Remember the scene from The Matrix where Cypher tells Neo he doesn't even see the code anymore? He just sees blonde, brunette or redhead.
At SXSW Interactive, Sony Senior Manager of Global Technology Services Zane Mumford and Hosting Experience Manager Tyler Gaede explained how Sony is getting better at deciphering its own Matrix.
This peek behind the big data curtain of the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 revealed how developers working for the gaming giant are learning to spot everything from cheaters to game balance issues to what makes a great map a great map.
Boom, headshot! A thousand times a week
Sifting through terabytes of player data is no easy task. Sony has licensed analytics software from Tableau for its developers, which lets them easily generate digestible charts.
On Tableau, cheaters pop out like a sore thumb. Gaede's example was a week when the highest ranking player on the PS3's Starhawk had played a thousand games a week cutting down the same player. Needless to say, he was dishonorably discharged from the leader boards for exploiting.
Sometimes the data doesn't point out the answers, just which questions to ask. Developers can easily see the most popular maps and weapons, but when it comes to determining why, they often reach out to player forums for further enlightenment.
Big data is a big help for issues of game balance. Gaede again used Starhawk as an example, where developers cross-referenced fighter jet control styles with a player's ability to dodge a missile, just to make sure no one's wings needed to be clipped.
Want more single player games? Play more single player games
One particularly easy-to-read pie chart was the preference for single player versus multiplayer gaming. There's a surprising lack of overlap between gamers who play only story mode and those who like to mix it up online.
Mumford also noted that single player has a much quicker drop-off than multiplayer, meaning players are more likely to stop playing once they've conquered the end boss, as opposed to those who are racking up kill streaks online.
You don't have to be able to read the Matrix to guess which games might be getting turned over the quickest in the used games market, and how much multiplayer is being leveraged to keep the shelves of GameStop bare.
When we asked Mumford and Gaede about how Sony is responding to this data trend as far as resource allocation and development decisions go, their answers focused on choosing between single player and multiplayer downloadable content. The two declined to provide examples from specific titles.
The writing is already on the wall, at least for Sony's competition. Microsoft is betting big on the multiplayer-only Titanfall to help the Xbox One catch up to the PS4 in overall sales.
That drop-off trend doesn't seem to have shaken Sony much though. It's most anticipated PS4 releases are single player-focused, story-driven titles. Infamous: Second Son, arriving this month, features no multiplayer, and while the next Uncharted surely will, it's a cinematic single player experience that it's known for.
So is Sony looking at the re-playable sandbox nature of games like Infamous as an alternative to multiplayer life support? Or is it betting on the drama of single player, casting Last of Us lead Troy Baker as its Second Son?
Sony's plan for maintaining its lead is unclear, but surely it's no Cypher, chowing down on rich system sales and thinking that ignorance is bliss.