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SYFY WIRE video games

Final boss got you stuck? EA patents method to adapt game difficulty based on how you play

By Benjamin Bullard
Cal Kestis and lightsaber in Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order

Okay, Souls series fans — this one’s probably not for you: an adaptive, behind-the-scenes system that automatically adjusts the difficulty level of a game based on how hard (or easy) a time you’re having playing it. Sure, it’s not the stuff of epic boss fights in famously challenging games like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice or Bloodborne — but EA thinks tweaking a game’s difficulty on the fly can help keep some players zoned in for longer.

EA Games reportedly has patented a dynamic difficulty adjustment system that, according to IGN, can scan metadata not only of the game you’re playing, but games you’ve played in the past — all to massage a game’s difficulty in order to make sure you stay engaged. As that report notes, similar in-game systems already are in use in games like Resident Evil 4 and Left 4 Dead. But, apparently unlike those games, EA’s focus is on more than just getting a player through a temporary tough spot.

Instead, the larger goal is to keep players’ eyes on a game for as long as possible, the better to get the most out of all the time that developers spent making it. “Software developers typically desire for their software to engage users for as long as possible,” the filing states. “The longer a user is engaged with the software, the more likely that the software will be successful.”

It’s one thing to rage-quit a game (like any game in the Souls series) whose whole claim to fame is its high challenge threshold. After all, it’s part of the fun. Players who buy into a notoriously challenging title are usually fired up to take a breather if they hit a seemingly-impossible stretch, then grit their teeth and try again.

But there’s another breed of game out there that, at least in the past, has delivered its user assists in the form of pay-to-win loot boxes and overpowered gear, which has led to backlash from fans (as EA itself learned with its initial loot box model for Star Wars Battlefront II). Though the patent filing doesn’t directly identify a future game title where this kind of difficulty-adjusting tech might be used, it does note that there are ways to make what the game is doing either recognizable or completely unknown to the player.

That presents an interesting challenge conundrum; one that perhaps indirectly acknowledges that there’s more than one type of gamer, and that there’s more than a single reasons that people play — and keep playing — games in the first place. For the record, we'll take our difficulty Souls-style: knowing that we're in for a gauntlet of epic fights — that kind that might even take weeks to win — from start to finish.