Playtomic, analysis and you.

28 posts

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Hey guys,

I was wondering if we could open up a bit of discussion about game analysis and further metrics that can be gained to both improve game performance as well as gameplay.

I refer obviously to libraries and API’s such as Playtomic, which allows for simple integration, and sends events to a server to be recorded for later reporting. I guess what I’m really wondering is if this is something that the majority of game developers think about?

In my current job, I’ve been tasked with creating a library which allows for highly customized analysis within a Flash background. Whilst it’s not based within gaming, I’m curious as to what the lie of the land is like for the games sector. I am at heart a game developer, so would love to know what some other like minded individuals or groups have to say on the subject.

Thanks.

 
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I realize that you might not be in the position to decide whether users can opt out of being monitored while playing your employer’s flash game, but please make sure users are informed of the fact.

Privacy is becoming a bigger and bigger deal as internet usage continues to climb, and too many companies just ignore the fact that their behaviour would be completely unacceptable in other contexts.

(Imagine a built-in camera in your car, meant to record you as you drive to “collect data for future car design”, with the car manufacturer keeping this a secret).

 
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There is a name for software that collects information about users without their knowledge or consent: Spyware. ’Nuff said.

 
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Originally posted by Ace_Blue:

There is a name for software that collects information about users without their knowledge or consent: Spyware. ’Nuff said.

I think Spyware is usually a term reserved to software that installs itself onto your computer in some way (often bundled with other software) to do something malicious outside the domain of the software you installed (such as changing your default search engine in your browser). Collecting data inside your own app is usually not called spyware.

 
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You’re confused, let’s clarify. Any software that breaches its users’ privacy qualifies as spyware, regardless of who installed it on the machine. The collection and reporting of user data without the user’s knowledge or consent is a breach of privacy. Collection alone is not sufficient. and reporting with the user’s consent is fine as well. Some malware changes user settings in addition to spying on the user, but the term spyware is by no means exclusive of other descriptors: a program can be both adware and spyware, for instance.

Case in point, the playtomic API collects user data and reports it to the playtomic website. It does so as part of the normal function of a video game. The user of said game is not informed about this collection and reporting, and has no say in it. If this is not a textbook definition of spyware I don’t know what is.

Edit: VVV Care to expand? Either we’re not visiting the same websites at all or you’re talking about something else entirely.

 
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Under that definition almost all websites in existence qualifies as spyware. :/

 
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Spyware is more usually considered to collect data outside of its relevance. A game reporting play stats/achievements, or a text editor reporting spellchecker overides….is not what I’d call spyware, spyware’d spy on sites you visit, searches you make….and in extreme cases, credit card numbers.

 
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Again, no. What kind of data is reported is irrelevant. What matters is that 1) there is a report to an external entity and 2) this reporting is done without the knowledge or consent of the owner of these data, you, the user.

The difference between the Kong API (reports game information to Kongregate, such as high scores and badge requirements fulfilled) and the Playtomic API (reports game information to Playtomic, possibly high scores and badge requirements fulfilled) is that in the first case the operation happens with the knowledge and consent of the user, while in the second case it doesn’t.

Just because users of Kong agree to share some of their gaming data with Kong without compensation doesn’t mean that such information is either public or worthless, and it certainly doesn’t give Playtomic or anyone else the right to collect this or similar information without informing the user.

The parasitic aspect (they’re using your processor and your internet connection to collect your data for themselves) doesn’t even come into play.

 
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But that argument falls foul of Drakims point. Websites are not considered spyware, regardless of the usual lack of knowledge of data collected. Besides, playtomic isn’t a secret…isn’t it up to the makers of individual games to let people know they use playtomic if you feel that’s morally required? Not playtomics responsibility?

 
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You reiterate the same “how are websites not spyware then” line without justifying it any more than he did. How are dogs not spyware? do I have to explain that too, before moving on to every other thing that may or may not be spyware?

One last time: if you visit a website, you are implicitly acknowledging that the owner of the site will be aware of everything you do on their site. There is no spying going on, how could there be, you’re browsing their site. If, on the the other hand, you are talking about the junk that litters a lot of sites, and points to third parties such as adroll.com, google-analytics.com, googleadservices.com, scorecardresearch.com and other entities that may or may not be collecting your browsing information accross sites then yes, those are spyware. Which is why I use blockers to prevent information from being collected, and I encourage you to do the same.

End of derail, back to Playtomic. Not hiding their activities doesn’t make these activities legit, just as hiding them would not make them illegal. The problem is not playtomic.com anyway but the Playtomic API. That’s the part that is integrated in games without the player’s knowledge or consent, and that’s the part that does the actual theft of information. Also yes, the responsibility to inform the user and give them the option to either opt out of collection or leave the game (goodbye rating) before any information has been sent rests on the game developer. In fact, Playtomic has little control over where their API gets integrated and would not have the means to inform users anyway.

 
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I’m starting to think you are arguing just for the sake of arguing. That is not the traditional understanding of the term “spyware” by any stretch of the imagination. I could agree that it falls under “spying” as an act, but spyware is a specific type of malware, not just any act of spying.

Spyware
Malware

It’s just as ridiculous as when my parents calls everything that looks bad on a computer a “virus”. The hardrive is fragmented, please remove the virus! The screensaver settings are wrong, please remove the virus!

 
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If you visit a website you have no idea if the collected information is stored on that same site, or if there’s a third party software company responsible for monitoring it.

The cleverest thing system cleanup tools manufacturers ever did was convince people that cookies could be spying on you. It helped them sell millions more of their product, as more and more users were like “WHAT MY PC HAS 250 TRACKING COOKIES HELP WHAT DO I DO?” In reality, tracking cookies are harmless. The information isn’t personally identifying, and isn’t much use on its own, other than for things like “this user saw the Justin Bieber ad 3 times and clicked on it twice, let’s try showing him an iCarly ad now”. This happens even if you don’t allow the cookies, it’s called targeting a demographic, and it’s possible to guess at your demographic just from the site you’re on in the first place (eg “this user is on Kong, let’s show him game ads”).

The camera in the car example is totally different because that would be personally identifying. The car maker knows who the car is registered to and they have a picture of your from the camera. But information from traffic cameras is routinely used for analysis of the busiest routes, road congestion, etc; and if you’re dribing along in your car the camera isn’t gonna stop you and ask for permission before filming your along with the other cars.

 
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Originally posted by saybox:

The camera in the car example is totally different because that would be personally identifying. The car maker knows who the car is registered to and they have a picture of your from the camera. But information from traffic cameras is routinely used for analysis of the busiest routes, road congestion, etc; and if you’re dribing along in your car the camera isn’t gonna stop you and ask for permission before filming your along with the other cars.

Fair enough, it is indeed true that the tracking a Flash would do would not personally identify you. So in my car example it would be more like having a hidden machine that monitors how fast you drive, how often you drive, and your style of driving.

But I still think people would be mad over that if they weren’t informed. It’s the sort of thing you should inform about.

 
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It’s not like having the camera in your car though. Once you leave the game, the tracking stops. It doesn’t continue to track what else you do that day. It’s much more like having a camera on one road which will track you if you drive on that road, for as long as you’re on the road, and no more.

 
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Regardless of what imagery we compare it to, the point is that you should notify the users. Just put some text at the bottom of the loading screen which says something like “By using this application you are granting <us> permission to gather and analyze information regarding your usage of the application.” And you should be covered, and the users who are paranoid about privacy will have the chance to avoid the game.

 
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Originally posted by Drakim:

The hardrive is fragmented, please remove the virus! The screensaver settings are wrong, please remove the virus!

Lol, that’s hilarious.

 
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Wow, so I haven’t made it onto the forums in a while, this topic went a way didn’t it! Well, in addendum to what I was said in my original post, we do have the power to ask the end user if they are willing to participate in anonymous data collection. And the main reason why we wish to keep things anonymous is that a lot of users will gain confidence in a system that they don’t have to give personal details to. The analysis and metrics that we’re intending to gain out of the system is more to do with looking for problems or areas of concern within our program.

Again, I re-iterate that I’m not building a game per se, but it is still an interactive experience whose evolution can only be accelerated by user statistics. I guess it’s a bit of a dilemma for game developers, because there is the threat of losing players to gain metrics on your game, but on the other hand if you gain metrics of the game you are able to make improvements based on the feedback that you receive from them. It’s also a difficult thing to ask of players of a game, who generally don’t want a whole lot of alerts and tick boxes and things to get their gaming experience started, they just want to play.

I’m of the firm belief, despite all this, that in-game analysis and metrics of gameplay are an essential building block on the improvement of the gaming world in general. I think it points towards a more enriched gaming experience then to just play generic mundane titles that are barely separated.

Anyway, point of fact, in the setting that I am going to be developing, it WILL be something that users can opt-in/out of. And I think that this should always be the case.

 
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IMO, an unobtrusive message at the beginning of the game (one click to clear, short and to the point) would be better than an opt-out.

“Notice: this game collects anonymous data about certain game behaviours such as item use and death counts to help balance and improve the game in the future.”
[OK]

99.9% would be fine with this and just click OK. If, on the other hand, you give them the option to opt-out, many people would thing this was actually a dangerous thing.

 
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I love how this thread went in the totally opposite of what I thought the OP was asking. ;D

I was going to respond with a Yes I love analytics. I can see what I did right and wrong and see how productive something in the game was at doing what it was intended for.

I’ll actually share some analytics I collected if anyone really cares. That blog post I put up with numbers ad stats on the links out of my game is kinda interesting.

 
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I’ll actually share some analytics I collected if anyone really cares.

Get the FBI and the CIA in here STAT. This man is not only spying, but he is distributing the information!

 
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Lets all remember that the definition of spying which it, itself, helps to define the term spyware is a definition that fluxuates and changes depending on who is using it, how, and where. Like all definitions.
If by going by the webster dictionary definition, you would be using it in a way that could be completely different to a man that lives in Africa, or Russia.

So down to brass tacks, I think its better to think of what the “right” thing would be. Does my software collect user information… yes. Does it keep them anonymous… no. How does it identify them…. proxy. Is this “right” ? It depends. I would say it isn’t. Another man might say it is.

I think the general safety net for us developers is to let the user know whats going on, and allow them the option to say “no, I don’t want any information to be collected from me, anonymous or not.”
Oh… and just because America does something, like use traffic lights to collect data/ect doesn’t make it “right” for anybody else to do it. I believe America shouldn’t be allowed to collect any information about individuals without complete forthright consent. Many would disagree.

haha, truefire made another funny. x )

 
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Hi, trying to find if it is ok to use Playtomic API on Kongregate and find out this thread. I also find out that Kongregate have profile on Playtomic and there are lot of games which you can see public reports( https://playtomic.com/community/profiles/Kongregate ). I checked out few of those games and didn’t find any mention about data collection on those. So I assume that it’s OK to use Playtomic and you don’t have to tell player about that ( if you don’t want to). I’m I right?

I could to tell player about Playtomics API, but as no one else doesn’t mention it, I’m afraid that players become suspicious as my game seems to be only one doing that. ( but in reality many gams too that but just doesn’t mention it)

 
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Don’t worry about it:

Originally posted by Ace_Blue:

If you visit a website, you are implicitly acknowledging that the owner of the site will be aware of everything you do on their site.

This is basically true, and it applies just as much to games you intentionally choose to play.

 
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I’m pretty sure that collecting data without informing a user that you’re doing so violates, at the very least, the recently into force EU directive about cookies and similar storage of data. You might also be in violation of data protection laws in Europe.

 
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Hmm… ok, I guess websites do have privacy policies, whereas games usually don’t. That could be a reason why sites are allowed to track data and games aren’t, if in fact games aren’t.

Most ad campaigns (including in-game ads) collect statistics without informing the user, and they don’t get in trouble for it. Or at least, I haven’t heard of an advertiser getting in trouble for it.