Activision patent matchmaking system pushing microtransactions

Activision have created a matchmaking system which would attempt to put players in situations where they’re more likely to spend money on microtransaction items. Perhaps it would match you against a great player with a fancy gun so you’d want to buy that gun and emulate that success. Or if you’ve already bought a fancy gun, it might put you in matches where that weapon is especially effective to make the purchase seem better. Welcome to hellfuture! Hurry up and bring your jukebox money. Activision, who publish games from Call of Duty to Destiny and are corporate siblings with Blizzard, swear blind they aren’t using this system in any current game. They have been granted a patent for it, though.

As Glixel report, in 2015 Activision filed a patent for their “System and method for driving microtransactions in multiplayer video games” and it was granted on October 17th, 2017. The patent explains that matchmaking systems use a number of factors to place players together — such as latency, skill levels, and waiting time — and this one would simply add a few extra variables. Or should I say… ¥ariabl€$!?! I should not.

The patent gives a few examples of ways this matchmaking system could wring money out of players. Perhaps it’ll put an expert player and a newbie together so the newbie might buy weapons and items the pr0 uses.

Or if a promotion is running on an item, hey, match someone who doesn’t own it with someone who does. “In this manner, the microtransaction engine may leverage the matchmaking abilities described herein to influence purchase decisions for game-related purchases.”

Or if your matchmaking profiling system determines that someone is trying to improve their sniping, put them in a game with a skilled sniper and maybe they’ll buy their own copy of that player’s rifle.

And heck, it doesn’t stop once you’ve bought an item. You want to make sure that item continues to look good, right? The patent says, “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.”

Beyond the obvious awfulness, this also makes matches worse as the formula bends the usual variables to fit in financial incentives. And for all we know, similar ideas might already be in use in some games. Activision swear it’s not in any of theirs, though.

“This was an exploratory patent filed in 2015 by an R&D team working independently from our game studios,” Activision told Glixel. “It has not been implemented in-game.” Not yet, anyway.

You can tell it’s a patent filing from 2015 because a modern version would push players towards buying e.g. a sniper loot crate.

Let’s all just be thankful that it’s kindly old Ian Activision who patented this and will surely keep it safe and hidden away under his mattress. Just imagine if the patent got into the hands of someone with a history of aggressive and invasive monetisation!

Proposal: let’s launch a foundation which patents the most awful ideas imaginable to block actual monsters from using them.

82 Comments

  1. Meat Circus says:

    You know when people say publishers are all run by high functioning corporate sociopaths?

    I wonder where they get that idea.

  2. The Great Wayne says:

    Question being : why would a new player being stomped upon by veterans start buying MTX, instead of just quitting the game and ask for a refund, blaming the shitty matchmaking ?

    It’d kind of make sense if we were talking cosmetic “shop-window” among players of the same skill bracket, but if we’re talking about something that could deeply screw the matchmaking, I’d be very curious to see the benefit equation behind the potential customer loss from unfair matchmaking against the potential MTX sales gain.

    • fuggles says:

      Design it to not be active, or to be benevolent for the first say… 121 minutes.

      • The Great Wayne says:

        Ok let’s take your hypothesis into consideration.

        My point stays : if you screw the matchmaking and the rookie stops playing earlier than he should, you’ll never sell any MTX to him, plus your overall player population shrinks – which eventually leads to the death of your title (vets leave organically and move on to other games, but new players are deterred from renewing the playerbase).

        This all seems like a big risk. Matchmaking algorythms and their balance makes or breaks titles in multiplayer online gaming.

        Messing with them on such bold assumptions makes me very curious, again, about the actual benefit equation behind this kind of patents.

        • TechnicalBen says:

          Do you see people out there with addictions? Do you know how they “trap” people? Do you know why the word “trap” is used?

          Would people fish if it did not work? Or give out free “hits” if it did not work? Or, perfectly balance the algorithms so they loose the least/trick the most people. Even I’ve had to sit down and do spreadsheets to figure out if my next game I buy is a “game” or pure illusion to sell micro transactions/gold.

    • Ansob says:

      What makes you think the player would be allowed to ask for a refund in the first place? Remember that the refund window on Steam is tiny, and that’s assuming digital game refunds are something that’s here to stay.

      • wombat191 says:

        They are here to stay because if Steam stops offering refunds they get spanked again by the Australian government

      • Stropp says:

        It’s not the refunds they’ll have to watch out for. Any game that implements this will see their reviews on Steam plummet. That will hurt far more than a few refunds.

        • Martin Carpenter says:

          Can’t see how you’d detect it though?

          Obviously there’d be a real stink if it became known that someone had done this.

          • Stompywitch says:

            I can see this being added to the list of features that “ethical consumer advocates” claim a game has, to “justify” their review-bombing antics.

          • Stropp says:

            There are some players who do like to test these kinds of things though. It wouldn’t be too hard to tabulate enough data on the matching algorithm to detect a pattern.

    • fish99 says:

      Games do most of their business on console where refunds either aren’t available or aren’t commonly utilized.

    • Premium User Badge

      Masked Dave says:

      Well that’s the balancing act they’d be working on. The people whose job it is to manipulate the variables behind matchmaking would be constantly experimenting to find the right balance that keeps people playing AND buying.

    • MrLoque says:

      Who cares if it works or if it doesn’t. It’s a scummy, shameful piece of garbage that damages the players in any case.

      • The Great Wayne says:

        Breaking news : gaming firms aren’t here to better the human civilization. They’re out to make money, just like any other.

        If you want another emotional reaction you got the whole rest of the comment section for that. Now get off my lawn you punk.

        • moridin84 says:

          There are actually plenty of companies that exist because they want to good games that people will enjoy. In fact, most game companies started like that.

          There are plenty of different ways to make money. Companies consist of people. They people decided to work in the gaming industry for some reason. In most cases, the primary motivation is probably not “because I can make more money here than in a different industry”.

  3. Halk says:

    But it’s just cosmetics!

  4. AngoraFish says:

    Let’s look on the bright side.

    Any other company thinking of using Activision’s Patented Method ™ is going to need to pay Activision a license fee, thereby reducing the odds of other companies actually implementing such a system.

    That’s got to be a good thing, right…. right?

  5. Sian says:

    Matchmaking seems hit-and-miss in many games as it is. Introducing more variables designed to make people envious doesn’t sound like it’ll solve that problem.

    Makes me glad I’m not a huge fan of multiplayer in the first place, but should this ever be implemented anywhere, I foresee great frustration and gnashing of teeth.

  6. Premium User Badge

    johannsebastianbach says:

    Gee, I’m happy such awful ideas are now PATENTED and no one but Activision will ever be allowed to use any similar features without PATENT INFRINGEMENT! Which is great as I don’t play any of their games and every other publisher is safe now thanks to this PATENT!
    What could possibly go wrong?

    Also, what did go wrong in our civilization that such things exist?

    • syndrome says:

      What did go wrong?
      We passively let psychopaths ru(i)n our lives?
      It’s not what did go wrong, it’s what IS GOING wrong.

      Every time someone believes that profit is more important than a responsible long-term behaviour towards the whole of humanity, he or she effectively does something in favor of evil short-termed psychopaths.

      Fuck the world in which anything and everything creates this tension between income and debts, but where debt is always enforced, while income is not. Where even the most abstract things that have no physical value (until deemed as valuable) HAVE A DEADLINE. Where every second of time has a price, as if it’s a tangible thing that can change hands and has a worth of its own.

      AS IF either of us chose to spend such time on this planet. This is unconstitutional, at the very least. You can’t be responsible for what you haven’t been able to rationally sign for.

      This and more is what opened a Hell’s gate and introduced psychopaths to an already confusing business & govt. practices simply because they don’t need an empathy as a variable.

      And now they run amok wherever there is a coin to be saved, or a coin to be taken away. And this activity HAS NO DEADLINE. While they’re parasiting on those who produce the actual content that backs up that coin’s value on the market. This activity HAS A DEADLINE.

      Even if I don’t pick my words so that an economist would immediately agree, there is a deep fallacy in all of this, if you just think about it. This is what is also letting the banks be so great and pivotal, while they do not contribute to society, and its self-worth, AT ALL.

      Blockchain FTW

      • moridin84 says:

        Making money for the sake of making money is considered a virtue by some people. Or perhaps just a reasonable justification for any exploitation.

    • Bforceny says:

      Congratulations to Activision for furthering the field of scumbagery, there is a cruel lack of breakthrough these days. Matching the rich guy who just bought something with a bunch of people with lower skills and money to boost the former’s ego and make the latter feel inadequate, genius!

  7. someoneelse84 says:

    What’s shouting joystick lady playing? Coiny Clicker?

  8. dangermouse76 says:

    You have to hope that as these large companies move towards greater and greater penny pinching and near gambling strategies in both single and multi-player, that a counter culture will grow – continue to grow – to counterbalance this.

    With game engines and coding becoming easier ( relatively ) and attracting a wider variety of people to the genre we will ( hopefully ) encourage people who find this approach distasteful to make “traditional” games that dont employ such systems to make money.

    We would need to walk away from some established IP to do that though.
    Hopefully the market will breed choice.

    • Daymare says:

      At this rate, these established IPs will have been killed off by their own companies before the wider gaming culture can react to the penny pinching.

      • dangermouse76 says:

        Well I certainly will be waiting on any Bethesda release from now on to see what is happening with the modding scene.

        I usually wait for reviews but now it’s wait for review and wait to see if they have done anything with constricting modding / adding monetisation I dont want to be a part of.

    • MrFox88 says:

      I was thinking something along this lines. Alice’s joke about parenting all monstrous ideas so no monster can use it is actually onto something, and the Internet has its far share of NGOs that try to protect what they can from the corporate abuse (think about Creative Commons, all the different FLOSS protectors and so on).
      I think it’s really despicable from a moral point of view that we are seeing more and more of this practices and I don’t think they will cease in the foreseeable future, but hopefully we will also see a trend in organised resistance in some form…

    • Captain Narol says:

      That counter culture exists already, it’s called “Indy games”.

      It’s been ages since I bought an AAA game.

      • dangermouse76 says:

        “that a counter culture will grow – continue to grow – to counterbalance this.”

        Oh I think we agree definitely. And long may it last.

        Edit any recommendations for a fallout 3 – NV – 4 type game.

    • ancipital says:

      The first two Mass Effects were two of my absolute favourite games to date. I don’t recall being starved for good stuff to play when I walked away from that series, just prior to the third one dropping.

      We can do this, ain’t no thang.

  9. Stropp says:

    Put a new player against a veteran with a fancy gun, so that the new player will buy the gun?

    Sure. Right. Sounds like a better way to drive new players away from your game to me. I certainly wouldn’t play a game that ensured I lost big each time I played simply to force me to spend money.

    • Simes says:

      On the other hand, put a new player alongside a veteran with a fancy gun and maybe you’re making bank.

      • Stropp says:

        Now that’s an interesting thought. And likely to cause even more angst.

      • Sian says:

        At first I thought that might be the way to handle this too, but if it’s not purely coop, someone on the other side will face your pal with the big gun. Or the other team will be better than the new player to balance out said big gun. Either way, if this is implemented in competitive games, someone’s getting screwed over.

        • Dogshevik says:

          You guys aren´t thinking exploitatively enough. The fancy gun on the opposite team can be countered by fancy shield(TM). Of course fancy shield(TM) is !not! P2W since it drops only as part of the ultra-violet lootcrates you get via normal play. (At a 0,0001% drop chance OR 0,01% if you upgrade your account to PREMIUM!)

          What I am saying is: You should assume that all the asstards Activision has working on this have gone through the same thought process as we have. The only difference being their unrestricted access to a lot of statistical telemetry data to base their predictions on…

          EDIT: Sry this wasn´t meant as a reply to Sian.

    • moridin84 says:

      Not “every time”. Just every now and then.

  10. skyturnedred says:

    I can’t wait to see the reddit shit storm.

  11. drewski says:

    “We didn’t implement it because loot crates are a much more effective way of taking people’s money.”
    -NotActivision, yesterday

  12. BadCatWillum says:

    Activision’s Love Shack. What a thrilling thought.

  13. vast_anusse103 says:

    You need a new clipart picture.

  14. BooleanBob says:

    Oh, Video Games. Who did this to you? Why has it all gone so wrong?

  15. Amake says:

    Solution: Don’t buy microtransactions items. Don’t buy games with microtransactions. Don’t buy Activision games.

    Want to go back to a world where games come complete in one piece with full ownership with your purchase? Then buy more of those. I’d look at itch.io for a start

    • TechnicalBen says:

      And then the sharks ate everything in the tank…

      Yes, we can avoid it, like buying indie games etc. But still not nice to see happening… and even sadder to see reasonably nice and/or intelligent people get trapped by these (legal) scams.

    • GrumpyCatFace says:

      But how to know in advance which games will fleece you for ‘bonus items’?

      • Amake says:

        Read reviews maybe?

        • TechnicalBen says:

          This game/post has just dropped/launched the “Autumn/2.0” update… this adds DLC/microtransactions and eye gouging! :D

          • Amake says:

            Yeah, games sometimes become unplayable. Heck, I bought “Worms” and “Commandos” along with my first computer and I’ve never been able to play either one. Not much to do but give up and move on to the thing that’s most like the thing you want.

  16. tomimt says:

    Every time I read news like these I’m increasingly happier I never developed a taste for multiplayer games. A fool and their money are easy to depart.

  17. Anti-Skub says:

    Hey, that’s interesting. I didn’t know I’d bought my last ever Activision game.

  18. PanFaceSpoonFeet says:

    Micro transactions are fine if the game is free to play.. but when I hear that a full price game has them, I switch off. Need for speed most wanted was one of the worst gaming experiences of my life, for this reason.

  19. itsbenderingtime says:

    You know, I was just thinking about Activision the other day. With all the loot box drama going around, it had been a long time since we heard from Bobby Kotick and the Original* Corporate Sleaze-Lords. I was wondering what they had been up to.

    Now I know.

    *Probably not original, but I think you know what I mean.

  20. Premium User Badge

    Masked Dave says:

    I appear to be the only person who doesn’t see a problem with this.

  21. Rince says:

    Microtransactions, loot boxes and gachas are the bane of gaming.

  22. Chaoslord AJ says:

    Sounds logical: pit people im MP against rich stacked up kiddies for humiliation and they’ll be sick of grinding and will just pay to win.
    I don’t have to buy those crap games though.

  23. Beanbee says:

    I really hope the ‘bring your juke box money’ was an ode to The Doors, as sang by The B-52s’ Fred Schnider, performed by Guttermouth.

  24. cpt_freakout says:

    Apart from the disgusting manipulation going on in a thing like that, it’s also quite stupid. Every game like CoD needs a “level cap”, so to speak, because supposing this model works (there’s so many fun games around the probability of just leaving to play something else instead of buying your way to the top is much higher) you’d have to continually create more powerful items to entice people to pay more money as they rise in rank. I’m no economist, so please correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this would just lead, eventually, to a kind of item inflation in which your brand new super powerful item that cost $10 will be useless within a few weeks. At the same time, all those people that bought the slightly less powerful item at $5 will find that its value decreases not slowly but exponentially. In the end this means killing the game one micro-transaction at a time, so it’s… idiotic, IMO.

    • GrumpyCatFace says:

      Apply the Federal Reserve model to it. There’s no limit to how big a number they can put behind the ‘+’ sign.

      +20 Battleaxe < +22 Battleaxe of Glory < +25 Battleaxe of Destruction, ad infinitum.

  25. Fnord73 says:

    This kind of system isnt for us 40+ “advanced consumers”. Its for my 12 year old nephew who plays CoD with his friends and has no selfcontrol.

    • Captain Narol says:

      Maybe that’s part of the problem, as most CoD games are PEGI 16 or even PEGI 18.

    • ludde says:

      It’s not for the 30+ either that grew up when people were still starting companies and making games out of passion, before it became nothing but an industry. At least I hope so.

      If it wasn’t for the indie scene I’d rarely play games anymore.

  26. TrenchFoot says:

    I don’t play multiplayer, but would have assumed this sort of thing already went on. Corporations exist to drain your accounts as quickly as possible.

  27. Premium User Badge

    MOOncalF says:

    I’m all for this. I’m not even joking, let publishers start marking territory around microtransactions, let them start suing each other until the whole microtransaction thing splits off from games entirely into it’s own little circle jerk of infringement litigation where nobody’s brave enough to put it in a game anymore.

  28. KingFunk says:

    This week I finally double-dipped on The Witcher 3 GOTY (already finished it all on PS4) and got it up and running yesterday. Even on my humble machine it looks great – I’m really impressed by what RedEngine3 achieves compared to pretty much anything else I’ve played.

    Then I read stuff like this and I almost weep tears of joy that CDPR exist and I’m glad I gave them my money twice over. If any AAA player in this industry can make the claim to be doing things ‘for the players’, shurely it is they…?

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