Open data and video games

24 Oct 2011

In amongst all the wonderful talks at this year’s Playful was one that touched upon something that’s been bugging me recently – that despite all the open data that’s happening from the real world, there’s not enough coming from the play world.

Paul Rissen’s talk was about the lack of linked/semantic data from the video games world – why couldn’t he get references to scenes in Red Dead Redemption to link them against the scenes in western films from which they draw inspiration, letting you hop back and forth. But I think Paul’s covering a very specific instance of a more general problem – we generate lots of data when we play games, that we should be able to own, but instead is locked away from us.

For an example of this done right, then take a gander at my profile on, where you can find lots of data about the Halo games I’ve played. Since Halo 3, which was released in 2007, Bungie have been recording stats about all your games: how many baddies you kill, whether you won or lost that online match, heat maps of where you killed/were killed on each level. Wonderfully rich amounts of data for you to go and examine. With their last game in the Halo franchise they even added an API for you to programmatically access those stats.

Alas, this is the exception, rather than the rule.

Take another Microsoft Triple-A title, Forza Motorsport 4, which I started playing recently. Given it’s a top of its class game, you’d hope there’d be something similar. But just head over to the equivalent profile page for me on the Forza website and see how bare it is. You can’t even see my achievement list for some reason, despite the fact I’d gladly share them with you, if I can find how to enable that. But where are the total miles driven? Where are the cars I’ve drive? Where are the races I’ve won and lost? I generated all that data, surely it’d be nice to have a way to access and preserve that data which is mine?

The reason I use Forza as an example is I actually did want to do a hack around my Forza Motorsport data. Whilst chatting to James Smith at Over The Air, we were chatting about hacks that could make carbon data more tangible, and I thought it’d be a nice thing, given AMEE have the emissions data for most cars to make a web page that described the virtual carbon output of your Forza career. Those of you tootling around in your reasonably priced car would have a better fun to carbon ratio than those in a MacLaren F1, and we could have fun seeing that. Sure, it’d be a crude approximation, but it’d be something nicely tangible for you to interact with. But alas, there’s no data.

James, on the other hand, did a similar thing with Minecraft, which, whilst Minecraft is not open officially, is easily hackable, and produced an excellent mod where your environmental impact is measured (burning stuff is bad, planting stuff is good, and so on) and the in game weather system adjusted to reflect the consequences:

A great little hack, and only achievable because Minecraft is sufficiently open that you can take your data from the game and act upon it. James’s example works in real time, but I’d argue that whilst that’s nice, it’d still be interesting if he could only get that data after the fact.

I’d love to see lots more like this, but to do that we need more access to the data we generate. Games make excellent interfaces for such experiments, and they’re one of the few activities we do where every action can easily be logged and referenced, if only people put in the effort. Video games are now firmly entrenched as part of our culture, so they make an excellent way to explore different interactions – be they serious or silly – with the real world. It’s just slightly sad that the insight seen by Bungie four years ago hasn’t been applied to a wider range and variety of video games.