Patent detects in-game 'collusion' by tracking 'external connections'

Patent detects in-game ‘collusion’ by tracking ‘external connections’

Call it a hunch, but something tells me these two players work together...
Enlarge / Call it a hunch, but something tells me these two players work together…

Have you ever felt like your opponents in a free-for-all online game are trying to get you, in particular? It may not just be paranoia; it could be collusion between your opponents. And in a recently published patent application, Electronic Arts details some potential tools and data points, both inside and outside the game, that it could use to detect and eradicate this unfair practice.

EA’s patent simply titled “Detecting Collusion in Online Games”, published earlier this month, defines collusion as when two or more players/groups who are “intended to be adversaries” instead “contribute to a common cause” to “gain an unfair advantage” over others. In the Battle Royale shooter, for example, a small group of players communicating outside of the game could stick together and gain a decisive firepower advantage against their unique opponents.

Many of the patent’s potential methods for uncovering this type of collusion use simple and obvious game data. If two or more ostensibly opposing players or teams show abnormal amounts of “time spent in close proximity…without commitment”, for example, there’s a good chance they’re working together. Even if these players show superficial opposition at some points, metrics such as damage per second can be compared to the average to see if it’s just opposition “for looks”.

Dropping items that another team or player is constantly picking up is another potential sign of collusion, as is the same player(s) regularly showing up on opposing teams game after game. Colluding players may also tend to finish in similar ranked positions during their matches, particularly “once the unfair advantage provided by the colluding is negated” as some of the colluding players are eliminated.

Big Brother is watching (for collusion)

Beyond easily detectable in-game data, EA’s patent details other signs of collusion that can be gleaned from things like “social relationships and communications” and “connections and interactions with systems third parties” outside of the game. This type of data ranges from simple relationships like a “friends list” provided by the game platform to completely external relationships like “social media login data”.

The patent mentions “a community metric shared between teams” which counts “the number of memberships in a group or community… where players of both teams are members”. Things like “the number of posts by a player in a particular community” shared with another player could also signify potential collusion.

Some of the internal and external factors that EA's patented method could use to detect collusion between players.
Enlarge / Some of the internal and external factors that EA’s patented method could use to detect collusion between players.

Even “extra-game communication content” could be fed into the algorithm, according to the patent, such as “posts to a forum in which players from both teams participate.” A “machine learning algorithm” could be used to glean any collusion-related context from this type of out-of-game communication, or a simple keyword search could be used, according to the patent.

To be clear, the patent is blunt in saying that any player data used in any of these detection algorithms “would comply with privacy policies that respect player privacy, and in accordance with any player’s privacy settings or preferences. players”. That said, there’s something a little Big Brother-y about the prospect of a publisher like EA analyzing your Twitter posts and Reddit community memberships to see if you’re trying to coordinate cheating in their online game. .

Then again, in a world where players will go out of their way to hide their cheating using external devices, perhaps this kind of external social graph analysis is needed to weed out some of the worst accomplices (or at least some of the least cautious). ). In any case, having a patented design does not mean that EA uses (or will ever use) this type of system in the wild. For now, this is just an interesting insight into how one company is thinking about potential ways to detect the human side of online cheating as well as the technical side.

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