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Data Harvesting From a Developer's Perspective

Soulskill posted more than 6 years ago | from the line-in-the-sand dept.

PC Games (Games) 130

cliffski raises some questions about the need for game developers to have some amount of data from the users who play their games. He says, "PC Games connecting to a central server to send information (outside of MMOs) have gotten a (deserved) bad reputation in recent years. The huge outcry about Mass Effect and Spore are evidence enough of that. But in gamers' hurry to prevent intrusive DRM systems and dubious privacy-breaking data harvesting, are we throwing out the good with the bad?" Clearly, some aspects of games could be improved by having a better knowledge of average PC specs or knowing which parts of the games are more entertaining to the users. Input from customers helps to improve almost any product, as indicated by the usage of countless surveys and focus groups. But where do we draw the line between being inquisitive and being intrusive? What can game developers do to prove that the collection techniques or the data themselves wouldn't be abused?

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Some amount quality (1)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173019)

"some amount data"
And /. stories get some amount proofreading.

How about *asking* the user if they want to share? (4, Funny)

LighterShadeOfBlack (1011407) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173031)

Shockingly, new studies suggest that people may be able to make decisions all by themselves without a company or a government or anything!

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24173051)

They usually mention such things in the license agreement. Do you read the license agreement?

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (5, Insightful)

LighterShadeOfBlack (1011407) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173133)

They usually mention such things in the license agreement. Do you read the license agreement?

That's not asking is it? That's telling someone after they've purchased the product that aspects of their system will be monitored. Of course you can take the product back but that's inconvenient. Technically everyone should read the licence agreement but the plain fact is that nobody does, and while that's obviously got no legal standing, if the developers don't want to be hated by everyone using their product they should cut out the sly bullshit and ask in plain and simple English. If the developers really do just want certain info regarding gameplay or system specs I'm sure that enough people would say yes to get a representative sample of users.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (5, Informative)

Anaerin (905998) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173411)

Of course you can take the product back but that's inconvenient.

It's more than inconvenient, it's usually impossible. Most retailers refuse to take back computer software, especially opened software, as a matter of course. And you would have to open the software to get into the installer to read the EULA (Which, in some cases, you "agreed to" before even seeing it, with phrases on the CD case like "By opening this package you agree to be held liable to the End-User License Agreement contained therein", a so-called "Shrink-wrap" license).

So saying that 'taking back software is an option' is, for most cases, wrong.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24174389)

I believe that shrink-wrap lisences have been found to be nonbinding in some jurisdictions, though I don't remember the court cases that back that up.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (3, Interesting)

unlametheweak (1102159) | more than 6 years ago | (#24175397)

I believe that shrink-wrap licenses have been found to be nonbinding in some jurisdictions, though I don't remember the court cases that back that up.

Perhaps, or even probably, but that's not the point. Companies offer money back guarantees and mail in rebates because they know most (or at least a statistically significant proportion of) consumers don't find it worth their while to bother. Hiring a lawyer and loosing time off work (or just plain opportunity costs) for a sixty dollar game isn't worth it. Of course you are assuming that the consumer even believes he can get his money back. In the era where laws and information campaigns are constantly reminding consumers that their rights take a back seat to that of the copy right owner, I doubt if too many (consumers) would even consider the law, much less attempt to try and enforce said law. It's not so easy to just call the police and tell them to press charges against a software company because their EULA or business practices are illegal. Believe me I've tried :)

Chances are however that if you call up the actual game company and they have some reasonable customer service rep on the line then they may refund your money if you pay to have the disks, etc sent back to them. Maybe, maybe not. It's your bet. In the end it's still a hassle. It's often easier to buy something than to return it.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24173143)

by "asking", he meant "not making it a necessary condition to use the software".

duh.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (1)

BPPG (1181851) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173505)

If they phrase it right, they can make it sound like an offer you can't refuse! http://kinokofry.com/2008/07/10/kinokofry-031/ [kinokofry.com]

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (2, Insightful)

Adreno (1320303) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173095)

I agree with this sentiment. Set up an opt-in program that allows gamers to share their information with game companies. If a player is truly invested in the game, they will share their data to support further improvements in the game. The players that are most invested are the ones for whom you want to tailor your games, no? Sounds like a win-win to me.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (4, Informative)

MrNaz (730548) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173331)

Speaking from experience I can tell you that an "opt-in" program would never collect enough data to be useful.

I'd suggest an "opt-out" system along with restrictions on *what* data was sent. At least I'd say that nothing personally identifiable can be sent, there's no need for it. There may be other restrictions I can't think of right now.

IMHO, this issue is about what data gets sent, not that data gets sent at all. It should be clear and verifiable what data is being sent, so that users who are that way inclined can check to ensure that nothing untoward is being sent to the developers.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (2, Insightful)

CyprusBlue113 (1294000) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173473)

Maybe that should tell you that most people *don't* want to share with you with no compensation?

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (3, Interesting)

Creepy Crawler (680178) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173551)

Precisely the point.

At our local mall, there's a survey and opinion company in the corner. They ask mall-goers for surveys based upon demographics and other information told by their clients (like Coca-cola, Pepsi ola, and others).

I've been asked about 8 times. I cannot discuss what was reviewed by myself, because of NDA. However, I received payment from 25$ to 75$ for said reviews. I also provided accurate demographic information, along with the proper write-ups.

I sold my privacy for a pretty penny. In some cases, I later bought some nice hardware for my computer. Why should I give it away when it is seeked and compensated for fairly?

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (1)

strabes (1075839) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173621)

I did the same thing at CES in Las Vegas this year (because I live there). $10 cash for filling out a 50 question survey in 5 minutes.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 6 years ago | (#24174653)

Non Disclosure Agreement? I have no respect for such things. Not even my employer has any right to demand that I keep a secret - especially if one day I might be in court to testify about something that happened in the workplace. Phhht. NDA is meaningless.

Re: cheap dates (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24174953)

You gave away your privacy *AND* agreed to an NDA for a mere $75? WTF?

Personally I think you got screwed hard. But then again, I've been an AC since 2000. *shrug*

Re: cheap dates (1)

JoshJ (1009085) | more than 6 years ago | (#24175381)

If the question is something asinine like "coke vs pepsi" I'll gladly sign a $75 NDA not to tell anyone what question they asked me. It's not like it's an NDA about a substantive aspect of my life, which is what people tend to complain about- not being able to talk about the majority of their waking hours.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (1)

unlametheweak (1102159) | more than 6 years ago | (#24175999)

Fair enough. My privacy is worth more than $75.00 however, and even though I still struggle to pay the rent I do not do Air Miles or any other such privacy subtracting gimmicks. Self respect is more important than money to me. I suppose it's the same reason some people refuse to buy mutual funds that have tobacco companies in its portfolio.

And for the same reason I do not view Web pages that refuse to allow its content to be viewed without JavaScript, VBScript, Flash, cookies, etc to be set to the "On" position. Yeah I know with Slashdot session cookies are on, but that is by choice and not necessity. If games were open source like SlashCode then maybe I would buy some. I am and always will be reluctant to buy games (or anything) that have DRM in them. If they (game companies, etc) can't find a legit market for their products without DRM then these people should find another line of work. I don't support them and I don't support marketing companies. But hey, if people don't mind sharing their data with people then that's their choice. I choose to be choosy. I'll be one of those people whose data isn't mined, sold, traded or stolen from carelessly placed laptops. And yes, btw, did I tell you that even banks have been found to sell data without the knowledge or consent of their customers. It may not be a big deal to some people, but I'd rather not have some unscrupulous person knowing where I live.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (1)

Firehed (942385) | more than 6 years ago | (#24174337)

There is compensation, it's just not financial. In return for your playing habits data, you get future games that are better and patches that improve the game in question.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24174399)

"In return for your playing habits data, you get future games that are better and patches that improve the game in question."

So, in return for personal information players will get what they thought they were paying for in the first place?

Sorry, but that is a load of crap.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (1)

jythie (914043) | more than 6 years ago | (#24176327)

It is only a load of crap if hardware/software never change again and video games freeze in time, never to be improved again.

In which case we can also take away tech support (since customers think they game they paid for will magicly work on all hardware/software without glithes), we can take away commuity forums, ideas and suggestions, the whole thing.
 
No patches, no updates, no improvements, no sequals.
 
*headdesk*

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (1)

CyprusBlue113 (1294000) | more than 6 years ago | (#24174427)

I didn't specify financial compensation. Compensation is judged by the group receiving it, and the point of the OP was that there isn't any real viewed "worth" to the current offering of a polite thank you.

If you want something from your users, and you are not happy with the participation, then perhaps it isn't your users which are the problem, but instead the compensation that you are offering them for their time is not sufficient to motivate response.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (5, Informative)

I'll Provide The War (1045190) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173739)

Speaking from experience I can tell you that an "opt-in" program would never collect enough data to be useful.

Valve would disagree.

http://www.steampowered.com/status/survey.html [steampowered.com]
http://www.shacknews.com/onearticle.x/52707 [shacknews.com]

1,728,662 Steam users have voluntarily agreed to participate in their semi-annual hardware survey by having detailed specification of their PC hardware cataloged.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24173959)

Depends on the survey now doesn't it. If it's automatic and clear like the valve one, then yes, you'll get a lot of ok's (and by the way, the default option on the prompt, from what I remember, is to allow the survey).

A survey asking questions wouldn't get so many hits. Neither probably would a continuous data gathering about game play.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (2, Insightful)

HJED (1304957) | more than 6 years ago | (#24176945)

if it worked along the lines of Microsoft's 'customer improvement program' or whatever it is called for office and stuff it would probably work

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (3, Interesting)

0xygen (595606) | more than 6 years ago | (#24174497)

Glad you brought this up - I only dropped into this thread to point out the rather excellent Valve Hardware Survey.

The fact it is self-selecting does make it a shade biassed towards the high-end, but it is amusing to see the sheer amount of laptop hardware out there with Steam installed.

It is always funny to smirk at the glacial pace of Vista migration too.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (3, Interesting)

admdrew (782761) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173881)

Speaking from experience I can tell you that an "opt-in" program would never collect enough data to be useful.

Is data from over a million and a half samples [steampowered.com] not useful?

Seriously though, Steam's hardware survey is the first thing that came to mind when I saw this story. It's non-intrusive, it clearly asks you before sharing any information, and it keeps the summary information available for all to see. I probably wouldn't mind sharing technical information if it worked similarly to this.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (5, Funny)

basscomm (122302) | more than 6 years ago | (#24174989)

Is data from over a million and a half samples not useful?

Who's the wiseguy that sent in the half a sample?

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (1)

Mascot (120795) | more than 6 years ago | (#24174479)

Speaking from experience I can tell you that an "opt-in" program would never collect enough data to be useful.

Depends. Opt-in to be fed ads? Most likely you are correct. Opt-in as in the Steam hardware survey? Less clear.

I'm quite happy clicking "yes" on a question of whether I am willing to submit anonymous information about my hardware configuration. So are almost two million Steam users [steampowered.com] , apparently.

What I don't get is this article. Why is the submitter even making a connection between surveys/data collection, and DRM? They are utterly not related. You don't need to collect personal information to enforce crappy activation based DRM, and you don't need DRM to collect other types of information. These issues should be discussed separately.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (1)

game kid (805301) | more than 6 years ago | (#24176549)

Why is the submitter even making a connection between surveys/data collection, and DRM? They are utterly not related.

At least it'll get 'em a nice job in Congress [wikipedia.org] .

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (1)

klingens (147173) | more than 6 years ago | (#24174655)

Tell it to valve. They regularly run a hardware survey.
http://www.steampowered.com/status/survey.html [steampowered.com]

More than one million datapoints. That isn't enough to be useful for you?

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (1)

msimm (580077) | more than 6 years ago | (#24174685)

*cough* really? [steampowered.com] *cough*

I think short-signed reasoning like this is why businesses today abound with so much bad (stupid) behavior in the first place.

I'm not suggesting Steam is perfect (it is a DRM wrapper after all) but Valve, through Steam have implemented a rather simple and straight forward way to collect information by (and get this): asking for it. Revolutionary!

Just because it might be a little easier to automate (or hide) your data collecting policy doesn't mean it's the only (or right) way to do it. After all, *you're* asking for something of value. Don't you think the least you can do is pay *me* the respect of asking for it?

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (1)

Kattspya (994189) | more than 6 years ago | (#24174847)

Have you seen the valve hardware survey? Are you saying that 1.7 million data points is useless?

Remember that you said never without any qualifiers.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (0, Redundant)

Kattspya (994189) | more than 6 years ago | (#24174857)

Have you seen the valve hardware survey? Are you saying that 1.7 million data points is useless? Remember that you said never without any qualifiers.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (1)

unlametheweak (1102159) | more than 6 years ago | (#24175625)

I'd suggest an "opt-out" system along with restrictions on *what* data was sent.

Assumptions and so on...

I remember a few years back I read an anti-spam site that did some experiments with legit companies on their opt in and opt out email policies, etc and so on. A large percentage of these companies ended up ignoring their own rules (over 40 percent at least, I really can't remember, but it was a large number). To elaborate, the anti-spam site setup unique email addresses for each company they sent an email to, and thus monitored things like unsolicited spam that came through, and whether the company in question stopped sending them email when they "unsubscribed". There are many more examples, but I will leave it at that.

The point being is that you not only have to trust these companies, but these companies have to be trustworthy. I would argue that if a company has more than 10 employees then there will be at least some amount of anomy with it's employees and with the institution in general. If it's a BIG company like Apple for example, then psychopathic people like Steve Jobs have no problems with trying to fuck over their customers in order to increase their pecking order in the Billionaires club. I'm thinking specifically of the instance when Steve said he would no longer honour the life-long tech support that he promised to his Mac purchasers. IIRC, I think he said something like "fuck them" when one of his execs told him it would be a bad idea. Of course I could bring up M$ examples, but that would be too banal.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (1)

rocketPack (1255456) | more than 6 years ago | (#24174409)

Not only make it opt-in, but give the user the option to log what is being sent back to Big Brother for their own review. I always feel much more comfortable saying "Yes" when asked if I want to participate in such a program if they provide me an option like "View the report."

Guaranteed anonymity (whether by default or as an option) is also nice.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (1)

JoshJ (1009085) | more than 6 years ago | (#24175365)

Valve has something like this. They asked me to fill out a survey on my system specs at some point, though I can't remember which event exactly out of the whole Orange Box install/Steam signup triggered it.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (4, Insightful)

stevedcc (1000313) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173115)

I hate to say anything good about Steam, but this is one thing they get right - they simply ask.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (1)

Paradigm_Complex (968558) | more than 6 years ago | (#24174771)

They ask some things. I was never asked to have my gameplay in HL2:Ep2 monitored, for example.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (2, Interesting)

Splab (574204) | more than 6 years ago | (#24175613)

No not really.

If you for instance get invited into the community theres a big button telling you press here to enable this feature. No where does it explicitly tell you that hitting that button will add all sorts of tracking information to your account freely available to any one else - and no way of opting out again. (This might have changed after I pointed out to them that their practice was in fact illegal and I would take it up with local consumer agencies if they failed to remove this information for my account - I can't actually check that because their current method of removing your information is to ban your account from the steam community (no I'm not kidding))

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24173159)

from the smug tone of your post, i'm guessing you haven't actually tried this. i have; a uselessly small percentage of users will voluntarily share even the most generic and harmless information. out of a reasonably well-sized sample set (10k cases), less than a hundred people- that's less than 1%- voluntarily shared information such as what OS they're running...

the problem with relying on people to make decisions is that most people aren't very bright.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (4, Insightful)

LighterShadeOfBlack (1011407) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173225)

the problem with relying on people to make decisions is that people might not do what I want them to.

There. Fixed that for you.

And I don't consider that a problem. If such a small amount of people do say yes then all that's doing is clarifying how many people you're potentially pissing off by forcing such decisions on users. And to be perfectly honest if you word the question correctly and explain how it can help development I think you could get considerably more than 1% of users to accept. It would still probably be a very small proportion of users, but it should be enough to gather useful stats on the kind of information TFA claims developers want.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (1)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173553)

Additionally, if you want a higher percentage, give them an incentive to do so. Someone else suggested some type of drawing or sweepstakes amongst users that share information. Perhaps a coupon for a discount on your next product or for some related product like game controllers, etc. Sometimes even a newsletter with advance information on new games or other products is enough. Hell, some people will do it for a giveway that costs next to nothing like a squishy ball or an el-cheapo USB memory stick or a mouse pad or something.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (2, Interesting)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173775)

Game-related bonuses could be offered in exchange for the data. Additional network subscription time, screensaver images, free game area/map (selected from several which are sold, so identity of survey participants is hidden).

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (1)

j741 (788258) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173583)

...if you word the question correctly and explain how it can help development I think you could get considerably more than 1% of users to accept.

Also, when choosing the wording carefully when asking the user for data collection permission, make it have "yes, I want to allow this" as the default choice button. After all, most users don't pay much attention and just click on 'next..next..yes..yes..next' when installing software anyways.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (2, Funny)

Free the Cowards (1280296) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173871)

While we're talking about opt-in and opt-out systems, how about a preferences system for Slashdot which allows you to decide whether you'll allow morons to post mangled quotes of your posts followed by inane phrases like "fixed that for you"? There could be three options: "no", "yes", and "yes, as long as he acknowledges that by doing this he is a complete asshole."

Good Times (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24173923)

"which allows you to decide whether you'll allow morons like me to post in the first place

There. Fixed that for you.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (4, Funny)

morari (1080535) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173925)

I like it when my quotes are used out of context!

There, fixed that for you.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (1)

StikyPad (445176) | more than 6 years ago | (#24174563)

I'm pretty sure wanting DRM for your off the cuff remarks falls more clearly into the category of asshole than does satire.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (1)

Free the Cowards (1280296) | more than 6 years ago | (#24174619)

I think you're confused. My post was the one with the satire. The one I replied to was just being an asshole.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24173905)

And to be perfectly honest if you word the question correctly and explain how it can help development I hope people are smart enough to realize that they would benefit and relent

this has been tried. as has providing users with incentives, as has explaining the various benefits to users, as has "gaming" the users by providing them with a "make this my default" option.

you're an idealist, and you've obviously never tried this with people who buy commercial software (the free software crowd is much smarter, and as such recognizes the benefits). i used to believe that john q. public was smart enough to understand the benefits- especially if the benefits were clearly outlined and had a monetary/commercial incentive- but that's just not the case. i'm speaking from years of experience- call me when you've actually tried this, and have something more to talk about than unfounded theory.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (1)

Escogido (884359) | more than 6 years ago | (#24174329)

It however is a problem, somewhat of a different kind. If you want to collect some stats, you're interested in as representative a subset as possible. The fact that someone has to explicitly express their content to be taken into account means there's a bias being introduced, since these people are not exactly representative of the whole field.

With surveys (as opposed to automatic data collection) it becomes even worse since people tend to say what they believe they are/do or want to rather than truth. To use an example someone gave in the thread, if they believe 5-10 minutes of their are worth more than $10, they will be filtered from this survey. There are ways to combat this, such as taking distribution across gender/age/whatever categories, but it's still subjective - and in this regard data collected automatically is objective and therefore worth much more.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (3, Insightful)

Zarhan (415465) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173229)

Remedy:

    Promise that amongst everyone who shares their system info, once a week/month/year someone wins a prize (no need to ask delivery info in advance, just that "If you win, you'll be notified via this program and then asked to enter delivery address"). The price can be anything cheap and token-ish (eg. in games, some bonus freebie item), as long as there's something.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (1)

aaaaaaargh! (1150173) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173233)

People don't want to share information with you, and your response is that they aren't very bright.

Perhaps you (and the game developers this thread is about) should take the wishes of their customers more seriously, no matter whether they appear to be rational, smart or neither of that.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (1)

AndGodSed (968378) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173711)

Come again? I didn't get that last part...

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24174155)

Well then, the public has spoken. They don't want to give ANY information to you snoopy grab-asses.

And based on how personal information has been abused in the past, I don't blame them.

Re:How about *asking* the user if they want to sha (2, Insightful)

bconway (63464) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173947)

The problem with an opt-in approach is that you'll only hear from the vocal minority. Most of the time, that's the *worst* demographic to make decisions based on. Blizzard has done an excellent job of not falling into that trap as compared to, say, SOE.

Does Steam do this right? (2, Insightful)

Jonah Hex (651948) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173079)

I recall seeing detailed info collected from the new Team Fortress on what classes were selected, "heat maps" of death locations, etc. Looked to me like it was all valuable info, especially for the game and map developers. I know Steam keeps a backend connection going, and it seems like this data could be really useful. While I'm definitely against collecting personal data, the aggregate stuff should be just fine from a privacy standpoint.

Jonah HEX

Re:Does Steam do this right? (1)

Paradigm_Complex (968558) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173257)

What steam is doing should be opt-in. It may be useful, sure, but it should not be a requisite in addition to cost.

Re:Does Steam do this right? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24173261)

Not only that, but I know in TFC it even recorded data like what areas of the map people used most often.

Valve collects A LOT of gameplay data about its customers that they don't even realize.

Re:Does Steam do this right? (1)

overkill1024 (1016283) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173305)

I was just about to comment on that. Not only do they collect it but they have a page for it [steampowered.com] albeit a simplified one. I wouldn't expect Valve to collect personal data, implement in-game advertisement or the like, especially with private servers, but it's always a concern in the era of online games. Though it's not fair to single out data mining in games when it's a common practice when dealing with internet. All you can do is keep your tinfoil hat handy whenever you start to secrete personal information.

Re:Does Steam do this right? (1)

VGPowerlord (621254) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173609)

"I wouldn't expect Valve to collect personal data, implement in-game advertisement or the like, especially with private servers, but it's always a concern in the era of online games."

Not up on your history, I take it?

"Valve Pens In-Game Ad Deal for Counter-Strike [slashdot.org] " from right here on /. !

Re:Does Steam do this right? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24174377)

I've yet to see anything ad-like during gameplay in a CS game. The closest thing I've seen to ads is server operators asking for contributions in return for guaranteed slots. And I see that on a lot of games now.

What I have not seen is anything that resembles commercial advertising inserted by Valve.

Re:Does Steam do this right? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24173751)

Steam/Valve gather information in two different ways.

One is an automatic survey where they say "We would you like to send information about your computer at this time to Valve, Is that ok with you?" - it even lets you see what data they are sending.

The other information such as those heatmaps/wins per team/etc are all generated by data sent from the game servers to the 'master servers' at valve. Clients connect to the game servers, the game servers connect to valve (to check the players steam credentials/send stats information).

Opt-Out and Aggregation (2, Interesting)

theskunkmonkey (839144) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173081)

I have no problem with software collecting data that is aggregated and not kept in an individually identifiable format.

There should also be a way to opt-out with no negative repercussions (feature disabling).

Those two simple guarantees and I'm comfortable. The problem is I don't trust a corporation to be honest and forthright with the handling of customer data.

Valve & Steam (1)

Tanmi-Daiow (802793) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173097)

I think that it is good, from a developer's and user's point of view. Look at Valve and Steam. [steampowered.com] They use data collected from their games to improve the multiplayer experience.

Just Ask (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24173101)

Seriously? Ask us first. Tell your users exactly - EXACTLY - what's being monitored, and 98% of the problem goes away. Users are sick and damn tired of being misled and lied to about stuff like this for our own good.

Maybe from the Developer's perspective having an intrusive all-seeing eye installed on everyone's computer which either can't be turned off or only via a default-selected checkbox in the disused lavatory tab of the options menu sounds like a good idea, but to anyone else it really doesn't. Don't do it.

Be honest with your users or they'll hate you whatever you do.

Better games but no counterintelligence? (2, Insightful)

tjstork (137384) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173139)

You know, I'm not a big fan of cops, but it never ceases to amaze me, how software engineers on ./ rant and rave about everyone collecting information on other people, but make every exception for themselves.

IF civil rights is that important, that you want to go on and rail about Obama's FISA betrayal and horridly fill out online donations to the ACLU over the idea of your government collecting information to aid in counter-intelligence against not only the "terrohistas", but also the Chinese, Europeans and anyone else who might have their information collected by their governments, then that's worthy.

But, I would like to know, what exactly about a video game, shopping experience or some other fluffy adventure that entitles you as a software developer to violate people's rights to privacy, for your own ends, when you would deny that same efficiency to everyone else? You aren't elected to represent anyone, but our government is.

Re:Better games but no counterintelligence? (2, Insightful)

JeffSh (71237) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173243)

I think you may be stereotyping inappropriately. AMong developers, there is no doubt a schism of ideals over this issue as there is every other issue.

It looks as though you are saying that ALL developers are against collecting data on users and you are wondering why, then, that they are willing to write code that collects data.. So you are calling all software developers hypocrites.

I think that's rather short sighted. Surely not every software developer feels that data acquisition is immoral. Surely not every developer comes to slashdot and "Rants and raves" about data acquisition... There's obviously a large set of coders who are completely comfortable with writing this code and are not hypocrites.

Moreover, it's not the coders who set this agenda, it's executives. It's conceivable that a project manager could modularize the code enough and dispatch it to teams of coders in Mumbai where they don't have a clue what they are writing.

Re:Better games but no counterintelligence? (2, Insightful)

rhizome (115711) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173845)

But, I would like to know, what exactly about a video game, shopping experience or some other fluffy adventure that entitles you as a software developer to violate people's rights to privacy, for your own ends, when you would deny that same efficiency to everyone else?

Can we start with not being able to put anybody in jail, torture, or ruin their reputation and/or credit rating? The corridors of societal power are a completely different context than game company marketing and conflating the two is just lazy thinking.

Re:Better games but no counterintelligence? (1)

Forbman (794277) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173949)

What would I store as a developer?
1) program ID, not associated with IP address or any other registration database. Hash it if need be before I collect it if my company insists on some form of registration database so I don't get involved with Legal's problems.
2) other usage stuff involving ONLY the game.
3) *maybe* some hardware and OS info. (OS version & patch level, ActiveX version & patch level, what settings user is playing on).
4) relevant game info - maps preferred, settings, etc., that can't be duplicated by my play testers or development testing.
5) any instances of the game barfing, with the option to send significant debugging info, or just the incident and basic info surrounding it (like where in the game, level, position, etc.), or even nothing.

Re:Better games but no counterintelligence? (1)

Paradigm_Complex (968558) | more than 6 years ago | (#24174917)

But, I would like to know, what exactly about a video game, shopping experience or some other fluffy adventure that entitles you as a software developer to violate people's rights to privacy, for your own ends, when you would deny that same efficiency to everyone else?

Oh, that's an easy one: It doesn't violate my rights as a developer to put that stuff in my software that you use. Even if I do use the software I honestly don't mind that my own information that I personally okayed is being forwarded back to me. Similarly I don't think telcos have a problem with Obama's FISA betrayal, but they'll feel free to bitch and moan about having their data collected by a game. There are actually people out there who aren't quite so stupid and realize that even if this instance doesn't hurt them, it helps the trend towards something they wouldn't want. Most people aren't quite that bright. Long term thinking is hard.

It's simple (2, Interesting)

santix (1234354) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173169)

Data collection should be considered intrusive unless the user is warned beforehand and/or has the option to disable it.

A good example is popularity-contest [debian.org] in Debian and I think it was Winamp that also asked if you wanted to let it send anonymous statistics.

Re:It's simple (1)

The End Of Days (1243248) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173595)

Data collection should be considered intrusive to me if I decide it's intrusive. Your standards have nothing to do with it. Period.

I'm fully capable of making my own decisions.

Re:It's simple (2, Insightful)

maxume (22995) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173977)

That's what he said. He meant that developers should respect that people are capable of making their own decisions and offer them the chance to do so.

Re:It's simple (1)

santix (1234354) | more than 6 years ago | (#24174031)

Correct, I meant that.

The point is, if you don't know your data is being collected you cannot tell if it's intrusive or not...

Re:It's simple (1)

jtev (133871) | more than 6 years ago | (#24174023)

AS A DEVELOPER data collection should be considered obtrusive. As a CUSTOMER you can make your own choices. It's not THAT hard to understand the difference. What this means is that when writing software, you should warn about it, but your customers are big boys, and if they are Ok with the data being collected, great.

It's all about reliable providers... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24173185)

I get my games from The Pirate Bay. They're far more likely to be spyware-free than the stuff you can find in stores!

This is already being done... (3, Insightful)

Manatra (948767) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173355)

Valve already does monitoring with their games, and I don't think anyone complains about it. For example, I know in Team Fortress 2 they keep track of which team wins the most, where people die the most, how heavily certain classes are used, etc.

Re:This is already being done... (1)

Paradigm_Complex (968558) | more than 6 years ago | (#24174817)

I complain about it. I don't think enough people complaint about it. I don't think enough people even know about it. Many of the specific things Valve collects without asking I would not have minded if they'd have asked. What worries me is, knowing it's okay to do this much without asking, having the acceptable limits slowly shrink.

Average Specs From Non Average Sampling (1, Insightful)

nick_davison (217681) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173357)

Clearly, some aspects of games could be improved by having a better knowledge of average PC specs

PopCap's tracking of casual gamers says the average system has a fourteen year old Intel integrated graphic chipset and runs Windows 3.1. This completely confirm's PopCap's choice to go after low end systems.

Crytek's tracking of Crysis players says the average system has eleventy billion GeForce 14000s in SLi mode and eight quad core processors, running 64bit Vista. This completely confirm's Crytek's choice to only worry about high end systems.

Alternatively, when you're testing something that your product already has a barrier of entry for (or targets people who can't make any other barrier of entry), you're going to get people who match the choice you made as opposed to any legitimate indicator of average specs.

Much as I appreciate their doing it, w3schools [w3schools.com] have the same issue with their browser specs... If you target the dev community, your logs are generally going to show a significant swaying towards newer, more interesting browsers. That you find there aren't many sheep still on whatever Microsoft gives them tells you more about your own users than the "average" web user.

In other news, the Republicans asked everone attending their national conference if global warming mattered and discovered the average American really didn't care that much if it interfered with business. This was a shock to the Green Party who sampled their audience attendees and discovered there was nothing more important to the average American.

Re:Average Specs From Non Average Sampling (1)

Drantin (569921) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173599)

Well, at least if you scroll down on the w3schools page they come right out and tell you that the statistics are off because of their target demographics...

Re:Average Specs From Non Average Sampling (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 6 years ago | (#24174615)

It's the same for distrowatch, they just announced that Ubuntu dropped in the ranks, but it's because the user agent for the default browser changed, and they tell you repeatedly that's all the stats are based on, and it's obvious their sample is skewed.

With that said, you can learn useful things from these surveys in two ways. First you can learn surprising things about your target audience. Second if you have games in different genres you learn about gamers in different genres, people are acting like these companies make one game. Further, the information is shared (even if only at the folk level) and everyone learns more about the customer base.

There are of course primarily two business models in the world. The first one is "It is possible to screw that guy out of some money, so I will figure out how to do so." For example, I used to have a Homelite string trimmer. The primer bulb went out. Homelite got it as part of a package probably, with the Walbro carburetor. Sears wanted $40 for it (I had to pay shipping! Doesn't Sears own their own fleet?) and I ended up getting the OEM part in a retail box for $5 up the highway a bit. The other business model, though, is "What can I do to deliver a better product so people will give me money voluntarily?" Note that many businesses combine the two, but my point is that not every game company is working on the "screw you over" model.

With that said, those who are not trying to bone you should A) ask for your permission before collecting any data not required to make the software you purchased operate correctly (and by "correctly" I don't mean "secretly reading all your most private files" - that's really a trojan after all) and B) absolutely never record the data in such a way that it can be traced back to a particular user without C) asking your your permission some more.

Those who don't ask are dicks, and you should return the game if possible, and complain about not being able to return it loudly so that others will know and avoid it otherwise.

They don't know where to draw the line (2, Interesting)

HalAtWork (926717) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173367)

They don't know where to draw the line already with invasive DRM that locks us out of our own games. Why would it be any different with private data collection?

Easy answer. (4, Insightful)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173379)

What can game developers do to prove that the collection techniques or the data themselves wouldn't be abused?

That's easy. Just give me a checkboxed list of all the data items from my computer that you propose to send to your server. Then provide an "UNCHECK ALL" button so I can still maintain my privacy.

I'll tell you what I find entertaining (1)

philspear (1142299) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173623)

If there was a way to capture all the neural activity of those gamers and have detailed charts of emotional states and thought processes, that would be just fantastic. .Some industries already attempt this. People have shown different adverts to people whilst inside MRI scanners. It's not science fiction.

What I would find entertaining is seeing marketing types trying to figure out the MRI data.

"So when we showed them the ad where the kid drinks Coke and smiles, this part lit up, so maybe that's the part of the brain that likes Coke?"

Now there's someone that doesn't get it. (3, Insightful)

Animats (122034) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173735)

That game developer has no clue about privacy.

First, if the game has online registration, that's the one time to collect, with the user's permission and knowledge, basic system configuration info. That's useful to have if they call for support. It doesn't require a continuous connection to a server.

Second, if more data is required for game tuning, that's what play testers are for. Or free beta users. It's reasonable to have a free beta that sends back play data, if the developer is up front about it. It's not reasonable to have it in a paid product.

Third, if you can't meet basic EU privacy regulations, your market is much smaller.

Online play changes things. (2, Insightful)

SlimSpida (850632) | more than 6 years ago | (#24174331)

It is reasonable to have it in a multi-player game where players are logged into a central online service. Ladders and ranked play require some transmission of game statistics to function at all. Since we require a mechanism to transmit that data, we can gain a lot by extending it to capture detailed game statistics as well. The types of games that require public betas are usually online multi-player games that fit the above criteria, and the need to continue monitoring that data won't go away once the game ships. I'm not sure of a scenario where a developer would publicly beta a game that wasn't an online title, so I'm not sure where your above mentioned scenario fits in the real world.

get a fscking clue... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24173937)

i would be more then willing to give you my info, if i was given something in return, even if its a chance to win something really big.

carrot and a stick people, carrot and stick! say it with me, incentives!

if it's really that important to get info about peoples systems then offer a huge jackpot prize to people that register, like a kick ass gaming rig, or lifetime free play, or free beverages for a year, etc.

and to make the process as clear and transparent as possible, it would be best to show in plaintext what is being sent.

an option for the more paranoid allowing them to cut and paste the info into an email message would probably salve 99% of peoples worries. for the less paranoid and lazy a simple send button could be placed on the window.

Make data harvesting a feature, not a bug. (3, Insightful)

pushing-robot (1037830) | more than 6 years ago | (#24173979)

Companies like Valve and Microsoft have already adopted this mentality — they don't just capture information about how you play the game, they store it in an online profile, and let you unlock achievements, compare your data with others, or view a chart of your own scores to monitor your improvement.

Ironically, by making this kind of data public, you'll cause players to start putting less value on their own privacy. It's the Alcoholics Anonymous effect in action — when other people disclose private information, you're more likely to disclose private information too.

Of course, this doesn't mean that you as a developer should be collecting any sort of truly private data. If you can't explain to players in detail what data you're getting and why you want it, you shouldn't be collecting it.

Also, provide a simple way for players to provide spur-of-the-moment feedback on your game. For example, add a simple text box to the game's pause screen that lets users zip off a note to the game developers, along with data about where they are in the game and their current status. I can think of a hundred times when I would have given the developer feedback but was stymied by the hassle of finding the proper web site, setting up an account, explaining the situation in detail and not even knowing that anyone on the development team actually read the message boards. A quick message system built in to the game would be much handier to players, would collect raw off-the-cuff impressions, and best of all, would be entirely opt-in.

That process already exist - it's called Beta (3, Insightful)

koutkeu (655921) | more than 6 years ago | (#24174039)

Instead of trying to transform the gamers community into labs rats in order to find new ways of selling us more crappy half finished entertainment (games in this case), try to focus on creativity and innovation.

How many crappy games are released today because they are unfinished, bugged and unplayable? Of course data mining is the better economic plan since it allows to collect money by releasing the game early and pretend you care about your customer base instead of beta testing your product (This actually cost more money and delays the production cycle).

Data mining is flawed: It collects data about what we like. The result is a massive amoung of clone games with very little creativity other than mind blowing GFX. Focus on something new instead, something we havent seen yet, something original, something that will be a surprise instead of the version 65 of a "well selling title".

Beta test your product, (data mining isnt a cheap way of doing it) Ask for feedback if you like (There is plenty of discution forums the gamers will be happy to contribute). Funny part about this, most gamers have the impression you never read those since you rarely answer them, yet you pretend you want to collect data using a sneaky method while you ignoring most of our suggestions/feedback on discussion boards. Makes me wonder about your real motives ... Make more money with lower costs and very little concern about your product other than if it will sell.

Don't be evil. (3, Insightful)

Entropius (188861) | more than 6 years ago | (#24174287)

We have lots of cases where companies have collected this information and then done Evil Things with it, so people are reluctant to provide it.

So --

-- stop being evil. Start using information only for benign purposes, and then people will trust you in time. ... in time. You screw people over, you have to *stop* screwing them over first, and only then figure out how to regain their trust.

Pine "collects data" but isn't evil or obnoxious (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24174533)

Seriously, pine's been prompting users to send in an "I started using pine" email for years now and never once have they accidentally installed a trojan that monitors the user's process list and reports back on programs run and websites visted for the next decade.

There's just no comparison between innocent prompting for user feedback and DRM "enforcement" daemons. If you want info from your users, make it opt in, anonymized, limited to necessary data, and *not affect the user's rights or experience at all.*

Collecting aggregate data on the most popular menu items clicked, with the user's permission: OK. Disabling the user's install and banning their credit card from your system because they loaded a 3rd party menu widget that your program secretly patrols for: NOT OK.

Thank ESET (2, Interesting)

Xelios (822510) | more than 6 years ago | (#24174555)

The 40 EUR I spent on ESET's Smart Security package is probably the best money I've spent on software in the last 5 years. First time I started up Mass Effect I was greeted with a warning from the ESET firewall about the game trying to access my internet connection. Check "Make a rule", click "Deny". Problem solved.

As for how companies should approach information gathering, I'm with most everyone else here. Simply explain to the users exactly what information is being collected and give them the option to opt out. I say exactly because a lot of it depends on how you ask. If I'm greeted with a simple question like "Allow Mass Effect to send anonymous usage statistics to Bioware?" I'll probably click no, because I have no idea what "anonymous usage statistics" entails. Ask the same question and give me a list of exactly what information will be sent out, how often and to where, then I'll be more inclined to agree to it. Best case scenario, actually show me the information being sent and let me click the send button. Just don't do it so often.

Companies think they have to sneak this phone home stuff in because people don't like it, they don't realise that most people don't like it precisely because they try to sneak it in. The rest just don't like it at all, so let them opt out. Everyone's happy.

One small step (4, Interesting)

frovingslosh (582462) | more than 6 years ago | (#24174581)

Years ago I wrote an adventure type game for the 8 bit North Star Horizon. Very few copies were ever distributed. I was rather surprised years later when I move to another state, logged into a public BBS (this was pre-Internet) and found that the game was running as an option on that BBS. I contacted the sysop and introduced myself. And I ended up making a lot of changes to the code, streamlining it and expanding the game. In the process, one of the things that I did was to simply log all of the things that players typed in that the parser rejected. That allowed me to adjust the game for a few things that I had not expected users to try, and even spot a few repeated spelling errors, so that the game could give out spelling advice.

Echoing through the cave, you hear a voice in the distance call out "I before E except after C".

Independent 3rd Party (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24175459)

How about the gaming industry collaborate on the creation of an independent 3rd party to be the one to collect the data and sanitize it so individuals cannot be tracked?

WHAT info collected, WHY collected. AnswerTHAT, OK (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24175557)

The problem is with "secret laws", as the comrades of the soviet union called 'em:

When you don't know what's being enforced, you have less than no rights.

When you know what the laws are, and why they are, THEN you have rights.

When asking a software-user, say every half year, would you accept sending this anonymized information:
What CPU ( tells us how to make it compatible with the machines our software's users have )
What OS ( tells us how to make it compatible with the machines our software's users have )
What parts of the program you get stuck in ( tells us what to fix or make better )
What parts of the program you most frequently use ( tells us what we've done right, and have to keep ) ...

Before sending, here's the template of the info being sent:
[./] CPU: M3
[./] OS: Windows 3.0
[other-checkmarks] -other-things-

If you don't want us to know our customers' conditions, for any individual, or for all, uncheck the ones you want us to not know ...
Final Copy
"CPU: M3
OS: Windows 3.0 ... ..."
[Send]

Most people don't have a problem with that.

That isn't the method of enforcement that is normal.

Methods matter.

( most would say murder is "satan"s method,
and giving-life is "god"s method, e.g.
and would have a preference for one or the other of the givers.

Emulate one, get the response appropriate to that one.
Emulate the other, get the response appropriate to that other one.

How can this be difficult to understand? )

two points. (1)

DragonTHC (208439) | more than 6 years ago | (#24175649)

1.) knowing my specs isn't going to help your developers if the game is already built and I've bought and installed it.

2.) steam did it right. Their hardware survey provides the largest current dataset of gamer computers. It helps developers before they build their games.

we already know that left4dead is going to run like butter on most systems because valve knew what their customer base was using before they started building the game.

other developers should take notes from valve.

Actually there are only 3 important things (2, Insightful)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 6 years ago | (#24175899)

1. Ask. Simple as that. Ask. Don't just go "and now we'll transfer your demographics to our maker, hit ok", or don't say a thing altogether. People love the feeling of being in control. And they will much more readily provide you with information if you take the time to tell them what you need it for, i.e. making the product more suitable for your customers.

2. Let me review the information before it is sent. Let me see just what information you want from me. I'm uneasy when I'm asked to let a program gather information from my computer and send it to you. Let me see what information you want, if you want to be sure I let it pass, give me a reason why you want information aside of my hardware specs, because I can't see how my name, the number or ID of connected machines or the directory structure of my hard drive(s) could possibly help you develop a better game.

3. Don't wrap it in legalese junk. KISS is the key here. If you want to cram license agreements down my throat that require me to get a law degree and read for three hours, I will not send you any information whatsoever. State that the information is going to be used anonymously, that you will not store the IP address it was sent from, that you won't bombard my mailbox with junkmail and that you will not distribute the information. After all, you only want it to improve the games you make, right? So it should be no problem for you.

You can without a problem do all this as part of your installation routine, completely automatized, and if someone doesn't care about any of those things he can easily bypass the agreement, the list of information gathered and the terms of usage for the data collected. If he cares about it, he can read it.

Where's the problem with that?

Why is this hard? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24176705)

Give the user something related to the system. Not cash, just in-game, directly applicable value: achievements, badges, abilities, unlocked quests or levels or weapons, entry to a "private" forum, access to developer Q&A's... whatever is appropriate to your users.

Keep it absolutely honest, and never, ever let the salesmen touch it. Ever. Customer trust betrayed once is gone forever.

"To make a better game" does nothing for the individual user, and DRM actually takes things away from the user. People want to like the game: give them reasons.

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