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Skillprint has launched a platform that uses science to figure out how to match players with the games they will likely enjoy and the skills they want to improve.
The new ratings for games are based on a first-of-its-kind pairing of neuroscience research and machine learning. Skillprint’s ratings consider a number of criteria, evaluating games for their effect on a person’s mind and mood – with the ultimate goal being to match individuals with the best games for their personalities, specific moods and the skills they want to test or improve.
The San Francisco Bay area based start-up was founded in 2019 by seasoned gaming industry veterans
Chethan Ramachandran and Davin Miyoshi. They wanted to see games used for a greater purpose
and help people feel better through gameplay.
“I want to be the ultimate scoring engine for how you play,” Ramachandran said.
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But there’s a lot more behind it than just measuring yourself.
The founders bring a unique vision and expertise to the opportunity. Ramachandran previously founded Playnomics, a predictive analytics company which was sold to Unity in 2014 and now processes 1.5 billion devices each month as Unity Analytics.
Miyoshi founded Mesmo, a social/mobile games company that was sold to GSN, and cofounded
GSN Games, which grew to more than 75 million users and $100 million in revenue.
Now, Ramachandran and Miyoshi are turning their talents to exploring the intersection between gaming
and cognitive science. Skillprint uses powerful machine learning technology and builds on years of cognitive science research to study how people play games and glean unique insights into an individual’s
personality traits, skills and mindset.
The platform now offers unique game ratings, analyzing 135 separate game characteristics to rate and vet games for skills assessment and mood, matching users with personalized game recommendations.
Skillprint offers these ratings through its own platform at skillprint.co, as well as rates and ranks existing third-party mobile games. The company is planning to scale its consumer facing offering to game players and work with game developers to help them find the right players for their games.
“Mobile gaming can sometimes get a bad rap, but people often ignore the many and varied benefits of gaming,” Ramachandran said. “For years, scientists have used games as a way to test people’s cognitive abilities and learn more about how the mind works; there are numerous studies that show the clinical benefits of using games to reduce stress amongst military personnel.”
He added, “It’s very hard to understand how your own mind works – people spend their whole lives trying to figure this out. Who doesn’t want to know more about who they are and feel better? Our hypothesis is that games can do both. We’re blending best in class AI with cognitive science best practices, and building a personalized path for each one of our users to help them leverage games to learn more about
themselves, and shift their moods.”
To date, Skillprint has raised $3.5 million in a previously unannounced pre-seed funding from some of the
leading investors at the intersection of games, cognitive science, and human potential.
Investors include Shanda Ventures, LearnStart, Niremia Collective, and a number of private individuals with decades of experience and significant clout in the gaming world, including David Helgason (founder of Unity) and Steve Arnold (founder of LucasArts Games, co-founder of Polaris Ventures, Vice-Chair of the George Lucas Educational Foundation). Shanda Ventures got interested because of its focus on neuroscience.
With a fast-growing monthly user base and more than 40 curated games already available on its platform, the company captures and analyzes an average of 1,200 events per active user to predict their personality
traits and skills.
There could be privacy concerns, but Skillprint asks users to opt-in to sharing data at the very start. The data is anonymized and aggregated, and each user owns their own data associated with their own login. You wouldn’t want game companies to nefariously target people on the basis of addictive personalities.
“We have to be smart about our mission,” Ramachandran said. “This whole venture is not to help game companies as much as to help people first and foremost be the best version of themselves. You have to frame it in the right way and hopefully the data flows from there in the right frame.”
Doing basic research
Ramachandran and Miyoshi have been at this for a while. They started the company in 2019. Their initial thesis was that games can tell you about the mind and help people develop and identify their mental skills.
“That’s basically what we built,” Ramachandran said.
The company licensed more than 40 games that were off-the-shelf mobile games, which were basic mastery games like match-3 games or bubble shooters that everyone from kids to older adults can play. The team did research on neuroscience and tried to isolate different effects on the mind as you play.
We all have basic cognitive skills like attention, focus, ability to plan and execute, to switch tasks, and things like that, Ramachandran said.
“If you talk to psychologists, they talk a lot about five factors for your personality traits: how open you are to new experiences, how conscientious you are, how extroverted, how agreeable or how neurotic in different ways,” he said.
Six members of the team — all with doctorates — have been working on the research. And that enabled the company to raise its stealth funding round.
And the team built a progressive web app that you can access through any mobile browser. And people play the games on the app to build their “skillprint,” or a pattern record of a player’s skills.
“I think it’s going to be an interesting way to start routing people to find new games,” said Ramachandran. “With the app tracking stuff, it’s really hard to find players now.”
But with this added layer of information, Skillprint can think about how to recommend games to you based on your personality traits.
“It turns out that people who are higher on the neurotic scale love word games, for example,” he said. “And we have all this interesting data.”
The company will roll out its own studies, some done in collaboration with academics.
“I know two things to be true. People love playing games, and people are kind of obsessed with themselves,” Ramachandran said. “The skill part is just showing you a little bit about yourself.”
The psychologists, like Skillprint adviser Rick Robbins of the University of California at Davis, use that create a model about your mood and emotional states.
“What we found was everybody is working on using games in the world of neuroscience, cognitive science, and psychology. And so there is a ton of research that people were doing. And so we basically built our own little machine learning and research lab using these games,” Ramachandran said. “We have people playing Skillprint games, almost like in some cases, as a replacement for the cognitive headspace. They play it to relax, to focus, to get more creative, to be more collaborative. So shifting your mood every day and your mindset as you play would give you more of a map of your mind in terms of your personality traits and your cognitive skills.”
Over time, you start to enhance that. If you want to improve your attention or focus, then maybe you can become a pilot at some point in the future. Ramachandran said they found that people who are open to new experiences love role-playing games. People who are less open-minded may like sports games. People who are conscientious like racing games. These are generalizations, but they’re backed by data.
“Part of this has been through real scientific rigor. And part of it has come from seeing what happens to the gameplay data,” he said. “We tie that to outcomes that have to do with your career and your purpose in life.”
Action games have a real interesting effect on all skills, Ramachandran said.
“It’s interesting how serious some of our advisers and researchers are, but they’re taking these games very seriously,” he said.
Rather than use the data to figure out their career path, people wanted to use the games in a different way. They wanted to use games to feel better every day, Ramachandran said.
“Everybody has a mood and mindset that changes like the weather,” he said. “If we can help them, that is pretty interesting. You can play a game, and now you feel more creative.”
Over time, as the products get deeper, the company could eventually figure out things like whether you have the skills of a graphic designer or a landscape architect, based on the skills you have and the games you like. Over time, then, Skillprint might be used to show people a career path.
“You can help them understand how their mind works, and what makes them unique, and then ultimately, figure out what your purpose is to apply all the stuff in real life,” Ramachandran said.
The ambition isn’t so much for the company to have its own app. Its purpose is to be a kind of router, taking someone who wants to play a game for a certain reason around mental wellness, and then routing that person to a game company that wants that player. It’s a tech that could be embedded in games.
Skillprint has collected panels of people who are playing a game and don’t mind sharing their details about career and whatnot. And it helps them build a baseline for what that kind of person likes to play and what kind of skills they have. Then the company uses machine learning to connect it all together.
If someone else is just like you, then you might do well in the type of career that the other person has pursued. Skillprint can surface these correlations with enough good data. Of course, it has to take a long time to get the analyses and correlations correct, and the company doesn’t want to be wrong.
“We can make a recommendation. I think it will be really fun as we start to get more public about this and get a bunch of sports stars to do it,” he said. “We could see how you match up against LeBron James or whoever. That’s coming next.”
At this point, the company has a smart personalized platform that helps people find relaxing games to play. And at the moment, the main purpose of the company’s app is to gather the data to train the AI system to rate and plug in other games.
“As such, the games we have are well-known casual game types like match 3 or bubble shooters that allowed us to train the models and start to isolate and show results. As you play more, the Skillprint tab starts to fill with results around mood, personality, and skills,” Ramachandran said. “It just turns out the games are the ultimate testbed for understanding other extremes, like those that make you calm or tense.”
An example of what Skillprint can learn
Ramachandran said that one example is that when someone plays one of these games that have “merge” mechanics, where you merge two elements together, the boost in creativity is off the charts.
“It’s like a magnitude four or five times better than anything you have in psychology,” he said. “Some people may react really well to a timer and get more focused. Some people might feel they don’t want this and it freaks them out.”
To figure this out for each person, the data has to be personalized and Skillprint has to get a layer of data that applies to you. Over time, the company will move to measuring more complex games and coming up with a better map of the mind.
“We’re starting to see bundles and mechanics and it’s fascinating,” he said. “You have a mix of relaxation and focus in the same game session. We’re going to get better at personalizing over time. We can see if this is what will help you feel better every day. If this is going to help you understand your own mind. We’re kind of the ones putting it altogether, and we have more data than most studies.”
There are some games that would be good at capturing personality. Reigns, which is set in the Game of Thrones universe, is an example. You make choices in the game and swipe left or right. Those choices can help decipher your personality. If you reimagine that game as an actual personality test, it would probably work pretty well and amass a lot of data.
Games are good
If the company expands in the future, it might look at PC games on Steam, as it provides a lot of structured data on game usage.
“Overall, I want to do all of games,” he said.
You could try to create games to train your brain better. But Ramachandran notes that people are already playing games, and the key is to isolate the effects that those games have on the players.
“You figure out what people are getting out of it and give them more of what they want,” he said.
One interesting finding is that a survey of women from 32 to 55 found that they would love to meditate every day but don’t have the time. But they do have time for games, and they get a unique mix of focus and relaxation from playing those games.
“What I think is really interesting, as people are playing games for these reasons of stress relief, or relaxation, or more focus, or more creativity, they just haven’t framed it like that,” he said. “And they generally feel a little guilty that they’re doing it. We think we can kind of change that narrative because you know I fundamentally believe that gameplay is good for you.”
Another eventual use might be to create a dating app, particularly for gamers, but ultimately for everybody. At this point, the company doesn’t have any plan to get Food and Drug Adminstration approval for any therapies that might come from the data.
“I think the player routing and helping people understand what their minds are like is more than enough for now,” he said.
One of the most interesting conclusions is already clear for Skillprint.
“It’s clear that games are going to be the future of mental strength and mental wellness,” Ramachandran said.
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