A very interesting write up on how Skill Based Matchmaking is altering gameplay itself

Found on reddit posted by u/BuntStiftLecker, what are your thoughts? Have you felt your aim totally going sideways randomly when you know for a fact you were aiming how you always do?

"Over the last few years more and more games have began to suffer from all the same problems:

  • Inconsistent hit registration/detection
  • Inconsistent directional audio
  • Inconsistent visibility
  • Inconsistent sensitivity on mouse and controller
  • Inconsistent “net code” and “lag”

While it seems to look like AAA studios have lost their ability to create FPS games, something they’re doing for the better part of 20 years now, it could be more than that.

Patents for all kinds of manipulation of in-game information and data started to emerge four years ago with the first one being a study, using one of EAs games [1], other patents quickly followed:

  • System and Method for Validating Video Gaming Data (Activision, Data collection) [2]
  • Practical Application of a Virtual Coaching System and Method Within the Context of Multiplayer Video Games and Based Upon a Determined Playstyle of a Player (Activision, Highly advanced SBMM) [3]
  • Methods and systems for incentivizing team cooperation in multiplayer gaming environments (Activision, Dynamic accuracy adjustment of the player)[4] Methods and systems for increasing player engagement in multiplayer gaming environments (Wrong name used)
  • Video game content aggregation, normalization, and publication systems and methods (Activision, Pins performance data/profiles to user account making it usable across games) [5]
  • Systems and methods for dynamically weighing match variables to better tune player matches (Activision, Runs AI driven bots based on captured user performance profiles) [6]
  • System and Method for Transparently Styling Non-Player Characters in a Multiplayer Video Game (Activision, Makes NPCs/Bots indistinguishable from real players) [7]
  • Method and system for determining a frustration profile of a player on an online game and using the frustration profile to enhance the online experience of the player (Sony, Determines when a user would quit to act against it) [8]

While these are just a few I read through, there are far more by other companies, like the “TrueSkill” and “TrueSkill 2” patents by Microsoft or the “Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment” patent by EA. When they became known, they quickly have been written off by most communities as not being feasible or “no evidence” of implementation. With Respawn admitting to “EOMM” in their games and the player performance data moving from “CoD: MW2019” over to “CoD: BOCW” and “CoD: Vanguard” this has significantly changed.

While nothing of the above is really new, the results technologies based on these patents create become more and more visible in games like “Apex Legends”, “Battlefield 2042”, “Call of Duty” or “Halo” every day. The communities seem to slowly wake up to the problem, while in most of them the talk about it became heavily limited.

It is however no surprise that most of the subs and forums of the aforementioned games are full of posts complaining about

  • Bad servers (Fix your servers)
  • Bad hit registration
  • Bad audio

Once one knows what to look for, one can easily identify the symptoms across games and see the signs of manipulation. High randomization in hit detection/registration is an attempt to level the playing field. People in the “CoD” community began to talk about it as early as “Modern Warfare 2019” and it became worse with “Warzone”. Randomly disabling “aim assist” or modifying the audio became a common thing [9].

Aim manipulation can hardly be demonstrated in video and has to be experienced during game play. Watching a video it seems like the player has “bad aim”, because that’s exactly what the manipulation is supposed to do. Feeling it happening however is a totally different thing. One knows when the game does not follow his inputs on the mouse. No matter if the game is not firing a shot or not moving the mouse far enough. One feels that the game moves faster because sensitivity has been dynamically changed.

So much for subtle aim manipulation. What if that’s not enough? Then “the game drags you off the bad guys” as said by one guy in the “Black Ops: Cold War” sub. The “problem” became so visible that it was caught on video, over and over again [10,12]. All bugs of course.

With “Cod: Vanguard” the “problem” has been “fixed”. Not being able to explain how the same bug carries over from two engines, something had to be done. While “Aim resist”, the game creates a bubble around the enemy that cannot be entered with the cross hairs for up to two seconds [11] still exists, everything else has been removed and “bloom” has been added. Bloom the perfect option to hide inaccuracy, dynamically adjusted or not.

The goal of all this? Engagement. By dynamically putting people together on anticipated outcome, the reason why lobbies are abandoned and not kept, one can manipulate the player into playing more than he usually would. The longer the player stays the better and it has been shown by studies that constantly winning or loosing does not give the player any fun. While these tests were part of a study on gambling addiction, the reward system in the human brain has not changed and is still susceptible to these things, especially in children as young as 13, while the damage done cannot even be predicted.

It comes as no surprise that we see these patterns in games today. One example being the “near loss”. “Near losses” suggest the “Illusion of control”, creating a sense that the player is developing some kind of skill over an outcome that is in fact determined by manipulation. Being presented with a “near loss every” 3rd or 4th match has shown to yield the best results. While still facing an objective loss, the player is tricked into continued engagement and the illusion of a chance to win the next match.

It is not uncommon that players win a match and heavily tank afterwards, being trapped in a pattern where their results seem to get better, just to be presented with a “near loss” after three rounds and the cycle starting all over again. Every now and then, the player wins a match having the feeling he’s getting better. Other side effects are “sweaty lobbies” feeling like ranked play or the game trying to hold a player down after an exceptionally good match. A near 50% win/loss rate being another side effect.

However, these systems have one nice side effect: People are so pinned down to a certain K/D and win/loss ratio, that it’s basically impossible to be better. The more dialed up these systems are, the harder it is to get away from a clean cut 1 K/D or a 50% win/loss ratio. The only way to overcome this is a “sudden spike in skill”, either by reverse boosting or by using actual cheating software like “aimbots” or “wallhacks”.

Sadly these systems also destroy a lot of fun and I cannot even be mad at people that buy cheats to get the fun out of the game again. Artificially added delays, bullets not hitting, randomly manipulating the accuracy, messing with audio or visibility. Every manipulation or randomization goes against the legitimate player and helps the cheating player.

It has been so bad in “Black Ops: Cold War” that “Scump” had to explain how he is one out of two professional players that is capable of holding an “above 2 K/D” [12 – 23:46], leaving Hecz immediately wondering how streamers can pub stomp having a four or five K/D ratio [12 – 24:00]. The whole conversation, starting 20:55 [12] is quite interesting.

While the statistics collected will show if a player cheats, in the game these things help hiding cheats. After buying skins or being granted that one exceptionally good match, who can tell the difference between a dialed up “aim assist”, even on mouse, or an “aimbot”? What about “wallhacks” and lowered latencies or better audible footsteps?

Searching for “cheater” or “hacker” in the subs or forums of the latest games yields a lot of results, while most of these people aren’t cheating. Searching for “SBMM” at least shows that the communities are slowly waking up to what’s going on. Sadly “SBMM” insinuates that it is all about a level playing field while in reality it has become a generic term standing for all versions of match making and player manipulation in game.

Once better hit detection, higher accuracy, more health or easier lobbies are paired with micro-transactions the disaster will be complete. Getting easier lobbies after buying something has already been reported in various subs and is well known from mobile games. This being the next step in the evolution of “Pay2Win”, it’s only a matter of time until games can only be won after buying the latest skin or “Battlepass”.

For roughly five years we’re witnessing how the games we love are slowly transformed from an open playing field into an “Operant Conditioning Chamber” (Skinner Box) turning them into an experiment in psychological manipulation and control.

It needs to stop.

https://tenor.com/view/weird-al-crazy-wow-creepy-nuts-gif-5547782

[1] – https://web.cs.ucla.edu/~yzsun/papers/WWW17Chen_EOMM

[2] – https://patents.google.com/patent/US20200188793A1/en

[3] – https://patents.google.com/patent/US20190329139A1/en

[4] – https://patents.google.com/patent/US10561945B2/en

[5] - https://patents.google.com/patent/US10864443B2/en

[6] - https://patents.google.com/patent/US10857468B2/en

[7] - https://patents.google.com/patent/US20190291007A1/en

[8] - https://patents.google.com/patent/US20090280909A1/en

[9] - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ec0f5-wKZ10

[10] - https://www.reddit.com/r/blackopscoldwar/comments/kgy3bn/heres_footage_of_the_aim_assist_bugging_out_when/

[11] - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIqNizptYIo

[12] - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmC9tWCEN10 "

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a tl;dr would be appreciated lol.

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If there’s anything you read that’s gaming related today please read this. There really isn’t a good way to TL;DR this other than skill based matchmaking is altering how strong aim assist is, footstep volume is, and other things in modern games, to include Halo.

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Sounds like tin foil hat conspiracy nonsense to me.

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Sure you can say that, but I have felt this in halo. Ever notice how your aim is super consistent for a while and out of nowhere you are overshooting your target, or shots you know for a fact hit just… aren’t?

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lol what

I’m speechless

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I won’t dismiss the potential of Dev/Publisher intervention via this way, but at the same time, a lot of things in the game still don’t work right which could also have an adverse effect on your aim. IF the game was 100% optimized I’d be inclined to believe this more, but even on lowest settings, the game still performs poorly, with random stutters and frame drops mid match, which would certainly affect someone’s aim on a mouse.

The Aim assist level is also nowhere near as strong as it used to be, even tho on Controller it feels like the magentism and sticky crosshair is still just as strong, if not stronger than on K&M… Worse yet, is without enough substantial evidence from multiple sources tied to this game specifically, it’s just gonna come across as researched guesswork at best, and cynical fueled skepticism at worst…

We will just have to see if these issues persist long after the game has been out and has been patched and fully optimized to where even a lower end potato can maintain 60 FPS on lowest settings, regardless of map or number of players on map, until that happens I’ll just keep blaming poor optimization and lag for my current bad games (cause it genuinely is as things currently stand…)

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eh if we are talking near loses then what about purposely shallow clips or taking almost full clip to kill?
wouldn’t that be the same manipulation?
why are we virtually out of ammo everytime we kill someone in this game?
why is switching weapons so slow?
all the same bs manipulation then?

That depends on the weapon. Some weapons take nearly their full mag to kill someone, and others can kill in under half easy. None of what you mentioned is the manipulation he is speaking of. He is suggesting the game selectively disabled aim assist or bullet magnetism, or intentionally fails to register some or all of your shots some of the time just so you lose more. It’s pretty tin foil level but it would explain melee attacks sometimes whiffing entirely. Wouldn’t put it past them to be so bad they forgot to disable it on melee where it’s too obvious.

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I really don’t think SBMM is the right name for what is being alleged to be happening. With regards to that I also don’t think the TrueSkill and TrueSkill 2 paper belong in there. Those terms and technologies aim to get a better grip on player performance and trying to match them against other people of a similar skill level. That to me is fine as it will lead to close matches instead of one team steamrolling the other (the latter being quite boring to me on either side). It also will have the sideeffect of keeping K/D near one (you win some, you lose some against players of similar skill).

As for the other stuff one really would need to look at a lot more games to really get to a conclusion. I had great games and terrible games (both before and after I activated the battlepass). The more ridiculous matches happened to me when there was an influx of new players (e.g. after the campaign launch) or during the first few games on a new playlist (when the SBMM is still trying to figure out how to rate the new players). The other issue is when I get put on overseas servers (100 ms - 200 ms ping) instead of european ones (30 - 40 ms ping) or if the connection experiences packet loss (at least the network stats overlay in the game always complained of it when unregistered hits happened).

What’s also possible is that we will experience inconsistencies while they’re trying to fix things on the server side (desync, etc.) - hit detection, etc. happens there and not on the client (for obvious anti-cheat reasons). But that only accounts for change over time not inside a match. The servers are having obvious issues (e.g. looking at the BTB troubles - I doubt they’d fake something of that magnitude just to hide other manipulations).

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actually yes it is the exact manipulation he was talking about.
Just actually think…

If the primary weapon can’t kill you without a full clip that is on purpose right?
So, by LOGICAL DEFINITION…that is manipulation of the mind.

It is meant to keep you on edge so to speak…get it?

It is EXACTLY WHAT HE WAS SAYING YOU SIMPLY REFUSE TO ACKNOWLEDGE OR ACCEPT THAT DUE TO EITHER CONDITIONING AND BEING USED TO IT OR INABILITY TO SEE IT.

Get the logic?

It is keeping the player always having that almost didn’t get the kill/finish etc.
Same concept man.
think

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I have played these games for many years with a controller and while I’m not a professional I generally know myself when I mess up my own aim.
Common situations:

a) MW 2019 - In some matches I could reap havoc and kill people left and right but magically after I’ve killed the same guy more than couple of times he either spawns really close to me or I can’t hit my bullets (i.e. the windshield wiper effect) or the bullets just don’t work at all and he kills me.

b) Cold War - There are tons of situations in which I should’ve been killed (see it works both ways, sometimes you stomp, sometimes you get stomped) but been left a tiny sliver of health. Same applies to the enemy.
I’ve seen the damn aim assist thing happening multiple times and as far as my own experience states it has happened when I’ve killed the same guy for multiple times in a row just like with the MW 2019. These are all examples of the “nearly winning or nearly losing”

c) On all of these games the ping fluctuates. The server location would indicate that the closest one to me is 25ms but matches happen from anywhere from 50ms to 90ms. I have a fiber and nothing happens in the background while I play.

d) Of course there are the common issues which has always been plaguing online gaming, people warping around and hits not working properly because some people play over wifi etc but these cases what I’ve seen are not like that really.

e) A lot of people say “It’s just a game and you’re bad, get good” but thing is if you have followed how social media works, how Amazon worked even in 1995 when it first launched, you’d know there’s a lot more to software engineering than just “making a game” and these days when it’s 2021 and gaming is a mainstream phenomena and something which the normal people even do, gaming generates more revenue than film and tv, it’s logical these big companies will and try to harvest as much money out of the players as possible. Thing is most of the players these days are not computer savvy nerds like they used to be but just normal people who think social media and touchscreens are ‘cool’. And so on. So in essence: not a lot of people even think about what is actually happening behind the scenes with the software they’re using. A lot of people are happy with Win10 for example and the same thing with Google but if they actually did some research on their own how much data these two collect…

f) Some people are skilled enough to not necessarily notice these issues or they are able to consistently overcome these but I claim that if you have played 200+ hours and you don’t recognize certain patterns in matches and how they always seem to go according to a certain hidden plan then something’s wrong with your own perception.

g) EA and FIFA were sued for adjusting the match difficulties on the fly to create ‘more engaging and exciting’ outcome, and the way the AI works. FIFA is simpler in this way there’s only two people playing at the same time. Haven’t followed and don’t know what was the verdict if any. These are hard things to prove unless someone leaks the full source code or someone does reverse engineering, analyzes packets and the data the game sends and receives.

Sorry for my bad English. Also: my post contained a forbidden word. I love how EVERYTHING IS CENSORED in 2021.

I don’t know what to say about the Infinite, to me the matchmaking seems to be a-okay, acceptable at least when compared to these other games. At this point I’m more worried about Infinite not having enough maps, bad customization, lazy battle pass, predatory monetization, the usual gripes from the main forums really. And the fact it was built in a panic mode during and aferwards 2019 so Infinite probably has 2 years max of real production time and it clearly shows.

(But then again, you’ll end up in the ultimate sweat lobbies in Infinite as well if you are doing good in few matches. It’s not that different from the other big companies’ implementations. I’m kind of getting annoyed. If it’s not ranked it should be bit more … lenient I would say. Anyways, I don’t see myself playing Infinite after 100+ hours unless 343 announces a date when they are going to release new maps and perhaps provide a real roadmap. At least they should bother to pretend they care about their product by fixing the damn BTB…)

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Agreed. The bits about poor hit reg or lag being intentional randomization are complete tinfoil hat. Engagement follows games that work well, not broken games.

As for the rest, it seems like there are all these complaints about ranking or matchmaking that results in 50% win-ratings or close to even K/Ds. That’s… how games work, and how matchmaking should work. A premier league team consists of the top .00001% of soccer players, but a full team of them might have a bad record because they play at a high level. Even super-GM chess players can have a “poor” record in terms of wins and losses in a given year because they’re playing elite competition.

Talking about the SBMM algorithm as if it has surgical control and can “hold players down” or actively trying to create “near losses” on some sort of regular cycle is more tinfoil. While I wish it was more transparent compared to H5 with Josh Menke, the idea that it can control match outcomes with that level of granularity is just wrong.

If this about removing SBMM from social, the alternative is having high level players absolutely stomping people who don’t know how to play if lobbies are supposed to be totally blind. Ironically, I think the people complaining most about SBMM are frequently the ones the system is ‘protecting’, so to speak, although not always, of course. I don’t play social, so I suppose I can’t really opine much on the state of things there.

This. So much… it started in H5 but it’s so fcking obvious in infinite

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Developer manipulation isn’t actually new. Gears of War is a game that released around 2007 and the developers have actually admitted to giving people who were playing their first match increased damaged because they saw that 90% of players who didn’t get a kill in their first game did not play a second.

Lee Perry was the lead designer of that game, and this information came from him.

I bring this up because some people believe these things are just a bunch of crazy conspiracy theories, but this is an example of developers manipulating outcomes which is an undeniable fact.

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And this is why i play enlisted….

And halo campaigns

I see the same thing

I really would not be surprised if this happened in any games today. I’m almost to the point of keeping some data of my weekly challenges. If I need a certain gametype or kills with certain weapons, it almost feels like the game INTENTIONALLY gives me the OPPOSITE maps/gametypes I need. Would be a great ploy to keep players on longer to complete challenges. Even the kill challenges don’t count your kills correctly.

Of course I don’t have any statistical evidence, but that’s alot of work :laughing:.
My tinfoil hat is on at all times…

TL:DR - Big AAA game devs have been patenting really scummy technologies/algorithms for manipulating matchmaking and multiplayer gameplay, and it’s possible 343 have implemented things like this in Halo Infinite which is behind some of the matchmaking, netcode, aim, and audio complaints here.

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I agree with what you wrote. I would just add a tid bit or two. The purpose of “manipulation” is geared toward creating more equitable outcomes. Ex every player has a 1 to 1 win ratio, so therefore everyone is equal. I joked about this and call it the equity algoritm. I dont know necessary if they put anything in to handicap aiming or anything like that. What I can comment on is matchmaking.

I’ve played a couple different games where the win loss seems fixed. Ie you’ll go on a 5 strike then go on a 5 loss streak. That can be alleviated by running a full team, but if you’re above average and searching solo you’ll get paired against 4 average players and the 3 on your team are far below average. So the game is doing the balancing act of you being above average and calculating 1 team with an above average player with 3 below average players is equal to going against 4 average players.

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