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Three Ways VR Developers are Using Analytics to Improve Their Experiences

The use of data throughout mobile and web development has become so common that it’s now become standard practice to include analytics if you’re building a website or app. This ubiquity of data allows all facets of a business to leverage that data to make decisions, offering insights into behaviors that often get overlooked. Analytics has evolved from a tool that provided a way for companies to track downloads and views to fully-featured platforms that can easily track and analyze even the most granular interactions. This has allowed UX/UI design to become a well-oiled machine where companies can now micro-manage the user journey to increase engagement and decrease churn, where possible. It’s safe to say that robust analytics software has accelerated the growth of both the web and mobile industries.

With the emergence of immersive computing, new input systems (headsets, controllers, haptics, etc.) bring with them new sets of questions around how users interact with products. With no set standards or design paradigms to work with, we’re back to square one. Creators are now faced with a steep learning curve where once again, we have to figure out how to make products that are optimized for new behaviors. For example, when smartphones became the norm, it was only a matter of time before developers and designers figured out how to build products that best utilized gestures such as swiping, tapping, and scrolling. Now with VR and AR, it only makes sense that we should be leveraging the power of analytics to better understand user behavior in this new medium.

We’re going to dive into how VR developers are currently using data throughout their development process in an effort to make more intuitive and comfortable VR experiences. We’ll be highlighting the use of Observer Analytics to streamline onboarding, influence design, and optimize VR experiences.


1. User Onboarding

Every VR team is faced with the challenge of finding a way to properly onboard someone onto their app. You want your app to be intuitive but still want to make sure that the user knows what to do. A good onboarding flow is all about balance: a lack of education (typically in the form of a tutorial) can often lead to confusion where users eventually get confused or lost, which in turn, causes churn. On the other hand, required or lengthy tutorials can frustrate your audience, who may just want to explore the experience on their own. The most common way to onboard users in VR is through a tutorial where the user learns primary controls through a series of steps. The advantage of using a step-by-step onboarding process is that you are able to easily analyze where your users get lost or bored, and then optimize the process accordingly to maximize efficiency.

The team over at FitXR has been analyzing their onboarding flow, making adjustments to get users into a workout more easily. Sameer Baroova, co-founder of FitXR, explains, “in the early days of BoxVR, we had a height adjuster where we wanted the user to set the height at which our queues were generated for them to hit. But looking at the data on our dashboard, we realized that the adjuster was causing some friction in our onboarding flow and some people weren’t starting a workout. So what we did was adjust it to a certain level below the max height [of the headset] and this solution has worked for everybody since.” In FitXR’s case, even a small customization setting can create enough friction that users churn before getting into the core experience.

We are starting to see developers integrate onboarding tutorials into the gameplay, making it feel as if they are one in the same. This is a great technique to achieve a balance between quickly onboarding your users and getting them to core features without obstacles. One application that puts this technique into practice effectively is SUPERHOT. They first teach users how to manipulate the speed of time via movement and then slowly introduce various weapons as you progress through the game.

Similarly, Beast Pets has a gated onboarding tutorial where they require the user to perform a few actions in the early parts of the experience before allowing them to freely explore on their own. Katie Hughes, lead UX designer at Beast Inc., explains, “I really like using funnels to analyze the initial user onboarding tutorial; we’re able to measure the retention rate of users from the beginning of the session to when they complete the last step of the tutorial and then gauge if our retention rate increases or decreases based on changes we make from version to version.”

Your onboarding process is one of the most important elements of your experience, and also one of the easiest areas to integrate analytics to make smarter development decisions.


2. Designing for three dimensions

When it comes to VR and AR, interaction design is difficult. Immersive media creators need to switch their thinking from 2D interfaces (computer monitors, touch screens, etc) to 3D interfaces, which rely much more heavily on physical position, orientation, and scale. For example, in web and mobile design, we’ve become accustomed to using analytics to track interactions in order to gauge how effective a specific button color is, or where to place a call-to-action on a screen. Taking these same principles into XR, we can track where users look and how they move in order to optimize scene design, for example.

Vivian Tan, CEO of Beast Inc., explains how headset height has become a useful metric when improving level design and increasing object engagement: “Headset height allows us to know the vertical height at which our players will be engaging with the environment. Taking that into account, [we’ve made] changes to the scene design, like eliminating low hanging branches on tree geometry in the scene and scaling interactive objects. For instance, we used to just lower the treasure chests in game for shorter people, but then we discovered that they still have to go through a whole motion range of opening the lid that's really designed for an adult. Now we're scaling down the entire object according to the player’s height. That has been very informative.”

Their use of data was not only insightful, but they have started using specific metrics to dynamically make changes to the game. Using the large amount of input data available in VR and AR, developers can not only make experiences more comfortable and intuitive, but create unique gameplay elements as well.


3. Optimization and General Growth Metrics

Optimization is another huge hurdle in XR development. Making sure that your experience runs at a consistently high frame rate is paramount to ensuring that users don’t experience negative side effects when using a headset, such as motion sickness. Development teams spend large amounts of time debugging and optimizing problem areas before publishing their experience. While most performance issues can be remedied using the Unity or Unreal profiler tool, developers also have to make sure that their app can run on a wide variety of hardware configurations. This can be difficult because it’s not always possible (or practical) to be able to test your app across every hardware combination to ensure your app runs smoothly for everyone, regardless of GPU, CPU, OS, etc.

Jake Ben-david, the founder of Portal Studios, is leveraging the use of analytics to alter build settings by tracking user hardware. He explains, “[We’re] pre-setting graphics settings based on player's graphics card - thanks to the concise table of FPS per graphics card provided in [Observer Analytics] UI.” This insight has allowed them to make sure their game’s performance is optimized for each user depending on their particular hardware. Similar insights can be gleaned by analyzing FPS for each headset as developers begin porting projects to new devices that hit the market.

Jake explains further, “we’ve gained more insight regarding player behavior such as session length and return rates, which can be educative as well as comforting.” These core app metrics provide insights to teams on a day-to-day basis to better predict usage and revenue over time. Metrics that have become standard for understanding growth in the mobile and web space (DAU, WAU, MAU, D1-D30 retention, etc.) are now available for XR teams to understand usage patterns.


In summary, analytics have many practical use cases in the VR/AR/XR space that can help teams not only expedite the development process, but make their experience more engaging and intuitive. While instrumenting analytics software used to be complex and time-consuming due to exhaustive tracking plans, this is no longer the case. Observer Analytics can be integrated in just a few clicks and has automated data collection for core metrics. Get started today for free, or if you have any further questions don't hesitate to reach out


Lucas Toohey

CEO & Co-founder @ Observer Analytics