Is Game User Data Sacred?
On the trust among game developers, publishers, and users
In a sampling of recent headlines about gaming publishers, developers, and others who make this industry move, one of the most oft-used words is “billion.” As in, Playstudios is now valued at more than $1 billion. Glu Mobile was acquired for $2 billion. Ubisoft booked $1.2 billion in revenue in the final quarter of 2020. And that’s all within just one week. So in case you don’t know, this industry is kinda massive and it’s getting bigger.
As is the case with any industry that goes through massive growth, the North Star of profits starts to take precedence over a lot of other stuff, like, for example, doing right by customers. And in an industry that doesn’t greet customers as they walk in the door, the concept of users looks very binary. And anything binary starts to look like a candidate for repackaging and selling if there’s a market for it.
And this is precisely what is happening with user data: demographic, psychographic, behavioral, and every other type of engagement or interaction is tracked, cataloged, and analyzed and it’s a gold mine. The value to a game developer or publisher is apparent — use that information to improve game development and distribution. But as we all know, the reality of this industry is that the data is being sold to advertisers and other gaming and entertainment companies to target users based on affinity and behaviors.
Look at the news about Tilting Point, who ponied up $60 million to increase user acquisition for Match 3D. No knock on Tilting Point or Loop Games, but that user acquisition is a helluva lot easier when you know what current users are doing, how they’re engaging, and who they are. Armed with that data, Tilting Point knows a LOT about Match 3D players, but it can also use that data to target other games and additional advertising at them. Their business is getting users for their clients, and it’s a matter of scale. Rather than start from scratch every time they need to build a user base, they can source related data they own to rinse and repeat (as in, gamers are playing this game, and since they’re gamers, we can build off that base to target this other game to them).
Is this nefarious? Is it unethical? I don’t think purgatory is awaiting a massive backup of social media and advertising company execs at its doors, but how do you feel about your data being bought and sold without your permission? So maybe it’s not nefarious, but it’s not right.
Now, I have faith in my brothers and sisters in the video game industry because we are a creative bunch, and the genesis of our involvement in all of this is usually borne out of something other than the profit motive. So even though valuations and acquisition prices are in the billions, we’ve got something else going on here. Good for us. But there is gold in them thar hills, so you should feel free to grab your share. If you build something great and people like it, you should be rewarded for that. Keep capitalism alive and well on the battlefields of gaming.
But where things fall apart is in the details, and sometimes those details start off looking very small. That is, until they become big.
So, back to the collection of user data. Collecting and having access to data about your game users and how they engage with your game is of huge value. It allows you to:
1. Incorporate data about user behavior into a process of continuous improvement through game version updates.
2. Build new games with greater user appeal.
3. Improve user engagement in your games.
We took our experience in the security field and applied many of the same principles to gaming data. The most important principle is also the one that’s most basic — any company that collects user data should protect it. Protecting it means preventing it from being loosely distributed. For one thing, every time it’s accessed, it increases the possibility of it being stolen or ransomed. When that happens, Social Security numbers, credit card data, medical records; all kinds of private information is vulnerable. But secondly, it shouldn’t be distributed unless you have permission to distribute it.
At GamerGraph, we think that’s your choice as a game developer or publisher. You own the relationship with your customers and they engage with you partly based on your treatment of them. So while our job is to actually collect user data through API connector into your game, we are blind to it and will not touch it. That’s yours. Well, it’s technically theirs (your users’), but you will build your business and increase or decrease affinity partly by how you transact with this data.
There’s a ton of money to be made in this industry, but we don’t think running fast and loose with private information is the way to do it. If you’re building games, you have put creative energy and all kinds of resources into developing something awesome. Keep doing that. Make games great and fun and interesting and give users a reason to become loyal and evangelistic about what you’ve given them. Then, do the right thing and treat them well by protecting them.
Try GamerGraph for free. We’ll give you game analytics, social mechanics, and all your game cloudOps. You go build better games.