The Play of the Game highlight at the end of Overwatch can be one of the most feel-good — or funniest — moments in games. Unsurprisingly, Blizzard moved to patent it — and the US Patent and Trademark Office has published details about how it works, almost two years on.
Blizzard submitted a patent for its "Play of the Game" process in December 2016 — nearly six months after Overwatch's original release on May 24, 2016 — which the US Patent and Trademark Office published their application only a fortnight ago.
The patent outlines the manner in which the play of the game algorithm largely functions, as well the "Shutdown", "Sharpshooter" and "Life Saver" sub-categories that sometimes appear at the bottom of Overwatch's automated highlights. Pharah's voice line for her ultimate is even quoted in one section:
For example, 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.
Furthermore, some characters may have abilities that let them float in the air and "rain justice from above" for relatively long periods of time and those characters may receive a lesser score from the factor related to being airborne.
The patent 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") and the extension of play of the game in other genres, including RTS games, CCGs, MMOs and MOBAs.
Blizzard's filing may not necessarily prevent other studios from implementing highlights of their own — Call of Duty, for instance, has been showing the final kill of the match for over a decade. It might be designed to protect the precise naming and manner in how it works, which the patent describes in great detail.
For the most part, it works exactly as you'd think. As a game of Overwatch plays out, a series of events are logged (which includes kills, objective captures, emotes, and so forth). Different categories are tracked over the course of the game, and after a match is completed Overwatch runs over the event log and assigns a score to each event:
When the match has been completed, the game server performs a pass over the event log and gives each event a plurality of scores. Each of the scores represents a different play of the game "category" and each category is associated with a different set of criteria used for scoring.
For example, the category may include a "high score" category that is based on the number of kills or total damage caused by the event, a "life saver" category that is based on damage prevented to teammates, amount of healing done to teammates, or number of teammates whose life was saved by the event, a "sharpshooter" category that is based on difficulty of the shot (distance, whether one or more involved characters are airborne, whether a headshot was performed, and so forth), a "shutdown" category that is based on whether one player prevents another player from completing an important action, and so on. Thus, at the end of the pass, each event is given a score for each of the play of the game categories. However, in some cases certain types of events may not be applicable to certain categories.
Once the scores are worked out, the game then works out what the best play of the game is by assessing the best scores across each of the categories. However, if the highest score for a particular category — like "high score", which tracks the amount of kills achieved in a short space of time — falls under a particular threshold, then Overwatch selects the play of the game from another category.
I've contacted Blizzard's local team for comment, but hadn't heard back at the time of writing. To read the full patent, here's the USPTO listing. It's not the most translatable English you'll read this week, but it's a fascinating read if you wanted more granular info about how Overwatch's play of the game functions in principle.
Correction: The patent has yet to be granted by the USPTA, with the agency only publishing the application, not granting it. The headline and body of the article have been amended; apologies for the error.