Researchers Use Video Games to Study Human Behavior

Sergiu Vidican

Written by Sergiu Vidican
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In case you play online games, you should know that everything you do is recorded. This means that every head-shot, every touchdown, and every car you stole (online) was recorded.Ad not set – click and set me here…

The experts have analyzed the game Red Dead Redemption made by Rockstar, the same company which created the world famous GTA franchise. In case you did not know, Red Dead Redemption takes place in the Old West. It is very similar to the GTA games; however, instead of cars you drive horses. Of course, there are many other gameplay differences, but it would take too long to explain all of them to you. The recordings have presented some incredible statistics. For example, in the first two weeks from release, in the multiplayer games, 13,250,237 lives were taken. In the Second World War, the Soviets and the Germans lots combined the same number of people. In the single player mode, the players killed 131,904,068 people, and they hunted millions of animals. The game gives you the opportunity, or asks you to kill certain animals in order to reach a higher level. For example you have to kill 5 flying birds, or to kill a certain number of birds while you are in the train, or to kill bears, and so on. It seems that the animals which the players hated the most were the wolves, as they killed 55,813,649 of them.

This was not the only game tracked and analyzed by these people. Mass Effect 2 was another of the games which were tracked, and according to the statistics, more than 80 percent of the player decided to customize the face of the hero instead of using the default face. Another game which was analyzed was Mafia II, the sequel to the famous Mafia game. In this game you have various extra tasks, one of them being to collect Playboy photos, which you can later see. Well, it seems that these people analyzed the number of hours which people from all over the world spent in order to look at the Playboy pictures from the game. Todd Northcutt, vice president of GameSpy Technology, stated that this data which they posses is very important, and the gaming company could benefit a lot from it. They could use the information in order to make the following game better. For example if they see that a certain feature was rarely used in the game, they would most likely replace it with something else. On the other hand, if they would see that people loved a certain thing from the game, they would try to maximize the potential of that thing.

The gaming companies have the possibility of studying the way in which the humans behave online, and by analyzing that, they can make lots and lots of money. The gamers will not have to ask for a certain thing in the next game; the companies will know, based on the analysis of the players’ behavior. They might use that information in order to create downloadable content, a very popular practice amongst the console games. Many of the gaming companies have not used this potential yet, because they did not know how to obtain the data. There are numerous companies which have been created, and which have this sole purpose of gathering online data in order to sell it to the gaming companies. Even if the process sounds very simple, in reality it is quite complicated. Millions of people are playing online games on their consoles, and in order to make the estimations correct, they need to analyze all of these people, not just the ones from a certain region. This means that the companies which analyze this data need to have very powerful computers, capable of lots of processing. They also need to have a very large data storage space, tens of hundreds of terabytes.

Sony Online Entertainment allowed one of the companies which are specialized in collecting online data to analyze the users’ data from the game Everquest II. The company got more than it asked for, as the information required terabytes of free data storage space. In case you do not know how much data a terabyte can store, imagine that you can place about 200,000 MP3s on it. In case you worry about the privacy, you should know that it isn’t broken. The things you do online are stored on the server, but your identity is never divulged. Besides, these companies are interesting in the behavior of the majority of the people, and not in the one of a single person. The things you do online might be done by tens or even hundreds of thousands of people. It seems that collecting the data is pretty difficult because the majority of the games were not created with this option. Sure, the data can be collected, but it was intended to be analyzed in order to spot the bugs, and not the behavior of the people.  Dmitri Williams, a communications researcher at the University of Southern California said that even if you download the data, you have to analyze it, and that takes a very long time. You have to debug the data, and then you have to place it in the proper categories, and so on.

Northtcutt said that for the moment, the gaming companies can not analyze their own data, and that they need to hire difference companies to do this job for them. He also stated that the data collected from a certain console might not coincide with the data from a different console or from the PC. There were cases when the players who played on the PC preferred a certain weapon, whereas the ones from the PS3, or the X-box 360 preferred a different weapon. It seems that these results and these analyses have drawn the attention of the psychologists as well. Jamie Madigan, an industrial psychologist, is one of them, and he even has a website dedicated to this task. He has stated that based on the online behaviors which he has observed, the people who are more likely to cheat, or to “cheese”, are the ones who do not have too many friends online. These people do not care about camping, or other strategies used in the online games, because they can not ruin their reputation. On the other hand, people who have lots of online friends will avoid this behavior because they will care about the way in which their friends will think about them if they play unfair. He said that there are certain ways in which these “dirty” players can be changed. Prior to the beginning of each game there is a loading time, and he believes that if the players have to read certain words, or see certain pictures or videos, they will not cheat.

It is a known fact that the gaming world has become a very important force in the entertainment world. The game Call of Duty: Black Ops, managed to make a profit of $1 billion in less than two months. Because of this, the gaming companies have to rise their level each and every time, to come with something unique each time. They have recently started to hire psychologists, economists, and sociologists in order to help them with the data. Blizzard, the company which created the game World of Warcraft has hired these people for a while now, and Valve, the company which created Half-Life has done the same. These companies are interested in the behaviors of the gamers, but they do not care as much about this aspect as the companies which have created the games you usually play on Facebook. Those companies are extremely interested in the behavior of the players, in order to exploit it. Each game played on Facebook or on other similar websites is analyzed, and the reason for that is money. As soon as the players change their behavior, the companies risk losing tens of million of dollars if they do not do something about it. They need to make sure that they are aware of the preferences of the online players. As I said, the players do not need to worry about the fact that their identity might be revealed. However, there are many players who would be willing to pay money in order to obtain information about the way in which they play these games. These people are interesting in improving their game, or they might simply want to be able to brag about their online performances.

Northcutt said that there are lots of gamers who are interested in obtaining their gameplay data in order to brag about it to their friends. There are many players who are not bothered by it, and who do not mind that their records are being displayed online. Facebook does it, and there are many other websites that display this information as well. The interest of the psychologists has increased a lot in the last period of time. Williams stated that the reason why gaming is great when it comes to analyzing the behavior of the people is because people will do the things they want when they are online. They will not hide, as they know that their information is private. The economists have been interested in the behavior of the gamers as well, as they have analyzed the transactions which take place in the online games such as Second Life or World of Warcraft. Based on the data they collected, they were able to see which items was the most popular, how much money were the people willing to pay for a certain item, if any strategies were used, and so on.

However, many have stated that the online behaviors are not similar to the real ones.  Just because one is willing to pay more money for a thing in the game that does not mean that he will do the same in real life. In 2007, a virtual plague expanded in the World of Warcraft game, and it killed the virtual avatars. The observers noticed that the majority of the players, who got infected, quickly traveled to the big cities in order to infect the other people as well. That does not mean that they would do the same in real life. They did not cared about the fact that they “killed” the other people from the game because they did not consider it to be very serious. Games are used by teachers as well. For example, one teacher from the United States of America, allowed the students to play World of Warcraft after hours, in order to develop their writing skills. They posted messages on message boards, and they communicated through writing in the game. Everything worked perfectly. It seems that the games can be used for enriching the culture of a person as well. The psychologists have also stated that these massive online multiplayer games can be used for socializing, but they have also warned about the number of time one should spend in front of the computer.11

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