Heat maps are an incredibly useful way to visualise critical player data from game sessions. They can collect and represent important statistics, with this data then being compiled and presented to the developers to analyse. For example, they can be utilized effectively in an online multiplayer shooter to observe the intricate details of a game, such as what particular weapon was used to gain a kill in a specific point of a map. Observing this data is crucial as it allows designers to be incredibly specific in distinguish what parts of the map are working well and what areas are cause for concern, in ways which may not have been possible just using player feedback alone.
It is important to note the difference between heat map data targeted at the players, and the data collected for the developer’s purpose. My first real encounter with using heat maps as a consumer was with Bungie’s fantastic data service incorporated into Halo 3. I was absolutely amazed by the depth and scale of information provided for matches you had played, working both as a springboard for personal skill development and interest in how other players approach a map. Bungie was not the first developer to provide feedback data to its players, but they were certainly the first to hook my interest in heat maps and telemetry data as a player.
On the other hand, developers have been observing data provided by their players for years, both during development and post release. Companies such as Valve are infamous for their consumer/implementation feedback loop, collecting data from the players and continuing to iterate on design issues through updates after a game is launched. Alpha/Beta testing, in-house QA and focus groups have all been ways in which data has been collected pre-release, and it’s become increasingly popular for developers to reach out to fans with an early build of the game, providing valuable telemetry data for the developers regardless of any additional blatant marketing intentions. As well trying to keep the product as balanced and bug free as possible, this data also benefits future players by ensuring better compatibility with different hardware. A great recent example of this is Echo, Splash Damage’s telemetry and analytics system being used on the closed Alpha of their upcoming game Dirty Bomb. In this case the fantastic technology is provided by a dedicated team, where the cloud-based technology can collect data from every single game played worldwide.
Besides the data collected in online games both during development and after launch, developers are increasingly incorporating feedback from players in unique ways through new technologies and business models, and it’s gradually become evident that telemetry data can be incredibly interesting for the player as well as the developer.