Our Take: There Is Nothing Inherently Wrong with EA’s EOMM System

EOMM matchmaking gives players an expected win every once in a while.  The horror!

If you’ve been around any video game forums or YouTube the past couple of days, you might have run across YongYea and Jim Sterling talking about EA’s EOMM system.  If you want to catch up on the original story, you can watch YongYea’s original video here (watch Jim Sterling’s version here).  I also want to note that it’s not entirely clear if the system is in use right now or if it’s still an experimental idea. [EOMM = Engagement Oriented Matchmaking]

Regardless of its current usage, the internet collective is creating a narrative that isn’t true.

There is nothing inherently wrong with EA’s proposed EOMM matchmaking system.

A narrative is building up around a research paper, that EA employees wrote, that EA is implementing unfair matchmaking in an effort to sell loot boxes (monetize) and keep players spending money in game.  Unfortunately, as the internet collective does, it has turned what is a fairly innocuous thing into another ploy by EA to rip every last dollar from their customer’s wallets.

I certainly don’t support what EA has done in terms of loot boxes infecting every game (see also: The Wilson Loot Box) but the EOMM matchmaking system has nothing to do with monetization directly (indirect only).  It didn’t help that YongYea and Jim Sterling straight up attacked the paper without really understanding what the paper was trying to explain.  What the EOMM matchmaking system does, to put it simply, is try to keep the player in a state of engagement (aka happy).

They Did The Math

Based on my own independent research, this is what the EOMM system does:

At a summary level, it’s a matchmaking system that gives the player an “easier” match (or series of easy matches) if they start to perform below expectation or hit a streak of losses.

For example, if you are playing a 1v1 game and your last 10 games look like this (L = loss, W = Win, D = Draw): L, L, W, L, L, W, D, L, L, L

The matchmaking system may determine that you are going to disengage soon and give you a match (or series) that is an expected win. It’s similar to the payout ratio on a slot machine. Slot machines payout ratios are designed to give small payouts to keep the player engaged.

Typical slot machines payout looks something like this: lose $2, lose $2, lose $2, win $3 (now you’re engaged again), Repeat…

Most of the negative “press” to this point has been focused around the study concluding that: A higher engagement rate could result in players staying with the game longer and spending more money in game as a result. I hate to point out the obvious but of course higher engagement rate leads to more players spending money in game.  It has nothing to do with directing players to loot boxes or forcing people into a payment system.  Players spending money is an artifact of being engaged for longer periods of time. The authors of the paper make that clear: By occasionally giving a player who is at risk of churn (leaving the game) an easy match, they are more likely to stay in the game’s ecosystem, and potentially spend more money.  It is a system to keep players engaged so they don’t uninstall the game out of frustration.

Casinos typically have to advertise payout rates on their slot machines. EA doesn’t have to tell the player anything. If there is any issue here it’s only that EA isn’t telling anyone directly. Even considering that, they don’t have to since it’s their game and they can build whatever they want (within reason). Their matchmaker can do whatever they want it to do in order to keep players happy.  The EOMM system isn’t all that removed from a typical Elo system that lowers the player’s skill ranking until they are in a position where their win rate is approximately 50/50.  The main difference (besides different goals) appears to be that the EOMM system is trying to give the player a confidence boosting win instead of lowering their skill rank over time.  After a player receives their EOMM win, they are usually placed back in the regular algorithm.  If they hit another target loss ratio, EOMM will again try to find them a match-up they have a high potential to win.

It’s tough to find a reason to be angry about this.  A system such as EOMM would likely never appear in a ranked, highly competitive, game mode.  Those matchmaking systems are typically based on Elo/MMR where a player’s skill ranking is used exclusively to find a close and, hopefully, satisfying game.  The EOMM system would probably appear in casual and non-competitive modes where it would likely keep players from disengaging due to long term losing streaks (churn).

Unfortunately, due to twisting of words and a little bit of internet outrage culture, the value of the EOMM system has been lost in the sea of endless complaints about EA and loot boxes.