Lukasz Twardowski, a young Polish entrepreneur, recently made an unexpected discovery. By analyzing data from video games, he thinks he’ll be able to predict whether players are color blind, have Alzheimer’s disease, or suffer from various learning and development disorders.
He can already use this data to tell whether players are gamblers, cheaters, or minors, so the profiling of medical conditions is not that distant, Twardowski claims.
“Games are the richest and the most meaningful form of human computer interaction,” said Twardowski in an interview with VentureBeat. “We can use [them] to build a full user behavioral profile.”
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Since its launch in 2009, Twardowski’s company, Use It Better, has focused its analytics and profiling capabilities to help developers catch cheaters, based on an analysis of how these players interact with the game. Fraud detection has become an important component of the startup’s value proposition. As the company’s website explains: “It can’t prevent people from shoplifting, but it can show you who’s the thief.”
“By tracking how they play games, we can learn a lot about people,” Twardowski explained. Hesitatingly, he added: “That will be a huge responsibility for us later on.”
On first look, Use It Better does not seem like the kind of company on the brink of a major breakthrough. The 11-person team, primarily comprised of 20-somethings developers, is based in Poland, and the two founders divide their time between Poland and the U.S. The website still reflects the commercial goal and does not contain any mention of what Twardowski describes as “the big vision.”
The founders’ current focus is to convince mid-sized gaming companies that an analytics platform to track how players move through levels of a game can improve user experience and acquisition. The company describes itself as a “CCTV for gamers,” echoing the way closed-circuit TVs enable continuous monitoring of public spaces — and touts its solution as the missing link between statistics and user interface and user experience (UI/UX) design.
The technology can see how long a user takes to make any decisions, or it can take snapshots of mouse movements and clicks and compile them neatly in reports and “heat maps.” Analysis, for example, might reveal that a group of players is clicking in a random spot, distracted by a purely illustrative graphic. These gamers might be frustrated and deterred from playing further. A simple design fix could keep these users immersed in the experience.
Use it Better is currently working with mid- to large-sized studios like Kabam, who pay them about $10,000 a month to access analytics reports on how users are typically playing their games. Use It Better is launching its analytics platform to the public next month.
The company is already gaining recognition in the gaming industry, recently taking home an award from the Global iGaming Summit and Expo (GiGse). Twardowski is poised for early success for the current platform, but he has a grander vision, one that sits at the intersection between analytics, human computer interaction (HCI) and games.
Academics have begun to take games more seriously, as a window into the human psyche. Games are addictive and immersive and are built to command hours of our time and attention. What better testbed for myriad psychological and medical conditions? A good game pushes us to our limits, challenging us to use both the analytical and intuitive sides of our brain.
“This is a new field but I think the prospects here are pretty good,” said Byron Reeves, a professor at Stanford University, considered one of the foremost experts on a new field known as “gamification.” Reeves told me that this area — analyzing users based on the characteristics of the play — would be of interest to the large gaming studios and the U.S. military.
Recent HCI studies show that computer games are valuable to students with learning disorders and special needs. For instance, at Stanford University, a group of doctoral students found that a multiplayer computer game had a comforting and motivating effect on teens with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Twardowski also references a related study where researchers could determine if a game user is male or female within seconds. Animatedly, he described how Use It Better can figure out so much more about players. What to do with all this information is not necessarily his responsibility. But it’s going to be valuable to someone.
“We can tell if you are a girl or buy, smart, dumb, old and young…we can tell if you’re a gambler or not, if a kid is color blind and confusing red and green,” he said. “All this, just from a game.”