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Editorial: Applying Search and Analytics to the Video Gaming Industry

Last Updated Jan 2009

By Mark Bennett, New Idea Engineering., Volume 2 - Issue 2 - July / August 2004

Introduction

The Video Game industry continues to grow at a rapid rate. This compounded growth has now surpassed the traditional “Hollywood” entertainment industry in terms of annual sales. Further, this is a highly technological industry, using many of the same resources as other knowledge and content based industries.

This is an industry that is now ripe for enterprise search, analytics and content management solutions. Yet very little focus or marketing effort is being expended by our industry to court them. We are all still chasing after Fortune 500 companies, law firms, pharmaceuticals, b2b and assorted GSA opportunities. The reasons for this vary. Our industry is rather “mature” and corporate; “games” aren’t on the radar screen for many of us, except perhaps casually through our relatives or younger employees. And since the gaming industry is still relatively young and growing, the pains of enterprise information overload and the cost of not solving expensive information related problems quickly might not yet be apparent. For the agile companies in our space, this is certainly an opportunity. We can easily see a half dozen problems these companies are having that could be solved with search and analytics technology. This article discusses a few examples.

The Practical: Reducing Support Costs

Enabling customers to help themselves, verses picking up the phone or emailing Tech Support, is a well understood ROI proposition for any software company. This becomes much more apparent if your software retails for less than $100 a box.

The good news is many of these consumers are often technically savvy, or at least comfortable with computers. If you provide a decent automated support experience, there’s a good chance they will use it.

Key factors:

  • Good content: Informative, up to date, easy to understand. For this industry we would also stipulate “fun looking” content – these are not the typical corporate “suits” we’re talking about. Content needs to also be visually interesting.
  • Good Search and Navigation: Remember, search is often the fallback for bad navigation. Search analytics from search logs will help you understand common issues; you can use that information to improve the search results, or to promote items into the navigation system itself.

Remember, search analytics and Behavior Based Taxonomies (BBT) can directly drive improved search results, improved navigation, and improved content; this is a technology with multiple payback channels. Internal intranet applications such as automating some percentage of Helpdesk and HR requests, inside larger game development companies, should provide cost savings similar to that in other white-collar enterprises.

Market Intelligence: Gauging Community Interests and Issues

The gaming industry is very competitive, and there’s a surprisingly large divide between “hit” titles and the flops. Innovative game design plays a substantial role in success (along with other factors, of course).

Imagine reading the minds of your customers, being able to tell what is perceived as “cool” or “lame”. Community driven discussion areas provides a forward looking view of what excites users, what they wish products would do, and which product feature have “buzz” surrounding them. With some additional processing, these threads can be analyzed with search analytics as well. This is a good compliment to search analytics on Support and Help Desk activity, which typically points out problems, the “what’s wrong”.

Knowledge Worker: Streamlining the Development Cycle

Game developers and content creators are expensive resources. These employees are knowledge workers, with similar needs to their counterparts in other industries. Reducing the time it takes for them to locate coding resources, predefined shapes and art from existing libraries and other resources represents a cost savings each time they perform that task.

Database driven libraries can easily be retrofitted to include BBT (Behavior Based Taxonomies) with directed results. Source code control systems could also be fully search enabled. Search engines can even be turned loose on file systems. Workgroups using a centralized disk repository could then use full text search

Graphics and other non-text items often have meta data of some sort that can be made searchable. Even the URL or file system path often encodes valuable data that could be extracted and indexed. Search engine results lists can be customized to show thumbnail views of the items they have returned. This makes it much quicker to spot pertinent results.

A system providing search analytics and directed results can spot trends in knowledge worker requests and quickly promote promising answers. Given the rather intense development cycle at some gaming companies, these trends may change rapidly as the project progresses, so a streamlined system with low latency is indicated. A good BBT (Behavior Based Taxonomy) would be able to keep up with these changes and continue to provide streamlined results.

The Future: Information Spaces and Immersive Story Telling: Leveraging Search Technology

The world of 3D graphics is dominated by gaming; other uses for this amazing technology are now emerging. Below I present some ideas that would benefit from search analytics and directed results. I’m not saying all of these will happen, but these are examples of the types of things that are possible, and where our industry fits in. Of course these forward-looking ideas are speculative and much harder to monatize. Please note that none of these applications are fiction, from a technological standpoint; the only reason you aren’t using them today is because market forces haven’t yet popularized them. There have even been prototypes of some of these items.

General Concepts

In these information centric applications, “distance” from the user represents the predicted interest level of that user for each item. Behavior based taxonomies, based on previous searches, can be used to make these interest-level predictions, along with other behaviors such as previous purchases. A user can still see items further away, and can still navigate towards them; we need to remember that our “interest predictions” will often be wrong. Items’ proximity to other items conveys logical grouping and hierarchal organization.

3-D Search Results and Taxonomies

These are really 3-dimensional extensions of traditional “1-D” web applications. 3-D distance to the user replaces the “1-D” relevancy rankings of traditional search engines. 3-D arrangement of items replaces the familiar indented and nested subject taxonomy trees. Now true “up” can represent a higher level of abstraction, with “down” representing more detail along one subject area. 3-D object icons can sometimes replace text. If the user continues with a forward velocity, they will continue to see new content; they need only make slight directional adjustments to control where they go.

Some search vendors have already attempted a primitive form of a related idea, using statistical analysis of textual snippets; the text is correlated with other text and rendered as interconnected textual “nodes”, floating in a free space. The user can jump from node to node, and see other related nodes. These early attempts were interesting at first, but have not caught on. Perhaps a text-only experience was not visually interesting, or the mere statistical relation of text snippets was not compelling enough. I still commend them for trying.

3D Web Browsing

The user views the current web page as a floating window in a 3D space. While they begin to read, the content from linked pages is also downloaded and rendered; those linked pages start to appear as additional floating windows, arranged near the original window. The system can use distance to represent that user’s predicted interest level.

B2C Shopping

We’ve already seen one related prototype of this. The 3-D world tries to emulate the layout of a traditional shopping mall, with each web store’s home page shown as “posters” on the walls of the mall. This attempt at emulating a physical mall layout wastes the new 3-D medium. Distance and position should again be used to convey product categorization and predicted interest level. Early online information repositories quickly learned that they did not need to specifically emulate libraries, online 3-D retailers (3-tailers?) should ditch the “shopping mall” concept.

In addition to behavior based taxonomies, retailers can also apply their existing statistically-based “similar customer” models. You’ve probably seen Amazon and Netflix suggest items to you, based on “similar” customers? These statistics already predict interest, and can be directly translated into “distance”. Perhaps these similar customers could even be rendered in some way to represent a community of similar interests.

Other Information Drive 3-D Apps

There are many other information centric 3-D apps that could leverage search and BBT. Many of these applications already exist in some form:

  • Interactive and educational story telling (MIT Media Labs)
  • Commerce / B2B story telling
  • Data visualization
  • Social networking (Sims Online, There, etc.)

An Opportunity

As always, we invite you to forward these newsletters to your friends and colleagues who may be interested. We hope this article resonates with some of our readers’ and would be happy to discuss it further.