Yes, there are positives and negatives to datamining, but stunts like Remnant 2 and its hidden Archon class are good for all of us.
Earlier this week, the developer of Remnant 2 – yes, the same game that, last week, had me admitting that I’ve been wrong for running away every time I’ve seen the term “Souls-like” on a poster or advert – revealed that it had hidden details of an entirely new class away from players, and sat back and waited for dataminers to discover it.
I don’t suppose there are many gamers out there who haven’t stumbled across the term datamining at some point, but for those not in the know, datamining is a broad term given to players who delve into the files that comprise a patch or an update. Sometimes, the files are publicly available. Sometimes they’re not. They don’t make much sense for those unfamiliar with programming, but for people who know what they’re looking for, their code can contain sneaky references to secrets weeks – maybe even months – before the carefully curated marketing plan had intended to make the announcement.
Up until now, we didn’t know much about Remnant 2's class – or Archetype, as it’s technically called – Archon. I’ve completed the main campaign and spent a lot of time pursuing optional puzzles and dungeons, and while we’d stumbled on a couple of new archetypes and plenty of secrets during our initial journey, Archon wasn’t among them. Like most players, we were blissfully unaware that it even existed until the rumour mill kicked into action earlier this week.
Like most things, there are positives and negatives to the practice of datamining. On a good day, dataminers find the little secret a developer intentionally sowed into its latest patch, the community gets excited, your subreddit explodes, and game outlets the world over rush to cover the news. The downside, however, is that it can be a complete pain in the proverbial. Not only can it mess up the fanfare and excitement of a studio’s scheduled events and content drops, but the information discovered can be incomplete, inaccurate or – brace yourself – completely made up.
Like it or loathe it, though, datamining’s here to stay, regardless of how hard developers try to lock things down – or maybe even because developers try to lock things down.
Take Escape from Tarkov, for instance. Developer Battlestate Games recently took an unusually vocal stance against datamining, threatening to unilaterally ban anyone who shared information about the game gleaned from “illegal datamining” (even though looking through the files downloaded to your own computer is not illegal) because it wasn’t “fair” on the development team.
“Throughout the past few years, there was an increase of datamined information circling around various websites as well as accounts on social media,” the Battlestate team said at the time. “From the time of this statement being published, we will start taking action towards all the personalities sharing the datamined information. This will result in all the in-game accounts involved in datamining and/or sharing data originating from datamining being banned and platforms getting involved receiving warnings.”
The statement was similarly unfriendly for anyone who “supported datamining”, justifying the crackdown by saying it removed the “wow effect” and “[made] the game much more predictable”.
Shortly thereafter, high profile dataminers were banned, and swiftly then unbanned again after the community hit back. It was a lesson in humility for Battlestate, and perhaps a reminder to game makers everywhere that the more you resist dataminers, the more dataminers – and even your own community – are going to fight back.
Consequently, Remnant 2 developer Gunfire Games’ more inclusive approach is both unsurprising and fascinating in equal measure.
“We knew we couldn’t stop datamining, so we leaned into it and created an entire Archetype that could be shared with the community once revealed by those with the ability to see between worlds,” explained principal designer Ben Cureton at Gunfire Games, having teased that “to unlock the Archon in Remnant 2, one must penetrate the code itself”.
Interestingly, Cureton didn’t go public with this information until after the archetype had been discovered, which means that even without the tease of needing to “penetrate the code itself”, code-savvy players had already rummaged through the backend and uncovered the secret mentions of “Archon” hidden within.
Or, to put it another way: rather than fight datamining and rail against it, Gunfire embraced it and turned it into a giant community puzzle that united players and generated dozens of stories… only unlike Escape from Tarkov, these were for the right reasons.
This feels like a genius guerrilla marketing strategy to me. If you already suspect that dataminers are going to dig into your game files regardless of whether or not they have your blessing, why not intentionally hide secrets only they can find? Not only is it a brilliant way to disseminate “leaks” and “secrets” directly to your community without the need for glossy press releases, but it’s also an ingenious way to simultaneously unite your community while getting it excited for your upcoming content, too. Well played, Gunfire – well played indeed.
Although now I can’t help but wonder how many other studios are intentionally dropping the same kind of sneaky clues in their backend, too…
Vikki Blake has a column every week here at whynow Gaming. You can read her previous dispatch here.