Recently, the gaming community has been rocked with debate after debate about loot boxes and other in-game DLC that publishers use to generate extra revenue after a game has been purchased. Some call it extortion, others call it catering to consumers and giving them options. Either way, it's a big deal and has almost certainly dampened some of the hype for a number of major AAA releases. With that in mind, you'd think Activision, the publisher behind Call of Duty: WWII
and Destiny 2
, would want to keep its head down. After all, so far none of the shots fired have been in their direction other than a brief squabble regarding Destiny 2
's shaders, but apparently the USPTO felt Activision was left out, so they opted instead to grant and officially publish a 2015 patent
that goes into gritty detail regarding exactly how Activision's latest matchmaking system can change the online experience to suit loot boxes and other in-game microtransactions.
Here's the short and sweet version of how Activision describes its matchmaking system:
A system and method is provided that drives microtransactions in multiplayer video games. The system may include a microtransaction arrange matches to influence game-related purchases. For instance, the system may match a more expert/marquee player with a junior player to encourage the junior player to make game-related purchases of items possessed/used by the marquee player. A junior player may wish to emulate the marquee player by obtaining weapons or other items used by the marquee player.
The full details can be found on the official page, linked above, but the short and sweet description is certainly accurate of the whole. You can imagine some rather insidious uses of this matchmaking system, and perhaps you're hoping Activision hasn't thought of them. Fortunately for us, the patent application reveals a number of ways in which the system might be used. For instance, Activision might opt to match players who just bought a weapon into a match where that weapon will be particularly effective:
In one implementation, when a player makes a game-related purchase, the microtransaction engine may encourage future purchases by matching the player (e.g., using matchmaking described herein) in a gameplay session that will utilize the game-related purchase. Doing so may enhance a level of enjoyment by the player for the game-related purchase, which may encourage future purchases. For example, if the player purchased a particular weapon, the microtransaction engine may match the player in a gameplay session in which the particular weapon is highly effective, giving the player an impression that the particular weapon was a good purchase. This may encourage the player to make future purchases to achieve similar gameplay results.
It sounds somewhat grim, although it should be noted that the system isn't entirely negative. The system will also match players who favor certain classes into team compositions that favor their class. The system will also watch players to see how they perform and then place them in matches where they are more likely to succeed, which is essentially a hidden ranking system. It's hard to argue that those upgrades are negative as they would almost certainly lead to a better gameplay experience for everyone all around, which is certainly of great concern to Activision. After all, unhappy players are quick to quit a game and never come back.
Rolling Stone's video game arm, Glixel, reached out to Activision to learn some more details on this system in a recent story
. To its credit, Activision did tell Glixel that this was not in use at this time in any game:
This was an exploratory patent filed in 2015 by an R&D team working independently from our game studios...It has not been implemented in-game.
Bungie also confirmed to Glixel that the matchmaking system was not in use in Destiny 2
. It is true that a patent can be granted even if the invention (in this case, the matchmaking system) is not actually in use in the real world. However, in order to grant a patent the invention must actually have been created, which means this matchmaking system is not just theoretical — Activision has actually created a functioning version of this system fully capable of everything described in the article.
What does all this mean? At this point, it's hard to say. All we know is that Activision certainly envisions a world where weapons or other items are available for purchase that can influence the match. It's not in any current games, but it could certainly infiltrate a future game — Call of Duty: WWII
, perhaps? Of course, considering the fire they're currently under thanks to this patent being published at perhaps the worst possible time, it might be a while yet before we see a system like this in Activision's newest games. What do you think?