Documents have surfaced detailing Blizzard’s 2016 patent application for the ‘Play of the Game’ highlight selection system used in its multiplayer hero-shooter Overwatch. The filing was published on the website for the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) earlier this month and, as of late March, is labeled as a ‘docketed new case, ready for examination.’
Patents aren’t uncommon in the game development world by any means, and developers should do their best to be aware of the specifics about what systems have been patented by other developers (and which systems even qualify for patents) in order to best avoid their own legal trouble.
Typically, most of the video game related patents that surface deal more with tech or hardware than in-game elements themselves. Past court rulings have attempted to define what can or can not be patented in a video game, with a Texas court notably ruling in 2015 that game mechanics themselves cannot be patented.
In the case of Blizzard’s 2016 application, the company is specifically seeking to patent the method through which Overwatch scores and selects Play of the Game post-match highlights, specifically in regards to how that data is juggled between a multiplayer server and individual clients of the game.
In short, as described by the patent application, the system does the following: “In an approach, a game server records events that occur within a match of a video game played using a plurality of game clients. After the match has concluded, the game server scores the events according to a plurality of criteria corresponding a plurality of play of the game categories. A sliding window is passed over the events in a number of increments.”
“During each increment, the score for each event that falls within the sliding window is aggregated for each of the categories. The game server then selects a play of the game category and determines the top aggregated score for that category. Once determined, the game server sends one or more instructions to the game clients which causes the game clients to display a replay of the events that occurred during the time window increment corresponding to the top aggregated score for the selected category.”
While the patent application still looks to be sitting in limbo, developers can now check out the full text of the application itself through the USPTO’s Public Patent Application Information Retrieval system by following this link and searching for application number 15/374,523. The full breakdown, nested under the ‘published documents’ tab, provides a vividly technical description of exactly how Overwatch scores and selects individual Play of the Game moments, making for an interesting read in its own right ahead of any ruling on the actual patent.
The application itself doesn’t necessarily mean that a patent has or will be granted to Blizzard, of course, but granting patents to cover expressly unique elements of a video game isn’t a new practice.
Famously, Namco held a patent on loading screen mini-games for quite some time, until that patent expired in 2015. Additionally, Activision came under fire last year when it surfaced that it had been granted a patent on a dubious "system and method for driving microtransactions in multiplayer video games.”