Activision Patents Skill-Based Matchmaking System That Artificially Adjusts Player Accuracy

Companies mentioned: Activision Blizzard

Gamers on Reddit have raised concerns about Activision’s intentions to manipulate its customers into spending money on microtransactions by uncovering more patents which outline exploitative gameplay-altering systems.

FIG. 3B illustrates a table providing an exemplary list of parameters of a gameplay session that are modified based on a player’s skill level and the corresponding experience for players of different skill levels. For example, in a first-shooter gaming environment, when a first player aims his weapon at a target, a parameter defining the tolerance for how accurate the player’s aim must be to hit the target is modified based on the acquired skill level of the player. The computer assigns the tolerance for how accurate the player’s aim must be to hit the target differently based on the skill level of the first player. A player having a higher skill level will be assigned a lower tolerance parameter and therefore, will have to be more accurate in aiming in order to hit the target. A player having a lower skill level be assigned a higher tolerance parameter and, therefore, could be less accurate in aiming in order to hit the target. 

The wording suggests that this particular system would be used in co-operative player-vs-environment situations in order to give players with a higher skill level a more challenging experience, while allowing players with a lower skill level to have a less challenging experience, with the intention of evening-out the experience for all players in a lobby. However, with no explicit confirmation and a complete lack of transparency from Activision and its developers, we simply don’t know whether this could already currently be implemented in player-vs-player scenarios within Activision’s games.

Another system dedicated to Skill Based Matchmaking and what Activision are calling the ‘Virtual Coaching System’ will match players together based on statistics far more detailed than just their kill/death ratio or average acquired skill points per match. The system develops a profile for each player that gathers data on basic in-game parameters (such as kills, deaths, damage per minute), all the way up to the equipment a player uses (weapons, abilities, perks) and how a player navigates a map (such as movement speed, area covered, time spent on objectives).

Alongside gathering player data for the benefit of matchmaking similarly skilled players together, one of the patents outlines Activision’s ongoing interest in the potential for matchmaking models to influence player spending on microtransactions.

One of the most controversial issues with Skill Base Matchmaking Systems continues to be how easy they are to manipulate by players. It has been suggested that some popular YouTubers use a technique called ‘reverse-boosting’ in which they abuse the Skill Based Matchmaking systems by intentionally repeatedly playing badly in order to be placed into lobbies with less-skilled players. They will then capture and upload the footage of them achieving high-scores by outplaying the less skilled players in order to appear better than they are and garner more influence over their followers. Gamers on Reddit have argued that this kind of manipulative behaviour would not be possible if Skill Based Matchmaking Systems weren’t in place in games such as Activision’s latest Call of Duty title: Modern Warfare.

Just as with the controversy surrounding Activision’s past patents, it is important to make clear, as a disclaimer, that although the patents have been filed by Activision, that doesn’t necessarily mean that all or indeed any of the features discussed have been implemented into their games. However, with very little in terms of transparency coming from Activision or its developers on the issue, and with monetary incentive to keep players in the dark about their implementation, the only option gamers are left with is to judge Activision’s intentions in filing such patents in the first place.

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