Whether you think it’s a brilliant ploy for advertising or a terrifying Orwellian tool of observation and mass consumerism, data mining and user analytics have already begun to change the way that sales and marketing exploit our habits and behavior to promote products. Delve into your own Ad-words page on Google and it will reveal a litany of keywords based around your search history and various clicks. In short, targeted advertising is now the drone strike equivalent of advertising, an electronically calculated injection of marketing that will (hopefully) connect directly to one or all of your interests. However, despite its nightmarish reputation, there is potential for exploiting Ad-words’ methods and utilizing them for procedural generation in game worlds.
Over recent years, the concept of procedural generation of game worlds has grown in popularity. It offers an easier and cheaper method of creating expansive environments with little or no input from the developer beyond the coding of the algorithm. While procedural generation is an attractive concept to many, particularly when the game mechanics do not require event scripting or linear gameplay (namely creation sims like Stardew Valley and Terraria), the idea can fall flat if the world created is effectively devoid of any original content (insert obvious No Man’s Sky joke here). After all, what’s the point of buying a cake made only out of icing? At its worst, procedural generation is a lazy way of trying to pretend you have an expansive game while avoiding a large portion of the creative effort.
Seeing as procedural generation’s greatest pitfall is its difficulty in maintaining in-depth and complex content in a random world, the use of analytics data, brought in from Google or other social media sites and data agencies, could add elements of personalization currently unseen in open world games. The designation of gaming assets in the creation engine, tied to certain Ad-words or topics could be inserted into the game world depending on the data feedback provided by the relevant player account, most likely by the user granting access permission (think of it like letting Tindr know your location). These assets would then appear based on feedback, thus creating a world with recognizable brands and/or themes to a specific player. While this may be restricted to fairly innocuous world details rather than core plot points or items, it will add a small element of replayability and the chance to give smaller developers a simpler way of creating more complex and in-depth worlds while still retaining the simplicity and randomness of procedural generation.
While the idea of being able to personalize your game world seems to open the door to hours of additional enjoyment and a mild sense of design involvement, it may also open the door to controversial design choices. The idea of Ad-word based gaming assets may be a cheaper method of personalization for indie developers, larger design and publishing companies may see another avenue to drive advertising and revenue streams from an already squeezed gamer base. While the commercialization of extra content and design has been somewhat normalized with the use of DLC and season passes, being forced to see adverts splashed around the game world in addition to a $60 price tag plus add-ons may be a little too far for even the most avid fans of a franchise. I don’t mind the odd Call of Duty experience, but having a suspicious amount of Mountain Dew and Doritos popping up in bombed out buildings and air craft carrier canteens would likely reduce the tension.