For all of Google’s colorful products and silly games — not to mention the search engine you use every day — it’s easy to forget that it’s also one of the world’s biggest research companies. It gathers data on everything from education to UX design to artificial intelligence. It even studies how you use sites like YouTube and Gmail. So, what could it do with the kind of data it gets from users through its new Stadia game-streaming platform?
If Stadia works as described, it has the potential to upend how the gaming industry works. But it will also give Google a trove of data it didn’t have before. Basic information like what games a user buys, how long they play, and what devices they play on can provide valuable insights that might help Google do what it does best: sell ads.
“A good psychologist should be able to watch how most of us game and understand a whole lot about us.”
But how you play your games may be the most valuable data of all, according to Jon Festinger, a professor at the Centre for Digital Media, a graduate program in Canada that focuses on design. While Google can already gauge your interests or political leanings from things like your search history, video games involve actively making decisions that reveal a surprisingly intimate picture of who you are.
“It’s a walking, talking Rorschach test onto which you project your decision-making,” Festinger says. “Are you timid? Are you bold? Do you take risks? What kind of risks do you take? What do you see and not see? Where are your blind spots? A good psychologist should be able to watch how most of us game and understand a whole lot about us.”
Bethesda and Ubisoft, two game publishers partnering with Google on Stadia, didn’t immediately respond to questions about whether their titles would be used for data collection purposes. But even without publisher involvement, video games have been used to research how people think. For example, researchers have examined teamwork dynamics by studying guilds in World of Warcraft and have studied voice…