Call of Duty

Activision patents reveal SBMM systems potentially used in Modern Warfare

by Andy Williams

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Patents filed by Call of Duty publisher Activision have potentially revealed the underpinning data tracking logic behind the rumored (and highly controversial) skill-based matchmaking, said to feature in games like Modern Warfare.

Modern Warfare’s alleged use of skill-based matchmaking (SBMM) has left players competing in public matches like they were playing in an elo-based ranked playlist. With players ‘reverse boosting’ to avoid stiff competition, SBMM is proving to be an inherent issue deep-rooted within Infinity Ward’s first-person shooter.

With very little in terms of developer transparency on the issue, one eagle-eyed Reddit user has delved into Activision’s patent applications to develop a deeper understanding into what the publisher is possibly doing with the plethora of data being acquired from your multiplayer experience.

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It should be noted at the outset, that just because these patents have been filed, it does not conclusively guarantee that they are in use in Modern Warfare — or any other Activision game for that matter.

SBMM and the ‘Virtual Coaching System’

The patents potentially reveal how data tracking is used by a developer to acquire and transform your player's activity, playstyle and more - insight that has thus far has remained elusive. 

The premise behind their Virtual Coaching System (VCS), mentioned in the patent, is to merge players of similar abilities into the same lobby, with the hope that player will enhance their skillset through in-game feedback.

Within one of the patent applications, it states: "Stored statistics are analyzed to determine one or more of the player's traits. Determined traits are used to determine the player's playstyle,” which implies that more than in-game metrics (such as kill-to-death ratio) are tracked to measure player behavior. 

This patent was filed in April 2019, around six months prior to the release of Modern Warfare.

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For example, the Reddit user points out that the patent monitors player strengths/weaknesses based on (and not limited to): how player’s respond to scenarios, changes in strategy in response to scenarios, usage of weapons, etc.

In short, the tracking system develops a profile of player traits to better map how players will respond versus opponents of a similar profile. Meaning that (in theory), the game's servers should place you in a lobby with players who exhibit similar tendencies.

Activision.
Activision.
A step-by-step process of how the system would handle player data to create a 'Virtual Coaching System'.

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What are Activision doing with this data?

According to the Reddit user, the system culminates data on basic in-game parameters (such as kills, deaths, damage per minute), all the way up to how a player navigates a map (such as movement speed and area covered). 

After all data is monitored, it is lumped into an algorithm that calculates “various models for different games/levels/modes/contexts of what statistics/traits are important to being successful within each playstyle.”

Alongside gathering player data for the benefit of ‘player improvement,’ Activision have hinted towards eyeing the potential for matchmaking models to influence player behavior outside of the game. As stated in patent three, “Conventional systems further fail to leverage matchmaking processes in other contexts, such as influencing game-related purchases.”

By this logic (and hypothetically speaking, of course), the Reddit user points out that players could be matched with individuals who have purchased in-game cosmetics in a bid to entice them to fork-out themselves.

Activision.
Activision.
Are Activision trying to influence player purchases?

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It must be reiterated, as a disclaimer, that although the patents have been filed by Activision, that doesn’t necessarily mean that all or indeed any of the features discussed have been embedded into their games.  Those looking to read the Reddit post in full, can do so here


For further inspection of the details of these systems, the patents are all publicly available:

Patent one: System and method for validating video gaming data

Patent two: Practical application of a ‘Virtual Coaching System’ and method within the context of multiplayer video games and based upon a determined playstyle of a player

Patent three: Matchmaking system and method for multiplayer video games