This month the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office granted Activision a patent on a "system and method for driving microtransactions in multiplayer video games" by, among other things, matching "junior" players up with "expert" players in order to encourage the less skilled player to buy in-game items.
As Rolling Stone aptly points out, it's yet unclear how (or if) Activision has implemented this matchmaking tech in its games.
But even if it never puts this patented tech to use (as is the case with many game industry patents), the way Activision's system works to entice players into paying for digital power-ups is intriguing -- especially since the game industry is currently roiling with concerns over how big-budget games can effectively (and ethically) be monetized with microtransaction opportunities like, say, loot boxes.
According to the filing, Activision has patented a matchmaking system capable of conventional tricks like matching players of online games based on their performance, level, or some other status signifier. It can also "arrange matches to influence game-related purchases. For instance, the system 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."
"The microtransaction engine may analyze various items used by marquee players and, if the items are being promoted for sale, match the marquee player with another player (e.g., a junior player) that does not use or own the items," reads another excerpt of the patent. "Similarly, the microtransaction engine may identify items to be promoted, identify marquee players that use those items, and match the marquee players with other players who do not use those items. In this manner, the microtransaction engine may leverage the matchmaking abilities described herein to influence purchase decisions for game-related purchases. "
Gamasutra has reached out to Activision for further details on how or if this system is meant to be implemented. In the meantime, the rest of the patent is well worth reading in full, and we've taken the liberty of embedding it below.
Update: When reached for comment, an Activision representative sent the following statement regarding this patent:
"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."