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Blizzard has patented Overwatch highlight replays… but why?

Published on: 26/06/2018

Every once in a while game developers and publishers do something exceptionally noteworthy. If they are lucky, it’s publishing a great game. If they are unlucky, it’s news like this that makes the headlines. This time it's gaming giant Blizzard that caused uproar for all the wrong reasons.

It’s undeniable that the Play of the Game highlight at the end of each round is a fan-favourite. Moments from four different categories are taken and compared to find the best play. These four categories are High Score – this features large multi-kills, quick kill-streaks and the like; Lifesaver – this features examples of players saving teammates from certain death; Sharpshooter – this category features difficult and high-skill kills; and Shutdown – this features shots of a player interrupting a big play the enemy was about to make.

It’s a pretty cool system and especially for new players, being featured in one of them is a big deal. Highlight reels at the end of rounds aren’t exactly anything new either, but it’s undeniable that Overwatch does this particularly well. Apparently Blizzard thought so too because after keeping it under wraps for almost two years, the company just announced that they have patented this feature.

The patent was submitted in 2016 and covers the algorithm behind the feature as well as the scoring categories and details on how it all comes together, likely in an attempt to stop other companies from copying or replicating it.

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While a cool feature, is it really worth patenting?

In describing sharpshooter, for example, the patent says, "A sniper character generally has an extremely long range and therefore the distance factor may be weighed less heavily when determining the sharpshooter score for a sniper shot. In addition, certain factors may be weighted higher than others due to drastically increasing the difficulty of the shots, such as shots where the player, the enemy, or both are airborne".

Though a little odd, the patenting of game features itself isn’t outrageous and does happen on occasion. The last patent Blizzard applied for was more controversial – it covered an algorithm that allowed matchmaking systems to match high-skill players with beginners in order to encourage micro-transaction purchases in games — somewhat like Destiny 2.

The patent also includes a clause for sharing plays to social media: "In some embodiments, the game server 104 and/or the game clients are configured to communicate with a social media service and send the play of the games for publication".

It’s unlikely that Blizzard will try to stop other games from using similar features, as games like Call of Duty have been using similar highlight reels for years, but this patent does make such a move possible. How this plays out depends on what Blizzard plans to do with this patent in the future – so far, gamers aren’t very impressed with the move.

If you are interested in the full patent text, you can find it here.