Game dev analyst FAQ: coding, junior vs. senior specialists and their gaming habits

As someone who has conducted countless interviews with both junior and senior analysts, I’ve come to realize one key thing: a great analyst doesn’t just work well with dashboards and numbers. They bring valuable insights about the product itself. While workflows can differ across companies and industries, in our organization, analysts play a crucial role in shaping what our games eventually become.

To shed more light on this, I’ve put together a small FAQ based on the questions I frequently encounter. This should give you a glimpse into the general principles that guide our team within the company.

— Do analysts play games or just analyze data?

For senior analysts or those aspiring to be, engaging with games is essential. It’s not limited to our in-house projects — a broad gaming experience across all genres and platforms is invaluable when you’re looking for insights. 

Playing a variety of games on consoles, PCs, and mobile helps in recognizing nuances such as balance, engagement techniques, and monetization strategies. This understanding isn’t just crucial for game designers; it’s equally important for analysts. Effective collaboration with different departments, including game designers, requires more than just mathematical expertise.

— What tools do analysts utilize?

Our primary tools are databases, predominantly SQL, and Python for data processing. Familiarity with analytical libraries like Pandas, SciPy, libraries for plotting, and Matplotlib is important, and proficiency in Jupyter Notebook is beneficial. Git is sometimes necessary, especially for analysts involved in cross-project decisions. We communicate via Slack and organize tasks through Asana.

— Are soft skills important for analysts?

Definitely. Analysts frequently interact with various teams, including game designers, producers, developers, QA, community managers, and fellow analysts. There have been instances where even artists receive feedback, like understanding why certain character designs aren’t resonating with players. Hence, being an analyst requires open communication. It’s crucial to articulate your findings effectively to positively impact the games.

— What to expect in an interview?

While specific technical knowledge, like Python (though a plus), isn’t explicitly required, we find most candidates nowadays have at least a basic grasp, thanks to the abundance of available courses. However, we often notice a gap in product knowledge among junior-level applicants; Python courses don’t cover this aspect.

During interviews, we focus on abstract logic tasks and statistical problem-solving to gauge a candidate’s approach to issues and their understanding of basic metrics and f2p game monetization principles. 

We also engage candidates in case studies that don’t involve specific numbers, to assess their analytical thinking. For instance, we might ask them to choose a f2p game and brainstorm which metrics should be tracked regularly, then structure analytical events around these metrics and propose their own ideas.

This kind of problem-solving and conceptual thinking is often more crucial than specialized technical skills.

Conversations with senior candidates delve deeper. We present real scenarios from our work, like a case where players who lost in a tutorial had higher retention rates than others. This poses a logical puzzle — would making more players lose initially increase overall retention? We leave this as a thought exercise for the analyst.

Seniors are also asked to evaluate our games, suggesting missing features and how they’d use analytics to assess the impact of these new additions.

— What’s the difference between junior and senior analysts?

The primary distinction between junior and senior analysts lies in their level of independence and product understanding. Seniors are highly valued for their ability to take charge of a project autonomously and identify areas for improvement.

While both juniors and seniors may possess technical skills like proficiency in dashboard management or Python, seniors stand out with their deep comprehension of the product’s mechanics. They understand player behaviors, monetization strategies, and existing market solutions. Their role transcends technical expertise; it’s about independently seeking insights that can positively transform a project.

Consider this example: In an online PvP shooter, I noticed an imbalance on a symmetrical map where Team 1 had a consistent 60% win rate over Team 2. My hypothesis was that somehow stronger players were being selected for Team 1, despite the intended random distribution. Analysis confirmed this, revealing a simple coding oversight that always placed the strongest player in Team 1. Rectifying this not only balanced the matchmaking but also relieved analysts and game designers from addressing this numerical imbalance.

This kind of insight is particularly crucial in new projects. Contrary to what many companies believe, placing a junior analyst on a new, less established project isn’t always beneficial. In well-established projects, juniors can navigate a set flow of tasks and processes, but a senior’s impact can be significantly more profound in early-stage projects. Their ability to deeply understand and influence the game’s development from the onset is invaluable.

— Where do analysts find insights?

Finding insights in game development isn’t solely about technical expertise or mastery of tools; it’s about understanding the product and being curious enough to delve deep into its mechanics. This approach surpasses the need for formal education or strict adherence to a specific toolset.

As an analyst, your primary resource is your ability to study data, interpret dashboards, play games, formulate hypotheses, and test them. Whether it’s working with an internal analytics system or even Excel, the key is to produce tangible results.

Consider my background: I came into game development from analytical chemistry, initially unfamiliar with SQL or Python. I learned these as I tackled new tasks, emphasizing the importance of adaptability and a desire to understand the product deeply.

For instance, there was a situation where we pinpointed the cause of game crashes without resorting to any external tools. By utilizing our internal interface, our analysts filtered for players who had experienced more than five crashes. We then delved into each affected user’s profile to examine the last analytic event before the crash occurred. This process took just about 10 minutes, involved no coding, and relied on the most basic of tools. The result? We discovered the root of the problem — an error thrown by one of the ad networks. Our immediate solution was to temporarily disable this network while they addressed the issue.

There are several primary sources of insight for analysts:

  1. For junior and mid-level analysts, guidance often comes from the team lead, who assigns tasks and suggests areas of focus.
  1. The project team, including producers and game designers, can provide specific directives, like calculating numbers for game balancing.
  1. The community is also a valuable source. Feedback from players regarding game difficulties or bugs can direct your analytical focus. Sometimes, players might even directly communicate on social media about their gaming experiences. We make sure to track and look into these signals.
  1. For senior analysts, the drive for insights is more self-initiated. They regularly monitor dashboards, identify issues, and develop solutions.

In periods when specific tasks are scarce, analysts have the freedom to experiment with the game, formulate hypotheses, and test them. This is particularly true in the early stages of a project when there are fewer features and more room for creative analytical exploration.

— What does a day in the life of an analyst look like?

A typical day for an analyst is a blend of routine checks (like basic metrics), responsive tasks, and proactive research. It often starts with a review of all the essential dashboards. This initial step is crucial for spotting any immediate issues, such as a sudden drop in revenue, which then becomes a primary focus for in-depth analysis over the next few days.

Throughout the day, various requests emerge in work chats. These could range from game designers needing specific data to balance new features, to producers requesting statistics for a Google Play feature application. The efficiency of handling these tasks largely depends on how well your dashboard is organized and your workflow is structured.

But the core of the job involves managing a backlog of ideas, features, and hypotheses waiting to be tested. This is where the analyst’s creativity and expertise come into play, as they independently conduct research and develop strategies for potential improvements.

Cross-review is also a significant part of our process. Several senior analysts review all tasks within the department. Each analyst’s completed task is randomly assigned to one of these seniors for a basic code review and evaluation of conclusions, followed by feedback. This system ensures a variety of perspectives on problem-solving.

Final thoughts

To succinctly wrap up:

  • Product insight is key, as an analyst’s impact on the final product is significant. While learning to code and navigate dashboards is straightforward, grasping the essence of the product is where the real challenge lies.
  • Soft skills matter. Analysts must frequently interact with various departments.
  • Seniors should be proactive, capable of setting their own tasks and finding solutions. Juniors, on the other hand, would benefit from heeding the advice of their leads and the team.
  • Analysts play games, too. Sometimes, they do it a lot.
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