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SAN FRANCISCO — Apparently, it’s OK to follow your whimsy sometimes when designing games.

That’s the spirit at online game studio Kixeye, where data analysis plays into about 40 percent of the decision-making, with the rest based on intuition, said chief executive Will Harbin.

“A year ago, we probably were doing way too much, you know, data-driven decision-making,” Harbin said today at the GamesBeat 2014 conference. “I think that hurt us in some ways.”

The company has built its own data technology in-house, Harbin said, and performs predictive modeling, A/B testing, and data science to determine the wisdom of the team’s decisions.


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It’s not extremely surprising to see game developers depend more on data science to improve operations. Lots of other startups, including food-delivery outfit Spoonrocket and alternative cab service Lyft, have brought on talent to explore different kinds of data sets and identify anomalies, trends, and ideas worth pursuing. The somewhat controversial stance Kixeye takes is its partial trust in data science.

If Kixeye developers just want to try out something because they’d have a good time, well, so be it.

“We’re probably going to err on the side of doing something which is fun,” Harbin said, even if the data doesn’t justify it. He said many companies rely too much on data.

Mobile ad platform NativeX, meanwhile, has gone head-first into data science. It’s hired 14 data scientists, said Rob Weber, a co-founder and senior vice president of business development.

“We look at thousands of variables,” Weber said. “We look at the predictive value of each one — basically A.I. [artificial intelligence].”

The company has worked hard to make what it calls “emotional placement” of ads, which take players’ gaming experiences into account. And if game developers can implement ads that people click on, that revenue stream could stand in as a reasonable supplement to in-app purchases.

“If we can earn a few dollars from the other 90 percent of sort of nonpayers, that can go a long way to share the burden of payers who are shouldering the cause for these games,” Weber said.

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