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Microsoft to implement facebook game “Project Waterloo” for game theory research.

Microsoft Uses Facebook As Giant ‘Lab’ To Study Game Theory

Recently, Microsoft’s research department has released a game that is more or less “Risk” for Facebook. It’s called “Project Waterloo”. In each game there area a given amount of “territories”. Each player starts with 100 troops that they can distribute across the territories.  The player who wins the most battles and all the territories wins the game.  This article, written by Parmy Olson of Forbes magazine, seems to mostly address the questions of what the project is trying to find out, why the project is necessary for researching game theory, and how the game works.  Project Waterloo is part of a bigger goal for Microsoft to establish a Facebook Game Theory Lab.  This could be a huge advantage for game theory researchers who are often limited to the size of their lab (Olson mentions that Microsoft’s game theory can only accommodate a maximum of 35 subjects at a time).  By utilizing the power of social networking so that larger test groups can be studied, researchers can formulate new theories about how large groups simultaneously strategize in a game.  The reason this game works for this is because it is simple enough that a computer can nearly always calculate what the best response strategy for each players should be, yet complicated enough to make interesting for the players/subjects.

While it’s easy to see how the project would be incredibly interesting for researchers, I had a few questions about what kind of data is actually being taken into consideration.  When installing any new application on Facebook, the program asked for access to information from my profile.  Many times this access is so that a marketing team can know what type of ads best fit the ad slots that make the application free.  However, I imagine that access to this kind of information in the context of game theory research could lead to some interesting inferences.  For example, would we be able to see the ratio of those with a relationship status set as “in a relationship” to those with “it’s complicated” that consistently played their best response strategies or perhaps even see how those “in a relationship” faired against their partners?  Another question I wanted to ask is how are idle times and response times considered in this research?  In a lab, the researcher can limit distractions so that the subject is focused on the game, but when the subject is at home and possibly trying to do homework and watch a program on Hulu on the other computer monitor at the same time then it is clear that this person isn’t prioritizing his or her next move in the game.  When I tried it myself, I noticed a feature that possibly addresses this.  A player may be allowed to have several games at once and is by no means pressured into making a hasty response.  When a move is made, the player is contacted and given plenty of time to strategize at his or her own convenience.  My assumption is that this will encourage players to take the time to consider their best strategy before making a move instead of pressuring them into hastily throwing out a poor move that would in no way be representative of the player’s capability of strategizing to maximize his or her own payoff.  I sincerely hope that data from this project will lead to great new ideas about human behavior, sociology, networks, and game theory.  However, I do have concerns about how much of the data collected will simply be used to further Microsoft’s and Facebook’s marketing techniques and nothing further.

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