Last week, the US Patent and Trademark Office published a patent filed by Blizzard Entertainment in 2016 regarding Overwatch’s Play of the Game (POTG) system. The patent, if approved, would see Blizzard have complete control over who can use a POTG type mechanic.
For those unaware, a POTG is a feature in Overwatch which selects the best play in a game, showing it to all players involved in the match. For example, if a Tracer player got a triple kill with their Pulse Bomb, this could become the POTG for that match.
There are also different categories for POTG, including Shutdown and Lifesaver.
At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with the patent, after all its a feature that Overwatch is well known for. However, a deeper look reveals a massive problem regarding creativity.
If the patent is accepted, it would see the feature unusable by any other developers, meaning that if a developer wanted to put a similar feature in their game, they’d either have to find a clever workaround, think of something else or pay Blizzard to use the feature.
This limits what options developers have when creating their games, which is bad for players and developers alike. For developers, it means having to drop ideas that could greatly add to the game or are requested by players who want their experience improved.
If you want an example of how wide of an effect a patent like this can have you need not look any further than Namco Bandai. In 1995, Namco Bandai was able to patent loading screen minigames for 20 years, rendering other developers unable to use them without a workaround or paying Namco Bandai.
Some workarounds to Namco Bandai’s patent you may know of include include Bayonetta’s combo training mode and Skryim’s highly detailed interactive models.
At the moment its unclear when the patent will be approved or rejected by the Patent Office, with application sometimes taking years.