Game Phone Home!

Comments 1 to 25 of 35

chrisb2e9 13th July 2008, 00:35 Quote
there are some very good points in there. and to be honest I would be fine with all of that. except for having my machine read my biometric data and send it back in....
anyway, my only concern is the system being abused. and this information ends up being used to market something towards me. or collect data that isn't relevant to what was mentioned in the article.
bubsterboo 13th July 2008, 00:44 Quote
Originally Posted by chrisb2e9
there are some very good points in there. and to be honest I would be fine with all of that. except for having my machine read my biometric data and send it back in....
anyway, my only concern is the system being abused. and this information ends up being used to market something towards me. or collect data that isn't relevant to what was mentioned in the article.

Agreed, I feel that way aswell.

What i think would be the best decision for the developer to make would be to provide the user with the option during installation to chose to share his gaming information. But only having that done in such a way that during the installation Not sharing your information is default, also have a description above it as to why they want it and what exactly is collected.
Mentai 13th July 2008, 01:42 Quote
Steam collects data like this, I'm pretty sure it's in the steamworks deveopment kit. Just use that :P
TrueShadow21 13th July 2008, 02:52 Quote
I don't have a problem with anonymous collection of statistical information to aid in the bettering of current and future products, given the consent of the user and as long as it is done properly. What I don't like is games or other software that phone home for activation, especially in the way that Mass Effect was planning on incorporating with SecuROM before the outrage. The main problem I see with activation servers is what if the servers go down, or the company drops support for them later on.

If I pay $50-60 for a game (and often more for software) I don't want to be treated like a criminal, or even inconvenienced as I am a paying customer. I would fear a company starting out by having anonymous information collected in the correct way, and later on down the road someone in their huge corporation gets the bright idea to slip in something that checks the CD keys against a list of banned keys to see if you have a legit version. This is bad on many levels. What if someone used a key generator to make a CD key that happened to match the one that came in the box of the game I purchased. Activation limits are also bad, especially anything as small as 3 or 5 activations. If someone uploaded their copy of the game and gave their key away to pirates, it would be used hundreds if not thousands of times, not 4 or 6 times. If you are going to have activation limits they need to be at least 10, due to upgrading hardware causing new activations and people who buy a new computer every year or two.

Ok, enough of my offtopic rant, but there is some connection. When people see that something phones home these are some of the issues that immediately come to mind, giving them a negative impression. Personally I wasn't all that bothered by Mass Effect's policies about online activation and what not, and if it hadn't been for the name SecuROM I would have bought the game for my PC. I hadn't forgot about the BioShock fiasco nor the Sony CD Rootkit situation a few years back (SecuROM is owned by Sony, whose DRM I explicitly can not trust anymore).
BurningFeetMan 13th July 2008, 02:55 Quote
The good thing about Steam is that I know when it's running, and I know when it's not running. Game developers and programmers must be honest, and make sure the gamer knows exactly what's going on to their system. Not only that, but they should give full control to the gamer of how the program reports back to base. After all, the gamer did pay for the game to play, as opposed to collecting data. Put bluntly, we are not ****ing lab rats.

If big corporates such as EA could be more focused on fun, unique games, rather than data collecting and monthly reports, we might actually get a decent gaming future...

IMO, support the smaller developers that are using Steam. Those guys have our gaming hearts at mind. Steam is one of the least intrusive applications I've ever used too. It's so easy to turn on and off, to delete, and to back up. The one small bug it has is updating the odd game, right when you want to play it.
tuaamin13 13th July 2008, 04:42 Quote
I don't think many people would be opposed to it if you phrase it properly. Something like a dialog box popping up when you go to install (like agree EULA > next > enter cd key > next > data collection? > next > install). You can have it default to yes, just because most people click through, but if you phrased it like you did in the column I don't think anyone would have a problem. "No personal data is collected///click yes to upload your machine specs now///would you like to send play data periodically in order to improve our future titles?"

If the title didn't have any sort of DRM other than a CD key I think it'd get a lot more people to at least consider that type of data mining.
feedayeen 13th July 2008, 07:40 Quote
I have absolutely no problem with developers asking what my hardware configuration is for the sake that it will improve my future games. The problem that this information is being used to place expiration date for the games that I enjoy. In the past 6 months I have added hardware to my computer on three separate occasions and reformatted it twice. To the DRM, I have installed the games on three separate computers; in fact, both times I reformatted my computer I had to call Microsoft to get their permission to reinstall XP. Why should I buy a game that I may not be able to play in 6 months because I wanted it to be better?
cliffski 13th July 2008, 10:07 Quote
Originally Posted by feedayeen
To the DRM, I have installed the games on three separate computers; in fact, both times I reformatted my computer

Thats really crap DRM. I don't use any hardware checking DRM at all, but if I did, I would also do some other stuff, like checking the windows serial, hard drive size, windows user name (from the registry) and a few other variables, then combine that with the hardware check, and do a statistical approximation that this is likely to be the same PC, albeit with some extra RAM or a new video card. People buy new RAM and video cards and reinstall windows a lot, if everything else seems to match, then it seems silly for any DRM to conclude its a new PC.
But I don't support hardware checking anyway, I'd much rather have one-off online serial checks, and just fail if it seems like there are more than a dozen or so IDs the same from different PCs. After all, some people own 3 PCs at home, why shouldn't they be able to install the game on all 3?
LeMaltor 13th July 2008, 11:45 Quote
Finding out my screen res = fine
Making me activate a game when everyone who has pirated it has the activation disabled anyway = pointless and annoying
Silver51 13th July 2008, 12:15 Quote
I pretty much agree with what has been posted already. Anonymous statistical data gathering is fine, knowing when it is running and when it's not (as with Steam) is also okay. As long as everyone is informed and can access that data in a clean format I don't see a problem.

It crosses the line when it opens our systems to attack, gathers personal information to be used against us (marketing) and we have no way of knowing if it's running with no obvious any way to turn it off.

Data gathering should only be happening when a game or it's framework (Steam) has been activated by the user.
Romirez 13th July 2008, 12:48 Quote
Collecting hardware and usage statistics is fine upto a point, but for most people, seeing that the game is going to phone home in any way is going to arouse suspicion. DRM is doing far more damage to the industry than good, and this is just one example of where. Kind of amusing really, given it's the legitimate buyers who are treated like criminals, a pirate copy of a game has all that junk removed. The other major problem with the activation, as mentioned, is limited installs. My game collection still contains ancient games like C&C Tiberian Sun, Baldur's Gate, and Deus Ex. Ive had those over a cycle of about 4 computers, yet I still play them. Why should I be prevented from playing the games I'm buying now, in 10 years time, simply because I've got a different computer?

All statistical collection should be an opt in process during install, with the option to change it later. It should state what data is actually collected, and what it's going to be used for.
beesbees 13th July 2008, 12:51 Quote
The thing is I don't want my computer to call up servers that I don't know about.
Call me paranoid, but that is totally open to abuse.

How do you know that the program used to send the information is secure and wont open any security holes? You can't.

If it's contracted out, how do you know how reputable the company is? You can't.

Is there any way of seeing what data is actually collected from you? No.
Paradigm Shifter 13th July 2008, 13:17 Quote
My thoughts are pretty much what has already been said, with a couple of bonuses:

Single player games vary so much in type and execution (even games within the same genre) that tweaking costs/skills/damage/whatever due to 'the majority' is going to end up with a vast raft of same-old-same-old that will actually punish those players who try to do something different in their completion of the game.

Multiplayer games, on the other hand, are fair game as far as I'm concerned. You're already online and possibly on official servers, so it can't be that hard to keep tabs on what weapons etc. people are leaning toward or that dominate the game and adjust accordingly.

But the fact remains I'm inherently leery of the idea of a single player game wanting to go online. For any purpose, even if it is so the developers can "tweak" my game... you might not tweak it the way I want; so the easiest thing to do is release some sort of dev tool set so I can do it myself if I want. ;)
Dreaming 13th July 2008, 13:26 Quote
The problem with it being an opt in system as with any survey is that you are no longer looking at a random or fair spread of the customers, you are only looking at the customers who opt in to have their usage monitored. There may be trends that people with higher spec PCs opt in and people with lower spec PCs opt out, meaning that the averages measured by the designers will be much higher than the true average - meaning ultimately they could design games that would alienate many of their existing customers.
paulkoan 13th July 2008, 14:12 Quote
"Phoning Home" leaves a bad taste precisely because it is often abused.

I think to avoid this, the way forward is transparency. One way to do this would be to separate the data transmission from the game itself. As one of the poster pointed out, opening your firewall for a single player game to get an external connection would put any one off - there is no need to trust any software developer is only doing what they are saying they are doing.

And so to make this feasible, you define a standard for data collection. An open standard that has anonymity built in, and which all games could use. The games would pass their data to the collection agent, and the user would define what data can be transmitted - hardware specs, playing stats, whatever, and when the data can be transmitted. It would be GPLed and run by the collective. Save the data nice an clear in xml documents. And would absolutely be discrete from any DRM management - that would be a sure fire way to kill it at birth.

If this type of data truly is of value, then developers should be working on this type of solution, rather than moaning that no-one trusts them. And if it truly is of value, then getting a team together and speccing the standard shouldn't take long.
Xir 14th July 2008, 10:32 Quote
Same as Paulkoan.

the data you'd like to collect would be good to collect, but as I don't know where you stop collecting...

For developping reasons, wouldn't it be good to know what games I play BESIDES your game?
So do you scan my drives?
Do you check if my "playername" is used anywhere on the web?
Maybe this'll reveal my hobbies, and if 80% of the players of your game share a hobby then you might incorporate this knowledge into your (future) games...

See where I'm going? Your reasoning is sound, but it is also sound when used on very wrong reasons.

"I'd like to watch 100 people play the game, " that's called Alpha-Testing if I remember right ;-)
As you're an Indie developper, you can't afford 100 test.-rigs, but why don't you invite a hundred people over to...whatever LAN event is near you and let them test your game for free for a few hours, and talk to you afterwards?
MrMonroe 14th July 2008, 14:48 Quote
The picture for this article is a false association. Bioshock didn't do anything like this.

If you want to study user habits and hardware, send them an e-mail explaining it, and ask them to run the game for a certain period of time as they normally would with the monitoring on. Then have it turned off. People won't mind showing devs how they play, so long as they understand it is done anonymously and not indefinitely. (I don't care how slick you make it, no monitoring process is going to be completely invisible performance-wise) What we do mind is the prospect that we might not be able to play a game that we own because of some connection issue. Let's not pretend that CP will make games better. It won't.
C-Sniper 14th July 2008, 15:06 Quote
As with other people i agree to the majority of what has been said. However, something that might help me "friend" up to the data would be a log of what was being sent, that way i know what will be sent and what wont be. I know that this can still lead to abuse through invisible sending of data (possibly for DRM or advertising) but i would feel a lot more comfortable this way rather than just my random data being sent.
pendragon 14th July 2008, 18:26 Quote
what everyone else has said.. lack of choice, lack of transparency, lack of correct purpose on a product I paid for ...all those would need to be addressed before I embrace this sort of thing.
Diosjenin 14th July 2008, 22:14 Quote
Maybe you *should* care about the Steam Hardware Survey. Not because it has any specific information on your players (it probably doesn't), but because Steam's data collection processes are far and away the best in the industry, and other game developers could learn a lot about player information gathering from Valve.

It's not just the Hardware Survey, either. It's percentage of players with Achievement 24 unlocked, time required to complete Level 4, number of times died on Level 7, all broken down by difficulty levels, etc. - exactly the depth of playtesting data you're looking for. And, of course, Valve is rather infamous for their exhaustive playtesting procedures. Play through Episode One or Episode Two or Portal and keep the commentary mode on. Listen to how many things they added in, changed, or eliminated because of direct player opinion, difficulties, emotional responses. The fact is that (funding to pay playtesters aside - though I second Xir's comments there) what you're wishing for is already reality.

The mistake here is that everybody confuses data collection with DRM. This is a confusion only worsened here by the allusion to BioShock, I might add - a game which, to my knowledge, does not collect anything other than number of times activated (nor does it do so very well). The recent Mass Effect announcement (phoning home every ten days), even despite the later retraction, doesn't do anything to help clarify the distinction, either. You have to admit, though, after having so many of our (legal) games being mugged and held hostage by SecuROM and the like, people have come to see almost any form of 'phoning home' to be an invasion of privacy. And in most cases we've been proven quite right.

The missing piece here is trust. Gamers trust Valve. Why? Because Steam keeps our games working, across computers, automatically updated. There is one activation and then the game is tied to your account - and as long as you have the account, you will *always* have your game. Upgrading, formatting, and the like don't faze it. There is personalized recourse for misplaced mistrust on their part. And (in gamer years) it's been this way for a very, very long time. Steam has earned our trust.

Obviously, given that prerequisite, it would be extraordinarily difficult for any other developer to throw in a 'data collection' feature and expect us all to bend over and put up with it. But I think as long as you're honest (and up-front!) about your intentions, you can probably get people to give you what you seek.
LordPyrinc 14th July 2008, 23:00 Quote
As I've said before, the biggest thing that burns me up is that you have to connect to the internet to authenticate a game that can be played as "Single player". Perhaps I want to keep one of my laptops free of virus/malware and such, so I do not connect it to the internet. It's a good laptop and can play games, but now I can't play this game because I have to authenticate online. If they want to get that extreme with validation, give me a 1-800 number to call to validate the game, don't force me to connect online. I've got two laptops that haven't been connected online in about a year or more. I strictly use them to play games when I'm travelling or to work on documents which I can move via USB flash drive to whatever PC I need. BTW, I've yet to download a game patch that couldn't be loaded from this PC to one of the laptops via a 4Gig flash drive.

Piracy is bad, DRM is even worse. I have no problems against voluntary data collection, but don't require me to get online to authenticate the game or to periodically reauthenticate it.
impar 15th July 2008, 10:55 Quote

Quoted from the article:
Gathering data from your customers is the only real way to know what machines are running your games.
Check Valves hardware survey.
Note; nobody cares what the average new PC has inside it, or the Steam Hardware survey - ...
Maybe you should care.
Knowing the hardware is great, but knowing the software helps too. Should I use Windows XP and Vista-only code?
How many people got to level six? How many attempts did the average gamer need to complete that mission? How many found the hidden passage? How many people completed the game?
Ever checked the Achievements menu in HL2 games?
I'd like to watch 100 people play the game, with video cameras capturing the game footage, synched up with footage of their facial expressions, and biometric data that recorded pulse rates, brain activity and whatever physiological signs of boredom, stress, or happiness I could get hold of.
Set up a beta test with all the above and find volunteers.
I just need to find a way to ask players of the game to trust the developer.
Developers and publishers are losing not only the trust but also the respect of paying customers with the DRM implementations.
A game asking, or sneaking behind me, to send data home gets blocked.
CardJoe 15th July 2008, 12:15 Quote
Originally Posted by impar

Check Valves hardware survey.

Valve's hardware survey is not exactly representative.
Originally Posted by impar
Maybe you should care.

Originally Posted by impar

How can you have both XP and Vista-only? Bear in mind that even if you could this would double development times, drive up prices and piss of loads of Mac and Linux users etc, as well as causing consolidation and problems when MS updates next.
Originally Posted by impar
Ever checked the Achievements menu in HL2 games?

I have - but the achievements are there for about two or three games IIRC from a single developer / publisher in just the hardcore gaming market and are easily skewed by gamers who want to achievement whore it. Ever seen the servers when a new TF2 achievement pack goes out?
Originally Posted by impar
Set up a beta test with all the above and find volunteers.

That's called testing. It's a good point and something people should do more of - but finding volunteers to go through a proper testing schedule is next to impossible. Testing is a job and people want to be paid for it. That alone puts it out of the realms of smaller, indie developers.
Originally Posted by impar
Developers and publishers are losing not only the trust but also the respect of paying customers with the DRM implementations.
A game asking, or sneaking behind me, to send data home gets blocked.

That is your perogative - but you'll just end up getting left behind as the market changes, I think. I understand your point of view completely, but I think as long as phone home device is transparent to users, non-invasive and stable then it'll be fine. Especially in the ways that Cliff describes it.

Also, you do realise that Steam phones home, right? All games on Steam have to activate online after a set period despite offline mode. Valve don't talk about it or let you know about it, but it IS there and they DO do it. Steam actually takes an awful lot of information from you without you knowing, but that info is handled responsibly and stably. It effects everything from knowing what games you have so it can update them (which scans your account and drives) and display games on your front page, to tracking which Steam updates you've recieved (so it can show you updates of the new releases on Steam), to asking you if you want to be part of the hardware survey (without telling you in detail what it will be scanning).

I love Steam and I love Valve - but they really shouldn't be referred to as the posterboy of the PC community. It isn't all true and it isn't good for them.
Paradigm Shifter 15th July 2008, 13:04 Quote
Originally Posted by CardJoe
That's called testing. It's a good point and something people should do more of - but finding volunteers to go through a proper testing schedule is next to impossible. Testing is a job and people want to be paid for it. That alone puts it out of the realms of smaller, indie developers.
I think someone already mentioned the idea of setting up a LAN festival or something to do this. :) It'd be a good way of doing it that wouldn't be outside of the realms of a small developer, especially if they could get event sponsorship from some of the bigger hardware manufacturers/publishers out there - who knows, they might even pick up a publishing deal out of it (although that is being rather optimistic)... offer a rebate on the cost of the LAN fest entry for those who want to act as guinea pigs. ;)
CardJoe 15th July 2008, 13:28 Quote
A LAN festival test isn't what's required though, at all. There's a HUGE difference between somebody actually TESTING a game and getting a bunch of people to just play a game and *maybe* stumbling across some texture glitches.
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