Data Mining and Video Games: Drawing in a New Generation of Players to Soldiers and Fight

Military video games can be used to capture data regarding a player’s decision-making process.

In terms of understanding and engaging customers, the video game industry has gone through a massive transformation in recent years.

Before this transformation, video games were physical products that could be purchased over the counter, with little to no understanding of player retention or behavioral analysis for the people who sold them. That all changed when smartphones and social networks emerged as new gaming platforms.

The shift brought gaming to the mainstream – meaning it was no longer just something enjoyed by the niche community we often call “gamers.” Because new platforms are connected to a network, companies in the industry can collect and analyze data for every user.

Today, data analytics is a central pillar of game design and the ongoing management process that enables developers to get to know players in a whole new way.

How Big Data Influences Video Games

The recent shift by the gaming industry regarding their use of analytics can be tracked in three distinct phases.

In the first phase, game performance was the sole focus. Dashboard reporting was used to record existing issues within the game, but didn’t provide any clarity as to where the issues were or how to go about solving them.

The second phase involved data mining with the focus on changing the game at the design level. The developers were able to see where the issues were, but were only able to implement one-size-fits-all changes to the game.

In the final phase, publishers were able to give users the ability to alter the game for each player. With access to a large number of data points powered by fast database technology, game designers are now able to personalize the gaming experience for each individual player within player segments, based on a player’s engagement and playing style. This can be used to not only change the gameplay, but can completely change the monetization method of the player.

Because recording so much data is now a possibility, game developers often struggle with the risk of recording data just for the sake of it. In today’s gaming industry, we are seeing a shift towards focusing on the right kind of data to generate actionable insights.

Video Games Train and Recruit Tomorrow’s Military

Over the years, the military’s use of video games has continued to grow, whether it be for training, recruitment, or more recently, the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The most pressing need is recruitment. The military is faced with the challenge of drawing in a new generation of players to soldiers and fight. With video games a mainstay in popular culture, they’re proving to be a vital resource.

War games can be used to capture data regarding a player’s decision-making process. From operations to command post exercises, battle functions are represented by a corresponding digital information system, making it a huge data source. When it comes to simulations and operations planning, digital war games can use already existing systems of record to collect data on a scale so large it was previously unimaginable.

The biggest challenge this presents is deciding how to assign numbers to a qualitative process, then collecting large amounts of data and turning it into useful knowledge. The military decision-making process had to be transformed for the world of bytes, which can only be done through war games. Ultimately, it transforms a qualitative experience into one that can be measured and link decisions with outcomes.

Some Military Gaming History

The U.S. armed force’s first involvement with any kind of electronic gaming was more of an accident.

In the 1950s, early computers housed at the Brookhaven National Laboratory were designed to crunch the numbers on ballistic missile trajectories. In an attempt to garner interest from lab visitors, a physicist known as William Higginbotham used one of the computers along with an oscilloscope to create a small physics-based game and named it Tennis for Two.

Even though the game had no real involvement with a military organization, the Department of Defense’s innovative computer technology from World War II played an important role in bringing the game to life and was a sign of things to come.

Fast forward 30 years and the military was becoming increasingly involved in the creation of military video games. During the arcade game frenzy of the 1980s, one of the first collaborations between a commercial gaming company and a military agency occurred. Atari’s Battlezone, one of the more popular games of the time, was a tank game with wireframe graphics.

The Army Training Doctrine and Command (TRADOC) worked with Atari to turn the game into a training simulator for the Army’s M2 Bradley tank. Two prototypes came out of this collaboration, however, no Bradley crewmen ended up being trained on the system.

Nevertheless, it was an early indication of how the gaming industry and the military would collaborate in the future.

A more recent military video game project is America’s Army, which was initially released in 2002. It was not meant to be a training tool, but rather a recruiting tool. The game was available as a download or on a hard disc at Army recruitment offices and was an online multiplayer, first-person shooter game in which players would assume the role of different infantry-related positions in the Army. The end goal of the game was to get young people thinking about joining Army ranks early on in life.

The game faced some backlash, but it did not have an impact on its popularity. From its initial release to January 2014, the game received 41 updates.

By Caitlin Malone

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