No developer of digital content these days seems to be safe from the curious eyes of dataminers, individuals who sift through piece of content’s deepest data to discover nuggets of knowledge hidden away from the average user. In the realm of big data, datamining is used to find patterns between variable that can reveal new insights on human behavior. In the realm of gaming, datamining is a bit more mundane, though fascinating to many players. Dataminers often haul up unreleased or unfinished content for a game and post it on blogs or wikis, some of which would never have been discovered otherwise. It’s exhilarating, for example, to read through what the users over at The Cutting Room Floor find while plumbing the depths of games both new and old. TCRF users maintain wiki pages that display unfinished work hidden away in the data strings of various video games, which prompts us to ask what our favorite games would have been like had their developers taken a different direction in their design process. It’s a bit like digital archaeology, a label that many TCRF users wear proudly.
But when it comes to contemporary games, especially those which receive constant updates, datamining is a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand, datamining can act as a bit of a PR boost, since it essentially acts as a teaser that can hype up players for upcoming content. On the other hand, datamining can also ruin a studio’s carefully-planned PR schedules, spoiling the hype before fans are ready and thus causing them to lose interest in between updates. It’s a bit of a sticky subject for many gamers, whether they’re excitedly discussing the latest leaks for their games on social media or whether they’re outraged over finished content locked away on a game’s initial release, to be sold later as DLC.
A recent dispute between players within the community for Hi-Rez Studios’ SMITE made the issue much stickier than before. SMITE is a hybrid third-person MOBA in which players take on the roles of various deities from around the world and compete against one another in arenas and MOBA-style maps with multiple lanes. Like most games of its ilk, SMITE offers players purchasable cosmetic ‘skins’ or costumes for its gods. A post on SMITE’s subreddit yesterday by user ReaperKaze revealed assets in the latest public test server (PTS) that included, alongside the new hero Chiron, unreleased skins for the Thor character. This information was later posted on the site SmiteDatamining, which hosts articles on content found by dataminers.
In response, SmiteDatamining’s twitter drew the ire of several SMITE community figureheads, including several Hi-Rez employees. These users accused SmiteDatamining of profiting off of Hi-Rez’s work because SmiteDatamining’s website generates ad revenue off. SmiteDatamining defended itself by claiming that it was a content creator that allowed the SMITE community to generate early feedback and hype from datamines. The original twitter thread branched into several other discussions spanning Twitter itself, YouTube, and Reddit.
— Smite Datamining (@SmiteDatamining) November 11, 2015
The Thor leak, however, was not a datamine. Thor’s snazzy Megaman X con Gundam-inspired outfit was obtained when an unnamed Hi-Rez employee accidentally left a whitelisted test server accessible by all players during PTS maintenance.
I'm kinda tired of the Datamining debate. This IS NOT Datamining, it's ingame content. https://t.co/Y6UC7Viz8M Work better.
— Smite Datamining (@SmiteDatamining) November 11, 2015
To see the Thor skin in action, click the video below.
The other twitter conversation chains can be found here.
SmiteDatamining member FAErayo later posted this comment on the SMITE subreddit in an effort to generate polite discussion on the matter. He commented that:
We said numerous times we can avoid spoiling something (Always it’s exclusive for us as smitedatamining isn’t the only site/person to datamine content) so it ENDS by Hi-Rez trying to put more effort into hiding what they 100% want to not get leaked. I don’t think it’s very hard to dedicate 20 extra minutes to make sure you have hidden a skin from the client.
The Hi-Rez spoilers 45 min before patch notes are “hypes” that some people find useless or pointless, some other likes it the same way other people like to know what’s next 1 week earlier.
In response, SMITE community manager PonPon posted Hi-Rez’s efforts to avoid such leaks in the future:
In terms of working with you to hide content, there are other sites and other users with the tools and knowledge to spoil. I imagine if we were to begin asking to have content hidden, other sites would pop up to give more information than what you have shown. We may be able to look at this more, but that would be my large concern.
In terms of hiding content, it would take a lot longer than 20 minutes to hide most of the content in question. Generally with how our process works, it isn’t something that is strictly that plug and play, as well as removable. We do have some things moving forward about how we may hide stuff, but as a whole once something is in Smite internally, taking it out is much more difficult. (And we do do this for more things far out, but it isn’t 100% doable for all content in terms of time.) The other options have downsides we have considered, but ultimately we didn’t feel were in the best interests of everyone.
Now that the dust has begun to settle, players can begin to examine the issue from a more objective standpoint. This debacle between game developers and dataminers invites us to question the ethics of datamining as game developers step into an age where anyone will plunder a game’s hidden secrets if they have the ability to do so. More constructively, game developers will likely have to grapple with how to make the best of ever-present datamines by channeling them as hype builders and PR boosts.
This is especially important for Hi-Rez, as SmiteDatamining has also revealed character models for their upcoming FPS-MOBA hybrid Paladins. Apparently these were easily dragged into the Unreal Engine 3 Model Loader and extracted for viewing.
On a much lighter note, Hi-Rez also announced yesterday that they would begin developing a new series of playable gods belonging to Japanese mythology (which was, oddly enough, also revealed in yesterday’s datamine). The deities that will be included have yet to be announced, though it is purported to include “lots of shinto gods but also some Oni and other lore.”
— Smite: The Game (@SmiteGame) November 11, 2015
I see some ppl confus about what i said – Japanese pantheon != shinto. It will include lots of shinto gods but also some Oni and other lore
— HiRezBart 董事长 (@HiRezBart) November 11, 2015