When you blindly click "agree" on Square Enix's online terms & conditions, you probably didn't notice that you're saying you agree to allow the publisher to record the way you play a game.
While this sounds nefarious, it's actually part of an operation run from an office in London—and detailed in this MCV report—whose job is to see how you play a game so that updates, or future games, can be better.
Here's how it works: a game like Sleeping Dogs will continually monitor and record the way you play, the options you select and the decisions you make. On a basic level this means things like tracking whether you invert your controls or not, but more elaborately it's detected the fact some people are finding some parts of the game too difficult (presumably through the number of deaths recorded), so an impending update will make some difficulty tweaks.
In addition to just fixing things, it's also showing the publisher what people enjoy most in the game and how they've reacted to choices presented, which will influence "strategic decisions" made with regards to the game.
Asked what else can be gained from studying player behaviour so closely, Square's Chris Dillon says "I'll tell you what they like. They like violence. Clearly, people want to have new ways of creating havoc and chaos and carnage in that open world. That's what excites them so that's something that we're looking into at the moment about how we deliver that to them."
A little creepy, then, to learn that a machine is basically watching over your shoulder as you play, but given feedback from places like forums are so disproportionately weighted towards the vocal and hostile, it's also probably the safest and best way of finding out what actually works and what doesn't in a game.
[Pic: Segmentation Fault @ SomethingAwful]