The Daily Grind: What makes an MMO community toxic?

I sincerely do not envy the task of MMO studios and community managers when it comes to wrangling their crowd of diverse, fickle, and often very loud-spoken players. Trying to communicate and guide passionate fans is a neverending task, with the accomplishments of one day being instantly erased at a perceived slight the next.

(As an aside, I love it when a dev refers to the community as “passionate,” because it’s almost always code for “more hot-tempered and irrational than a badger in a paint shaker.”)

Lately I’ve been thinking about how some studios seem to do a better job encouraging their playerbase to be civil and friendly (comparatively), while others seem to reign over a prison riot full of flaming posts, incomprehensible swears, and sheer contempt for fellow gamers.

We all can think of a game that seems to fall into the latter category, so my question is, what makes an MMO community toxic? Are there certain types of games that seem to attract malcontents? Is it a failure on the part of the CM team? What do you think?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!
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129 Comments on "The Daily Grind: What makes an MMO community toxic?"

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Rolan Storm

‘…it comes to wrangling their crowd of diverse, fickle, and often very loud-spoken players.’
Yeeeah… You are so polite. But I can call them how I know them: crazy. :D

As for what makes them toxic I’d say three things: game’s mechanic, GM reaction and devs’ forum moderation. If the game is competetive, GMs do not answer harassment petitions and moderators do not ban crazies – all hell breaks loose.

Jeffery Witman

It flows downhill, as the saying goes. If the game itself is based on a toxic premise, and/or the devs/producers act with toxicity, the players will pick up on it and amplify it a thousand fold. It’s hard to describe that toxicity as anything other than a lack of respect for other people.


>A focus on PVP.
>Little to no moderation by those in charge. Being an asshole is either ignored or encouraged rather than punished.
>A badly coded game full of hacks and exploits which are either ignored or dealt with too slowly, with exploiters not being properly punished.


Teenage boys ^_^


Toxicity? Heh. This topic comes up about every 6 months, as it should btw.

Ok. Sure. Based on my experience in some very toxic atmos here is my nickles worth.

1. Dev’s who let it be. Some devs very short sightedly let things go early on and later the community pays for it. Griefing is ok. Ganking is ok. Ripping other players off is ok. “It’s all part of this open world”, they will say. It is game play. It is player choice. And so starts the slippery slope. Couple that with other problems like hacks, no chat moderation, and exploits and you have an open world rife with poisonous players. Ask Trion.

2. Player’s mob mentality or stupidity more like is next. In the world as described above, suddenly average players, players that don’t normally partake in shenanigans, succumb and become poisonous. Suddenly cheating is ok, so is griefing etc. etc. Instead of standing up against the maladies they jump right in because everybody is doing it.

3. Last and not least, Hacks and Trolls glide into the chumbed and bloody waters. There are players looking for toxic. There are some who will troll and hack for fun hoping to get attention; to make a name for themselves. And the try to one up each other.

There you go. MMO toxicity at is finest. And sadly, this happens more than you think. There are glaring examples out there. And you can mark the fall. And when devs finally realize they have a problem? It’s too late the damage is done.

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I feel that a lot of toxicity forms of frustration. When there is frustration in competitive play like PvP, we see it. In team events when players are frustrated by others not playing or progressing the way they want, we see emotions boil and toxicity spew. When players feel they are ignored or slighted, we see toxicity aimed at the company or its representitives. Of course, no one can keep players from feeling frustrated, but I believe communication can go a long way toward helping.

In my experience, I’ve seen two particular things greatly increase game toxicity. One was going F2P. It seemed as if a whole new crowd of noxiousness suddenly entered the game and took chat and behavior straight into the sewer. Admittedly, cutbacks at the same time decreased moderation, so it’s not too surprising.

Two was the way the company obfuscated reporting. In-game reporting used to be a couple of clicks to bring up the menu and state a grievance. Well, the company claimed the system was being used too much, so if you really wanted to report someone, you had to go to the website, climb through a bunch of menus, forcibly click past the FAQ stuff, assure the system you still wanted to make a report, then fill out the info. It took time. It was almost self-punishing to give up your game time, even if you thought you were doing a service to the other players and the company to report really reprehensible behavior– and let’s face it, it had to be really awful to go to the bother.

As several others pointed out, some elements may attract more trouble, but a company can sink itself by design too.

Teala Te'Jir

One word – *anonymity*. Some people are just out to see how much grief they can bring to others because they can hide behind the cloak of anonymity that the web provides.


I will never, never understand how blatant racism/sexism/homophobia/transphobia continues to be allowed in the major social and newbie zones of major MMOs. SWTOR might be the worst I’ve played for this; I have to turn off global chat every time I make a new character for it. STO has this issue too, to a slightly smaller degree, but there isn’t an MMO I’ve played yet that’s been immune.

This isn’t subtle stuff. It’s barely codeworded and dogwhistled. It’s open and it’s blatant and it’s loud and it’s there and it’s not dealt with until a ton of people report it, if then.

With no budget whatsoever, I can keep an IRC channel free of this stuff. How hard would it be to have someone just… watch these chats? And immediately ban (or at least mute for weeks) anyone engaging in it? I know it’s F2P and they can just make another account, but it takes longer to make an account than to click a Ban/Mute button, and if you’re paying somebody to watch these channels the bigot will run out of patience far faster than the person getting paid will.

And, honestly, we can talk about the deeper bits of toxicity in the communities, but when the first thing someone sees when they join a bloody Star Trek game and finish the tutorial is a wall of Nazi propaganda, how can they ever expect any behavior that ISN’T toxic in the game?

Robert Mann

What makes a community toxic is the community, simply put. There’s always some element of the community that acts more or less like cancer, destroying that which is should be building, but how much so and how big their impact is varies.

The factors:
-Chat. Chat is nice sometimes, but the primary use of global channels seems to be trolling or making stupid jokes that anyone out of their low teens would consider lacking in maturity. The next largest uses are epeen and spam. I’m not a fan of global chat, although I do enjoy helping newer players (there’s better ways!)
-Griefing. How easy it is to interfere with other players has a huge impact here. The higher the cost, effort, and time required to do this, the better a game will tend to fare. PvP is merely one means to this end, everything must be designed to account for actions people will take to try to disrupt others (also meaning we lose some cool stuff if we don’t want to be treated poorly by random jerks.)
-Support systems. In game things like ignore lists, ‘bad person, wrist slap!’ servers, and other tech to keep the worst offenders away from people act as a positive to this… not because those people are not there, but because it minimizes their impact.
-GM action. This is sadly lacking in most games, but bans and other measures enforcing relatively civil behavior from GMs was something incredible important at one point. It was a massive positive, so long as the TOS/EULA was reasonable.
-Cost to enter. Whether it is per character, or per account, or a subscription, a cost to enter mitigates a little of the worst scum. Depending on the style of the game, how valuable the cost is if character/account based, and how willing a company is to ban this can become highly problematic to those abusing others.
-Forums, and forum moderation. Forums are normally a little on the dirty side, with more people who ‘know exactly what is needed, and those disagreeing QQ!’ than anything else… but that’s nothing that some good moderation cannot fix (although those people will just leave the forums for another place they can attack others, removing them from officially supported places is a plus.)
-Esports and trash-talk. Big negatives, esports usually because it automatically produces a huge amount of trash-talk. It’s toxic everywhere, and to be honest it just makes those engaging in it seem very uncool.
-Monitored events. Social events where there are people monitoring for behavior that is not fitting are a plus. They bring communities closer together. This can be done via the community itself, or via official services. The only difference is that the community cannot really punish somebody easily (thus making these events far tougher to keep from being disrupted than with official support.)

Add everything up, the more a game shifts to + and the less it allows – the better the community will be.

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There’s probably not a single answer, but in my opinion the biggest factor in what makes a community toxic would be how the game and established player culture treats outsiders. That includes newbies, players with different real-world identities, players with different motivations, players with lower skill levels, players of other factions/guilds, etc. If you can make your game mechanics encourage welcoming and supporting new players, discourage unnecessary real-world arguments/prejudice, support and value a variety of different playstyles and break down the advantage of insular cliques, I think there’s a good chance the toxicity will be low.

Are there some games more prone to toxicity? Yep, by their nature, highly competitive PvP games on average tend to encourage hostility to outsiders of multiple kinds, so I think they tend towards attracting those who are prone to less social behaviour.

I’d guess a community that has lost its way is rarely the fault of the CM team, because realistically the best they can do is nudge direction and mitigate the most egregious failures. Surely their few voices of sanity amongst a cacophony of angst is unlikely to turn the tide once it’s underway. I’d guess the best they can do usually is not make the situation worse.