Microtransaction systems are a much-discussed and controversial topic in gaming. They make publishers a lot of money, in part because the margins are so high, so you can expect them to stick around. Now, it’s been revealed that gaming giant Activision holds a patent for a system that “drives microtransactions in multiplayer video games.” US Patent No. 9,789,406 was filed in 2015 but only granted to Activision this week, according to public records spotted by Rolling Stone.
The patent’s description explains that it’s for a “system and method” for encouraging players to spend money on microtransactions. It doesn’t specify any titles, but many of Activision’s biggest games have microtransaction systems such as the Destiny and Call of Duty franchises, along with Overwatch from Blizzard. Importantly, the patent does not say if this system is actually used in any of Activision or Blizzard games.
The patent’s description further specifies that its system and methods can include matchmaking systems that influence buying behavior. “The system may match a more expert/marquee player with a junior player to encourage the junior player to make game-related purchases of items possessed/used by the marquee player,” the patent explains. “A junior player may wish to emulate the marquee player by obtaining weapons or other items used by the marquee player.”
One specific example is that Activision’s microtransaction system might match a player with expert sniper skills with a less skilled player. The idea is that the player with less skill would see the better player performing well, which in turn might encourage them to spend money on microtransactions that could help them get better.
The system goes further: “In one implementation, when a player makes a game-related purchase, the microtransaction engine may encourage future purchases by matching the player (e.g., using matchmaking described herein) in a gameplay session that will utilize the game-related purchase. Doing so may enhance a level of enjoyment by the player for the game-related purchase, which may encourage future purchases.”
The patent notes also explain that when a player spends on microtransactions for a specific weapon, the system might put the player into a session where the weapon they acquired is “highly effective.” Activision notes that this is a superficial representation of the wider game community. Such a system would give the player “an impression that the particular weapon was a good purchase,” and in turn this might encourage them to “make future purchases to achieve similar gameplay results.”
The full patent description is full of dense and difficult-to-parse language, but the above passage from the Abstract and Summary is really what it all basically boils down to. It is unclear if Activision is actually using this microtransaction system in any of its games; right now all that’s confirmed is that it holds the patent. We have contacted Activision in an attempt to get more details.