Arstechnica article I read has a couple of bits I’ve not seen elsewhere - linkage.
An Activision representative told Glixel (which first unearthed the patent) that the filing was merely an “exploratory” effort from a disconnected R&D team and that such a system “has not been implemented in-game” yet. But the patent itself shows a decent amount of thought being put into various ways to maximize the chances of players purchasing in-game items based on their online gameplay partners.
Such matching would be based largely on “the potential interest of the in-game item to the first player, and… the possession of the in-game item by the second player” according to the patent, and it could be activated during “a subsequent gameplay session that caters to use of the in-game item.”
Potential interest in an in-game item would be determined by “an express preference” or a “derived preference… based on a gameplay history.” For example, “the junior player may wish to become an expert sniper in a game (e.g., as determined from the player profile). The microtransaction engine may match the junior player with a player that is a highly skilled sniper in the game.” The engine could also push items based on “usefulness.” For instance, “an in-game item that may be suited for a particular level that the player has repeatedly failed may be identified.”
This last part is the most troublesome for me (highlighted for emphasis).
Not only is a potentially lower level or lower ‘skilled’ (however that would be defined on a game by game basis) being matched directly with a higher level or ‘skilled’ player, but their interaction is being used directly to then market a monetised item to the lower skilled player.
There are all sorts of things wrong with that in my mind. First and foremost is that the lower skilled player is being actively placed in a position where their game experience will be potentially negatively impacted for the sole purpose of pushing a sale on them by creating a situation where their fun would be diminished. All manner of slippery slopes here, especially since the example given above seems to suggest that the item being targeted at the lower skilled player would somehow even the odds between the two of them - which begs the question why ‘skill’ would be mentioned at all if a given item can negate the level of skill either player might have. And wouldn’t that be like buying trainers/bots/cheats for a game?
Second of all, this form of system invites and encourages the parcelling off and portioning out of game content, encourages the mindset that a game be broken up in development prior to launch and then sold off in pieces post-launch. I’m not even crying about HURR DURR CORPORATE MACHINE HURR DURR, my big issue here is: How the hell can you balance a game experience across your player base to account for the fact different players have access to different items/content?
Nothing about what I’ve read suggests that the patent is focusing on cosmetic items. I suppose the example I’ve highlighted could be talking about making the lower skilled player consider buying the weapon the higher skilled player has even if it’s essentially just a skin/model, effectively tricking the lower skilled player in to thinking said weapon is better when it has the same underlying stats as a weapon the player already has access to. If this is the case then it’s just slimy business/marketing, but if they are talking about items beyond cosmetics then down right evil in my opinion.
Oh and I’ll echo something from the Arstechnica comments section: The money here wont be in ActiBlizzard utilising this themselves, it will be in the license fees and patent infringement suits.