Blizzard is trying to make sure that no other developers can use the Play of the Game (POTG) feature it developed for games like Overwatch. But what sort of consequences could this potentially have for the creation of other features and for gamers themselves?
Overwatch is a fast-paced game where gunshots, explosions and who-knows-what-else constantly take up your entire screen. All that visual clutter makes it easy to miss important moments, which is why Blizzard developed the Play of the Game (POTG). This feature attempts to identify the most exciting thing that happened in a given match. Did you get a team-wipe with Genji's dragon blade? Nullify the opponent's graviton surge with a well-timed transcendence? Quickly snipe people from across the map? Overwatch keeps track of all that and shows it off at the end of a match.
The POTG is decided based on an "on-fire meter" that fills up based on your actions. Healing your teammates, damaging your enemies, or effectively using your abilities make the on-fire meter rise, and the POTG is determined based on whose fire meter filled up the quickest in the allotted time frame. Sometimes this system results in strange POTGs--our favorites are when a Torbjorn dies and his turret goes on a rampage--but it's generally pretty good. So good, in fact, that Blizzard is applying for a patent covering the POTG system.
Blizzard filed a patent application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) regarding the POTG system in December 2016; it was made public this month. Note that Blizzard hasn't been granted the patent--USPTO merely revealed the application's existence.
Even if USPTO grants Blizzard the patent, odds are good that the patent wouldn't completely prohibit developers from implementing something like a POTG in their own games, especially since games have shown end-of-match highlights since before Overwatch and its POTG system were a thing.
That doesn't mean the application isn't worrisome, however, because patents can quickly stifle certain features even if there are ways around them. The most notable example is a patent Namco Bandai owned that prevented other developers from showing mini-games during load screens. That patent expired in November 2015, but the damage was already done. Even currently we're still typically shown quick in-game tips presented with some of the universe's lore, or just given a generic loading screen, because that's what we got used to while Namco Bandai's patent was active.
Patenting the POTG system could quickly stifle efforts to highlight the most important moments of a match in other games. With the increasing popularity of competitive titles where big plays aren't immediately recognized, from MOBAs (multi-player online battle arena games) like League of Legends, to battle royale games like Fortnite, something like the POTG would be a welcome way for people to show off their skills. Even the looming specter of a patent could lead developers to scrap plans for similar systems just because they don't want to deal with the threat of patent issues somewhere down the line.
Time will tell if Blizzard will succeed in earning this patent and what this would mean for future memorable gaming moments.