Exploiting Players: How Call of Duty Patents Promote Unfair and Unsportsmanlike Gaming

Call of Duty is one of the most lucrative video game franchises ever created. However, a closer look at some of their key patents reveals how the developers employ manipulative techniques to maximize revenues at the expense of fair play and sportsmanship.

As an advocate for fair gaming practices, we find several aspects of these patents unethical. They demonstrate a willingness to exploit human psychology for monetary gains. In this article, we will highlight 3 Call of Duty patents that promote unfair gameplay and unsportsmanlike conduct.

Contriving Player Matches to Fuel In-Game Purchases

One of the more disturbing Call of Duty patents covers a system to manipulate matchmaking for driving in-game purchases (US20160005270A1). It describes an approach to detect player interests and match them with influential “marquee” players who use certain items. The goal is to compel the influenced player to buy those virtual items.

For example, the system may identify a player's interest in sniping from their gameplay history. It will then match them with an expert sniper player who owns a rare, high-powered sniper rifle, which the player does not yet possess.

Seeing the expert sniper effectively using this rare rifle against them is intended to induce the player to purchase it as an in-game microtransaction. This preys on the player's aspirations to emulate the expert and achieve similar gameplay success.

But the manipulation does not end there. If the player does break down and make the purchase, the system will place them in future matches where that purchased rifle confers great advantages. This is done to reinforce the perception that it was a worthwhile purchase, prompting the player to keep spending.

In short, the matchmaking system cynically leverages peer pressure and manufactured desirability to turn players into payers. Game publishers have long denied that matchmaking is designed to encourage purchases rather than create fair contests between evenly matched opponents. This patent betrays the true intentions behind their carefully engineered matchmaking algorithms.

While the system may be financially lucrative, it promotes pay-to-win scenarios that destroy integrity and fair play. The player is intentionally disadvantaged to pressure them into opening their wallet repeatedly. This patently unfair matchmaking system should be called out for what it is – a psychologically manipulative scheme to maximize game revenue by any means necessary.

Unbalanced Matchmaking for One-Sided Domination

Another patent covers an alleged “advanced matchmaking system” that claims to improve player satisfaction by optimizing matches (US20160001181A1). However, a closer examination reveals it is primarily designed to create unbalanced matches that favor highly skilled players at the expense of newcomers.

During matchmaking, the system assigns each player a “skill level” rating based on their historical performance and gameplay metrics. It then groups players with significantly differing skill levels together in a match.

The patent explains that instead of matching players of similar ability, it intentionally matches experts and novices. This will result in the experts dominating and defeating the lesser-skilled players quickly and decisively.

The system tailors parameters like enemy strength and accuracy to ensure the right amount of challenge for each player skill level. So experts face overpowered enemies while novices face weaker enemies. This imbalance allows the experts to easily overwhelm and crush their lower-skilled prey.

According to the patent, this leads to maximum engagement and satisfaction for expert players who crave effortless domination of inferior players. However, it results in minimal enjoyment for the weaker players who face guaranteed defeat from the outset.

In no legitimate competitive scenario would athletically superior players be intentionally matched against weaker athletes just to deliver easy victories to the stronger side. Yet that is exactly what this dubious matchmaking scheme accomplishes.

Its singular purpose is creating unfair player matches that allow strong players to derive sadistic pleasure from trampling their hopelessly overmatched opponents. This is utterly unethical and has no place in any game that values fair play and good sportsmanship. It encourages bullying behavior while diminishing the gameplay experience for average players.

Insidiously Addictive Engagement-Optimized Matchmaking

Call of Duty's matchmaking patent proudly boasts about employing analytics and player feedback to continuously improve their algorithms (US20160001181A1). On the surface this may sound reasonable enough. But reading between the lines reveals more insidious intentions – to relentlessly optimize matchmaking to foster player addiction.

The patent describes continuously analyzing player statistics, behaviors and feedback on an ongoing basis. The goal is to perfect the matchmaking recipe to keep players engaged for longer periods. Terms like “maximizing player retention” are used.

Retention is an industry euphemism for addiction. The real purpose behind this obsessive analytics-based matchmaking optimization is trapping players in an endless repetitive cycle of playing just one more match. The patent even mentions using feedback to identify which players are prone to rage-quitting, then modifying matchmaking to reduce their frustration – and keep them playing.

Various underhanded techniques are suggested, like intentionally matching players on losing streaks against easier opponents. This grants them an artificial victory to get a quick dopamine rush and compels them to keep chasing that fleeting high. The matchmaking is insidiously designed not for player enjoyment, but for maximizing engagement and play time regardless of enjoyment.

The end goal is increasing revenue by keeping players locked into an addictive loop. The longer they play, the more likely they are to spend on microtransactions and battle passes. This explains the almost obsessive focus on engagement-boosting matchmaking optimization.

These kinds of manipulative, addiction-enabling matchmaking systems are published as clearly unethical. We have a responsibility as an industry to call out such insidious practices and advocate for ethical designs that respect player autonomy and choice.

Fighting Back Against Exploitative Practices

After examining these Call of Duty patents, the picture becomes clear. So-called “engagement-optimized matchmaking” is just a prettified term for addiction-driven matchmaking. It demonstrates a deliberate intent to keep players playing well beyond their desired limits, and spending well beyond prudent limits.

As advocates in the gaming industry, we cannot remain silent about the unethical and exploitative practices embodied by these patents. We should openly condemn such practices and support alternative systems like the following:

  • Truly fair matchmaking based on random chance and solely matching players of similar skill levels without other manipulation.
  • Giving players full control over their matches without mysteriously “optimizing” things in the background.
  • Reasonable pricing of virtual items without relying on matchmaking pressure to drive purchases.
  • Avoiding engagement-maximizing algorithms aimed at taking away player autonomy.
  • Transparency about how matchmaking works rather than opaque, hidden processes.

This is not an attack on the profits of game publishers or an attempt to dictate their business practices. Game creators absolutely deserve to be compensated fairly for the value they provide to players.

However, there are ethical and unethical ways for publishers to profit from games. As an industry, we must make a concerted effort to reward ethical practices and discourage unethical ones. This means speaking out strongly against exploitative systems like the manipulative, addictive matchmaking approaches described in these Call of Duty patents.

Our responsibility is to serve the interests of players and the gaming community as a whole. The time has come for an honest conversation about re-examining the true purpose of “engagement optimization.” It should mean keeping players engaged by treating them with fairness and respect – not through psychological manipulation. That is the kind of ethical engagement optimization we should demand and support across the industry.