This was something I have mentioned in passing but recent papers from EA (Surprise…) have revealed that money is likely to determine our online gaming…
A few months ago Activision revealed a patent to influence matchmaking based on win/loss ratios and gear that would interest you from lootboxes.
Basically all this patent does is match you with people with gear you would desire, someone usually more capable with better gear than you, so that you lose. Then you would be presented the gear in lootboxes via micro transactions.
Loot based matchmaking, patented by Activision, but not wanting to be outdone in that insidious manner, EA steps up.
So first we should discuss dynamic difficulty. This is common in older games and the immediate thoughts for me are Spyro 3, and the Crash Bandicoot games.
Dynamic difficulty is an excellent idea in single player. The idea is that if you fail repeatedly in a spot, you get an extra hit point, checkpoints, or in the case of Spyro 3, requirements for challenges and even AI gets toned down to accommodate people having trouble. This is done in real-time, as you play the game.
Personally? I love dynamic difficulty. It prevents player frustration and being stuck in what would feel like an endless loop. But applied to multiplayer…let’s think about that.
So EA wrote two papers, neither are terribly exciting or enjoyable to consider.
One advises that the concept of “fair matchmaking” doesn’t hold up, i.e. paired with players of similar rank, based on the assumption it’s fair. They argue this isn’t optimal for engagement…and in some loose respects I could maybe see it?
But the point is you don’t want to pair a pro player with a new guy with lesser gear. That’s simply unfair. They argue though…that they “prove” as they say:
We prove that equal-skill based matchmaking is a special case of EOMM (Engagement Optimised Matchmaking) on a highly simplified assumption that rarely holds in reality”
So the key word is the engagement. Engagement equals constant play, and as sneakily referenced in papers by EA available at the source: Spending.
Yep. Money plays a part again. So what is their logic here?
Simple. Good feeling chemicals in your brain. Get matched for a few bad rounds with players you can’t possibly beat? The game then pairs you with players you will trounce. You will feel good about the comeback and eventual streak, before being knocked back down again. When the matchmaking lets you win, you are acting as the “Bowling Ball” to the “Pins” of less skilled players. Then those “Pins” get restacked as the “Bowling Ball” and the cycle continues.
A continuous cycle of loss a few, then be allowed a win-streak. Manipulating the outcome of your games by weighting heavily in or against your favour, with the hope the chemicals in your brain form an almost gambling like addiction to the bursts of success. Just like losing at a slot machine and suddenly winning. A burst of that good feeling, and it will maintain a player base.
The logic there is somewhat solid. But of course the word spending comes up. So where does that fit in? Give you a little nudge towards lootboxes of course.
Picture the scenario: You lose a few matches, get some lootboxes for free, start winning, and your brain would associate the two. Just a little nudge.
This adds to dynamic difficulty in that yes, if you lose a lot, you’ll get a leg up. Win a lot, the game just got harder. Not good in multiplayer when the matchmaking decides what role you get.
There isn’t much you can really add to this. As opposed to Activision proposing a system based on your gear and using the “Pin and Ball” effect as I am now calling it, to basically get you enticed into certain lootboxes and chances of getting equal gear, EA is opting to psychologically make you feel good and bad routinely in a form of dynamic difficulty, by matching you with players you will beat with ease, or be beaten by with ease, to keep you playing and spending more.
That’s horrible to think about.
Worse still, we wouldn’t even know it’s happening. We can’t see the backend determining who we are matched with. We would just assume we won some and lost some.
If 2017 was the year of the lootbox, 2018 will be the year of the messed-up matchmaking. Apparently the past 15 years of online play wasn’t good enough to EA.
If you enjoyed this article, please leave a like, comment and do all the usual on social media, and until next time: Happy Gaming!