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Beware! Activision has been watching you play 'Skylanders'

Big brother Spyro

Skylanders: Cloud Patrol
Skylanders: Cloud Patrol

User tracking data is determining the future of Activision's iOS business.

Did you know that every time you boot up Skylanders: Cloud Patrol, you're being watched?

Back in April, Activision launched Skylanders: Cloud Patrol on iOS platforms. Built into the game was Swrve technology, developed by a company called Swrve New Media, which allows Activision to track what users are doing inside the game and adjust the game accordingly.

"The Swrve technology that we had built into our mobile platform," said Greg Canessa, VP of Activision Mobile, "is completely transparent to the user. They have no idea it's there. It has been feeding us data since day one and we've used that to inform and prioritize which features we add to the game."

Canessa gave an example of one of the more recent features that was added because of this data mining. The data was showing that users weren't changing between characters very often. Unlike the console Skylanders game, Cloud Patrol lacked creature-specific powers, thereby making all the creatures play mostly the same way.

"We added 31 new Skylander powers, so every one of the Skylanders toys has a unique power now," he said. "That was directly informed by the data we were able to collect through the Swrve analytics technology, because we realized that people were importing their toys but they wanted to see more of a distinction, a differentiation between the toys. We were able to track that by seeing how frequently people were switching from one toy to another. We used that to inform our features set."

In another example, he explained how certain powers could be balanced by letting a certain global region test one variant while another global region tests another. So, if the region where a lightning bolt attack is 50% more powerful is resulting in a huge mismatch of total points, that's a good indication that the power may need rebalancing. The data will show this mismatch easily and changes can be made to the game without needing to release an official patch.

Thanks to a new partnership, Activision plans to roll out Swrve technology into all of its mobile games moving forward. So you could theoretically see the price of a shotgun in Call of Duty: Zombies go from $50 to $100 in-game dollars should the data show that the gun is being abused. The data could also inform how in-game DLC is priced, avoiding a potential horse armor incident.

As for concerns about privacy, the data being collected is no different than the data tracked by Modern Warfare 3 when you shoot a gun or Farmville when you shuck some corn. It's strictly gameplay data, relatively tame when you think about how much we share on Facebook and Twitter. But, if you're concerned, you should probably never play an online game again, as gameplay tracking like this has become the norm, and its expansion into mobile will only increase as development budgets skyrocket.

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