Using Big Data to Democratize Insights from Halo 4 Gamers

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The Halo franchise is an award-winning collection of properties that has grown into a global entertainment phenomenon. More than 50 million copies of Halo video games have been sold worldwide. As developers prepared to launch Halo 4 (in summer 2012), they were tasked with analyzing data to gain insights into player preferences and support an online tournament.
The Halo 4 Infinity Challenge, the largest free-to-enter online Halo tournament in the world, tracked a player’s personal score in the game’s multiplayer modes across a global leaderboard, giving players a chance to win more than 2,800 prizes. Virgin Gaming needed to use business intelligence (BI) data gathered during the event to update leaderboards on the tournament website.
To handle those requests, the team used a Microsoft technology called Windows Azure HDInsight Service, based on the Apache Hadoop big data framework. Using HDInsight Service to process and analyze raw data from Windows Azure cloud OS, the team was able to feed game statistics to the tournament’s operator, which used the data to rank players based on game play. The team also used HDInsight Service to update Halo 4 every week and support a daily email campaign designed to increase player retention.
Taking advantage of the data means having familiar tools that a broad range of business professionals know how to use. One of the reasons adoption for HDInsight Service is growing is that users do not have to be engineers or Hadoop experts to take advantage of the technology. Data is collected in Windows 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,” said Mark Vayman, lead program manager for the Halo Services Team. “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.”
Released in November 2012, Halo 4 achieved more than $220 million in global sales in its first 24 hours and attracted more than 4 million players in its first five days after launch.
Putting this project into context of other Big Data projects, we’re seeing a pattern emerge. The new data management model has three tiers: data, in all its forms; analysis, making sense of it all; and visualization, the compelling user interfaces that allow humans to digest it all.
Patrick O’Rourke, director, Office of the CIO
Microsoft IT