God’s Metrics

Spend any time doing web work at all, and you too will get suckered into the tempting siren-song of metrics. Metrics are, indeed, bursting little seeds of potential. Metrics is a fancy word marketing people use to mean “data”. Keep accurate metrics and test your web pages against them often, the mantra goes, and you can optimize your site experience to make the most money, bring in the most people, and be the most usable you can be.

Popular metrics people use, in order of importance:

  • Unique Visitors
  • Repeat Visitors
  • Registered Users
  • Active Daily/Weekly/Monthly Users
  • Lifetime Customer Value (LCV) — How much cash a given customer is worth to you over time, on average.
  • Active Revenue Per User (with the doglike name ARPU)

It’s a real science, this metrics. Take any web action, give half the people one alternative and half another, then measure metrics from each group to see who wins. This is called an A/B test. Does your audience prefer a blue button or an orange button? The text “Buy This Now” or “Get It”?

Raph Koster writes often about how much game designers can learn from web folk. But the reasons game designers are resistent to metrics are many:

  • A lotta games ain’t online.
  • Game “players” are not visitors, members, or users. So stop calling them that. That stuff is for executives and marketers (i.e. suits).
  • Thinking up metrics in advance, analyzing the metrics, then acting on them is a crapload of work. This is especially true for games that have infinite potential choices with every gunshot, maze turn, platform raise, or monster quest.

But the main reason game designers are resistant is that they know, at heart, that delight is not a numbers game. Any fan of The Wire knows that running a police department trying to game metrics such as “monthly homicides” alone does not good policework make. And game developers know that creating a game to hit sales numbers or time spent per level does not good gamework make.

Like any other anlytical tools like game grammer, I think it comes down to using metrics as an occasional sniper to solve specific problems. Take a doctor metaphor: Hooking up the patient to machines and checking vital signs is helluva useful to know if things are going horribly wrong. But first take care of the patient by nurturing, preventing disease, and applying common-sense treatments.

It makes me wonder how God measures success. Is He the First Mover delighted by the emergent cornucopic awesomeness he has wrought, no matter its many uglinesnesses? Or does He make his decisions based on firm measurements, as many organized religions like to tell us:

  • Souls saved / lost ratio
  • Lifetime Sin Value (LSV)
  • Active Prayers Per User (APPU)

What do you think?

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