Thursday, November 15, 2012

Reaction to Microsoft's hoarding of Halo 4 data

For the better part of a day, I read increasingly furious twitter updates regarding Microsoft's popular video game Halo 4 and the free-to-use website "Waypoint" that serves as a portal for game stats.  The crux of the twitter barrage is Microsoft's lack of an API (application programming interface).  The company that developed Halo 4 is 343 Industries, a clever name borrowed from the fictional story that links all the games in the franchise.  343 serves as the custodian of not only game development but the entire franchise, which includes games, books, comics, and more. Most importantly, they own the game data.

Data Visualization isn't just a trend. It's an effective way of communicating information using pictures. It makes spotting trends and making course-of-action decisions easier, faster, and more accurate. Nearly every industry has benefited from the use of infographs and data visualization.

For gamers, tracking stats has been a means of evaluating personal performance.  So what's changed for the gamer plugged into Halo 4? Previous installments of the game were developed by the software company, Bungie.  A long-time PC game developer, Bungie created Halo for Microsoft's maiden gaming console, the Xbox, back in 2001. Bungie already had a reputation for actively engaging it's fans and the communities spawned from its games.  With Halo setting sales records and a new generation of gamers connected to high-speed internet, Bungie made stats and data available to gamers via its website.

In 2010, Bungie released it's last Halo game and gave the community its first API.  Fan-operated websites like Halocharts and Halotracker quickly began creating applications using the API and were able to create mini-games, online player leagues, and create new metrics for players.  That was then.

Now 343 is at the helm and a lot's changed in two years.  The way companies view data has changed. It's a commodity and they have plenty of it.  An outgoing software company without a stake in a billion-dollar franchise gave the community an API (for a small fee - Bungie Pro).  It's simply not reasonable to expect Microsoft to adopt Bungie's community strategy.  The ability to monetize data has changed the game.

In a way, the current community outcry over a lack of a Halo Waypoint API is a hold-over from the Web 2.0 craze.  "In the end Web 2.0 ended up being an umbrella term for things like user-generated content, AJAX, REST API’s, and social networking,"  -

Today's market includes mobile, tablets, smart TVs, and an increasing number of downloadable apps.  Microsoft unveiled Smartglass at E3 2012 and announced plans for integration between windows 8, Xbox, and tablets.  Without a crystal ball, it's easy to foresee that accessing more data and stats will be easier with the addition of these new tools.

We don't need third-party, community generated applications to view game data and enrich the gaming experience. For developers, the increasing amount of date generated from games is a commodity as well as tool for managing gaming dynamics. The incentive for 343 to provide accessible and meaningful data and stats to it's customers is evident.  The developers that look to the future and adopt technologies that make best use of the data will thrive.  Those that cling to yesterday's technology standards will go the way of Web 2.0.

For now, the angry birds tweeting their complaints about a lack of an API need to be patient. Mama bird, 343, will be arriving shortly with enough data and stats for you to devour.

- Gunner

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