The practice of incorporating microtransactions and loot boxes into video games has grown from sporadic to omnipresent in recent years. 2017 saw the loot box trend explode and even bleed over from a “cosmetic” model to one that affects gameplay. But in-game items like loot boxes—which commonly appear in multiplayer games—are worthless to publishers if players don’t engage with them.
Game publisher Activision has already patented a way to drive in-game purchases by manipulating “matchmaking,” or how players are paired up with strangers in online multiplayer games. This week, eagle-eyed YouTuber YongYea deserves credit for discovering a similar, though not identical, matchmaking-manipulation scheme being researched and promoted by researchers at game publisher EA.
The discovered papers emphasize ways to keep players “engaged” with different types of games, as opposed to quitting them early, by manipulating their difficulty without necessarily telling players. These papers were published as part of a conference in April 2017, and they indicate that EA’s difficulty- and matchmaking-manipulation efforts may have already been tested in live games, may be tested in future games, and are officially described as a means to fulfill the “objective function” of, among other things, getting players to “spend” money in games.