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PC Games (Games)

Data Harvesting From a Developer's Perspective 130

Posted by Soulskill
from the line-in-the-sand dept.
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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Data Harvesting From a Developer's Perspective

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  • "some amount data"
    And /. stories get some amount proofreading.
  • Shockingly, new studies suggest that people may be able to make decisions all by themselves without a company or a government or anything!

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Adreno (1320303)
      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.
      • by MrNaz (730548) on Sunday July 13, 2008 @12:52PM (#24173331) Homepage

        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: (Score:2, Insightful)

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

          • by Creepy Crawler (680178) on Sunday July 13, 2008 @01:21PM (#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?

            • by strabes (1075839)
              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.
            • 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.
              • by John Hasler (414242) on Sunday July 13, 2008 @11:43PM (#24177429) Homepage

                > Not even my employer has any right to demand that I keep a secret

                No one can demand that you keep a secret: you can decline when they offer to pay you money to do so.

                > ...especially if one day I might be in court to testify about something that happened
                > in the workplace.

                No contract keep you from answering any questions you are ordered by a court to answer nor can it penalize you for doing so.

                > NDA is meaningless.

                A properly drafted and executed NDA is an enforceable contract.

              • Whatever.

                The NDA only lasted a year, and consisted of their questions and my opinion about said product.

                The NDA only realistically covered a whole 1 hour. I got paid 75$ for not talking about a hour, while getting free product.

                They get the market research they need, I get free product and money. They only said not to discuss about it for 1 year. Fair terms.

            • 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" posi

          • by Firehed (942385)

            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.

            • 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.

        • by I'll Provide The War (1045190) on Sunday July 13, 2008 @01:43PM (#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: (Score:1, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            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: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by HJED (1304957)
              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
          • by 0xygen (595606) on Sunday July 13, 2008 @03:24PM (#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.

        • by admdrew (782761) on Sunday July 13, 2008 @02:03PM (#24173881) Homepage

          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.

        • by Mascot (120795)

          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

          • by game kid (805301)

            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].

        • by klingens (147173)

          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?

        • by msimm (580077)
          *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
        • by Kattspya (994189)
          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.
        • 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 whet

        • by Chyeld (713439)
          Also speaking from experience, albeit the experience of someone who was surveyed, it seems to have worked for Valve [steampowered.com]. Perhaps you just aren't providing the correct presentation/incentive for your survey if you aren't getting enough opt-in to recover useful data.
      • 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.

      • by JoshJ (1009085)
        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.
    • by stevedcc (1000313) * on Sunday July 13, 2008 @12:25PM (#24173115)
      I hate to say anything good about Steam, but this is one thing they get right - they simply ask.
      • They ask some things. I was never asked to have my gameplay in HL2:Ep2 monitored, for example.
        • by Jellybob (597204)

          Do you honestly care?

          Lets face it, how long it took you to finish the middle section of HL2:Ep2, and what percentage of the time you were using a shotgun are hardly highly private information you wouldn't want anyone to see.

          I'm of the opinion that if it really is just game play data, then the company is welcome to it. Bungee have got some real impressive stats for Halo 3, which I'm sure have led to some rebalancing to improve the game.

          However, if it's actual real world information, then I want to be asked f

          • Yes,I honestly care. I care that they didn't ask. I don't care about the specific things that were monitored. I worry that, knowing it's okay to spy on me here without asking, they'll slowly start gathering more and more personal information until they finally do take things I wouldn't want to spread around. So long as I am asked, and have the ability to say "that's going too far," I'd be happy. If you just give them a carte blanche someone will abuse it eventually.
            • by Jellybob (597204)

              If this was the government we were talking about, then I'd share your opinion, but I think people still need to have a bit of perspective.

              Valve have no data that goes beyond your taste in games, and how you play them, other then the name and address on your credit card.

              If they were to sell or give that to another company without your permission, then Visa and Mastercard would be less then happy, and they have the right to demand an audit of Valve's code at any time.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Splab (574204)

        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 m

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bconway (63464)

      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.

      • by zoward (188110)

        Blizzard has done an excellent job of not falling into that trap as compared to, say, SOE.

        Well ... I'm not sure what you mean by "Blizzard has done an excellent job of ...", but a number of months ago, my WoW client, which I run under WINE, started crashing right after an update. I went to their forums to discover that many others running it under WINE were crashing after the latest update. Blizzard's rep basically toted the company line that they don't support running WoW under anything other than Windows and Macintosh. Fair enough.

        After poking around for while, I discovered t

  • by Jonah Hex (651948) <hexdotms@nOspAM.gmail.com> on Sunday July 13, 2008 @12:23PM (#24173079) Homepage Journal
    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
    • What steam is doing should be opt-in. It may be useful, sure, but it should not be a requisite in addition to cost.
    • 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: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      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/s

  • 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.

  • 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 (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 13, 2008 @12:24PM (#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.

  • 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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by JeffSh (71237)

      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 eve

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rhizome (115711)

      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

    • by Forbman (794277)

      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 b

    • 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

  • It's simple (Score:2, Interesting)

    by santix (1234354)
    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.
    • 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: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by maxume (22995)

        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.

        • by santix (1234354)
          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...
      • by jtev (133871)
        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.
  • by Manatra (948767) on Sunday July 13, 2008 @12:55PM (#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.
    • 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.
  • 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 a

    • by Drantin (569921) *

      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...

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        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 thes

  • by HalAtWork (926717) on Sunday July 13, 2008 @12:56PM (#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. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ScrewMaster (602015) on Sunday July 13, 2008 @12:57PM (#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.
  • 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

  • by Animats (122034) on Sunday July 13, 2008 @01:43PM (#24173735) Homepage

    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.

    • 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 ga
  • by pushing-robot (1037830) on Sunday July 13, 2008 @02:17PM (#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.

  • by koutkeu (655921) on Sunday July 13, 2008 @02:26PM (#24174039) Homepage
    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. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Entropius (188861) on Sunday July 13, 2008 @02:58PM (#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.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    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.

  • Thank ESET (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Xelios (822510) on Sunday July 13, 2008 @03:30PM (#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.
    • by IBBoard (1128019)

      Check "Make a rule", click "Deny". Problem solved.

      The problem then is that developers (or publishers forcing developers) just go "Check for phone-home response. Not got one? Don't start." The majority of companies wouldn't see a problem with it either, as long as the box says "requires an internet connection".

      I am always slightly confused as to how these companies think it is a good idea, though. Surely it's a normal human reaction to not trust an unknown disclosure? And surely the people making the decisio

  • One small step (Score:5, Interesting)

    by frovingslosh (582462) on Sunday July 13, 2008 @03:32PM (#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".

  • 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.

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Sunday July 13, 2008 @06:56PM (#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?

  • I don't see a problem if the developer can creatively work the survey into the game. Like, in order to cross some bridge, some bridge keeper asks you a series of questions or you die...
  • it already done good in value software's steam and posted to the internet.
  • 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.

    Better knowledge of PC specs? How about a nice and simple plain English "can we send your processor speed, amount of memory and graphics card model to ourselves along with no other data so we can work out how powerful a computer people run the game on?". It tells you exactly what they're doing and why, and as a one-off process (with an optio

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