Anders Drachen

Anders Drachen, Ph.D. is a veteran Data Scientist, Game Analytics consultant and Professor at the DC Labs, University of York (UK).

Outside the companies that actually develop computer games and other forms of interactive entertainment, a rapidly increasing number of third-parties have emerged in the past few years to provide analytics-related services to companies. Here we provide a brief overview of the types of providers available and the pros/cons of their services.

The immediate benefit to a game company for using third-party providers to help with game analytics – as with in any other consulting/middleware solution – is that they avoid the requirement for building expertise and/or tools internally, which is particularly attractive to small-medium sized developers. How much and what depends on the type of solution chosen.

Third party analytics providers fall into two broad categories: consultants and middleware providers.

Consultants: The first category specialize in advising companies on how topics such as how to develop an in-house analytics solution, training of staff, advice on what aspects of performance, processes and users to track and how to analyze the resulting game intelligence, and other topics that a company might have use for. These providers usually target big companies.

Middleware providers: The middleware providers provide the actual software, often advice and consulting and sometimes infrastructure needed to build an in-house analytics capacity, this commonly through one of four channels:

1) The provider constructs an in-house infrastructure and provides the necessary software.

2) The providers delivers a software package that permits the game developer to collect data, analyze them and develop reports. Usually the developer licenses the software. The vast majority of middleware providers in this category are focused on user telemetry, including typically in-game behavior, purchase records, user accounts, and sometimes more exotic data sources such as forum post tracking. The coverage and quality of analytics packages currently on the market varies substantially. Examples include Tableau and other business intelligence packages.

3) The providers deliver software-as-service (SaS), in which case the game developer uses the middleware system to design hooks in the game code, which transmits player behavior telemetry to collection servers, from which the developers can interact with the data via an accompanying UI. This is one of the currently most popular business models among small-medium sized developers. Usually payment is scaled according to traffic, e.g. number of messages. As with the licensed software option, the input data sources accepted varies from product to product, with current SaS-companies generally focusing on Free-to-Play (F2P) games, i.e. supporting the tracking of player behavior and user purchases, as well as allowing for the importing of fourth-party data, for example click-streams or user account information, in order to permit funnel analysis, marketing channel analysis and similar. Some companies provide an option to choose between SaS or licensed solutions. At the time of writing there are relatively few middleware providers solely dedicated to games – GA is one of these examples of course.

4) An entirely different third-party option, commonly used by players, are performance tools such as P-stats, which provide a small application that is installed on the local client, which transmits personal play behavior data to a database, which the player can interact with via a web-based interface. Usually these solutions are open, i.e. everyone can see the statistics of all members of the network, and thus forms excellent tools for e.g. Battlefield clans to keep track of member performance.

Typically the people behind third-party companies are professionals with experience from large-scale data storage, database construction, programming, game data mining, game analytics, information visualization, game design and game development.

Community building: A number of companies have also emerged to provide game studios with services aimed at building, from the ground up, on-line gaming communities by leveraging gamer profiles, achievements, scoreboards, game replays and statistics. Typically they are information visualization experts with a background in statistics and datamining.

Middleware providers have no expections or requirements from the data feeding analytics, being usually focused on delivering data to the game industry instead. However, third-party consultants will have requirements that match the analysis they are expected to run. For example, if asked to analyze the in-game economy of a massively multi-player online game, the consultants will need telemetry on various aspects of the flow and aggregation of financial resources in the game world system.

In summary, there are today – unlike just a few years ago – a number of options available irrespective of whether you are an indie developer or head of a big publishing studio. Here at GA we aim to provide the best analytics SaS across company sizes and irrespective of games, but we are arguably game focused – while the GA toolsets can be used for websites this is not our primary focus. Good luck finding the ideal solution for you, and do not hesitate to contact us with any questions.


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Anders Drachen

Anders Drachen, Ph.D. is a veteran Data Scientist, Game Analytics consultant and Professor at the DC Labs, University of York (UK).

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