rate (CR). I know my own data, but I need to contextualize that against the market. If, after pushing the change, I see a 10% improvement in my CR, but my two closest competitors see a 15% improvement in the same time period, I might say that the design change had almost no benefit, and the change was a general genre trend. I need to figure out another solution to match and exceed my competitor’s rates.
  • I don’t want to leave money on the table, and I also don’t want to commit expensive engineering time to monetization changes that don’t have any impact.

Seasonality

  • When I launch the game, and later drops or seasons, should be informed by data.
  • Studying monthly and yearly revenue for top games, I can see that nearly all games take a nosedive during the summer, so I shouldn’t launch then. But I also shouldn’t launch my game in the fall, when CoD and Battlefield dominate the market and steal spending from even non-shooter games.
  • Even daily and weekly trends are important. Do users tend to top up their wallet’s crypto spending power every two weeks after payday? Are Thursdays better than Mondays for new drops?

Player Segmentation

  • Even the types of players within my game that I intend to build for need to be thought. Whales vs non-converting players, interactors with secondary marketplaces vs those that won’t. If I over or underestimate the importance of each category, I risk ruining my economy or leaving money on the table.  

Growth and marketing

Precision user acquisition

The blockchain is unique in potentially opening up a treasure trove of new techniques in targeting audiences and growing my player base that web2 never offered. And with UA becoming harder, especially on mobile, these unlocks could be a huge boon to growth.

UA spend

  • As with any game, the amount of money I can spend on user acquisition is determined by my player’s lifetime value (LTV). The higher the LTV, the more I can move the needle on acquiring a user.
  • While there’s not enough data to indicate this yet, my assumption is that web3 games will have higher LTV, as players get the option to sell items when they’re done with them and recoup some of the cost, so they can spend a longer period of time buying things in my game.

Targeting

  • Reaching the right potential users also requires data, especially as more developers need to take marketing in their own hands with less ability to rely on app stores.
  • Who are the users I want and how do I find them? Looking at my own data, I get a sense of the typical makeup of a player: their spending power, games with assets owned, value and quantity of their game items, etc.
  • In web2, lookalikes are normally based on demographics. If my players are 73% male, 18-34, and mostly North American, I can take that to ad platforms to try to find similar people.
  • In web3, I may not have demographic info, but I can take wallet information on my players and then look outward at the chains overall to find wallets with similar attributes.

Campaigns

  • With that data, web3 also allows for novel marketing tactics. What if I airdrop all those valuable wallets a token? What if I serve unique offers (like free item unlocks or double XP) to users who make the whitelist?

Data infiltrate every element of a game’s lifecycle, including the end. As my game wanes and even re-acquisition campaigns are failing, the process begins again. Can I look at my old player base and determine the best way to channel them into a new game I build?

Regardless of what phase of the innovation journey that is the gaming world we’re in—the rise of esports, the dawn of VR, the shift from physical to digital, and from premium to free-to-play—data have always been crucial to building successful games. They’re what allows studios to pitch and survive due diligence, to create a sustainable economy, and to find avid fans. As web3 continues to find its footing and gets adopted by larger and larger players, I want to remind developers that extra insights never hurt. \\

Sam Barberie is a gaming and web3 exec based in NY. He was part of the founding team of SuperData Research, which was acquired by Nielsen in 2018; an executive at Animoca Brands; and a consultant and advisor to several blockchain gaming companies.

\"Developers

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Column: Data-Driven Success: Web3 Gaming and Market Intelligence – by Sam Barberie

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