With the explosion of the mobile market, eSports, and the emergence of new technologies like Virtual Reality, the term “gamer” doesn’t mean what it used to. The size and scope of gaming is growing and shifting in unexpected ways, and the market research company EEDAR is there to track its changes and spot patterns from come from the staggering amounts of data.

[a]listdaily talks to Patrick Walker, head of insights at EEDAR, who will be sharing some of his insights on the ever evolving video game universe at GDC this year in a session titled, “Understanding Engagement in the Rapidly Expanding Gaming Universe.” He discusses how the gaming landscape is rapidly growing and changing, and how marketers and developers might be able to best take advantage of a wildly diverse audience.

PWalkerTell us about your GDC talk

It’s looking to understand the map of the video game engagement universe.  One of the things I’ve been interested in the past four years is rapid expansion of all the ways people can engage in video games. There’s also all the different types of people playing video games. The big theme over the past 4 years has been the growth of both of those things. We’ve seen mobile rise up, and it brought in a whole new type of gamer. These are not people who were playing games several years ago.

We’ve seen an explosion, in terms of diversity, of who is playing games and who is a gamer. We’re also seeing an explosion in the types of ways you play games. Being a gamer isn’t just playing games anymore. You can view games on Twitch; watch professional tournaments live; fund games on Kickstarter; create content and earn money through services like Steam Workshop; create and share content on YouTube; be a gaming celebrity and share your thoughts on YouTube, or be a professional video game player and make money at tournaments.

You have all of these ways to play games that aren’t the traditional ways of playing games. So, I see a rapid expansion of players and business models. It used to be that you just bought a game and played. Then there was DLC, the rise free-to-play, and episodic content. There are so many ways to consume gaming content, both in terms of how you pay for it and how it is distributed (i.e. retail box, digitally, and through the cloud).

The first goal of my talk is to recognize this rapid expansion, but that’s just the first step. The next step is to try to find patterns that help you understand it and help you to make better business decisions. That’s one of the things that EEDAR is in a unique position to do. Our company does two things: we collect tons of data sources, and we do tons of categorization of video games, measuring its features, branding, sessions lengths, etc.

We can put all that data together to come up with patterns, like how a shorter session length will appeal to a mobile audience, and how free-to-play works especially well because of these short sessions. That’s very different from developing League of Legends for PC, where players are willing to sit down for 45 minutes and invest heavily in the gaming hardware. So, catering to that audience is completely different.

Where it gets really interesting is how that map of gaming can be used to think about the new experiences coming out, how broad they’ll be, and how successful they’ll be.

Is it possible to develop a game that has it all? 

I don’t think it’s possible to have it all, because of the gaming market. You could have when the gaming market was a very small slice of people that all wanted the same thing, but we’re not there anymore. We now have 150 million people in the United States (almost half of our population) who are gamers. Some are on mobile, some are console only, but they’re playing games of some kind. That’s a big and diverse audience that all want different things from their gaming experience.

Having it all is really tough. A mid-core mobile game like Clash of Clans might hit the most points. It’s accessible, competitive, gets some streaming, and has a deeply invested core community along with high product awareness.

What kinds of challenges do developers face?

The challenge for developers is, when thinking within the kind of experience they’re creating, what the gamers want. There are a couple things that developers wrestle with the most. One is bias from things you’ve already made, like making traditional strategy games on consoles, then applying that knowledge to making a mobile game. They don’t target what the consumer wants as much as they target what they know how to make, and they bring that to a platform where it’s not as well suited.

The other big trap is following other types of success, and eSports is a great example of this. People are seeing the success certain titles like League of Legends, DOTA 2, or Counter-strike: Global Offensive are having with eSports. It keeps games viable for a long time, and its players are super loyal, and our game has competitive PvP [Player Vs Player], so we should develop an eSports title.

But you don’t think about the needs of that community. It’s much more complex than just having PvP. It needs to be a great viewing experience for audiences. Then there are the needs of the competitive players, such as an infrastructure for tournament support, and a well-balanced game where their abilities really shine. Balancing that with the amateur PvP gameplay is a huge undertaking, and is going to be less successful.

I think some games are hugely successful because they meet the needs of their audience, and you see this a lot with companies that run one game, like Riot with League of Legends.

Return for the second part of the interview, where Patrick Walker discusses eSports trends, the potential of virtual reality, and more.

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