Call of Duty players accuse devs of using EOMM to “manipulate” them (again) cover image

Call of Duty players accuse devs of using EOMM to “manipulate” them (again)

Is Call of Duty using EOMM? Many players are feeling impacted by this matchmaking practice, which is aimed to hook them.

The Call of Duty community is becoming increasingly vocal about the matchmaking in the newer entries in the franchise.

Skill based matchmaking, or SBMM, is what Call of Duty and other games use to place players of a similar skill level in matches against each other to balance the teams and make the matches more even. While players feel skill is part of the matchmaking process, many feel that it's more reliant on something called EOMM, or engagement optimized matchmaking.

"Let's stop calling it SBMM. It's not SBMM. It's EOMM. It's there to manipulate you, and yes, it does hurt the game experience, and that's why everyone from sweats to casuals f**king hates it. And it's why we keep playing anyway, because it WORKS," one player wrote in a passionate Reddit thread.

Essentially, the aim of SBMM is a team-based FPS game is to have an event 50/50 win-loss rate between the two teams. But players feel it's not truly based on skill when the KD ratio is so uneven between both teams in many cases. Players also feel they are "punished" even when they have a good round, and only feel rewarded after getting a good match after two to three bad ones.

Streamers, pro players, competitive gamers — and even casual players — have continued to express frustration with SBMM in Call of Duty and beyond for this reason. Instead of truly feeling like evenly matched teams, it often feels like a string of "engineered win and losses" to keep you playing.

For example, they will purposefully set a team up to fail by creating an unbalanced KD to keep them grinding to get a win. Then they will finally reward them with an easier match so they can get addicted to that feeling of finally winning.

"Older video games used a much simpler method of feeding you dopamine. Grind for x amount of time, receive reward. Newer games are much more insidious about the dopamine drip feed, and this is why we're seeing this shitty, manipulative form of matchmaking taking hold in newer games," the player ranted.

Is Call of Duty actually using EOMM?

Yes, although it will never be clear exactly how EOMM is truly implemented behind the scenes.

EOMM has been a topic of discussion for multiple games, including Apex Legends and previous Call of Duty games. Players have often jumped to Reddit to discuss different things they experienced when playing in ranked matches, including allegedly smaller hitboxes and disrupted aiming.

<em>Screenshot of Reddit thread from 2021</em>
Screenshot of Reddit thread from 2021

While it may sound like a wild conspiracy theory with "windmills cause cancer" vibes, there is actual proof that game developers study EOMM. A research paper with authors from EA states that "matchmaking based on fairness is not optimal for engagement" in its first paragraph.

"In this paper, we propose a new matchmaking framework, Engagement Optimized Matchmaking (EOMM). By formulating matchmaking into an optimization problem, we pair players in order to maximize the overall player engagement, or equivalently, minimize the overall player disengagement," the team of college researchers and EA employees wrote.

Essentially, matches are custom tailored to keep players in the game as long as possible instead of solely relying on players' skills. EOMM will study a players' average play session time, what time of day they play, their weapons of choice and strategies, and even their microtransactions. Will this player be more likely to buy a weapon skin if they see it being used by a better player in a match? Will they rage quit and stop playing for a few days if certain things happen in a match?

Engagement optimized matchmaking has been no secret, especially in the Call of Duty community. Complaints online stem as far back as Black Ops Cold War in 2020, with many gamers feeling as if most of the recent games in the franchise have been plagued by this manipulative algorithm. But skill based matchmaking has always been a thing — it's just changed.

Josh Menke, a former Call of Duty developer who worked on the SBMM, said in an interview: "Call of Duty has always had SBMM. Call of Duty 4 had some SBMM. It's just that the math and science has gotten better over the years and caught up."

While EOMM is very real, there is currently no proof behind some of the more out-there conspiracies regarding nerfed aiming and hitbox changes. That hasn't stopped countless players from reporting this kind of experience, however. And only time will tell if Modern Warfare 2 will also produce similar complaints when it gets ranked a few days after launch.