EA granted patent for system that changes controls based on how good (or bad) you're playing

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Electronic Arts has been granted a patent it applied for in late 2020, named "Automated controller configuration recommendation system", which outlines a system whereby a game would adjust controller settings depending on the user's skill. That's right: why git gud when you could git algorithm.

The patent's abstract outlines how the software would involve "determining, based on the controller input, a user profile for the user comprising at least a skill level and an input tendency of the user." The software would subsequently make adjustments to the controller settings that are explicitly "intended to improve performance of the user in relation to the software, the controller settings comprising at least one of controller sensitivity or controller assignments".

This is not a new concept: designers have from the early '80s been working on adaptive systems to help players who are finding a given game difficult. A notable early example is Zanac, a shooter first released for the MSX PC in 1986, which had a system called "Automatic Level of Difficulty Control" or ALC, whereby the game basically got easier or harder (i.e. increasing and decreasing the number of enemies) based on how the player was performing.

Games have also for decades now incorporated systems that, after a certain number of deaths, will ask users if they wish to try a different difficulty setting. EA's patent is in-line with this spirit, and says it would "include receiving approval of the user to implement the suggested adjustments to the controller settings." The interesting element of this is the suggestion that it would be capable of providing bespoke solutions for each user, and recommending specific configurations based on the style in which a given user is playing (and then keeping this linked to their user profile, which theoretically means bringing such learnings into any game using this system).

Just because a patent's been granted doesn't mean anything is imminent, though another interesting element of this is EA's industry leading accessibility pledge. In 2021 the publisher committed to releasing its accessibility related patents under a royalty free license, allowing any developer to make use of a range of its software patents listed here. This particular patent isn't on there yet, but it was only granted a few weeks ago and is accessibility related: the implications for users who have difficulty with standard outputs or use custom controllers are obvious.

Who knows: with this I may finally win an online match in a modern iteration of FIFA. Sorry, EA Sports FC. 

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."