Electronic Arts has developed an adaptive difficulty system that dynamically adjusts how difficult a game is. But, as also revealed by EA’s patent application, the system does this with an aim to keep players active for longer periods of time.
The patent, which was filed in October last year and published at the end of March 2021, describes a system that can perform automatic granular adjustments to a game in order to change the difficulty of the experience. Similar systems have been used by Resident Evil 4 and Left 4 Dead, in which a system monitors player performance and uses the data to inform enemy behaviour. However, EA seems to have an additional, or perhaps even alternative motive beyond just aiding players overcome a game’s difficulty curve.
As outlined in the patent’s abstract, the system can “review historical user activity data with respect to one or more video games to generate a game retention prediction model”. This model is then used to predict how long the user is expected to play for. Using this prediction, the dynamic difficulty system can calibrate the challenge to make sure you play for that duration.
More detail on EA’s intention for the system is provided in the Background section. Here, EA states that “software developers typically desire for their software to engage users for as long as possible.” The company notes that “one of the challenges of game development is to design a game with a difficulty level that is most likely to keep a user engaged for a longer period of time.” This dynamic difficulty adjustment system, it would seem, is EA’s answer to that issue.
Difficulty is a hugely important issue in game design, and the concept of adaptive difficulty is an attractive one; every player is different, and has different requirements when it comes to challenge. However, the description within this EA patent is incredibly developer/publisher-focused, rather than the emphasis being on the player. It raises questions about what it will do, for instance, when faced with players who only play infrequently for short durations at a time. Will the difficulty be adjusted to ensure adequate progress is made in that short window, or changed to encourage a user to keep playing longer than their data suggests they normally do?
For more from the world of in-development video games tech, take a look at the PlayStation patent that lets spectators mess with players in VR, a recent filing for the ability to add PS trophies to older and emulated games, and EA’s other recent patent to allow players to stream full games before they’ve been downloaded.
Matt Purslow is IGN’s UK News and Entertainment Writer.