The patent in question - "System and method for driving microtransactions in multiplayer video games" - details how matchmaking can be used to encourage players to make microtransaction purchases by placing them in games with certain people. Matchmaking is the system by which a game will group up players in a multiplayer game - a matchmaker often tries to place people of similar skill levels into the game. Microtransactions are in-game purchases (often costing a few dollars or less) that can include cosmetic items, gameplay enhancements such as experience boosters, or the outright purchase of equipment that you may otherwise have to find in the game. This particular patent mashes the two systems together and details a variety of ways they could be used.
A number of scenarios are put forth by the patent application. Perhaps the most benign example relates to cosmetics - the matchmaker may place you in a game with someone who has a cosmetic item equipped that the matchmaker believes you may want. The general idea is that by seeing the cool item being used in a game, it might gently nudge you towards purchasing it. The algorithm would track hits or misses and adjust accordingly towards a greater success rate as time went on.
However, some games offer purchases that are more than just window dressing. Some games allow you to purchase items that can affect the outcome of the game, and there is a subset of games with microtransactions where players can get more powerful simply by spending money. The implementation of this patent in such a system could actually affect gameplay depending on how it's used. One given example is that it may put you in a match against better-equipped and/or more highly-skilled players in order to encourage you to buy weapons or skins that they are using.
It goes a bit further than just getting you to purchase something through microtransactions - the system, as designed, would want to make you satisfied with your purchase. Suppose that you purchased a weapon that was particularly effective against tanks - the game might place you in a match where there are many tanks on the field so that you get a lot of use out of your purchase right off the bat, making you feel satisfied and confident in your decision to buy something.
Owning a patent does not necessarily mean that it will be used; Activision may be simply adding this particular idea to their patent portfolio, an important practice that many companies engage in [PDF] in order to protect their intellectual property. One or more elements may be used in future games or they may already be in existing games; it's not really possible to tell what's going on without getting a look at the code firsthand. It's also entirely possible that they might sit on this idea and not implement it for an indeterminate amount of time.
One way or another, Activision has come up with an interesting way to make microtransactions and matchmaking work together to encourage purposes. What that will mean for their current and future library of games remains to be seen, but however they go about it, they'll have the backing of a patent on the methodology to count on.
Update: Activision representatives speaking to Glixel have stated that the patent was created by an independent research & development team and that the technology is not in place in any of their games.
What do you think of Activision's patent on making microtransactions and matchmaking work together to encourage more purchases? Do you think they are using this system in any of their current games? Let us know in the comments below!