The gaming industry in Scotland has grown rapidly over the last decade as mobile gaming radically changed the market. Mark Robinson has spent his career developing data analytics systems to truly understand how players experience games and how developers can improve them.
Born and raised in Belfast, Mark settled in Edinburgh after a short spell living in London. He feels that he has adopted Scotland as his home, especially as his children have Scottish accents. He describes Scotland as wet and friendly. His advice to visitors? Bring a coat and a seven iron!
When he was a child his dad started his own printing business, which Mark’s brother runs to this day. Having spent a lot of time in entrepreneurial and start-up environments in his youth, his career decisions were definitely influenced by this mind-set. Throughout his career he has approached data with a sense of curiosity for how it might drive better decision making, in retail store locations, gas usage prediction, customer behaviour analysis, marketing channel responsiveness and, since 2011, player experiences in video and mobile games.
Bringing analytics to the gaming industry
In 2011, in collaboration with Tim Christian and Chris Wright, Mark founded deltaDNA. The group wanted to bring analytics rigor to games for the first time, using data to really understand the experiences that players were having in the games and how that could be improved.
We were ground breaking in terms of using player segmentation to really understand how players engage with games and what sort of experiences keep them motivated to play. We can be proud to say we made a significant contribution to best practices in the industry, combining data and story-telling to create environments that players love and make publishers and developers successful.
In 2019, deltaDNA was acquired by Unity and now sits within Unity's product portfolio. Unity is famous for being the number one game engine for mobile games and has great solutions to support developers and publishers in launching and managing successful games, including Unity Ads (user acquisition and monetisation), Multiplay (game server hosting), Vivox (voice and chat), deltaDNA (analytics and messaging) plus many more.
“The gaming community in Scotland has always been vibrant and innovative. Many of our early clients were Scottish and supported the business. Obviously there is a good mix from very big names to indie studios across all platforms. The fact that there has been so much recent investment in Scottish gaming tech like deltaDNA and Chilliconnect shows that we are offering solutions that are fundamental to the future success of the industry.”
Video games and industry expansion
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Mark and the rest of his Edinburgh team are all video game fans. When deltaDNA first started, it was not unusual to find the team playing Project Gotham Racing 2, a car racing game which featured Edinburgh city centre as one of its racetracks. Mark’s personal favourite games are a little more casual.
“This will not get me much kudos from hard-core gamers but I'm an analytics guy. So, I like games like Golf Clash, WordScapes, plus there are some really nice new concepts around like snake.io. “
When Mark and the deltaDNA team started, mobile gaming was in its infancy and over the last ten years they have learnt a lot together - publishers, developers and tech partners.
I'm hugely impressed that the industry has really embraced analytics to make games better for all players. Having the diligence and resilience to constantly learn and optimize has been at the heart of the progress the industry has made. Good games seem smooth, almost effortless, but there is a tremendous amount going on under the surface to deliver rewarding experiences.
Sharing a lifetime of lessons
In his marketing role, Mark gets the opportunity to think about how analytics can support the games industry to achieve even higher levels of sophistication. This is about having a great game engine, back-end coding (the bit the player doesn’t see that makes the game work), analytics, monetisation and acquisition, but also ensuring that these features work well together so that the 'whole' is greater than the sum of the parts. Mark finds it incredibly rewarding having the ability to share trends, insights and best practices with the industry to ensure they have better outcomes.
“Games are always going to be a hits-driven business and therefore carry some element of risk. But we can actively support publishers and developers to improve their outcomes and deliver excellent player experiences.”
When asked what advice he would give to someone looking to work in the gaming tech industry, Mark first responded with a tongue-in-cheek remark, to send a CV to Unity in Edinburgh, but also had some great advice for budding entrepreneurs in Scotland.
Talk to as many people as possible to understand the landscape and the challenges that your potential clients have front of mind. Get help from the business community, government agencies and academia. Get to know the investment community and ask for their feedback - even before you are ready to raise money. In short, listen, then quickly decide on a course and focus to get to your initial key milestones be they proof points, adoption or revenue.