Fact check: Does EA’s newly patented matchmaking concept prove SHM?

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YouTuber YongYea recently discovered that EA has a patent pending on a new matchmaking concept called Engagement Optimized Match Making (EOMM). The concept became big news on /r/FIFA when it hit the news. But what is EOMM? Does this prove that scripting, handicapping and momentum exist? Should we worry about a future with EOMM? In this post, I share my thoughts on it.

What is EOMM?

Engagement Optimized Matchmaking is, as the name indicates, a matchmaking concept for PvP (player-versus-player) games. FIFA is definitely a PvP type of game, and FIFA already has various matchmaking concepts. So, how does EOMM differ from FIFA’s current matchmaking concepts? Most of the knowledge we currently have about EOMM stems from a research paper published by a group of researchers. The group includes a couple of EA employees, and the research was conducted on one of EA’s PvP games:

“Current matchmaking systems depend on a single core strategy: create fair games at all times. These systems pair similarly skilled players on the assumption that a fair game is best player experience. We will demonstrate, however, that this intuitive assumption sometimes fails and that matchmaking based on fairness is not optimal for engagement. In this paper, we propose an Engagement Optimized Matchmaking (EOMM) framework that maximizes overall player engagement. We prove that equal-skill based matchmaking is a special case of EOMM on a highly simplified assumption that rarely holds in reality. Our simulation on real data from a popular game made by Electronic Arts, Inc. (EA) supports our theoretical results, showing significant improvement in enhancing player engagement compared to existing matchmaking methods.”
(– Zhengxing et al, “EOMM: An Engagement Optimized Matchmaking Framework”)

Ultimately, both Elo and EOMM serve the purpose of increasing player engagement, that is – making people play the game more. Elo based matchmaking, however, relies on the assumption that creating even (fair) matches is the optimal way to keep people playing. The research team who wrote the paper quoted above, found that the always creating even matches isn’t the best solution when your aim is to optimize player engagement.

The researchers found that different series of results had different impact on the player’s incentive to keep playing. Not surprising, a streak of three losses was found to be more likely to cause players to leave than, for instance, a row of mixed results.

With this knowledge they developed a theoretical concept called EOMM. What EOMM does is to make a prediction about the likelihood that a particular player will leave after his next match, given his latest results as well as a variety of profile data, including play frequency, performance and so on. It then picks his next opponent based on what is the ideal result for both players. So, if a player is less likely to leave after a loss in his next match, he will be matched against an opponent who is likely to beat ham and less likely to leave if he wins the next match.

Is EOMM already implemented and is it scripting?

As soon as EOMM hit the community, people who clearly didn’t read the aforementioned paper started claiming that EOMM was the long lost holy grail in the scripting, handicapping and momentum debate:

“People have been theorizing this from what they are experiencing in the game for years, this is just the real proof of handicapping and scripting that they have been denying.”
(– Reddit comment)

It however ought to be crystal clear to anyone who spend a millisecond studying what EOMM is that it has nothing to do with manipulating the events inside a match. Basically, there is little reason to manipulate the events inside a match when you have the ability to determine the outcome through matchmaking.

Also, EOMM hasn’t been implemented in any games at this point in time. The present knowledge about how EOMM will work is based on a simulation of existing data from an existing game, which could be – and likely was – FIFA. So, unlike what is the case with DDA, EOMM doesn’t exist as a chunk of code.

Does evidence suggests that the simulation was run on FIFA?

So, the aforementioned paper doesn’t specify what game the simulation was based upon. Yet, there is reason to believe that it was FIFA. We know that it was a PvP title, that it was a two player game, and that it allowed results to end as a win, a loss and a draw. This rules a lot of games out, as they don’t have a draw option. And further, there is this:

“Basically, the draw probability (Eqn. 10) is set to 20% regardless of skill gaps. This is based on our findings that 1) draw outcomes only have −0.05 correlation with the difference of skill means in the collected game data; 2) around 20% matches are draws regardless of skill gaps.”
(– Zhengxing et al, “EOMM: An Engagement Optimized Matchmaking Framework”)

What this says is that the game in question had a draw percentage which comes pretty close to the draw percentage of FIFA, which we have assessed earlier to around 18-19 %.

Is EOMM about making more money?

Ultimately, yes, but it’s not necessarily about increased monetization, i.e. making people spend more money on micro transactions in a game.

The term engagement is primarily related to the churn risk, i.e. the probability that a player won’t play the game for an extended period of time after a particular match result. Engagement may in turn lead to or be the precondition for increased spending in a game, but increased spending on micro transactions is not necessarily the end goal. Engagement on its own is important because it sells games. If games aren’t psychologically rewarding, people won’t buy them. So, there is plenty of reason to implement concepts even if they don’t have an impact on monetization.

Monetization, i.e. money spend in a game, is a different end goal. While engagement may lead to monetization, increased monetization may have a negative impact on engagement. Hence, while these two purposes are fundamentally different.

However, there is no doubt that the concept in question potentially can be used to increase monetization or any other parameter that might make sense. The authors behind the aforementioned paper note that:

“The optimization objective can be tuned for various interests, e.g., in-game time, or even spending.”
(– Zhengxing et al, “EOMM: An Engagement Optimized Matchmaking Framework”)

Will EOMM be implemented in FIFA?

I would be surprised if it wasn’t, but let’s keep in mind that FIFA isn’t just FIFA but rather a collection of separate game modes. Hence, it doesn’t make sense to assume that just because EOMM makes sense in one game mode, then it probably will be implemented everywhere.

Although people often perceive FUT seasons as a multiplayer game mode, I consider it a “pseudo” multiplayer mode: While you do play individual matches against other players, the climb to the top of division 1 isn’t a battle between you and the opposing player but rather a battle against yourself. Every day, thousands of players win division 1. You might win division 1, but the guy you just beat, is winning division 2 in his next match. I wouldn’t be surprised to see EOMM implemented in future editions of FUT seasons. The same would go for tournament modes, which were part of FIFA earlier.

As opposed to that, EOMM in my opinion doesn’t make sense in a game mode like Weekend League, where people are supposed to be able to compare their track records against each other. Obviously, having a world ranking list requires that people are matched on similar terms. That won’t be the case with EOMM.

So, ultimately I would argue that it makes sense to have EOMM in some game modes but not in others.

What about offline matches then? Obviously, there isn’t matchmaking as such because there isn’t a real life opponent involved, but as discussed in our article on DDA, player engagement optimization definitely is a thing in offline matches as well. So, the part of EOMM which aims at ensuring that people get the right streaks of results could to be implemented in offline game modes together with other difficulty management concepts such as DDA.

EOMM is worth a discussion

Apart for the obvious reservations about EOMM being unsuited for eSports-like game modes like weekend league, it’s definitely worth discussing whether EOMM is an issue in a game where adolescents form a significant part of the user base. As previously discussed here on FUTfacts, pack purchasing has many similarities with gambling already. Add to that a mechanism which could be is aimed at increasing the pack purchasing incentive among particularly vulnerable players, and you might see more kids growing up with a real gambling addiction.

EOMM is however not only bad news. There is no doubt that a lot of the complains in regards to FIFA in general ans scripting, handicapping and momentum in particular, is related to the fact that it is a frustrating game. FIFA with EOMM implemented ought to be a more satisfying gaming experience. And ultimately, that is sort of the point for all of us, I presume.

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