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Activision patents a matchmaking system that encourages microtransactions

There’s nothing small about this proposed system to incentivize monetized content in games

Activision has recently received approval from the U.S. Patent and Trademark office on a patent for a matchmaking “system and method for driving microtransactions in multiplayer video games.”  The gist of the program seems to be to match players depending on their use of microtransaction weapons or items. For example, if a player has purchased a weapon via microtransactions, the matchmaking system will prioritize placing them against players that they are likely to perform well against, providing them with a satisfying experience and validating their purchasing decision.  Similarly, the matchmaker can place non-purchasing players into more difficult matchups, in an effort to create an experience that could incentivize a need to purchase better weapons.  

Loot boxes are a form of microtransaction that have become a point of ethical contention recently

Although Activision claims that the system is “an exploratory patent filed…independently from our game studios,” and that the system is not currently in place in any of their games, the fact that Activision has considered and pursued this idea to some extent is cause for alarm.  The result of such a system would be a game where players could directly slant the predicted outcome of a match in their favor via microtransaction purchases, and where players that refrained from making microtransaction purchases would be at risk of becoming the cannon fodder of those that do.  Perhaps the worst part is that players would likely be unaware of such a system in the inner workings of the game, and could find themselves being influenced to make microtransaction purchases without their knowledge.  

Now, that is not to say that such a system is inherently flawed at its core.  Selective matchmaking like this could be used for less underhanded purposes, such as choosing to match players with complementary playstyles (having a team full of snipers is probably not going to go so well) or those with similar social habits, in an attempt to create a stronger online community.  But the presence of microtransaction content as a factor in such a system is extremely concerning, and players should be very cautious of how the developers of their chosen game choose to handle microtransactions for the foreseeable future.

Written by Brendan Copley

Brendan Copley is a creative writing and game design student currently enrolled at Chapman University in Southern California. He is an avid gamer passionate about all aspects of game design, from narrative to art and competitive balance. When he’s not grinding the competitive ladder in Overwatch, he works on a YouTube gaming channel where he teaches new players the ins and out of FPS games.

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