Difficult Boss or Just An Algorithm? EA Files Patent That May Affect Gamer Microtransactions

Attribution @MarkBonica
Attribution @MarkBonica


In what some consider a “malicious and exploitable” method to encourage gamers to play and spend more, Electronic Arts (“EA”) has filed a patent dealing with video game matchmaking capability. EA’s patent for Multiplayer Video Game Matchmaking Optimization (which was published this past September) purports to alter player matches based on an algorithm rather than solely on equal skill levels. The algorithm, named Engagement Optimized Matchmaking (“EOMM”), is designed for the sole purpose of keeping players engaged in online games. The factors that go into this algorithm, however, cover a range of factors from interaction with other players, sportsmanship or aggressiveness, willingness to spend money, and skill.

On its own, the EOMM algorithm does not sound particularly threatening. Those in the video game community have expressed concerns, however, due to research papers written by the creators of the EOMM algorithm. The research states that the algorithm can be used to encourage all types of behavior, including extra spending. The implication is that rather than making online gaming more engaging, the EOMM algorithm could be used to make it more challenging or frustrating, so players are tempted to spend money on microtransactions.

Creators of the algorithm explain in their research: “Within the EOMM framework, the core building components, skill model, churn model and graph pairing model, are uncoupled so that they can be tuned and replaced independently. Moreover, we can even change the objective function to other core game metrics of interest, such as play time, retention, or spending. EOMM allows one to easily plug in different types of predictive models to achieve the optimisation.”

Activision, another video game developer, recently patented a similar matchmaking system that would encourage players to spend more money on transactions within games. Even though the company has confirmed that this matchmaking system has not been implemented, participants in the gamer community are not pleased.

EA’s EOMM patent has yet to be approved, so only time will tell whether the algorithm will ever be implemented. If the patent is approved and implemented, gamers may be left wondering whether the current “boss” they are trying to beat really requires an upgrade on game weaponry – or if it’s just a ploy to get them to spend more money.

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