Using HDInsight Service, 343 Industries is more agile and can respond faster to customer requests. With the solution’s flexibility, the Halo Services Team is able to make weekly updates to the game and was able to help Virgin Gaming detect cheaters in the online Infinity Challenge tournament. HDInsight Service also supports customized email campaigns that the Halo marketing team is using to improve the user experience and retain players. In addition, the solution relies on familiar tools that can be used to simplify decision making.
Increases Agility and Speeds Response Time
With HDInsight Service, 343 Industries is more agile and can respond more quickly to business requests for BI. Part of the reason for this agility is the solution’s performance. With Hadoop, the team was able to build a configuration system that can be used to turn various Azure data feeds on or off as needed. “That really helps us get optimal performance, and it’s a big advantage because we can use the same Azure data source to run compute for HDInsight Service on multiple clusters,” says Vayman. “It made it easy for us to drive business requests for analysis through an ad-hoc Hadoop cluster without affecting the jobs being run.”
And launching Hadoop clusters is a simple, fast process. “We can easily launch a new Hadoop cluster in minutes, run a query, and get back to the business in a few hours or less,” says Melamed. “Azure is very agile by nature, and Hadoop on Azure is more powerful as a result.”
Helps Halo 4 Team Make Weekly Game Updates
In addition to responding quickly to business requests, the Halo 4 team can take BI data pulled from the game each day and identify user trends, such as the average length of a game and the specific game features that players use the most. By getting these insights, the Halo 4 team can make frequent updates to the game. “Based on the user preference data we’re getting from Hadoop, we’re able to update game maps and game modes on a week-to-week basis,” says Vayman. “And the suggestions we get in the forums often find their way into the next week’s update. We can actually use this feedback to make changes and see if we attract new players. Hadoop and the forums are great tuning mechanisms for us.”
The team is also taking user feedback and giving it to the game’s designers, who can consider the suggestions in developing future editions of Halo.
Provides In-Game Analysis and Helps Identify Cheaters
Because Hadoop applies structure to data when it’s consumed, the team can focus more on analytics and less on storage. Instead of worrying about how to store and structure game data, the team can concentrate on what game modes users play in or how many users are playing at any given time. With this ability to focus more tightly on analysis, 343 Industries could meet the needs of Virgin Gaming. “Using Microsoft HDInsight Service, we were able to analyze the data during the five weeks of the Halo 4 Infinity Challenge,” says Vayman. “With the fast performance we got from the solution, we could feed that data to Virgin Gaming so it could update the leaderboards on the tournament website every day.”
In addition, because of the way the team set up Hadoop to work within Azure, the team was able to detect cheaters during the Halo 4 Infinity Challenge. “HDInsight Service gives us the ability to easily read the data,” says Vayman. “In this case, there are many ways in which players try to gain extra points in games, and we could look back at previous data stored in Azure and identify user patterns that fit certain cheating characteristics, which was unexpected.” After receiving this data from the team, Virgin Gaming sent out a notification that any player found or suspected of cheating would be removed from the leaderboards and the tournament.
Contributes to Player Retention
The flexibility of the HDInsight Service BI solution also gives 343 Industries a way to reach out to players through customized campaigns, such as the series of email blasts the team sent to players immediately after the launch. For that campaign, the team set up Hadoop queries to identify users who started playing on a certain date. The team then wrote a file and placed it into a storage account on Windows Azure, where it was sent through SQL Server 2008 R2 Integration Services into a database owned by the Xbox marketing team.
The marketing team then used this data to send these new players emails customized by screening several variables including when they started playing Halo 4 and their game play behaviors. The choice of which email each player received was determined by the HDInsight Service system. “That gave marketing a new way to retain users and keep them interested by talking about new aspects of the game,” Gregorio says. The Halo marketing team plans to run similar email campaigns for the game until a new edition is released. “Basing an email campaign on HDInsight Service and Hadoop was a big win for the marketing team, and also for us,” adds Vayman. “It showed us that we were able to use data from HDInsight Service to customize emails, and to actually use BI to improve the player experience and affect game sales.”
Uses Familiar Tools to Simplify Decision Making
Microsoft has started to expand HDInsight Service to other internal groups, and one of the reasons adoption is growing is that users do not have to be engineers or Hadoop experts to take advantage of the technology. Data is collected in Azure and made easily accessible through familiar productivity tools. “By hooking Hadoop into a set of tools that are already familiar, such as Microsoft Excel or Microsoft SharePoint, people can take advantage of the power of Hadoop without needing to know the technical ins and outs,” says Vayman. “A good example of that is the data about Halo 4 Infinity Challenge cheaters that we gave to Virgin Gaming. The people receiving that data are not Hadoop experts, but they can still easily use the data to make business decisions.”
Another reason Hadoop is becoming more widely used is that the technology continues to evolve into an increasingly powerful tool. “The traditional role of BI within Hadoop is expanding because of the raw capabilities of the platform,” says Brad Sarsfield, Microsoft SQL Server Developer. “In addition to just BI reporting, we’ve been able to add predictive analytics, semantic indexing, and pattern classification, which can all be leveraged by the teams using Hadoop.”
With these and other capabilities, there is little question that HDInsight Service will continue to positively affect business. “With Hadoop on Windows Azure, we can mine data and understand our audience in a way we never could before,” says Vayman. “It’s really the BI solution for the future.”