In 2020, Sony filed a patent for allowing livestream spectators and participants to remove players from a game. Yesterday, the United States Patent and Trademark Office approved the patent, which you can read in full here. Besides removing unskilled players, the system would allow spectators to pay for the privilege of removing players.
Twitch is the most popular streaming platform in the world, and competitive esports is immensely popular. Considering that Sony filed an online tournament patent this year and bought Evo, the world’s largest fighting game competition, it’s clear that the PlayStation-maker is taking competitive gaming more seriously than it did in the past. An approved patent doesn’t mean that Sony is necessarily developing a “benching” system right now. It just gives the company exclusivity if it ever decides to implement one in the future.
In the patent document, Sony outlined a system in which spectators to a livestream can vote to remove a player from an ongoing game. The player would have no veto power over this decision, and they may be reassigned to a different match. The system would display the skill level of the current players and their statistics for the game, such as time played, ratings, and achievements. All of this would take place through “the cloud gaming system,” whatever that means.
To avoid audience abuse of this system, a 60% voting threshold needs to be met in order to bench a player from a game. Spectators with a higher skill level will also have their votes counted more heavily in the election. Despite Sony claiming that this system would be beneficial for removing disrespectful “griefers” from matches, the patent also includes the ability for spectators to pay a fixed price or bid for the ability to remove players from a game. The text also mentions a system in which spectators can warn active players to improve their gameplay. Damn.
This is a terrible idea for so many reasons, one of which is that having this much power might entice someone to use it poorly. Women already face immense barriers in esports, including gender biases about whether or not women are skilled enough to participate in competitive gaming. And the primary inspiration behind these tools traces back to Twitch, according to the opening paragraph of the patent. Except racist Twitch trolls have been organising hate raids against marginalised streamers lately, all by using platform-approved tools. It’s very likely that a similar coordinated effort could undermine the integrity of a benching vote within Sony’s proposed system.
Though Sony claims that the patent represented something hailing from a line of inventions that “enhance functionality and interactivity for players,” the specifics of said patent are troubling. For all its emphasis on fairness and prioritising skill level, it’s absurd to patent a system where spectators can pay to remove players from a game. That’s not about making competitive esports a better ecosystem. That’s just trying to funnel more money into Sony’s pockets.
Sony doesn’t have to implement the system outlined in the patent, and I’m hoping that they don’t. The patent merely ensures that the company’s competitors can’t implement a similar system, and we have no idea about whether or not the inventions in this patent are currently in development. Nevertheless, it can provide us with insight into Sony’s ideas for monetising competitive gaming.