Valve is far from the only video game company hiring total outsiders to come in and help make them money. Electronic Arts has done something similar, with Forbes reporting they’ve hired Danish data analyst Jonas Lygaard, despite the fact he has absolutely zero experience in the games industry.
What he did have experience in was looking at user data, and seeing scenarios and patterns emerge from the raw numbers.
His influence will be felt when gamers fire up FIFA 13 for the first time, and begin playing a game that will take notes of just about everything that you do, so that they can be sent “individualized messages designed to prevent them from quitting, spend more time playing the game, and spend more money building up their teams of digital soccer players”.
It’s as diabolical as it is fascinating.
“Their activity on the options market — do they spend a lot of time looking at players and making decisions? Do they buy packs of teams? Or do they try to build teams with players with individual chemistry? So I’m Danish. Maybe I want the best Danish team ever, so I will purchase the best Danish players,” Lygaard tells Forbes. “And we’re looking at their playing styles: do they play lots of matches, earning coins and using those to build a team? Do they try to build through competing with friends?”
Even creepier is the way he’s helped FIFA learn when to stop kicking your arse and, in an effort to get you to keep spending money (on the game’s microtransaction-fuelled “Ultimate Team” mode), help you out instead.
“Say a player goes in every day. He buys a team as a pack. He loses 4 matches in a row, and one of his players is injured. Then you go into predictive mode. This player will leave in 2 weeks and we can take what we know about him and use it to reengage him,” he says. “We can start helping him: be more proactive, have more training sessions, so his skill gets better. We can make a note in the game to explain to him how options work. We can personalise the experience.”
As nefarious as some may see it, nobody is forcing you to keep playing the game, and nobody forced you to start playing a game mode that costs you money on top of the cash you dropped for the actual. If Lygaard’s work helps FIFA be a little gentler and more subtle with those who have made that choice, then it’s mostly for the best.
Mostly. It’s still a little creepy, though.