In Data analysis, Free to play, Game monetization, Games Analytics

Unless you’ve just woken from a cryogenic freeze, you’ll be aware that virtual reality (or ‘VR’) is the big buzz in the industry right now. While the doubters cry “Google Glass” as they prophesize the next fad failure, the rest of us look towards the wealth of possibility this new medium brings games.

With mobile tipped to take VR mainstream, developers are already venturing into the unknown to test out its monetization potential. And mobile makes sense: with a price tag of just $99 for Samsung’s Gear VR versus $500-$1000 for PC hardware, it’s accessible to try it out. Conversations about VR going free-to-play are already happening, so surely it’s only a matter of time before we start to see IAP purchases and ads making their way into the virtual experience?

Free-to-play monetization has fueled the need for data and analytics in the mobile games, and many are still getting to grips with the full potential it offers. Numerous case studies have shown that a data-led approach can have a dramatic impact. So, how can we expect to see developers applying data in VR games? And how does this differ from what we’re growing accustomed to in mobile?

Here are 3 predictions for some of the ways data will be applied in VR:

1. To determine why players are leaving

In mobile free-to-play games, it’s important that players stick around: retention has a direct link to revenues, whether via ads or in-app purchases. If VR goes free-to-play, retention will be just as important. There’s already a growing stream of mobile titles launching as free in VR; see Temple Run. While free-to-play mobile titles like Deer Hunter are switching to premium in VR – likely due to the absence of in-app purchase integration. Once the monetization mechanics are in place, it seems inevitable VR will follow suit.

Given the immersive nature of the experience, advertisers will look to the medium as a new platform to reach consumers. And it’s predictable that the income from video ads in VR will be higher than in mobile as the player is less likely to look away. Indeed, video ads are already being tipped to make the biggest impact. Keeping players in the experience for longer will means more opportunity to show them ads – so developers who want to make more money will need to know why they leave.

While in mobile, players tend to leave due to boredom or anxiety, in VR, motion sickness is big problem. Hurdles in UI, controls and navigation have to be overcome. Developers can try to avoid issues in testing, which brings its own issues, but analytics can also play a role in determining the cause of player churn, particularly after a game is launched.

Game data analysed using Funnels reveals points in the game where there is a large drop-off of players – a clear signal that there’s a problem with the gameplay. Using data in this way can allow VR developers to identify any areas overlooked in pre-launch testing – whether free-to-play or not. VR presents a strong case for analytics-led design.

2. To understand different types of players

When a game is free-to-play, it helps to understand different types of players in order to optimize their monetization experience with personalization. This can involve making different offers at different points in the game to players that have been segmented by monitoring a range of behavioral metrics, e.g. spend pattern, competency. Even if VR does not go free-to-play, understanding different players in the game will be beneficial for learning what they look to get out of the experience. This data can be used both for personalization and future development.

While we still don’t fully know the potential of VR and how players will use it, we do know that, for the time being, players are more interested in exploring environments than in a standard mobile or console game. Data reveals how long players are spending in different areas of the game, for example. As we begin to learn more, monetization strategies may emerge that differ from those we’ve become familiar with in mobile.

3. For A/B testing

We are already seeing some ads being served in VR games. Eye tracking has emerged as a tool to determine whether players are interacting with ads within the experience. And while this technology is helpful pre-launch, it can’t take into account different types of players and their different motivations for playing. We’re still yet to determine how players will interact with ads, or if the experience will be entirely passive.

Data and analytics tools can offer VR developers the opportunity to apply different ad formats at different points in the game to optimize their impact. One of the most commonly used tools in mobile games is A/B Testing, and if VR goes free-to-play, it will be an essential part of the monetization process.

To free or not to be?

While monetization in VR games is still very much in its infancy, it seems inevitable that free-to-play will happen in some form or another, even if it doesn’t make as much of an impact as it has in mobile. This makes knowing what data is going to be important, difficult to assess. Oculus Rift has stated in its chat forum that it’s looking into making an IAP interface for its VR device, and Bait! on Gear VR has just launched IAP, so there will at least be some experimentation as VR finds its place. We can predict that ads will become more prominent as mobile VR games take off, and one way or another, data will be fundamental for developers in getting this right.

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