David Polfeldt, managing director of The Division developer Massive Entertainment, readily admits he likes the data that game developers now have access to. At the same time, he believes there is an ethical problem with data being used to wring as much money as possible out of gamers, and his love for blockbuster games has caused him to worry about the future.
"I think it's super interesting what we can do now with big data and that type of research we can do. We find patterns that we didn't know of. That to me is incredibly sexy," Polfeldt told GamesIndustry International. "Then there's a another step, where you get that data and the only thing you use it for is to fool people into paying for things that they didn't intend to. Then it becomes unethical. Then to me it's no longer a conversation. Then it's just, I'm just trying to find your trigger mechanisms and fool you."
Particularly in the free-to-play space, data-driven game design has become increasingly common in recent years. FarmVille maker Zynga is one of the preeminent examples of data-driven design, which, put simply, is the practice of relying heavily on data and metrics when making design choices.
"I do think there's an ethical problem there," Polfeldt continued. "Now you've found out everything about David. Good, will you now use that to tell him a story that matters to him--or are you going to use that to make him pay for things that he didn't want to pay for? To me, that's completely different."
"I embrace data. I think it's enormously educational, but it is important to ask yourself, what am I using this information for?" -- Massive Entertainment managing director David Polfeldt
Free-to-play design is not always such a negative thing for gamers, and there are many examples of games that are widely accepted because they aren't perceived as being manipulative. The model has come to dominate the mobile space, and there are those who believe it will eventually pervade the entire industry. Polfeldt sees a clear distinction between the development of traditional games and other types of games that will only become more apparent, but that doesn't mean part of him doesn't worry about the future.
"I actually think they're not so close together," he said when asked about mobile and console game development. "I think we will see a separation where it's like nobody today thinks that a one-armed bandit is a games developer, like, 'Why aren't the one-armed bandits at E3?' Of course, they're not games. It's something else.
"I think many of the free-to-play games we will start looking upon them more as one-armed bandits. It's not a bad product in its own genre, but it's probably not an interactive experience as I mean that it is. Long answer, but it is a really complicated question because I like it. I embrace data. I think it's enormously educational, but it is important to ask yourself, what am I using this information for? That is where we do have a responsibility.
"As a gamer I'm afraid to death of it, because I love blockbuster games. I love big, long, epic games that will occupy my attention for a long time. I love the games that other people are doing, so I'm really afraid that it's all going to be different. It's all going to be small games. It's all going to be free. That to me is just something else. I can't see how that would replace my need for an epic experience. I just don't get it. They have to be different. That's really my conclusion. They just cannot be seen as the same for very long."
Polfeldt and Massive won't have to grapple with these issues directly when developing The Division, which is expected to be a traditional retail title when it's released next year. The open-world RPG was recently delayed until 2015, but would appear to comfortably fit into the "blockbuster" category that Polfeldt is so fond of.
Do you worry about the future of the sorts of games you like to play, or do you believe there will always be a market for them? Let us know in the comments below.