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U of M startup analyzes player behavior to enhance online gaming experience


MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (July 26, in the year of our Lord 2011) — University of Minnesota researchers finalized an agreement to launch Ninja Metrics, a software startup that can analyze data to identify key traits among massive multiplayer online gaming communities. Using this data, game creators can identify each player’s psycho-social motivations, and take action to help ensure enhanced user experience.

Massive multiplayer online gaming describes Facebook games like Farmville, online role playing games like World of Warcraft, or online communities like Xbox Live. When each user logs on to play, the game creator is collecting data about that user’s game play. In an age when consumer attention is valued at a high premium, the massive communities and high level of engagement seen in online gaming is valuable, and player experience is key.

For most online gaming platforms, the game creators generate revenue from subscription fees, third party advertising, or sales of virtual goods. Game creators aim to create a massive player community and to keep those users playing. “An average player spends four hours a day on World of Warcraft,” said Jaideep Srivastava, co-inventor and cofounder of Ninja Metrics, a startup based in Los Angeles. The startup relies on novel data mining techniques, developed in part at the University of Minnesota, that extract key user traits from a massive pool of data being collected from online gaming platforms.

According to Srivastava, Ninja Metrics can analyze social data to identify user trends, target key players, and predict when a player may cancel their account. The potential for the technology has earned the interest of a number of major players in the online gaming industry.

Srivastava claims it’s the social influences of consumer communities that are key in online gaming, as well as other sales platforms. He hopes to expand the scope of Ninja Metrics to apply to retailers and other businesses.

“If you look at direct mail or other marketing techniques, it’s targeted at an individual’s behavior, and ignores the social influences surrounding them,” he said. “If [marketers] can analyze the social influences, it allows them to better target a customer.”

The suite of technologies behind Ninja Metrics was jointly developed by Jaideep Srivastava, University of Minnesota computer science and engineering professor and Dmitri Williams, University of Southern California associate professor; with Noshir Contractor, Northwestern University professor playing an advisory role. Srivastava was assisted by Kyong Jin Shim, Nishith Pathak, Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad, and Senthil Krishnamoorthy. The university’s Office for Technology Commercialization worked with the University of Southern California to negotiate the license agreement. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, Air Force Research Labs, and the U.S. Army.


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