Everyone Lies, but Do Their Avatars?

by Anumita Chakrabarti

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Gaming companies are sitting on a data goldmine they may not be properly aware of

I recently watched my brother-in-law deeply immersed in a video game called Zelda. The goal of the game is to rescue a princess named Zelda and by the looks of it, the task is not very straightforward. It is not game like Mario or Road Rash where beyond a point, the players’ moves become muscle memory. It is a highly exploratory game which my 28-year-old brother-in-law plays with the utmost sincerity. He collects weapons, concocts bizarre recipes and finds clever ways of getting past ethereal digitally crafted fields, mountains, and rivers, right out of a Peter Jackson Middle Earth adaptation. Although he is being watched by no one (to his utter dismay, we flatly refuse to watch his impressive feats), he patiently collects every equipment, never skips a step and takes only calculated risks. I have had the chance to get to know my brother-in-law well, and I can see how his gaming behavior ties in perfectly with his consumer behavior. Every restaurant he goes to is thoroughly researched, every show he watches must cross a certain rating threshold and I know that getting every buck out of his pocket, is nothing short of an implicit detailed pitch by the product.

My sister, on the other hand, could not be more different. She takes risks, is impatient to see the next challenge and wants to get the job done as soon as possible. She plays Zelda like a crusade, trying to rescue to Zelda as soon as possible. If asked explicitly, both my sister and brother-in-law (both with graduate degrees in human-centered design) consider themselves to be rational shoppers, thorough researchers, and extremely self-aware buyers. But getting a buck out of my sister is child’s play, something she would never admit to (or even consciously realize) while filling out a survey, but her gaming behavior belies her true instincts.

My hypothesis here is that a person’s gaming behavior is one of the most unadulterated sources of raw user data. It is highly representative of our true behavior and is most likely a better data set than surveys in which we often respond as our ideal selves. This thesis of how “everybody lies” on surveys ties in with the thesis of Seth Stephens-Davidowitz’s book of the same name. He suggests how our search queries on Google more accurately reflect our true views as opposed to answers we may put forth to explicit questions.

In a game, whether you step back when you perceive danger or take a step forward and explore, is indicative of your risk appetite. Whether you judiciously collect and use your rewards in a game or spend them willy-nilly, shows that you gain more utility from building up security or conversely, maximizing the experience. As games become increasingly intricate and life-like and AI-enabled experiences become more ubiquitous, companies can create more accurate customer personas by better assessing and interpreting these subtle behavioral traits. This is not just relevant to B2C companies but also B2B companies, which might want to assess the nature and impact of human interactions within their value chains.

Analyses along these lines can be further developed to confirm ethnographic trends. For instance, certain cultures, broadly speaking, may derive more utility from savings rather than experiences. Accounting for these nuances can inform the product and service design process better and lead to greater customization and efficiency. Although designing offerings with such dexterity and nuance may seem a far-off reality at this point, there is little doubt that gaming companies like Nintendo and Sony are sitting on a gold-mine of data which companies could (and in my opinion, should) be vying to get their hands on.