While most people may not like the fact that their actions are being monitored, let me assure you that BioWare is following your in-game Mass Effect 2 actions anonymously. That's right, BioWare is tracking you, in a sense, but the data they collect is simply going to be used to enhance the third iteration of the game.
If you're wondering what data the BioWare team might be collecting, Casey Hudson (executive producer of the Mass Effect series) took a moment to explain about the data tracking, and provided an interesting statistic you'll see below.
"The only data that we get are in terms of events -- little things that happen in the game. Let's say if we want to know whether players skip lines of dialogue, we can have that become a little event that gets sent up. It's all completely anonymous, so all we get is raw numbers for how many times these kinds of events occur. Then we can start getting ratios and comparing proportions and things like that. It becomes this mass of numbers, and then we have to try to figure out how we would interpret that."
Seeing as the data sent to them is based off of events, I'm sure some players will be glad that there probably wasn't a time-tracker within the Afterlife Club - you know who you are! Hudson went on to explain that the thought of tracking data started in Mass Effect 2, and wasn't existent in the original game.
"When we were looking at the Achievements for Mass Effect 1, that's where we realized that there are some really interesting player behaviors there that it would be nice if we could answer more questions for ourselves. [Then] we could understand what's going on and how people play our game."
"Sometimes you'll design something and think that it's going to be used in a certain way and people will use it in a completely different way. And if you didn't know that, then you would just keep making that system the same as you did before. But once you know what players like and what they don't like, based on the way that they're playing it, then you can make more of the good stuff and less of the stuff they weren't interested in."
Look at it like this: If you could buy a blue pie or a red pie in ME2, and everyone went with the red pie, there wouldn't be a blue pie in ME3. Their changes aren't always that drastic, but hey, it's an analogy with pies. Go along with it.
"There are some things regarding difficulty and weapons and things like that and those are easier to tune, but there won't be a huge opportunity to include this stuff for the PS3 version. It's about how you design a game from the ground up."
It's not surprisingly that this feature was mainly imported for the Xbox crowd, who built up a large fanbase around the original game. That said, Mass Effect 2 is a phenomenal game, and PS3 owners should look forward to it being released on their system.
There are a ton of different bits of data that BioWare is collecting, but they released this handy image full of random facts. Whoever the two people who played through Mass Effect 2 28 times on the PC are, we salute you.
"Ultimately it doesn't always give you the answers, but it sometimes raises questions or gets you to ask the right questions…More people played the soldier class than all of the other classes combined. If you know that, then you can start thinking about future games. Is that good? Is that a problem? Should we look at the other classes and start thinking about ways to make them selected as often as soldier? As part of asking these questions, we can design games in the future a lot better."
"It helps us to confirm a lot of the assumptions that we make when we design games. Obviously with a game like Mass Effect we're trying to capture the sense of continuity and the cinematic experience. More and more we're trying to create something dynamic and exciting like a really great movie and we're trying to get away from dialogue, though even a movie has conversations. This set of decisions we make for how you would experience that and the fact that we have a dialogue system and things like that, we're kind of assuming and hoping that we're right in that people are interested in this kind of experience. If we found that 80% or 90% of the lines were being skipped, we would have to reevaluate the work that we were putting into the digital acting."
The voice acting in the game is pretty awesome, and it really helps set a lot of tone and moods the game might not have been able to achieve otherwise - as we were told back at E3, the Star Wars: The Old Republic team were inspired by Mass Effect to put voice acting in to their game.
The voices in Mass Effect 2 make conversations more fluent and natural. Also, quit looking at that Asari.
"We were surprised by how many people imported a game from Mass Effect 1…We put a lot into that feature and we could have gotten data back that said nobody was doing it. But actually more than half of players imported their save game from Mass Effect 1. That to me is quite high."
This right here is a feature I wish more types of games would try to implement: porting over your character from one game into another is just awesome! It really helps with the continuity of a game and lets the story transition smoothly. Take a note, game devs!
"In general, pretty much all of the data for the Xbox 360 version and the PC version are quite similar. One difference was the people who did certain loyalty missions on the Xbox versus the PC, which is kind of surprising. On the PC for example, people did Miranda's loyalty mission quite a bit, which is where she is trying to connect with her sister and it's more of a touchy-feely plot. Not a lot of Xbox 360 players did that one. But the Xbox 360 players did do Grunt's mission a lot more than PC players."
We can only hope that the PC gamers did the mission out of the goodness of their hearts, and not because they downloaded some kind of sketchy texture patch to make Miranda more skimpily clad. Oh, you silly PC users!
Hudson finished up the interview with a simple explanation of the tracking technology, and still made it sound pretty awesome.
"Ultimately what it means for players is that we don't have to guess anymore about what players are doing. We can actually learn about what they like and what they don't like and just try to focus on building the good stuff."
I'm all for it - if Mass Effect 3 manages to top the second one, I might as well stock up on canned food and live in my basement for a few years. And you know it? It'll be worth it.