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Devs reflect on the privacy risks surrounding how games subtly collect data

Game developers tell Polygon about the surprising and unintentionally invasive information they learned about the people playing their games, and concerns that kind of collection raises.

“I was capturing all this data and then analyzing it later, and it honestly felt like you were spying on someone.” 

- Silent Hill: Shattered Memories dev Sam Barlow talks about how the game altered encounters based on behavior and an in-game personality evaluation.

Polygon has published a story exploring potential privacy concerns surrounding data collection both in and relating to video games. The full story talks with a number of developers and data experts on the kind of information collected by those in both games and adjacent industries, and points out some of the risks surrounding exactly how personal and identifiable some of that data can be in the wrong hands.

Many game developers interviewed for the story, such as some of the minds behind Silent Hill: Shattered Memories and Fallout: New Vegas, go as far to say that they’d have to reexamine some of the choice-driven mechanics of their games if they were to release the same kind of thing in the modern day. Others talk about the surprising and unintentionally invasive information they learned about the people playing their games.

Obsidian’s Josh Sawyer tells Polygon that the team always has conversations about data security. Even though the data collected by games seems harmless on its own, he points out that when combined with broader profiles of a person “it can really be used in ways that go far beyond what it appears to be on its face.”

“If we were doing any telemetrics now, I would be cautious about the information from games being used and collected,” Sawyer tells Polygon. “One of the things I’d be very concerned about in a game like New Vegas is [...] we allow players to make choices that are really dark and bleak.”

In these cases and the others mentioned in the full story, the data is collected with the goals of better understanding certain moments and behaviors in-game, rather than to form external profiles about the people playing games. But, as some of the experts speaking to Polygon point out, intent doesn’t mean that the data won’t be used for other purposes, especially as both games and players become more and more connected online.

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