Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tracking [You] in the Virtual World Just Makes Cents

Xbox 360 and PS3 side by side

Did you know that you are being watched when you play video games online?

Ok, maybe not literally as in "on video camera," but you are definitely being tracked as you move your avatar (or digital self) around in virtual worlds, and various websites place tracking cookies on your computer.  And they are watching who you interact with, and what you buy, and what you do.  That is a fact.

Do you mind if a company places a tracking cookie on your computer? I do.

A company called GameSpy Technology is paid to track your virtual behavior.  Does that name sound familiar?  It might if you have ever visited IGN.com to read about upcoming games, or to try to play one of your favorite video games online.  They have a partnership. Essentially, Gamespy.com is powered by IGN.

Red Dead Redemption Cover Art (for PS3)
Within the first two weeks of release, the game Red Dead Redemption tracked 13,250,237 virtual U.S. soldiers were killed in-game.  131,904,068 total counts of in-game murder took place, and not to mention the 55,813,649 virtual wolves were killed.

Mafia 2 poster

Such tracking takes place in other games as well.  Mafia 2, for example, tracks how long players spend in-game staring at Playboy centerfolds.

Even the popular World of Warcraft, which has over 12 million subscribers, hires experts for their business "intellience" unit for analyzing strategies to make more money off of its subscribers.

Yes, that even includes everyone's favorite time-wasting game, FarmVille.  How long until the harvest?  Oh, just 2 more hours until the pumpkin is ripe.  I guess we'll be seeing you in 2 more hours, then.

And this is just the beginning of what is called "natural experiments" on people in virtual worlds to modify behavior.  And we used to think that experiments on humans were inhumane!  Now, it is a way of life.  Not to mention we are paying the subscription fees for researchers to see how they can better sell to us.  Win-win for them.  Sounds like a paradox if you ask me.

Source:  Hsu, Jeremy.  Virtual Behavior Labs Discover What Gamers Want. Yahoo! News.

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