A Non-Linear Battle Pass patent has just been granted to Electronic Arts, raising interest in what EA plans with the monetization model in the future.
If you've somehow been living under a rock, a Battle Pass is a way to unlock content in a game by progressing through a series of checkpoints. Typically, a battle pass will have to be "leveled up" by playing a game, with some kind of reward unlocked at each level you attain. Some Battle Passes also allow players to pay money to advance in levels, saving time in exchange for their hard-earned dollars, while others have extra rewards for those who have paid.
Now, Electronic Arts has filed a patent titled "Seasonal Reward Distribution System", which sounds like a different description for what you and I know as a Battle Pass. However, looking at an image filed alongside the patent shows us something slightly different:
The patent's abstract elaborates further:
The present disclosure provides a video game based seasonal reward distribution system. The seasonal reward system can provide users with a non-linear map that allows the users to choose how to progress through the reward map when advancing or leveling up a virtual character or user account within the video game. The virtual map can provide a visual representation of a non-linear pathway or tracks that a user can follow based on how the user would like to proceed and what types of rewards the user prefers to unlock. The reward map provides a series of reward nodes connected by links, resulting in a plurality of pathways or tracks that a user can select during advancement within the video game. The user can select individual reward nodes when the virtual character levels up and progress along a pathway on the virtual map.
It might seem that EA now has the concept of a non-linear Battle Pass on lockdown, but it may also have some impact on normal battle passes by restricting how they can implement segments.
Whether or not they can keep the patent, however, is another matter.
Can EA'S Battle Pass Patent Survive a Challenge?
One important matter for patents is the idea of "prior art". Here's an example: if I invented the car in 1900 and Henry Ford tried to patent it in 1905, and I could prove that I invented it first, I could invalidate the patent as I had beat Mr. Ford to the punch.
How does this apply to EA's patent on Battle Passes? Well, they filed the patent for this system in August of 2019, but there have been plenty of battle passes before that. In fact, once could argue that the DotA 2 Compendium (which stretches all the way back to 2013) is the first iteration of a battle pass — and that's not counting any other, smaller games that might have done it first.
The tricky bit is the idea of a "non-linear" Battle Pass and how that might apply. Would a patent judge say that the existence of linear battle passes invalidates this patent? If I knew for certain, I'd probably be about $200,000 in debt for going to school to be a patent lawyer. But I'm not a patent lawyer, so I couldn't really say.
If EA attempts to leverage this patent for licensing fees, they might just find themselves in a legal battle. What they plan to do with such a patent will, for now, remain a mystery.
What do you think of Electronic Arts patenting Battle Passes? Do you think their patent is valid? Let us know in the comments below.