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The Future of Gaming is Human

And it requires a lot more than behavior analytics to navigate the waters.

It’s hard to believe we’ve already passed the 60-year anniversary of the first video gamefrom computers, to arcades, to consoles, to mobile phones, and now to augmented and virtual reality — video games have seen impressive technological advancements within their relatively short lifespan. With the introduction of portable consoles and mobile gaming, we’ve cemented the role video games play in our daily lives and the professionalization of eSports is confirming that globally, we not only love to game, but the industry surrounding gaming continues to grow upwards to over 220 billion dollars in annual revenue generation.

As technology and our gaming habits evolve, so has our production process. If we wanted to play a mobile game 15 years ago, we had one choice. If we wanted to play a game with our friends, we had to have the same console. We were limited and restricted in what and how we could enjoy our favorite games. In 2023, the tides have turned. There are over 1,400,000 mobile games in the Apple and Google Play stores. Console and PC games are opening up to be enjoyed regardless of the device. Players are on the lookout for the next season or pass, not necessarily the next game. And game developers are gathering data and fine-tuning their product roadmaps as nimbly as possible, in an industry that sometimes feels like it was built overnight.

The competition for a player’s attention is fiercer than ever before. So, what’s the secret sauce and how are game developers and publishers succeeding in a highly competitive, diverse, fast-paced, high-churn-inducing, increasingly free-to-play environment?

Successful game studios in 2023 have a deep understanding of their player base.

Spoiler alert: the secret sauce IS NOT taking core mechanics of current hit games and mashing them together. Sprinkling in some big IP will not get the job done either. Expecting this strategy to succeed is like expecting a Hail Mary to result in a touchdown on every single play. Wishful thinking. But that’s not to say this approach will never result in a hit game, it has. It’s just entirely unsustainable. This “rinse and repeat” method of utilizing someone else’s core mechanic, maybe with new skins and other small differentiators, does not yield repeated success or lay a meaningful foundation for a steady, high-growth portfolio. It also severely limits the innovation and creativity we have come to love and respect within the gaming industry.

As we push this industry forward, looking for efficient ways to turn profit margins into buffers for innovation and change, there is a silver lining. The answer gaming companies need in order to create magical and successful experiences for the billions of players out there lies right in front of them. Successful game studios in 2023 have a deep understanding of the humans who use their products.

Relying on demographic and behavioral data alone is not enough

The rise of the internet, and especially the mobile app space, has normalized a fairly groundbreaking approach to marketing and design that relies on collecting and analyzing user data. We amass millions of data points to build a quantitative understanding of how people are using products. How long do they play? What actions are they taking while playing? How often do they engage? When do they engage? When did they churn? etc.

We have collected so much data. So why does it seem harder and harder to create and replicate successful marketing campaigns? Or to make the next hit game? It is because the demographic and behavioral data we currently use to analyze players is not actually indicative of who the player is, or what he or she needs to feel involved, understood, affirmed, etc. In other words: we are so much more than our behaviors. And we are so much more than our demographic information.

Given this knowledge gap, it should be no surprise that despite trying our hardest to predict human behavior via quantitative user analytics, we still get it wrong a lot of the time. And are also sometimes mystified when things that defy conventional wisdom become massive hits (we’re thinking about Tiger King, Old Town Road, playing ‘What the Golf?’ and the ‘Untitled Goose Game’).

Yes, user analytics are an essential component of a successful product and marketing strategy but in 2023, it’s just the bare minimum. Your players are beautifully complex and nuanced human beings and certainly span a far greater variety of categories than the commonly used and oversimplified gamer-archetype frameworks. These types of tools attempt to explain motivations but often focus on the extrinsic (external) factors contributing to an individual’s behavior. In reality, motivation is measured with much more certainty when considering the intrinsic (or internal) motivations behind user behavior.

Successful game studios in today’s market understand the human being behind their player

As a game developer or marketer, of course you can tell us what resonates with your users, there are numbers to support decisions every step of the way. But can you articulate why something resonates? And how do we start to understand the intrinsic factors that move us forward as players, as citizens, as humans? Solsten was founded with this intention — to understand. Our psychologically-based insights marry the old style with the new — we build on top of behavior data with psych-based personality traits so companies can understand the fullness of their players’ personalities, pain points, hopes, and motivations. We love the phrase “Have your cake and eat it too.” and when we envision a new future at Solsten, it definitely includes the cake.

When you have access to these types of insights, the possibilities are limitless. You’re able to create the maximum resonance between your audience and brand experience. At every step of the player journey, from the first marketing asset they see to the latest event you run in your game, players feel delighted and think: “This is for me.” This deep resonance is what causes players to try your game, stick around for the long-term, and monetize. This is what creates shared value between your game and your audience. It is what drives LTV and what ultimately makes your game successful and sustainable. With a deep understanding of your players, you now have the secret sauce. As the spiritual adviser always says after a long, perilous mission, “It’s been within you this entire time.”

The creative process, especially in the context of making games, is such a deeply human experience. We brainstorm, we build, we create, we prototype, we solicit feedback, and improve throughout the entirety of the process. There’s an incubation period that is human at its core, that thrives off the energy of creative minds, content producers, social media trends, and current events as a whole. Intuition and human experience still nurture this process along. But understanding who your players are, what motivates them (especially intrinsically), what they value, how they communicate, how they like to compete and socialize, or what type of rewards appeal to them creates unparalleled empathy to supercharge your creativity and align your team across all different functions. Your game and new features will go to market twice as fast. Your UA campaigns will bring in higher quality installs. Events will yield higher monetization. The next game you’ll release is truly novel as well as successful. It pays to put the players at the center.

If you care about your players and want to create deeply resonating experiences for them, let’s connect. Solsten can help you go far beyond traditional user analytics. We leverage scientifically valid, proprietary assessment methods that allow us to explore your players’ core motivators, personality traits, values, aspirations, and so much more. But we don’t stop there. Based on the deep insights into your player base we provide concrete actions you can take immediately to improve your player experience. We uncover the who, why, and what to do — in just a few clicks.

Innovation is not dead and that hair-brained idea your team came up with last month might actually be what players want and what will set you apart from the competition. We can break the paralysis of traditional user analytics — all it requires is a deep understanding of the human being behind your players.