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EA's worrisome patents for 'matchmaking optimization' and dynamic difficulty uncovered

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In October last year, we reported that a patent was granted to Activision that could see the publisher use matchmaking to make you think in-game purchases are worthwhile. It was definitely a bad sign for gamers Now, more worrying patents have been uncovered (as reported by Destructoid) from another mega-publisher Electronic Arts.

EA has been in particularly hot water since the release of Star Wars Battlefront 2 and the whole microtransaction system that the game used. Unfortunately, there is some potentially more bad news for gamers on the horizon. EA filed two patents in 2016 and judging by how long Activision’s patent took to get approved, EA’s patents should get approved this year. The first patent deals with dynamically changing the difficulty of a game to keep players engaged and multiplayer matchmaking optimization, which you can read about in the two sections below.

Dynamic difficulty adjustment

I love playing extremely difficult, challenging games, because overcoming a challenge in a game like Dark Souls III is an extremely rewarding experience. What if I told you that EA could dynamically change the difficulty of, for example, a boss encounter, without the player’s consent? That’s what the first patent is about, which you can read a description of below.

Embodiments of systems presented herein may perform automatic granular difficulty adjustment. In some embodiments, the difficulty adjustment is undetectable by a user. Further, embodiments of systems disclosed herein can review historical user activity data with respect to one or more video games to generate a game retention prediction model that predicts an indication of an expected duration of game play. The game retention prediction model may be applied to a user's activity data to determine an indication of the user's expected duration of game play. Based on the determined expected duration of game play, the difficulty level of the video game may be automatically adjusted.” – Source

I get trying to retain players so they don’t give up on a game when they hit a difficulty roadblock, but isn’t that what difficulty settings are for in the first place? I, for one, wouldn’t like wondering every time I overcome an obstacle if it was my skill that improved, or if the game just threw me a bone.

Multiplayer matchmaking optimization

Fair matchmaking is arguably the most important aspect of competitive multiplayer games. I think most gamers would agree that they would prefer a fair match and have the knowledge that they have been matched with others of equal skill. EA is filing this multiplayer matchmaking optimization patent in order to keep players engaged in multiplayer matches, but there are some worrying issues and a fear that microtransactions might be an underlying factor.

The research paper that the algorithm for the patent is based on, notes that it can: "change the objective function to other core game metrics of interest, such as play time, retention, or spending. EOMM allows one to easily plug in different types of predictive models to achieve the optimization." - Source

In short, the Engagement Optimized Matchmaking (EOMM) doesn’t just base the matchmaking of a game on equal skill, but a variety of factors, including a player’s willingness to buy those loot boxes. It is, without a doubt, a worrisome addition.

Keep in mind that these things could already be implemented in some way or another (or not at all) as a patent only means that EA is trying to claim exclusivity for the design and concept. Therefore, although these two patents might be worrying, there is no indication that EA will, or have already implemented this “optimizations”.

What do you think about the patents filed by EA? Let us know in the comment section below.

Sources: Destructoid, US P&T Office, Research paper

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