Home Editorial HYPETRAIN: On data and mines

HYPEIt should come as no surprise that the god kings of the video game industry have more immediate concerns than how much enjoyment you derive from their products. What does manage to be surprising is the outwardly positive attitude the industry takes towards its quest of manipulation, brainwashing gamers out of their bottom dollar.

Also surprising: Top Tier Tactics receives real life press releases. Yep, the very same ones that go out to the real life press! The fun part about these releases is how certain announcements, like the one I am about to share with you, are given to us like we’re supposed to report them as good news. Maybe if we were IGN and we had some profit margin that was inextricably tied with the success of the game industry (or any profit at all,) we would indeed be excited by all the business of game marketing and encouraged to tell you that everything is good. But no, we are the most jaded (and the poorest) people in the world, and so without further ado here is some very unappealing news about one of the specific ways corporations compete for your money: data mining!

I think this press release speaks for itself, so I’m going to let it do exactly that. Tip: just read until you feel nauseated.

“Mark Robinson Joins GamesAnalytics
Award Winning Data Analyst Joins Firm to Maximize Online Game Revenue

San Francisco, Calif. and Edinburgh, Scotland – May 23, 2011
Award winning analytics expert Mark Robinson has joined data mining and monetization company GamesAnalytics as Chief Operating Officer.

Robinson has worked within various sectors of the data mining industry his entire career, initially as an analyst at British Gas then as a consultant with leading marketing services company CACI.

Prior to joining GamesAnalytics, Robinson led the data-mining consultancy Marketing Databasics, a company that builds and hosts analytical environments to increase customer value through data-driven insight. His experience covers a wide range of sectors including financial services, retail, leisure and the drinks industry. Previous clients include AXA, Barclays, HBOS, Standard Life and Sainsbury’s Finance. In 2009, Marketing Databasics was designated a ‘Leader’ organization in the Forrester review of marketing services providers for its completeness of offering and its strategic vision. In addition to having received several industry awards for innovative use of data, Robinson contributes to thought leadership in the industry through his membership on the Direct Marketing Association Council.

Chris Wright, GamesAnalytics CEO said:
“Mark brings unparalleled experience in data-mining and analytics, having built market leading analytics solutions for blue chip clients throughout the financial and retail sectors. Mark’s understanding of driving customer satisfaction and monetization for clients through data driven insight is second to none and we are thrilled to have him join the team.”

Commenting on his appointment Robinson said:
“I’m tremendously excited to have joined GamesAnalytics. The rise in online gaming presents a massive opportunity for developers and publishers to understand their customers as never before. It is now possible to use state-of-the-art behavioral analytics technology to drive increased customer satisfaction, player retention, virality and revenue. I look forward to meeting with gaming companies and explaining GamesAnalytics unique vision over the coming months.”

About GamesAnalytics
GamesAnalytics is a data mining and monetization company serving the online videogames industry. The company maximizes online game revenue with state-of-the-art real-time behavioral analytics and individually targeted in-game marketing. Its products, coupled with a deep knowledge and passion for the games industry will increase the number of paying players, ARPU and player satisfaction and retention.

GamesAnalytics was founded in 2010 to bring the sophisticated analytics and monetization tools of the financial sector to the games industry. GamesAnalytics unlocks the true value of player data. The company has offices in Edinburgh, London, and San Francisco.”

Aren’t you just so excited about your data being mined!? Let’s have a look at the GamesAnalytics website to see exactly what the company does.

“We will often look at bespoke data mining, delving deep into your play data to really understand how players interact with the game and find what is stopping players from spending more money. Techniques like predictive analysis help us to identify key player behaviour patterns and identify potential revenue opportunities. “

Wow, that’s awesome. I wasn’t feeling quite enough like a paranoid schizophrenic, so it’s great to hear that my every move in a game is being analyzed by someone whose job it is to determine how to make me more profitable. It’s especially comforting to see clearly from their website that the company displays such attention to detail.

The existence of a company like this strikes a similar chord with me as Activision’s announcement that Modern Warfare 3 will include an optional subscription service. The PR paints a very rosy picture of the service, but do they actually think that gamers will react positively to the idea? Of course not. Will they make more money this way? Probably.

Of course, every major industry acts this way. Thor was a pretty good movie mostly because it’s easier to sell tickets to pretty good movies. But your transaction with Paramount Pictures ended as soon as you bought your ticket. The games industry is able to be more invasive. Their product becomes a part of your digital domain, able to place spy cameras where you’ll never notice them. Achievements, a common feature in modern games, are one example: they were invented to allow companies to collect data on player habits. Let’s have a look at one of those EULAs you never bother to read, this one from Rockstar Games:

“When using products or services on internet-capable hardware, the Company may receive information regarding your gameplay without any additional notice to you or actions taken by you. The Company will not receive personal information such as your name and address but may receive other information such as your PlayStation ID, Games for Windows LIVE or Xbox Live ID, game achievements, game scores and performance, Internet Protocol (IP) address, other console use information, or other information and statistics regarding your usage of the games. Information about gameplay may be collected while you are offline and transmitted to the Company when you next connect to the Internet whether or not you are currently logged into your Internet Connection from your console, handheld, computer, or other gaming platform. The Company may use such information as set forth in this Privacy Policy whether or not you register for or use the Online Services.”

Valve won a lot of hearts with their ‘game as a service’ philosophy that led to so many free addons for Team Fortress 2. I even admit that I would love to pay Valve a monthly fee if it would fund a regular stream of Portal 2 add-ons. But that doesn’t mean that Valve do it out of love for the customer, and it’s worth being wary of any company’s market research tactics when you are letting them into your digital life.

11 replies to this post
  1. I strongly suspect all serious game studios have been data mining for a very long time, some more invasively than others. The good companies watch you while you play to see when you put a game on pause on to have dinner (game paused at 13:12 for 20mins) and use that date to define what a natural pause should feel like in a game; see what percentage of players come back and resume the game and decide how addictive that part of that game is. Interpreted correctly this information can lead to much better games with more challenging and addictive game play. The only way to opt out is to stop playing games but then games wouldn’t be designed for us anymore.

  2. Amen.

    It’s bad enough our spending habits are being tracked in the real world. I don’t want all of Ubisoft and their third party analysts to know how much florins I spent (about 5,000) and towards what (courtesans) in-game.*

    However, I kind of see the reason why. I agree, it’s horrible and just plain creepy to have these third party companies employed by developers track your every in-game move. Who knew achievements actually had a purpose, other than to give you a short-term confidence boost.

    But I understand why they’re doing it, as you probably know too. Developers are in the business of making money. Games take millions of dollars to create, even if it’s a MMO (case in point, Interplay, the initial publishers of Fallout who now only have a reported $3,000 in assets and 2.8 million in debt).**

    With millions of dollars towards production, they need to ensure their marketing to us, the consumer, is solid. No wants to throw away a million dollars and years of hard work away because they couldn’t send a simple message entitled “buy the game.”

    Then there are the analytics that they gather to create a better, more profitable understanding between us and the big wigs. Publishers and developers are constantly looking for ways in which to enhance the shelf life of their games. What may seem as a player’s dream to flip an entire 17+ hours worth of gameplay in a ridiculously short amount of time serves as the game industry’s worst nightmare. These guys want you to play until the disc is worn out, play until you get the red ring of death on your XBox or have your identity stolen on the PS3.***

    And how do they extend the shelf life of these titles? The all-coveted DLC, of course. But let’s see what the analytics are for. They also want to know how often you play the game. Is that COD: Black Ops game still in your console? Are you on it constantly (if you are, then it must mean you like it, since you’re extending its shelf life)? Did you even bother to play the single-player campaign and get some of those achievements/trophies (if not, then that means you fall under the category of gamers who are just obsessed with multiplayer, which means you may be even more interested in the Call of Duty: Epic website and player stats network Activision is launching).

    How long did it take you to flip the game? Should the next installment (since they’re following the Konami model and anticipate to release a new game every year) be more simpler or harder? How should they structure the marketing around the product? What was more effective? The CGI trailer that received 9 million views on YouTube, begging you to pre-order at some video game mecca? So you also play some of those WWE video games, huh? Would it be even more effective if they purchased advertising during the time slots of these wrestling programs to advertise their game, or even sponsored one of their shows? So your IP address is shown to have an account on our forums. Are you ranting/raving about the game?

    Simply put: how do they know if they’re doing something right? How do they know whether or not you want the Borgia Tower concept in AC Revelations or hear that everyone hated the COD: MW2 perk which allowed you to throw a grenade if a player killed you? Analytics, my friend, analytics. Sure the critics, but the consumers speak louder than the critics. If Roger Ebert told you “My Little Pony” was an excellent, two thumbs up type of movie, would you actually be more inclined to see it? Doubtful. Therefore, if Machinima.com doesn’t post your game up as one of the “Top 25 Games of the Decade,” does that mean your game sucks? Look at the numbers, and the extended shelf life of your game. Numbers are fact. Critics are just opinions.

    Analytics help them create the perfect game, define market trends, basically keep delievering what we will keep asking for. Is it wrong to do it without our explicit permission to do so? Yes, but we mind as well have expected that. As homey and down-to-earth these developers and publishers are, they still are in the business of making money and getting towards the ultimate goal: creating that perfect game.

    * AC2 achievement: Red Light Addict.
    **As reported by multiple outlets on May 31, 2011. To save face from Fallout fans, Bethesda Studios took control of the Fallout rights from Interplay, who produced the first Fallout games. Obviously, there must have been a clause which still grants Interplay some rights to the Fallout name, as they were up to this point working on the Fallout MMO. For clarity, a link to this story can be found here, but this is just one of 119 that I found on the subject (http://www.gameinformer.com/b/news/archive/2011/05/31/interplay-amp-fallout-mmo-in-peril-again.aspx)

    *** Don’t be hating, fan boys and girls. I am an indiscriminative player. Although XBox sales have tripled within the first 4 months of this year (their sales are finally toppling once and for all the PS2 sales in its 6th year…MS shame!)and they fixed the red ring problem, there is still that jilted feeling of actually having to pay for my membership, which I’m pretty sure they’re tracking too. And the amount of money spent on the play and charge kit, the extra $100 for the internal hard drive plus the wireless router and a whole list of goodies (including the headset…and if I wanted a Kinect, FOR SHAME.)

    PS3 actually has had a couple of more attacks on their system – 20, according to one source; the theory alleges this wave of attacks stem from a lawsuit against an individual who was able to jailbreak the PS3 and post the findings on a website. A mouthful, I know. Of course, this is just gathered from media outlets over the course of the month of PSN-Gate; but you PS3 people are lucky, since you get to download two games for free.

    The comment was not to offend, but to show that both consoles have their own Achilles’s heel. Story can be found here: http://www.betanews.com/article/Xbox-360-may-have-changed-the-tail-but-Wii-turned-it-into-a-spike/1307119738)

      • Aww! Thanks!

        And to correct my error: it’s Call of Duty: Elite, not Epic. So if you want to show off that awesome tomahawk kill, hey!

    • Just wanted to chime in to say that the Martyrdom perk was in CoD4, not MW2 (in MW2, you had to die a certain number of times without getting a kill) and that the data behind them changing it was due to outside complaints and not in-game analytical software. If they used in-game analysis, it wouldn’t have been in MW2 at all. Why? Vocal players hated it to the point where large numbers of servers were banning the use of it at all (or at least the players using it) plus it would have been FAR too expensive to install monitoring software that mines that kind of data on every single server that popped up.

      This doesn’t change the fact, however, that the players who complained about that perk are complete fucking morons.

  3. Good on them, have all the data. There isn’t a creepy man standing in your window looking at you are you pull the coins out of your shoes; your data is more like a telescope looking at a distant planet: They get a little bit of information, the relevant bits but don’t have all the stuff you’re actually concerned they might have (does this world actually have life?).

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