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.