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How Games Make Money is back with another episode. This time, Thatgamecompany director of online experience Tim Nixon joins host Jeff Grubb to talk about designing Sky, which is the studio’s followup to Journey and Flower. Unlike those previous hits, Sky is a live-service game designed to last for months and years. It has already had six seasons of content, and Nixon explains how Thatgamecompany uses behavioral data to understand and build relationships with players based on respect. Listen, won’t you:

Sky is available now on iOS and Android.

Using data to appreciate your players

Nixon says that using player data is crucial to designing Sky as a long-term product. But he also gets why that concept turns some people away.

“The instinct for a lot of developers is to assume that a live service game — because so much of it has been driven by gacha and timer mechanics — is not perceived as positive or healthy,” said Nixon. “And I think that’s for very good reasons.”

But Thatgamecompany saw a potential in having an online world where things change every day. And the studio found a flexible business model that enables Sky to operate in that way. At the same time, Nixon doesn’t think everything should work backward from the data. Instead, he describes it as a collaboration with players.

“I do not believe that art should be too shaped, necessarily, by a market demand, but with this type of experience it’s a collaborative process,” he said. “The game now belongs to the fans almost as much as it belongs to us. We put this thing out there, then came the players, and it became this process of seeing what they were drawn to. Or for those players that did return each day, why did they love it?”

The idea is to then to push back or reward those player behaviors with new content in the game. For Nixon, he thinks this is a responsible way to use this insight.

“I’d like to think that we are using all those different inputs in a fair way,” he said. “And I hope that, generally speaking, the industry manages to shed some of its stigma around using data and free-to-play mechanics.”

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