Interview with Scopely co-founder - FASCINATING!


#1

Below is an excerpt from a published interview with Scopely co-founder and CTO Ankur Bulsara.

It is very interesting to see how they predict and groom spenders, and ultimately encourage the cultivating of ‘whales’. If you’ve ever felt targeted, compelled, maybe even aggressively pursued to spend (pop-ups anyone?), this may be interesting to you.

His leadership bio can be found here: http://scopely.com/about/leaders/

The full interview can be found here: https://www.techemergence.com/techemergence-comscopely-ai-analytics-gaming/

(3:40) You had talked about just how business intelligence heavy…how instrumented the nuance of the mobile gaming environment area is—why is that?

Ankur Bulsara: The first place to start is realizing how big the mobile gaming marketplace is, so I encourage listeners to go to the Apple app store or Google play store and click on top growing, and you’ll see that maybe 90% of the apps are all games. What this tells us is that most of the things that make money on the mobile smartphone platforms are games, and you pair that with low conversion rate of payers and free to play gaming market, and it becomes critical to optimize the 2% to 3%; this is where you really need deep understanding of your users and analytics to be able to hone in on that 2% that will actually pay in the game, and then convert some of that 2% and even smaller percentage into your whales.

(5:20) On the average…you had mentioned 2% or 3 %—is this what a well-instrumented, well-orchestrated, free to play mobile game might expect? Is this baseline metrics for your company or the industry at large?

AB: This is pretty industry standard, you’re going to get about roughly 2% to 3% payer base…the thing to realize about these games is 98% are playing completely for free and having a great time, and we still have to pay for those installs, those marketing costs, those infrastructure costs, and that’s typical for the industry, that you have a very low payer conversion and an even lower whale ratio…

(6:40) This is to say people who would regularly and consistently pay for…the best features, the best abilities, people who would upon regular use consistently take you up on “the cool thing”…what constitutes whaledom?

AB: We want to keep them highly engaged, we don’t judge them by recurring payments as much as we do cumulative lifetime spend, so the whales are those people who have spent the most in your game, and it depends on the game…in some cases you may be buying acceleration to make something happen…we also run a lot of live events, and the live events—these are things like tournaments or alliance wars…and these social competitive events help to drive a lot of monetization, and it’s very reusable…instead of selling physical goods, we’re selling virtual goods, and just like any eCommerce platform, it’s up to us to keep that merchandise fresh, to create sales and opportunities to spend, to create want and desire, to create vanity and social competition…

(11:38) Talk to us a little about what were some of the initial applications of ML in this space for you guys, where you saw the ROI and it became a legitimate use of whatever (language) you’re leveraging; where did you first implement ML where it really made a difference?

AB: Taking a quick step back, the first thing we had to do—and I think this is important for any company—is we had to build a data platform…we had made the mistake before of trying to apply ML to a poorly formulated data set, and there’s an old adage in data of “garbage in garbage out”, and really until you get rid of the all the garbage coming in your data platform, it’s hard to build any kind of modeling…we’ve taken very significant strides, and I’d say now we have a quite robust and highly competitive analytics platform, compared to what’s in the commercial marketplace…and once we were able to do hindsight analysis in an accurate way, we started considering what is the predictive stuff we can do…

…one of the first use cases—that was to predict, or really estimate, lifetime value of people that we wanted to bid for. This is important because you need to calibrate your bids, and rather than make up a bid, you want to have some confidence that you are not overpaying and you want to bid as high as possible in a growth phase without bidding above your LTV…it’s really critical at first to get these games at scale, because if we don’t, you’re going to have a hard time creating enough social critical mass to make the game interesting, to create enough social competition, to create enough of a user base.

(15:26) From what I gather, you’re looking at immediate activities that these people take…have they taken the micro-actions, are they the kind of engaged users that do these things that tend to become the kinds of people with this likelihood that end up paying us X…I take it that this is what models are getting trained on.

AB: That is a more accurate description, and the other point I would make is that the other reason why we can’t wait four or five months…is the game will have evolved so much in that five months that essentially it’s a different game…this goes back to live content and frequent updates, and we try to have one release a month with a big new feature…one of the things we look for, from a data perspective, is are the new cohorts monetizing at a higher level than the old cohorts? Our product needs to improve over time, and this is why you need a little bit more machine learning to be more highly adaptable to these kinds of early signals that may be indicators of future spend.


#3

Guess it was his idea to make bots winning tournaments and not banning cheaters to buff spending in competition. He’s a good employee indeed.


#5

I do agree with you, although at some point there must be a clear distinction between providing a service for a fee and exploiting people for profit.


#8

Didn’t say there is a problem. Just presenting some information as is.


#9

This needs to be kept in mind whenever we want to give Scopely feedback through this forum. Unless we are the target 2% - 3%, then our ideas and suggestions will go on deaf ears. We are not important unless we are the small percentage that pays for these “cool” features and “awesome” prizes.


#10

Fck me. Totally fell into the “grooming” aspect of this article. :drooling_face::drooling_face:


#11

This is definitely true, indeed.

However, this is not the whole truth. There are different ways to generate profit. Ethical and environmental standards, laws, and whatnot should set the framework, in which a company should generate profit. But we’re living in a world that is being sold out by huge multinational corporations for the sake of making profit. Profit that generates prosperity the largest part of the world population has no access to.

But this is more a general thing. If you focus on the gaming industry solely, you’ll see that it has changed rapidly over the last two decades. And not to the better.
Nowadays games are designed to hook you up and squeeze money out of you. Results of psychological research are used to manipulate people in their purchasing decisions in order to maximize profits. This whole microtransaction system and the garbage that has evolved around of that is a direct result of this.

There are (f2p) games though, that still don’t ride this train. And they generate enough profit for their developers to keep on doing what they love without having to use shady business practices.

Decide for yourself where you’d place Sopely.


#12

This is not true at all.

You are all an entity as the community and you are also anonymous.

The more we see certain feedback – the more weight it carries.

Let’s not spread something like this that makes others feel small.


#14

I kinda feel satisfied. Thanks. Just Thanks for posting this.


#15

So why does he says that?


#16

@Dash @CombatDevIl @CombatMan @kalishane @Agrajag @TheWalkerDude

I’ve been thinking a lot about this following quote…

…one of the first use cases—that was to predict, or really estimate, lifetime value of people that we wanted to bid for. This is important because you need to calibrate your bids, and rather than make up a bid, you want to have some confidence that you are not overpaying and you want to bid as high as possible in a growth phase without bidding above your LTV…it’s really critical at first to get these games at scale, because if we don’t, you’re going to have a hard time creating enough social critical mass to make the game interesting, to create enough social competition, to create enough of a user base.

(15:26) From what I gather, you’re looking at immediate activities that these people take…have they taken the micro-actions, are they the kind of engaged users that do these things that tend to become the kinds of people with this likelihood that end up paying us X…I take it that this is what models are getting trained on.

AB: That is a more accurate description, and the other point I would make is that the other reason why we can’t wait four or five months…is the game will have evolved so much in that five months that essentially it’s a different game…this goes back to live content and frequent updates, and we try to have one release a month with a big new feature…one of the things we look for, from a data perspective, is are the new cohorts monetizing at a higher level than the old cohorts? Our product needs to improve over time, and this is why you need a little bit more machine learning to be more highly adaptable to these kinds of early signals that may be indicators of future spend.

I want to give you the opportunity to address something that is very important to us older players. As you may have seen from my other post, from the small sampling of people who took my poll it seems the majority of players on these forums are your long-term, loyal players. However there are some nagging issues that we as a community have been sensing for a while, and this quote frankly kind of gives credibility to some of the more ‘outrageous’ claims I’ve seen over my 2 years of playing, lurking the forums, and participating in the forums.

Namely, the adjusting of odds and the theory of ‘lucky’ accounts. From above, Ankur says “…predict, or really estimate, lifetime value of people that we wanted to bid for. This is important because you need to calibrate your bids…” So this is saying straight out that we are part of a number game, in which we players could provide a potential XX amount of profit to the company over the lifetime of our account, our lifetime value (LTV). Nothing wrong with this, as we all are grown ups and know this is a business. However, let’s get into how your bids are calibrated.

Next, the interviewer says “From what I gather, you’re looking at immediate activities that these people take…have they taken the micro-actions, are they the kind of engaged users that do these things that tend to become the kinds of people with this likelihood that end up paying us X…I take it that this is what models are getting trained on”. To which Ankur answers “That is a more accurate description…” So now we’re really getting some insinuation that, using data collected on players, that data is being used to nudge or otherwise influence players to further spend.

How is this applied on a practical level? Well, it is widely theorized that newer players sometimes get better pulls, which is often displayed when older players pull event items on their alt accounts. Their older account, which perhaps has already hit its lifetime value (LTV), often pulls bad rewards, while their alt account, which may still be getting ‘groomed’, magically pulls the best reward possible.

So, can the ‘odds’ be adjusted on accounts or not?

TIA!


#18

Negative. This is not a thing.

Even Scopely employees pull the same as everyone else.


#19

I think this post discounts the need for free players a game like this has. Free players drive the activity and create a baseline that spenders and especially whales drop dollars to attempt to rise above. Without freeplayers and limited spenders, most of the game would come grinding to a halt


#20

1yphpx


#23

Thanks for answering so quickly, but I hope you can at least see how some may come to the conclusion I spelled out, especially after reading this interview.

Is there any chance you could shed some light on how spenders are targeted then? If not odds, then is it offers etc?

Thanks!


#24

I think your Chief Technology Officer just did that…


#29

But fewer and fewer. Scopely executive has also said this game was only going to be a 2-3yr game then move on. So soon enough we will have a rebranding of this game and fresh start.
I will edit when I find the link again


#31

Well said. And to keep f2p gamers engaged you need to provide a route to continuous progress. It doesn’t strip potential sales away from p2p, it encourages to spend more to maintain the advantage.


#32

And to add to the discussion, Scopley never did disclose what were the numeric values of pre-ascension “chance” per their marketing description of various in-game offerings (including premium pulls). Post-ascension, it is now confirmed to be 1 in 40 (not the same as 2.5%) within the same promotion. But yes, this is a huge step forward - even if 1 in 40 for a glorified Benedict is really what it is. (NOTE: your Benedicts have an internal asset value of US$100, is what this means)

Until some sort of report or data table is shared, I am not sure how much one should believe your statement - especially based on Scopely’s previous behaviours when it comes to the marketing aspect of this digital product.


#33

Well Kalishane,
So much feedback has been given, but there needs to be acknowledgement on issues that players until today are waiting for, and yet it has been kept silent.

A very simple one right now would be what is Scopely going to do about the feedback that the current war matching system is causing players to wait for a longer period, then the old matching system?

Many players in the top factions are unhappy that the perceived punishment of longer waiting times to the most active factions.