Thursday, November 2, 2017

Mismatch Making

Activision recently filed a patent having to do with online matchmaking.  It's got a bunch of legal gobbledygook in it, but the essence of of the submission is an attempt to acquire exclusive rights to a system in which players who have made microtransaction purchases are deliberately matched up online with players who haven't (at nebulously specified opportune times).  Activision claims that they have yet to implement such a system in any of their games.  It's possible they are being honest here.  Then again, big-budget game publishers such as EA, Ubisoft, Warner Bros Interactive and (of course) Activision themselves have a pretty poor track record when it comes to telling the truth.  Regardless, I'm fairly confident that this sort of matchmaking in online games has been going on for a while now.

War Thunder and World of Warships are two examples I can attest to regarding the implementation of this sort of microtransactions sales strategy.  Supposedly, both games (made by different developers) are designed to set the player up with teammates and opponents of roughly equal skill.  At first this definitely felt the case to me.  However, after advance several tiers into the progression system found in each game things started to change.  Instead of going up against players of roughly equal ability, I ran into long strings of unbalanced matches, resulting in defeat after defeat (often six times in a row or more) before eventually eeking out a single victory.  Normally, I don't mind if my team loses an online game so long as I felt like I did my part.  Unfortunately, both War Thunder and World of Warships like to offer a daily first victory bonus which are essential for progression, hence the grind became more and more pronounced for me.  Other cheapskates like myself reported having similar experiences.  On the other hand players who shelled out a bit of real cash tended to have much better win/loss ratios.  I should stress this wasn't directly because of in-game purchases.  Far from it...a long running joke with both games is the fact that most real money upgrades are basically just flashy cosmetics, like pusher planes in War Thunder, or famous historical vessels in World of Warships.  That makes good sense if you want to maintain the outward appearance of fairness.  It might be an illusion though in that these games actually reward players who spent real money on microtransactions through some underhanded coding in the matchmaking system.

Granted, this is all anecdotal evidence on my part.  I could be wrong and may have simply had the mother of all bad luck streaks...twice.  Frankly, it doesn't matter all that much to me one way or the other though because War Thunder and World of Warships are free-to-play games that I invested zero dollars in.  Maybe I wasted a bit of my time, but I got a lot of enjoyment out of each game before deleting it from my harddrive after things got a bit to grindy for my tastes.  Still, if word got out that the programmers for either (or both) of these games were guilty of fixing matches in subtle ways to benefit paying customers I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest.

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