Blizzard aiming to patent Overwatch’s ‘Play of the Game’

Overwatch

Overwatch‘s post-match Play of the Game replays – snapshots of a particular player’s greatest moment of triumph, shared for all to see – are a brilliant little bit of design. So much so that Blizzard don’t want anyone else using them, according to a patent submitted to the US Patent and Trademark Office back in December of 2016.

This month it was made public, although the patent itself is still pending review. While the patent does not seem to restrict post-game replays as a whole, it would prevent other studios from implementing them in the specific method that Blizzard have worked out.

While not quite as terrible as some other software concept patents (such as Activision’s previously granted system for encouraging players to buy cosmetics by matching new players with others wearing fancy, expensive gear), this does seem needlessly restrictive, and goes beyond anything currently implemented in Overwatch at present. I definitely don’t remember any Widowmaker replays ‘tracing or highlighting the path of the bullet’, as one example in the 25-page document suggests.

It’s this scattershot descriptiveness which makes me wonder whether this patent, if granted, would have an immediate chilling effect. Why would a smaller studio even risk implementing halfway similar replays if there’s a chance of a legal battle with a studio as well funded (and lawyered) as Blizzard? The Play of the Game system in-game has also seen some refinements since the patent was first submitted. It definitely used to have some issues, as you can see in the clip below.

We’ve seen such things happen before, with mini-games during loading screens (especially necessary during the days of slow CD drives) disappearing entirely after Bandai Namco patented the concept, although that one has thankfully since expired.

Hi-Rez’s vaguely similar shooter Paladins has very similar post-match replays, although I’m not sure when they were implemented. We’ll definitely be keeping a legal eagle eye on this one, and hoping that Blizzard either back down from patenting this broadly useful concept (unlikely), or that another studio is able to successfully challenge the patent.

19 Comments

  1. Dewal says:

    That’s a bit ashole-ish.

    It’s not game changing and thus not something that would make someone switch from a game to another, so they wouldn’t be hurt if someone else used it.
    And ‘tracing or highlighting the path of the bullet’ is something that’s already existing in a lot of (sniping) games, I’d be surprised if it could get patented just because it’s in a “multiplayer match replay” and not just a “single player kill replay”.

    On another note, I just thought how nice it would have been if the first studio to implement lootboxes had put a patent on it…

    • Excors says:

      Companies often just patent things defensively – they don’t want to get sued over something they invented and implemented themselves, and it’s much easier and cheaper to defend themselves by saying “our implementation is already described clearly in this patent, which (a) was filed before the one you’re suing us over, or (b) the patent examiner already decided our technique is sufficiently different to yours and doesn’t infringe”. That’s easier than trying to defend yourself by proving prior art or obviousness. So it’s worth patenting things even if you’re perfectly happy for other people to use the same technique.

      But in that case it certainly would be nice to publicly commit to not enforcing your patent, or offering to license it for free, so other companies don’t have to worry about it. If Blizzard doesn’t do that, its motivations are unclear.

      The bullet thing is not being patented, because it’s not in the Claims section (which is the legally important part). It’s just an illustrative example of what the claims mean by “special effects” applied to the replays that are chosen by the process in claim 1.

      • Rindan says:

        What you are describing is not a “defensive patent”, at least not the US. Blizzard doesn’t need to defend their implementation of POTG because it already exists in preexisting art, namely their own. No one is going to be able to sue them in a patent court over it.

        Defensive patents are what large technology companies end getting. Cell phone makers are good example. You literally can’t make a cell phone without violating a patent already held by an existing cell phone maker. That means that if you want to make a cell phone maker, you need them all for permission, and many of them tell you to go get fucked. The only way around this is to amass (usually by simply buying) a pile of patents. If you have a few tens of thousands of patents, and someone of those conceivably go into cell phones, Samsung or Apple could sue for your a patent violation when you make your own cell phone, but if you do, you dig through your bucket of patents and threaten to sue them back. If the proposed cost of the patent battle is greater any hope for court settlements then you agree to cross license your patents so that you get to join the cartel of people allowed to make cell phones without being sued into oblivion.

        There is no cartel of video game makers; though there certainly do appear to be some assholes trying to encourage the formation of one by patenting stupid shit.

        Fuck Blizzard. I play Overwatch and a lot of Blizzard stuff, and I like them generally as a company, but I won’t give those fuckers a cent if they start trying to shit up the video game market by going down this paths of strangling competition with lawyers rather than good games.

        And let’s be clear; this is 100% about murdering competition with lawyers instead of good games. This is completely 100%, and without any exception, bad for video game players. If you play video games, lawyers and patents are the absolute worst thing you can imagine in terms of video game design.

  2. mitrovarr says:

    Dammit, Blizzard. I wanted to like you again after you made Overwatch, and now you do stuff like this.

  3. Slazia says:

    If only they would patent being assholes…

  4. cpt_freakout says:

    It’s not even that great of a system. Support POTGs are still almost non-existent, for example. Man, Blizzard as devs are ok, but Blizzard as business is just damn greedy.

    • Excors says:

      Even in Overwatch League highlights, which are selected by humans who can access replays from any player’s perspective, it seems very rare to show supports. When they do, it’s usually a battle Mercy or a big boop. (Or it’s Zenyatta, but he’s more like a DPS than a support). If they can’t find interesting clips of a support doing their main job and just supporting their teammates, it seems unlikely an algorithm could do a better job.

  5. aircool says:

    Fine by me if you want to watch something that usually had no bearing on the outcome of the game.

  6. Kitsunin says:

    Lame. If someone wants to copy this, they should be able to. It’s not a big deal, it just feels petty to patent it.

  7. Cederic says:

    Rocket League shows the plays of the game in the backdrop to the end scoreboard. Sounds like prior art to me.

    The US patent system is however just inherently broken.

  8. airmikee99 says:

    I wonder if Blizzard filed that patent using a computer, cause if they did, they violated the patent someone has for filing a patent via computer.

    link to patents.google.com

  9. Zorgulon says:

    This is a disappointing, if unsurprising move.

    If you’ve got a good UX design feature, let other people use it, and everyone benefits!

    Nobody plays Overwatch because of the POTG feature. This is unnecessarily restrictive.

  10. SaintAn says:

    Blizzard being evil as usual. I loved POTG and now it’s restricted to the games Blizzard decides to ruin.

  11. Phasma Felis says:

    Have they actually fixed the issues that lead to the “dead Torbjorn” PotG? Like, the commentariat tend to think the issue is that Torbjorn shouldn’t ever get PotG, but IMO the actual issue is that turret PotGs should be from the turret’s viewpoint.

  12. Premium User Badge

    particlese says:

    That’s got to be one of the most entertaining Overwatch video I’ve ever seen. If they could catch something like that consistently and add appropriate laughter to it, I’d be slightly more in favor of this patent nonsense.

  13. jman420 says:

    pretty rich from a company who lifted most of its gameplay and ideas from a game that has existed and essentially built that niche, team fortress 2.

  14. Falsadoom says:

    Because sport highlights and Fox using enhanced tracings on said footage has never been done before… /s

    It’s up there with trying to claim Battle Royale Mode…

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