Please support Game Informer. Print magazine subscriptions are less than $2 per issue


Activision Patent Encourages Microtransaction Spending Through Matchmaking (Update: Activision Responds)

by Javy Gwaltney on Oct 17, 2017 at 06:22 PM

Want The Next Issue In Your Mailbox?

Subscribe now

UPDATE: Activision has responded to our request for a comment. An Activision Spokesperson has said "This was an exploratory patent filed in 2015 by an R&D team working independently from our game studios.  It has not been implemented in-game."

The original story is as follows:

Earlier this month, Activision received a patent for matchmaking for a system that "driv[es] microtransactions in multiplayer video games."  The patent was originally filed in May of 2015 but was just approved. The patent dives into the nitty-gritty of this system, which also factors in skill and internet latency when matchmaking. However, things get really interesting when the patent outlines matchmaking based on grouping players who haven't spent money on items with those who have:

For example, in one implementation, the system may include a microtransaction engine that arranges matches to influence game-related purchases. For instance, the microtransaction engine may match a more expert/marquee player with a junior player to encourage the junior player to make game-related purchases of items possessed/used by the marquee player. A junior player may wish to emulate the marquee player by obtaining weapons or other items used by the marquee player....The microtransaction engine may match the junior player with a player that is a highly skilled sniper in the game. In this manner, the junior player may be encouraged to make game-related purchases such as a rifle or other item used by the marquee player.

Using an example that would be right at home in one of Activision's first-person shooters, the patent also details how players who make in-game purchases might be placed in situations that optimize rewarding the player for that purchase:

For example, if the player purchased a particular weapon, the microtransaction engine may match the player in a gameplay session in which the particular weapon is highly effective, giving the player an impression that the particular weapon was a good purchase. This may encourage the player to make future purchases to achieve similar gameplay results.

Activision Blizzard publishes a vast array of popular multiplayer titles like Call of Duty, Destiny, Overwatch, as well as mobile titles like Candy Crush, We reached out to Activision to ask which games use the patent, and haven't received a statement yet. However, Bungie's community director claims this functionality is not in Destiny:

If we hear anything back from Activision or any of the developers of games possibly affected by this patent, we'll update the story.

[Source: United States Patent and Trademark Office via Glixel]


Our Take
While there are plenty of opinions and justifications to go around for microtransactions in video games, the system described here borders on insidiousness and game disruption. Skewing matchmaking in the direction of in-game purchases flies in the face of competitive balance, shifting emphasis onto who has fatter wallets instead of skill and experience.  Obviously, we don't have the full story yet but at first glance, this is not a good look for a publisher that continues to endure criticism for its microtransaction-based practices. Still, with Activision-Blizzard's revenue constantly going up largely because of microtransactions, it's hard to see the publisher leaning away from them anytime soon unless gamers stop spending money on them.