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EA's Miele and the new frontier for market research
EA's Miele and the new frontier for market research Exclusive
June 11, 2012 | By Leigh Alexander

June 11, 2012 | By Leigh Alexander
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    12 comments
More: Console/PC, Social/Online, Business/Marketing, Exclusive, E3



Once, market researchers determined how many games publishers should release in a given period of time, for which platforms, in which genres. But the discipline of understanding consumers has become more sophisticated than ever, and it's platform-agnostic. Consumers are attracted to games by context and occasion, not by rigid segments.

Thats what EA Games' group VP of marketing strategy Laura Miele has learned in her 16 years with the publisher. Notably she originated the company's business intelligence team in 2004, born from a desire to improve sales forecasting in a time when investors began feeling like some predictability might be key to making games a desirable sector.

"A lot of it was trying to offer better transparency... it was about being a little more sophisticated as a business and trying to understand what was happening in the marketplace," Miele tells us. "Forecasting is really interesting, because at its very core, understanding the implication and correlation of something as it relates to a sale... there are so many different inputs that can happen."

Before she was a marketer, she was an investigative reporter, efforts Miele says help inform her understanding of how to gather market intelligence. Her work is the sort that's rarely examined in-depth, although much discussed in the games media and community; many often discuss the extent to which market research influences publisher product plans and timing, or whether it inhibits developer creativity, or how much Metacritic scores really do predict sales.

About that: "Metacritic is a reliable sales predictor in broad ranges, but I don't think if [a game gets] an 88 instead of an 86, we should expect to sell 100,000 more units, or something like that," Miele opines. "There are things in tipping points -- sales of things in the 70s versus things in the 80s and 90s, there is definitely a correlation."

It's more than running business by spreadsheets, she says: "Having some subjective input and gut instinct... the art and science together is really important."

Her business intelligence team evolved with the addition of an economist; the group created models around correlation about factors like licensing, the competitive landscape, and various business trends. An opportunity to do category management at Wal Mart, Best Buy and Target also provided the opportunity to learn more about hardware forecasting and audience-sizing, and when Miele had the opportunity to return to the marketing group thereafter, she felt she had some learnings to bring back with her.

"It's been an exciting evolution, because we really have been able to enable our creative teams to be even more creative and informed without feeling restricted by the marketing mandates we might have," she says. "We understand what consumers want more, and can develop more meaningful product features and better messaging."

The prejudice goes that marketers supposedly research popular feature sets and then "force" devs to apply them across an entire product portfolio whether or not they suit, just because those features seem to be selling well. That's no longer the prevailing wisdom, and as obsolete is the idea of strict consumer types, too, Miele says.

"It was common for companies to segment the marketplace," she says of a few years back in marketing strategy. "Like, there's an Xbox 360 shooter consumer, or you have a PS3 sports fan consumer. And I knew that's not how people were consuming content."

Suspecting that occasion was the most important factor drawing a consumer to one game over another, Miele went in-depth. "It's a far more intelligent way for us to look at the market, to look at consumers' motivations and needs," she says. "We deployed a very progressive consumer segmentation study, and it helped us categorize consumers in a way that was more about why do they play games, what do they get from the experience."

"We went into people's homes," she continues. "I went on a couple of these trips, and we asked 300 consumers across the globe to take all their games, place them on the floor and sort them... not a single consumer organized them by platform or genre."

Instead, players picked their favorites for given situations; beloved games depended on mood, or whether there were others present, or whether they wanted to play online or not. Preferences had nearly nothing to do with genre or platform or previously-conceived notions about demographics and feature sets, but rather the time, mood and context in which people liked to play.

This means "we aren't just beholden to, 'okay, we need 30 iPhone games and here's a trend here we have to go chase," Miele explains. "We're really just understanding the dynamic of the consumer, and that really liberates our teams."

Instead of feeling restricted by marketers, this approach brings marketing into better concert with developers, who Miele believes have been longing to be better informed about what their audiences want the most.

For example, in examining the audience for the Dead Space brand, a study revealed that one limitation that might be preventing the critically-acclaimed title from breaking out into the wider mainstream in a big way was that it was just too scary for many people to play alone. Audiences enjoy horror and thrills, but jump-out-of-your-seat experiences are commonly shared with friends or significant others.

"That's how co-op was introduced," Miele says. "Cooperative play was the ticket; that is the key need and motivation for consumers. I genuinely believe that there's a deep strategy that isn't just about a checklist of, 'this game did quite well and it had co-op in it, so let's put co-op in this.'"

She also believes the Visceral team had a "phenomenal" time working on the co-op, which has added an additional dimension of gameplay for Dead Space.

After some time working on EA's Play4Free label, under which Battlefield is the marquee, Miele also says marketers in the core space can benefit in a big way from looking at the free-to-play space, a complicated infrastructure of acquisition and retention that's data-driven -- developers can adjust for major bottlenecks, and those are learnings AAA designers can benefit from, too.

As a result of those infrastructure studies, Battlefield won a Google Zeitgeist award, the first time a game had won that particular measure of brand awareness -- even over the iPhone. "It was incredibly exciting, because it was a validation of, 'let's be smart when we're talking to our consumers," Miele says.

"We can develop persistent content and services, and stay engaged with [players] over time. I think that's an incredible opportunity -- it is reinventing the paradigm of the high-def product offering," Miele concludes.


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Comments


Addison Siemko
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This is great. I'd be interested to see the data they have on the metacritic correlations--how much better a 90 title does from a 60 title...

Harlan Sumgui
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Many thanks for this offering. Marketing is the huge force behind so much of the industry today and I wish there was more coverage of that because it really is the most interesting aspect of the big publishing houses.

As a brief aside, with today's imploding news industry, it seems that investigative journalism is becoming nothing more than a stepping stone to PR and marketing jobs.

Some of the more interesting quotes & my take on them:

__"Preferences had nearly nothing to do with genre or platform or previously-conceived notions about demographics and feature sets, but rather the time, mood and context in which people liked to play."__

Which is interesting because those are things that companies cannot control. It still comes down to analysing the prior games into elements/featuresets and then shoehorning them into upcoming products.

__"For example, in examining the audience for the Dead Space brand, a study revealed that one limitation that might be preventing the critically-acclaimed title from breaking out into the wider mainstream in a big way was that it was just too scary for many people to play alone. Audiences enjoy horror and thrills, but jump-out-of-your-seat experiences are commonly shared with friends or significant others."__

My belief is that Dead Space 2's success came from the word of mouth and staying power of Dead Space 1, which created buzz and anticipation. It sounds a little like she is taking credit for DS2 sales because her intelligence unit had them put coop in.

And that happens a lot with games. A really good new IP comes out, and gets great word of mouth but doesn't sell incredibly well. The second iteration comes out, is an inferior game but sells twice as much, and everyone thinks it is because of the changes the marketing team/executives had the devs implement (usually streamlining, inclusion of online content, etc), when in reality it was nothing more than sales built on the back of the first game. But whatever, we all have to justify our paychecks how ever we can.

[edit: and I'd also like to know what the marketing budget for DS1 vs DS2 was, money talks after all]

__"We can develop persistent content and services, and stay engaged with [players] over time. I think that's an incredible opportunity -- it is reinventing the paradigm of the high-def product offering," Miele concludes."__

This seems to fly directly in the face of the first thing I quoted from her. If games are time/mood/context depended, then trying to force them to become persistent in peoples lives (& spread over multiple devices) is bound to fail because, by definition, persistent is not time dependent.

In short, the end result is the same. Marketing depts do studies and research, powerpoints are shown to executives, and then execs tell devs are told what to do.


Michael Rooney
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@"My belief is that Dead Space 2's success came from the word of mouth and staying power of Dead Space 1, which created buzz and anticipation. It sounds a little like she is taking credit for DS2 sales because her intelligence unit had them put coop in."

Coop wasn't in DS2. They are adding it to DS3 as a result of the research they did.

"This seems to fly directly in the face of the first thing I quoted from her. If games are time/mood/context depended, then trying to force them to become persistent in peoples lives (& spread over multiple devices) is bound to fail because, by definition, persistent is not time dependent."

I think you misunderstood her. I think by "persistent content" she means content that can change and adapt to the mood/time/context that players happen to prefer over time. I think the part that "persists" is the content's relevance, not necessarily it's structure.

edit: Pretty much any game that doesn't focus on a single release window but rather focuses on maximizing long tail profits; ie. DLC/patch focused games or F2P games where content is constantly being added.

Luis Guimaraes
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"A really good new IP comes out, and gets great word of mouth but doesn't sell incredibly well. The second iteration comes out, is an inferior game but sells twice as much, and everyone thinks it is because of the changes the marketing team/executives had the devs implement (usually streamlining, inclusion of online content, etc), when in reality it was nothing more than sales built on the back of the first game."

Lately that seems to be true mostly for disc releases, as digital ones (Amnesia, Magicka) can more easily take advantages of word of mouth without having to wait for the next iteration.

Michael Rooney
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@Luis: Magicka is a good example of what I think she means by persistent. Single base title release that's constantly seeing new content released for it keeping a persistent presence in the market even though the product was released a while ago.

Bart Stewart
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What I found most interesting was this:

"We deployed a very progressive consumer segmentation study, and it helped us categorize consumers in a way that was more about why do they play games, what do they get from the experience."

I can understand if specifics aren't going to be described; that's proprietary business intel. Still, from a research perspective, I'm very curious what categorizations were developed based on the studies performed. What conclusions did the researchers form about why people play the games they play?

Even without those details, the big takeaway seems to be that what really sells is genre. If I'm understanding the article, the conclusion is that consumers (in general) don't parse games looking for particular features. They buy a game -- or not -- based on the *kind* of game it's described as being, because that is the key piece of information consumers use when deciding whether a particular game suits their interests.

If that's the case, then very high level features matter because those determine a game's genre, but pushing particular low-level features has drastically lower payoff.

Whether there are any executives who think this advice applies to them is another question....

Eric Geer
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"For example, in examining the audience for the Dead Space brand, a study revealed that one limitation that might be preventing the critically-acclaimed title from breaking out into the wider mainstream in a big way was that it was just too scary for many people to play alone. Audiences enjoy horror and thrills, but jump-out-of-your-seat experiences are commonly shared with friends or significant others.

"That's how co-op was introduced," Miele says. "Cooperative play was the ticket; that is the key need and motivation for consumers. I genuinely believe that there's a deep strategy that isn't just about a checklist of, 'this game did quite well and it had co-op in it, so let's put co-op in this.'"



---So this woman is one of the main reasons that Deadspace 3 will further downgrade the franchise? Making it less scary and adding a cooperative experience(not to mention the character outfits are horrorendous).

DS1 was superior to DS2 and my guess is that this trend will continue.

PS Dear Laura, I hate you.

Michael Rooney
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Why judge Coop so quickly? They've essentially given the user 2 different stories with 2 different options for how to play the game. People who want it to be scary can still play the single player storyline, and people who want to be less scared, which is a lot of people including myself, will actually play it instead of playing the demo and never touching it again.

The way they are doing coop is pretty interesting, maybe you're jumping to conclusions because it sounds like they haven't sacrificed the single player that much. The way they describe it make it sound like 2 parallel storylines that you can jump between rather than forcing coop into the single player gameplay or single player into the coop gameplay.

Patrick Davis
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It would be great if it turns out the way it should. But things like this usually turn out one way or the other unfortunately.

This is the same type of crap Capcom pulled with Resident Evil. You can say what you want, but the inclusion of a co-op option always changes a game. Sure, co-op might bring in more people, but at what cost to your franchise? Not everything needs to be co-op... definitely not survival horror games. If Dead Space 3 is heading the same direction Resident Evil 5 took, you can count me out.

I kind of saw this coming after they forced the mediocre multiplayer into Dead Space 2. Another great series lost to the masses once again.

Michael Rooney
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By the time capcom had coop in resident evil was already more an action game than a survival horror game anymore. RE4 set that stage well before RE5 introduced coop, and coop didn't do that much to change that stage quite honestly.

Joe McGinn
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Great article, insightful. Nice to see someone digging deep under surface appearances to find underlying meanings (and sharing it with us!).

Craig Timpany
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Dead Space was too scary to play alone? Seriously? My congrats to Frictional, looks like they've got the survival horror market to themselves now.


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