EA’s Dynamic Difficulty patent is not a radical idea – but it must be used carefully

An EA patent has been uncovered detailing research into adjusting multiplayer matchmaking in order to retain players and boost engagement. The snappily titled Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment for Maximized Engagement in Digital Games debates an idea that is pretty much as described by the title.

The abstract for Dynamic difficulty adjustment (DDA) describes a technique that would adjust game difficulty when a player enters an ‘undesirable state (e.g., boredom or frustration)’ which would then help prevent the player quitting the game. In effect it could dynamically adjust the matchmaking in a multiplayer game in order to provide players on a losing streak the greater chance of a more successful game.

The abstract goes on to state that ‘We have successfully developed a system that applies this technique in multiple games by Electronic Arts, Inc., and have observed up to 9% improvement in player engagement with a neutral impact on monetization.’ That last part is particularly interesting, as it suggests improving a players matchmaking doesn’t, in EA’s research, actually increase revenue.

The Patent is posted to the ACM Digital Library was discovered by YouTuber YongYea. It was posted last year but given EA’s recent trials and tribulations with game-balance affecting lootboxes in Battlefront II this further evidence that EA is keen to tilt game balance in order to improve engagement won’t be welcome.

However, matchmaking algorithms are rarely simple, with a key choice being the balance between matching players based on their lifetime skill or being more sensitive to recent performance – which essentially is what EA is talking about here – giving players on a bad run an easier match-up.

Of course this would be far more objectionable in a competitive ranked ladder system, such as in Hearthstone or Overwatch. So the real question is not whether such a system exists but where EA is, or is planning to, deploy it.

Microsoft has always been very open about its Trueskill matchmaking system, which you can read about at length in this article.

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