California Management Review
California Management Review is a premier academic management journal published at UC Berkeley
by Karl Werder, Stefan Seidel, Jan Recker, Nicholas Berent, John Gibbs, Nouredine Abboud, and Yossef Benzeghadi
Data has become an essential tool for firms looking to incorporate customer insights into product development. This is particularly true in the gaming industry, where large publishers like Ubisoft compete fiercely for new and returning players. One in three people play video games, and the video game industry is estimated to be worth $138 billion. Individual games can generate revenues of $6 billion. Developing well-known “triple-A” games can be costly, sometimes requiring investments upward of $100 million. Under these conditions, the pressure to innovate rapidly is enormous.
Ghost Recon Wildlands is the biggest Ghost Recon game, and one of Ubisoft’s most popular titles. After conducting the largest open beta in the company’s history (6.87 million players) the game officially launched in March 2017, becoming the top selling game in the industry. Because the stakes are so high, many video games are no longer one-off products. Instead, they are ongoing experiences that change over time. Publishers provide continuous innovations after launch in order to satisfy player requests and extend the lifetime of the game - sometimes for years beyond its initial release.
Ghost Recon Wildlands was successful in large part due to the unit’s development of three core practices to drive product innovation through data analytics: data-driven exploration, data-augmented ideation, and data-informed validation.
The Wildlands live unit leverages game play data, stored in a “data lake” on the company’s servers, for continuous product innovation. User segmentation is critical: they categorize users into “playstyles” or “clusters” that are continually refined. Different users approach the game in different ways. For instance, a “sniper” prefers long-range shooting, whereas an “executioner” prefers close-range combat.
Data-driven exploration refers to open-ended analysis of product-based data to identify behavioral patterns, uncovering anomalies that inform product design cycles. One approach at the Wildlands live unit involves implementing gameplay tracking events in the game code to understand how the game is being played. This exploration led to the development of a new core feature (“heatmaps”) that could show players the patterns of behavior among other players on the map.
Data-augmented ideation refers to how developers leverage data during the development processes to assist designers in envisioning potential product enhancements. While data are a key asset, development is still an artist-driven process. An example of data driving the process of innovation at Wildlands live unit is level design: one popular multiplayer map was redesigned to correct for an imbalance in win-rate. The original map was difficult to defend, making it too easy for the attacking team to win. It would have been impossible to detect this imbalance if not for the extensive playtest data that was collected.
Data-informed validation refers to a process of testing innovations after they’ve been released. This is especially important for In this instance, user feedback is generally very valuable. At the Wildlands live unit, player demand led to the development of a second in-game currency (“prestige credits”)
Ghost Recon Wildlands remains one of Ubisoft’s most popular games. This success can be attributed to a proactive, data-driven innovation strategy involving the three capabilities defined above. Important new game features were discovered by data analysis, but the developers noted that they didn’t want to become over-reliant on data - believing that reliance on data could compromise creativity and originality. Generating a competitive, innovative product requires a balancing act between human vision and data analytics.
To find out more, please read the full article in California Management Review, Volume 62, Issue 3.