Interview: Vince Darley, on What do you need to become Top Grossing Game

We discuss common characteristics of games that achieved top ranking, career advice, trends, desired qualities in data scientists and more.

vince-darleyVince Darley is the Vice President Data Analytics and BI at King, a leading interactive entertainment company for the mobile world and creator of games such as Candy Crush Saga. King listed on the NYSE in March 2014 (NYSE: KING).

With more than 17 years’ experience in data science, at King, Vince oversees a team working on all aspects of analytics and business intelligence, including downstream and upstream data pipelines, data warehousing, real-time and batch reporting, segmentation and real-time analytics – information which is used across the business to improve the player experience.

Vince holds a Master of Arts and PhD in Complex Systems from Harvard University and a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics from the University of Cambridge. He is also a published author, having co-authored ‘A NASDAQ market Simulation: Insights on a Major Market from the Science of Complex Adaptive Systems.’

First part of interview

Here is second and last part of my interview with him:

Anmol Rajpurohit: Q5. Based on your experience, what are the common characteristics of the games that occupy the top ranking on app stores?

candy-crush-sodaVince Darley: We've obviously had a lot of success in the app stores, with many of our games reaching the top grossing charts and also staying in the top grossing charts over a long period of time. Key to this are games that can really engage each individual player for those months and years, adding new content and challenges on a regular basis (our Saga games offer new episodes every two weeks).

Different games achieve that engagement in different ways – through different combinations of challenge, competition, collaboration, novelty, progression. Most obvious in our games is getting the level progression right – so the player develops the right combination of challenge, fun, mastery and success through hundreds and hundreds of levels. For many players there is also a strong social element – a mixture of collaboration and competition with their friends, which is obviously very powerful.

Perhaps slightly less obvious is that we believe a very important ingredient is the quality of the player’s experience – for a game to genuinely delight a player for years, the quality must shine through in every way, so we focus a lot on that – often in dozens of small but important ways – for example the beautiful orchestral music in Candy Crush Soda Saga, which was recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra.

AR: Q6. What is the best advice you have got in your career?

VD: Two key things for me:
  • Hire great people (not good people!), make sure the strategic direction is clear, and give them the space to perform.
  • Keep fighting against complacency and “good enough” – seek out the right, difficult, perhaps risky challenges to tackle and make sure you tackle them.

AR: Q7. Which trends do you believe would dominate the casual social gaming industry for the next 2-3 years?

mobile-gamingVD: If I look back 3 years King hadn't at that time launched a Saga game on mobile! So it’s very hard to look ahead that far... But let me try.

As mobile devices in the western world gain progressively faster and always-on internet connections, I suspect we’ll see more games taking advantage of that – whether through content, interactivity, social or something else…. And there’s a lot to learn from countries which already have ubiquitous high-speed connectivity. So, mobile will continue to remain very important in gaming.

AR: Q8. What key qualities do you look for when interviewing for Data Science related positions on your team?

data-scientistVD: There are 5 qualities we look for – and every candidate must at least demonstrate the aptitude to learn all 5, although they probably don’t have them all when they walk in the door. There are 3 technical areas – (1) stats/machine-learning, (2) coding, (3) SQL/database skills. Then there are 2 somewhat less technical areas: (4) the ability to communicate complex ideas clearly and precisely, (5) being able to take a somewhat fuzzy, ill-defined business problem and formulate it sufficiently clearly and precisely as a technical problem. We believe all 5 of these are really important to success as a Data Scientist at King.

AR: Q9. What was the last book that you read and liked? What do you like to do when you are not working?

the-pale-kingVD: Over Xmas I really enjoyed “The Pale King” by David Foster Wallace – years ago as a young scientist in Santa Fe, New Mexico I was fortunate enough to have dinner with the author. At that time I had no idea about his books, so we had a great talk about science (he had a lot of great questions about my research). Afterwards our host pointed me to his incredible novel ‘Infinite Jest’ which I read soon after, 300 pages of footnotes and all.

I've also read books on ultra-running by Scott Jurek and Kilian Jornet in the last couple of months, since in my spare time I like to run ultra-marathons – last summer I ran two different 100 mile races in the south of England, and have a few more planned for the coming year. I've even managed to persuade 12 other crazy people at King to join me in a beautiful 100k race in July.