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Two EA patents paint a worrying future for online matchmaking

Activision isn’t the only publisher patenting worrying new matchmaking systems designed to raise spending on microtransactions. This week, it came to light that EA has filed for two patents that could impact fair competition in multiplayer games, with one pertaining to Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment and another detailing an ‘Engagement Optimized Matchmaking Framework’.

The Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment patent isn’t necessarily bad. DDA is a technique that has been used in some games in the past, with one major example being Crash Bandicoot. If a player failed a challenge multiple times in a row, then the game would give the player a slight advantage by slowing enemies and objects down. This means the developer’s work doesn’t go to waste, as a player is less likely to put the game down and never pick it up again out of frustration.

However, in today’s world where microtransactions are rife, especially in EA’s catalogue, DDA could be used to encourage increased spending. The obvious comparison would be Destiny 2’s reduced XP earnings rate. In Destiny 2 player XP would be dynamically reduced when grinding for Bright Engrams, which would push some players into just buying them from the microtransaction store.

When you combine DDA with the ‘Engagement Optimized Matchmaking Framework’, things start to get a bit more worrisome. The EOMM patent argues that basing online matchmaking on player skill levels is not optimal for player engagement. Instead, EA’s patent proposes a system that takes player data and adjusts who you are matched with based on ‘churn risk’.

Churn risk is EA’s term for the risk of a player quitting a game for good. If you are on a losing streak, then your churn risk will be increased. To stop you from quitting, the matchmaking system will automatically pair you with players of a lower skill level to boost your win rate and keep you in the game. Once your churn risk is reduced, you’ll be paired with higher level players again, resulting in a loss or a draw, all in an effort to stoke your competitive fire and keep you playing for longer.

The issue with this is that matchmaking would no longer be a fair competition based on skill, but rather an artificial series of matches set up to have you hit certain win/loss ratios. Skill will obviously still be a factor, this isn’t something that will affect the best of the best, but for the average gamer, it will change a lot.

Now if EA can adjust matchmaking to force win/loss ratios for a player, then it could also be used to increase microtransaction spending by frustrating a player into putting down some money. Considering Battlefront II’s lootboxes contain multiplayer advantages, this doesn’t seem that farfetched.

All of this was revealed by YouTuber YongYea, who found EA’s patent filings in the Association for Computing Machinery Digital Library. Both patents were submitted in March 2016 and could end up being approved sometime next year.

KitGuru Says: It’s worth keeping in mind that these patents were filed back in 2016, before all of the backlash that occurred last year. After Battlefront II and Need for Speed, I imagine the heads at EA have been doing some rethinking when it comes to its monetization techniques. Still, it is an interesting and worrying look at the kind of thinking that got us to the point we are at now.

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