When a gamer sits down to play a game like Sleeping Dogs it's simply a slice of fun. But for a small team in Square Enix's Wimbledon office it's a science experiment.
That's because Sleeping Dogs is one example of a game that uses anonymous metrics to learn from how gamers play their games. And with that information, publishers are able to better understand what it is that the public does and does not want.
The data that's gathered (permission for which is given by the users is signing up to SE's online T&Cs) is carefully studied and from that Square Enix is able to do a number of things – both in the short and long-term.
Feedback on games is hardly tough to come by – be it on a game's official forum, in a review comments thread, Twitter of neogaf, opinions are ten a penny. But the loud voices of a vocal minority don't necessarily represent the reality of the experience being enjoyed (or otherwise) by the silent majority.
Until you actually have data, you only have assumptions,” Square Enix London Studios producer Chris Dillon told MCV. You have a particular demographic that engages in forums and they can be very vocal. Often, at face value that can be interpreted as being a clear indication of a particular problem or a particular desire.
When you actually have the whole picture, you get a much better understanding as to what's really going on and often, it's quite a small group of people who are taking a very big sense of need or demand.”
But what exactly are metrics and what does SE use them for?
We've always looked to have metrics in previous titles but Sleeping Dogs represents a pinnacle of what we've achieved so far,” Dillon added. We've actually gathered a lot of data about all aspects of the game, even for example simple things like the configuration you have on your PC options.
For example, we can actually find out trends, like people's Y-axis inverted as a default – yes or no? We can actually get information that shows up what people's preferences are for those settings. So when we actually make future titles, we can look at the data and set of defaults that we believe is what people want. That's a really simple example of how we can directly use metrics and at the other end of the scale, we actually use it to drive things like our global and personal stats and our leader boards.”
It's not all about long-term planning, however. Data gathered from Sleeping Dogs has already had an impact on the title, with a title update due out before the end of the month addressing a couple of difficulty spikes that SE had seen were giving a high number of players unanticipated problems.
It's also shaping the direction in which SE intends to take the game's DLC. Metrics allows for the monitoring of what modes, locations and choices are and are not popular and strategic decisions can be made on the back of this.
So what does the way in which people are playing Sleeping Dogs tell SE about what aspects they enjoy?
I'll tell you what they like,” Dillon added, laughing a little uncomfortably and searching for a less provocative term. They like violence. Clearly, people want to have new ways of creating havoc and chaos and carnage in that open world. That's what excites them so that's something that we're looking into at the moment about how we deliver that to them.”
Also being considered are the areas of the game world that players have to date tended to favour. SE is using this data to shape the places in which future DLC takes the game, which will encourage players to visit parts of the Sleeping Dogs world that have so far been a little neglected.
Being able to see what people are doing and how many are doing it is also invaluable as SE assesses the on going worth of supporting a title. And it's found that far more gamers than it expected not only completed the game, but are continuing to play it.
And as long as the player base remains active, so do does SE's DLC team.
Explained Dillon: If, based on the metrics, we saw a demand for further content after six months then that's something we'll look at. Whilst there's demand, we'll defiantly look to meet that demand.”
Sleeping Dog's next DLC, Nightmare in North Point, looks to expand upon the game's existing customer base by crossing into a new genre. Specifically, players can look forward to tackling Chinese vampires. The download also includes new story chapters, new characters and new voice over work.
The potential for metrics goes far beyond a bit of under-the-bonnet tweaking, though. Dillon believes that as the idea evolves and new technologies allow for greater integration players will find that their gaming experiences reach unparalleled levels of personalisation.
I think gathering metrics and using metrics is something which is just going to grow. You see it in the mobile industry and it's definitely something which is happening in the traditional console market,” he added.
In the future, what's really exciting about this is you'll start to see personalised gaming experiences. For example, one size does not fit all, basically. With metrics and real time analysis has the potential to actually balance the game dynamically. We also have the ability to devise content or hints and tips that are actually tailored to you and your own personal gaming experience. That's what the future holds and it's incredibly exciting.”