Big game publishers are coming up with ways to get into players’ heads like never before. Activision recently patented a matchmaking system that would, ahem, “encourage” players to spend money on microtransactions by pairing them with overpowered opponents, and it seems Electronic Arts has been working on something similar.
YouTuber YongYea recently discovered EA has filed a patent for something called Engagement Optimised Matchmaking (EOMM). Basically, EA has created an algorithm that keeps track of the way you play online games – your skill, aggressiveness, how quickly you become frustrated, and so on – and uses that information to adjust who you’re matched against. Let’s say you’re on a bit of a losing streak – EOMM could pair you against easier opponents. Or maybe you’re feeling cranky and just want to forgo strategy and go in guns blazing? You could be matched against players feeling similarly reckless.
On its own, EOMM doesn’t sound so terrible, but this is EA, so there’s a catch. If you delve into the research papers by the folks who created the EOMM, you’ll discover the algorithm can be used to encourage all sorts of behaviors, including spending:
“Within the EOMM framework […] we can 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.”
In other words, EOMM could, potentially, be used just like Activision’s recent patent. Rather than making online gaming more engaging, it could be used to make it more challenging or frustrating, so you’re tempted to spend money on microtransactions.
Activision claims it hasn’t put it’s matchmaking system to work, and EA’s EOMM algorithm is still working its way through the patent application process, so probably hasn’t been used yet, either. Yup, if EA had filed the patents faster, Star Wars Battlefront II might have been even more manipulative.
Make no mistake though, this is something that’s happening. Games that assess the way we play and change accordingly are coming, and it’s going to be up to the consumer to make sure their strings aren't being pulled. Welcome to the future.
What do you think about these developments? Are you fine with this kind of adaptive tech being added to games, or is it time to plug your NES and Sega Genesis back in?