Protecting Gamer Privacy in a Data-Driven Ecosystem
Data protection and user privacy are some of the most debated topics in digital ecosystems, and gaming is not an exception. Businesses across the world leverage immense amounts of user data on a daily basis to improve their offers, understand user wants and spot issues in UX or the technical performance of their products.
In this article, we’ll review how regulated data collection works, what is collected, and how businesses can balance out value with ironclad privacy policies that keep users safe from abuse.
What is data even good for?
Data is used in two major ways — as a way to improve products and as a way to better fit offers. Companies monitor a websites’ or a product’s performance and by analyzing user actions and choices they can learn what is loved or hated about their product, enabling optimization and new features that make users happier.
When it comes to offers, a store might notice a certain sale driving a lot more purchases than others, figure out the reason through testing, and make sure all pages reach the same high standard of the successful one.
Huge brands like Amazon make decisions based on user behavior metrics. Back in the day, they realized users are suspicious towards Alexa devices, thinking Alexa might be recording their day to day interactions. Amazon noticed and rolled out a new set of voice commands to erase recordings — a move born out of data analysis of the feedback they got from users.
Valve has also demonstrated data-driven decision making not long ago when closing down the non-gaming video section on their platform. In their announcement they cited the reason for the decision being a successful review of ‘what Steam users actually watch’, which essentially means they analyzed the usage data of these videos and realized their users just aren’t interested enough.
To sum it up — in the old days, the only way businesses could make things better for clients was to keep trying new things based on intuition or direct feedback, hoping their customers will approve of their changes and buy more. Nowadays, this optimization process can happen constantly based on real data and a true understanding of how users and customers respond to different offers, features or calls to action.
What Data Do Businesses Keep?
While each company collects different data sets specifically relevant to their product or audience, some things are true for most operations. For example, almost every company tracks what users do and how long they do it for while using their products — In Overwolf’s case, this can be which apps were used for each game, and whether gamers kept using the app over time.
Companies also collect anonymous data providing context for stats, including demographics, where a user is from in the world, what languages they are fluent in and other general information helpful to understanding them.
The last category is more relevant to ecommerce operations and sales organizations, where they will track purchases and the funnels leading up to purchases to understand what makes users buy or not buy their product — so they can optimize and improve sales accordingly.
It is difficult to fully encompass data collection since different companies and products care about different metrics, but in general, companies want to understand users and match their offers, messages and products to their wants and needs.
Scarred from past controversies, many users fear data collection. This was indeed a serious issue for years, with no regulatory action or controls over what companies collect nor what they do with the data collected. Even respected brands such as Disney or Facebook were at one point blamed of collecting personal information illegally.
In recent years, however, the field has been regulated and companies comply to different privacy standards. For example, any global company operating in the European Union has to conform to the GDPR regulations, a set of rules regarding user data and how to collect it in a way which protects user privacy.
The core of the GDPR and other data regulation laws revolve around user agency and transparency, and is rather simple: Companies must explain their data policies to users and ask their permission for data collection processes. Noticed the ‘This website is using cookies’ messages cropping up in pretty much every website? That’s a part of it. This standard is true for Overwolf as well, and it’s up to you to permit anonymous data collection or choose to stay off the grid.
Without delving into legalese, the GDPR regulates what was already a best practice for global companies for many years now — to provide users with privacy controls and make all data collection opt-in based. When it comes to anonymous data, one could say businesses track the WHAT, WHEN and HOW but not the WHO except in statistical terms and demographics.
We can tell the percentage of players that have played a game at a certain time while Overwolf was used, or opened an app while playing, but not what a specific gamer played nor what they did while playing. In the same way we can tell what kind of GPUs are most popular, or which mouse is most beloved among gamers of a specific country, but again — not what YOU use at home personally.
This essentially means that your personal information such as your address, phone number or ID won’t be tracked by data collection operations, your personal life simply doesn’t interest most online businesses as much as how you behave as part of an audience group.
Analysis Helps Everyone Improve
Now that we’ve clarified the limits of data collection, let’s ask ourselves — how do I personally benefit from data science practices being implemented by the platforms I use?
When it comes to products and platforms, it’s pretty simple — without data collection and constant testing, your favorite products would probably have been really crappy. Everything you use has been tested, iterated and analyzed heavily based on user input as well as usage statistics. This form of value is so deeply ingrained in the ecosystem and so invisible to us we will only notice if it ever stops — we’ll be getting low level features which we’re not used to getting.
In advertising, data collection is what enables you to get offers that are actually relevant to you — whether it’s offering FPS gamers high-end GPUs or marketing a LAN event for that game’s players who live nearby. Data enables advertisers to reduce annoying noise and even benefit you on occasion with relevant offers instead of spamming you with every single product or service in the world.
For businesses, data is a necessity, not less important than budget or manpower, and with each passing year we see new ways to leverage data effectively. In gaming and other fully digital ecosystems data is even more critical, and safekeeping gamer information is a top priority across the industry.
In Overwolf we serve as an extra regulator, making sure data collection never breaches GDPR, our terms of service, or any game developer’s policies — whether it’s our platform or third party applications we work with doing the collection.
Overwolf conforms to the highest advertising standard on Earth set by the IAB, and only ever share anonymized data with data vendors approved by them. Even so, as an Overwolf user you can change your privacy settings to exclude any or all data partners using a standard Consent Management Platform in the Overwolf settings.
We hope this breakdown made data processes feel a little less intimidating, and that you can now make up your own mind as to whether anonymous statistical analysis is something you approve of. In our opinion, improving experiences in games or websites while reducing the noise advertisers drowned us in is great for everyone.