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Archive for June, 2014

Musing on too much data: Steam and hours played

June 05, 2014 By: Ladan Category: Steam

So when I wear a researcher hat, it’s hard to find fault with the excess of information or data that seems to float around the online universe these days. After all, with a bit of digging around, some observation, or requests, I could potentially draw some interesting pieces of evidence around what I’m seeing or hearing.

But when I put my regular ‘Jane Doe’ hat on, I find it baffling at times. Here’s an example: Steam. Why is it, I asked myself the other day, that those on my friends list can not only see what games I play, but can also see how many hours I’ve played them. This partly happened when I was teased for playing one particular game for XXX hours (I’m too ashamed to admit it here). I was shocked by the amount when I realised that I have often loaded up the game but not logged in, switched screens from the game when I get distracted, or gone afk (but paused the game) and just left it running. That means that I’m likelier to have been playing for 50% of the XXX hours that Steam shows.

Screen Capture June 5

(My Steam game screen.. the hours played obscured to protect me from further teasing…)

Now before you tsk at me, I do *know* that you can disable that feature (well, I was recently told this), but that’s not my point. My question is *why* is it there in the first place? Particularly as a default setting? Keeping in mind that I’m still wearing my ‘regular Jane Doe consumer hat’, are we competing with each other to see who can play a game the longest? Are we tracking how many hours we’ve played a game to try and control too much gameplay? Are we just nosey about what our friends like to do or what they’re dead keen on?

Now I can fully appreciate that as a parent, it is critical and helpful to know (and track) how many hours your child may be playing a particular game, and for a reason like that I can definitely see the benefit for a ‘hours played’ option. If you can see that Bobby played <insert game here> for 45 hours in a given week, you might want to seriously curb their gameplay time and reassess their sleep pattern… but then again, wouldn’t that be preferable as a ‘parental setting/control’ that you could get access to rather than as a default setting on a game portal?

If I, as someone on Jane Doe’s (that’s me, just with a fake name) Steam friends list, am curious about what Jane (me) is playing so that I can make a decision about a game based on what my pals like to play, isn’t it enough to just see that she (that’s me, again) is playing it? But noooooo, you get to see that she’s been playing <cough cough game> 5 for a billion hours and tease her about it.

So… for all I can tell the only legitimate reason that the majority of Steam players can see hours played on a game via their friends’ lists is to tease them if they’ve been playing a game for XXX hours. Like me.