Spyware isn't the answer to creating better games

Ars Technica details a recently disclosed patent application by a Google researcher for a system to place ads based on user actions in video games. The article does an excellent job of dissecting the patent's intention, which is to extract vast amounts of personal information from gameplay data in order to target ads.

Ars Technica details a recently disclosed patent application by a Google researcher for a system to place ads based on user actions in video games. The article does an excellent job of dissecting the patent's intention, which is to extract vast amounts of personal information from gameplay data in order to target ads. You should read it.

The crucial point here is that game's are getting more expensive to build, because players demand ever greater detail and breadth in gameplay, but spyware is not the way to finance that cost. Customers should not be sacrificing their privacy in order to get better gaming experience, or any experience. Rather, they should be enjoying increasing control over their personal data as the information technology they use matures.

Google's AdSense system, as well as new variations on Google advertising are represented by repeated references in the patent to "ad requests," or calls from the program to an ad server, specifically Google's. The filing contemplates audio, video and textual advertising, as well as customization of games based on ad placement criteria, so you might get a vehicle in a racing game sponsored by Honda.

More insidious, to me, is the analysis of stored game data, which could be used to create extremely detailed psychographic profiles that cater to specific aspects of our identity as they are exposed at different times and in varying contexts. For example, your sexual self may suddenly be targeted in a game in a way that exposed it to public scrutiny.

Games are a form of escape and mental training, among other things. We should pay for the experience with clearly articulated upfront costs, which could include a negotiation over ad placements and attendant discounts for players that accept ads. Ads should not be a default option for any game developer who wants to increase revenue, because it will result in user privacy abuse and the promiscuous distribution of personal data by game developers to third-party advertisers demanding greater accountability in ad spending.

Simply accepting that ads can be placed and, therefore, will be placed, will make the gaming environment less attractive as a form of entertainment. Developers should think twice—three times—before opting for this kind of revenue.