Activision knows your age, sex, and location, and wants to use it to make NPCs


Activision wants to blur the lines between human players and online bots, and a patent application suggests that the publisher plans to use your profile to make it happen. The patent concerns methods of monitoring player information, mining profiles for data that can make NPCs seem human, and using that info to populate your online games.

The ‘System and Method for Transparently Styling Non-Player Characters in a Multiplayer Video Game,’ was published recently, but is a child application of a patent dating back to 2014. The actual claim covers the duplication of player profiles, but the description of the invention is much further-reaching.

Player profile information, as Activision defines it, can include your screen name, your playstyle, the average length of your game sessions, your preference for playing with friends or solo, and the in-game items you’ve used or purchased. It can also include “demographic information of the player (e.g., geographic location, gender, income level, etc.).”

You probably won’t find your home address and annual income floating next to a random NPC next time you play Call of Duty – the description suggests that NPCs can be anonymized with generic profile data, and it’s not like in-game profiles carry that style of personal data anyway. But all that data can be used to populate game matches with bot players who’ll act like real players would in similar sessions.

Besides generating fake profiles, an AI engine “may control an NPC’s behavior (including gameplay actions) such that the NPC’s gameplay more closely mimics the gameplay of the human player,” and you could see more nuanced behaviours too – including some level of “friendliness.” In that example, “an NPC that demonstrates sportsman-like conduct during gameplay might be someone that a human player would enjoy playing with again.”

This patent does not seem to realise that there’s nothing less human-like than acting nice in a Call of Duty session. Just don’t be surprised if it feels a little like you’re looking into a mirror next time you’re playing an Activision game online.

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