The Soapbox: Getting to the heart of toxicity in MMOs

So we’ve gotten another post from a developer saying that they’re going to really 100% be better about rooting out toxic players from their games. Seriously, we mean it this time. The latest one is from Blizzard, but let’s be real, this is something that’s always happened. We always get periodic statements from companies that this time they’re really going to address toxic behavior, someone links that inevitable Penny Arcade strip, nothing really changes, play laugh track, roll curtains.

I’d like to be happy about this, I really would, but it’s so much empty posturing, and it came out only shortly before the announcement that everyone who plays the game can now be signed to the Overwatch League. I think the two are pretty closely connected. And I think we need to actually start talking about this because this sort of darkly toxic problem is at the core of the designs of these games, even though on some level it’s entirely separate. The problem isn’t that these games are designed to be toxic; it’s that they’re designed to encourage toxicity.

Getting rid of individual toxic players, as Blizzard purports to do, is merely treating the symptom. We need to discuss the disease.

Sort of a symptom and a cause at once, oddly.

Rest assure that it is a disease because it helps keep far too many people away from these games. I know people who were really curious about World of Warcraft back in the day who were pushed off just by player reputations. Even though the worst of WoW‘s populace has never made up a sizable portion of its players, the reputation is there. There are people who might love League of Legends, but they’ll never know because they’ll never play the game in the first place.

And yet there are islands of brightness despite this. I’ve found plenty of people praise Final Fantasy XIV‘s community as just being less toxic in some often hard-to-define way. It’s not that people are all friendlier or less likely to be jerks or something. it’s just that really nasty attitudes tend to be quietly discouraged rather than tacitly encouraged.

I think that cuts to the heart of the matter, and it’s why WoW has gotten a worse reputation over time. It’s a pretty simple issue to understand: These games encourage you to treat other people as, functionally, impediments.

The closer your game is at its heart to telling players “other people are what stands between you and what you want,” the more toxic players it’s going to attract. Simple and straightforward.

Of course, none of the games people mark as toxic are games that go out of their way to say “other people are scum, step on them until you have what you personally want.” This is Overwatch, not Gordon Gekko’s Gospel of Greed Training Simulator. But the elements are still baked into the core of the game design due to a number of design decisions, the sort made very early on.

The first part is that these games have a strong competitive element at their core. This is, of course, part and parcel with games; most games have a strong competitive side. That’s a large part of what makes them games and not just interactive online stories. But in the most toxic online competitive games, the emphasis is not on “let’s overcome this as a team” but on “let’s win.” EVE Online makes screwing over other players a core feature of its gameplay, part of its sales pitch. And you know full well that the point of LoL isn’t to revel in the game’s lore — it’s to beat the pants off the other team.

WoW doesn’t have a PvP focus, but it does have gearing that basically allows players with more dedication to exist on a stratum above that of every other player. In some ways, it’s even worse in that regard; the high-end progression scene stretches so far for such a small segment of the population that it fosters an idea of elitism that shoots through all of the game’s systems. (Compare this to the aforementioned FFXIV, where progression gets you marginally better gear for a short time and then everyone catches up; there’s not as much sense of “I’m better than you” when you just have a 3% leg up on someone for two months.)

YOU ARE MY TOOLS

Next, these games decouple character and player. I’ve heard it said that online fighting games are some of the most vile cesspools you can imagine in terms of community, and that makes sense because when you look at the other player, you see Just Another Chun-Li. You aren’t really seeing your teammates in Overwatch, you’re seeing Hanzo and Mei and Lucio. As I’ve been picking on WoW here, I’d like to point out that this is the point where WoW most firmly diverges, with its big contribution being that armor sets and characters tend to look rather similar based on the limited character creator and rather… monolithic armor design. EVE, however? You don’t even see the avatar, just the ship, which is pretty recognizable just by its silhouette.

This is one of the many, many reasons I despise the Penny Arcade strip someone is inevitably going to link in the comments so I’ll just do it for you. This is not about the offender’s anonymity. What’s happening is not that you’re anonymous and thus act like a jerk; what happens is that your targets are anonymous. That’s why decoupling player and character matters. Yelling at someone who has a distinct look feels like yelling at a person, but yelling at a generic character feels like yelling at Bowser in a single-player game. It’s an AI component; it doesn’t have feelings.

For the third point, these games ensure that clearing is better than complaining. I have had some runs with some truly atrocious people in various games, and in many cases as much as I might have wanted to get rid of them, I also recognized that the faster option was to just take a deep breath, soldier on, and get the match/dungeon/whatever over and done with. Complaining (or leaving) just slowed things down, and depending on circumstance, it might actually get me into a worse situation (like lowering my season rating or locking me out of battleground and dungeon queues).

By discouraging people from leaving matches early, a lot of games subtly reinforce this idea. You don’t want to drop out in the middle of a LoL match, even if one of your teammates is a terrible human being. You need to just finish the match. So it becomes a case where you’re inured to the idea that this is just something that happens and not something you should act upon.

We go together, and by we, I mean you.

Concurrently, it helps when these games put obvious emphasis on individual success or failure. This one is a little more complex, but I think Overwatch’s payload maps are a perfect example of how this can happen. Not every character is well-suited to parking on the payload and helping it move; Tracer, for example, should be zipping out and harassing the enemy team. It’s very possible for a player to do this successfully but find that the other team members are not guarding the payload. Thus, you emphasize the feeling in a player’s mind of the other people being impediments rather than allies.

Last but not least, these games are environments where offenders are punished in only the weakest of ways. To some extent, this is just going to happen; after all, Blizzard may really hate the transmisogynistic jerk in Overwatch chat, but the comapny wants his money more. Heck, EVE goes so far as to celebrate these people. (Yes, technically the game celebrates being cutthroat and ruthless, but it’s such a short walk between those points that you can sit down and have coffee while occupying both.)

Put all of this together you’ve created a garden where toxic weeds are going to grow. You have a system where players are not given incentives to report this behavior, but players who are inclined to this behavior anyway will flock to you. Like the Stanford prison experiment, it’s less of a proof of how people act in a vacuum and more a proof of what happens when you give people who want to feel important a chance to treat others as impediments, act like bullies to targets they won’t feel empathy toward, and then be rewarded for their combative impulses.

“So how do we solve it?” you ask. Frankly, that could be another equally lengthy diatribe (which I’m not writing today because this is already pretty sizable), but in brief: Don’t design these elements as the beating heart of your game. If your core gameplay is predicated on these problems, you are going to keep finding toxic players. You can ban some of them, but more will show up just as surely.

And if you don’t acknowledge that these are, in fact, the breeding grounds – if you act like toxicity isn’t a problem that has to be addressed at the root level – then you’re still basically encouraging the problem. We cannot treat the symptoms. We have to treat the actual disease.

Or we have to acknowledge that these games do, in fact, want to be infested with toxic players from top to bottom. Which seems like a bad choice to me, but hey, I already don’t play them.

Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively OP writers as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews (and not necessarily shared across the staff). Think we’re spot on — or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!
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150 Comments on "The Soapbox: Getting to the heart of toxicity in MMOs"

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Dušan Frolkovič

Main problem in most of these games is that they have a solo queue in a team based game. Then you throw 4/5/6 random people, each with their own view of how to play the game, into a match and expect them to magically sort it out and work together.

My advice against toxicity: get rid of solo-queue, only allow full teams. Give time for people to find teammates with similar priorities.

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Keir

Bang on. I currently play vanilla WoW and the difference in dungeons from this to the live version is massive. When you have to assemble a group together, you act as a team; when you queue by yourself and get thrown in with some strangers you’ll never see again, you have no incentive to act responsibly.

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Veldan

I couldn’t agree more. Even in MMOs with LFG tools like that, I more often than not made my groups through chat, and it always lead to groups that were 1) better and 2) nicer people. Solo queueing into groups never did the genre any good, as much as I like to play with strangers.

Edit: I was talking about MMOs only here

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Dušan Frolkovič

The LFG works for the group of people that view dungeon as their chores for today and just want to get it over it. Which is fine and it works for them (personally, this would be a warning sign for me that it is time to move on).
But it does not work for people that want to enjoy the dungeons.

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Veldan

But that’s the point, the latter should be everyone. Developers should seek to design the game so that it is enjoyable and content is not reduced to chores.

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Dušan Frolkovič

I do not think that is really true. There just is a group of players that enjoys the MMO of their choice for the progression part. For them, they can do the most boring gameplay possible or the most enjoyable one, they will rush through, because the shiny at the end is what they seek. For them the finish is the target, not the journey.

We are at the point when MMO or even MMORPG is just not enough of a term to cover everything, and the games need to start to define themselves to be more specialized. If try to cater to too many different groups of players, one gets the old too many cooks problem.

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Veldan

Well true, but this is only half the story. Why do people rush through with the finish as target? Because they genuinely enjoy speed clears and setting fast times? Very few people have that mindset. Most do it because they didn’t want to do the content in the first place, but felt forced to do it because of the reward that it gives. That’s the problem. People that would otherwise not do this content, end up in it, because it’s necessary for progression, and then want it to be over as fast as possible because they don’t enjoy what they’re doing. Solutions:

1) Remove or reduce the progression part so that only those who are in it for the fun queue up
2) Make the content truly great and enjoyable so that the experience of being there is greater than the reward and becomes people’s main motivation
3) Seperate queues, pretty much like Bree said below
4) Don’t do solo queues so that people form groups of likeminded players

In order of easy to implement: 4 > 3 > 1 > 2

Bree Royce
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Bree Royce

I mean, that’s never going to happen? MMO players for the most part don’t even want to go back to that, let alone shooter fans. Why not just build a queue UI that asks you what your priorities are and matches you accordingly?

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Dušan Frolkovič

It would be a possibility, but one would really need to define what each priority means.
Because it would not just need to allow for choosing roles (tanks, offense, tjorbjorn etc.), but also things like “casual”, “hardcore”, “first time, so i will not skip cinematics”.

But the fact that people prefer comfortable matchmaking before a non-toxic environment does say something.

Bree Royce
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Bree Royce

Oh, I would LOVE the cutscene option! And yeah, I think people would rather risk the chance of a toxic group than spend a couple of hours making single-serving friends, as the phrase goes, for sure — it’s a good wager to minimize time wasted. In a game where toxic groups were the norm instead of the exception, that’d probably change (although more likely, non-toxic people would just leave and find a less-toxic game).

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Veldan

Who said anything about a couple of hours though? I mean, people love to talk about ye good olde days, but in more recent games, if I formed a group in chat, we’re talking about 5 to 10 minutes.

capt_north
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capt_north

Games exist in a broader cultural context, in which we’ve witnessed the devaluation of empathy and altruism in many quarters in favor of a more insular and selfish worldview.

While this can lead to fascinating philosophical discussions of the nature of man, on a pragmatic level you can quantify, analyze and modify the frequency of the behaviors in question. The mathematical branch known as game theory (which is usually not about games) has practical applications here.

It’s not necessarily the designer’s responsibility to make the world a better place… but encouraging better behavior in a game context may have beneficial spillover effects on real life.

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Robert Basler

Game devs need a psychologist on staff. I’ve read a lot about this issue and small design changes can make big differences in behaviour. The Psychology of Video Games posted a link to a study a while ago that showed that if you remove the ability for players to see other players’ level, that they treat each other better.

Riot has also done extensive research and experimentation on removing toxicity, lots of it is documented on Gamasutra with nice charts and graphs and video.

Bree Royce
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Bree Royce

Robert, do you happen to remember where the link was on TSOVG? I’ve done some poking around and can’t find it and think it would make for a super interesting discussion!

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Jennifer Yaner

As long as there is some sort of competitive mode in a game it will breed toxicity. Toxic behavior stem from elitism and competitiveness, as long as the game has a place where either those two things can exist it will never be free from toxicity. Case in point being Overwatch and every MOBA. You generally do not find toxic attitudes in casual games, with the exception of some like Minecraft. Most cooperative games without a PvP or competitive element are generally very lax.

I will, however, disagree about FF14 being non-toxic. The end-game raids require extremely skilled players, requires high knowledge of game mechanics, as well as top-end gear. This breeds elitism and hardcore mindsets that in turn brings about toxic behavior. No offense to the author, but if you think FF14 is low on the toxicity scale, then you clearly never played the end-game content.

This mainly comes down to players and not the developers. If the developers want to curb this type of behavior they need to crack down on this behavior and start strict punishments for offending players. Otherwise, we just have people who will never stop this behavior because it is never punished.

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Veldan

All very true, and I think the last paragraph is the most important.

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Fred Douglas

I think this is well put and highlights some useful ways to curb toxicity (making games less stratified), but ultimately we can’t rid games of aggression while we continue to live in an extremely violent and divided society.

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Jonny Sage

Lets play Sarcastiball instead. Its SOOOO much more fun.

SarcastaballPromo2.jpg
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mike foster

FFXIV is one of the nicest communities I have ever been a part of. I think maybe because everyone understands that Square is the real enemy.

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Malcolm Swoboda

I don’t care anymore. I go on friendly channels. I know to step away from toxic channels. I make my friends I play with. But I’m also not someone who wants the dozens of consistent players (or public access to players that I ‘manually’ join with) all the time.

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Suikoden

This is such an important topic. You are so correct in saying that treating the symptom doesn’t stop the disease. FFXIV is pretty good about this, and I think it’s because of the love its members have for the game. My hypothesis is because they don’t want people to quit their game. And they do want people to tank and heal. In some games it’s like it’s people’s passion to get others to quit the game. I never understand that.

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Skardon

with 468 hours in overwatch, my take on chat is that it’s 50% benign, 35% cringing, 15% brutal.

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Mike Davenport

It’s the nature of these types of games. Cooperative, goal-oriented games don’t see this type of behavior, at least not as bad. You give players an open world, and no real direction, they will eventually look to griefing to entertain themselves.

turtlebaq
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turtlebaq

“I’ve heard it said that online fighting games are some of the most vile cesspools you can imagine in terms of community”
What? One of the best things about online fighting games is there is almost no toxicity.
There is no team to blame or carry you and your online ranking is an actual measure of your solo skill.
Although I do agree that some online fgc communities are the worst (r/kappa), local ones are great. I’ve met a bunch of great people at tournaments and have had some amazing matches at them.

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Veldan

Though toxicity is human nature, as many people have correctly recognized, that doesn’t mean the problem can’t be solved for video games specifically. Video games have the benefit of not being subject to privacy, free speech or anything. They’re a closed environment, owned by the studio, which can set whatever rules they want, and enforce them in whatever way they want.

All we need for toxicity to be “solved” is one studio to take up the challenge and invest significant dev time into this instead of content, content, content.

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Melissa McDonald

Content is why we play the games, though. What do you suggest they do about it?

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Veldan

Make proper content that is fun and replayable, so that they as developers aren’t spending 99% of their time pushing out content to prevent people from quitting the game because they’re “done”. Then, they free up time for other things, such as building social systems and improving the overall QoL of the game. Which will make it more fun, which in turn means people will enjoy the content that is present more and for longer.

There seems to be a development mindset these days that whenever a game has people quitting, the solution is more content. I disagree. More content brings in people for a very short time, until they finish said content. Better systems and overall game quality bring in people that stay for years, and will give the game a positive reputation besides, probably leading to a higher influx of players.

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Cypher

“Toxicity” is part of the human condition and until people stop blaming games, sport, Twitter etc. for it, we’ll never get to removing it from our lives, if we even can.
All It takes for it to rear it’s head is for two or more people to be in proximity, virtually or really.
Games should stop trying to fix the problems of society, these poems predate gaming and will be around long after the servers are switched off.

Andrew Ross
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Andrew Ross

I agree. Humans are terrible. Killing your fellow human for resources is also part of human nature, yet we’ve at least curbed that aspect to allow for large countries to exist for hundreds, sometimes thousands of years. People forget that Italy wasn’t unified as it’s known today until 1861, and that’s a large, European country with a looong history of conquest.

Truth be told, if any medium should be working to fix societal problems, its games (and comedy- both are rather safe environments).

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Chosenxeno .

The problem is online anonymity. The only way the toxicity will EVER go away is if that goes away. No automated system, group punishment, bans ect. Will fix the toxicity. I’m not saying people should have to give their personal information to play a game(I wouldn’t). The toxicity will always be there because everyone wants to be a troll.

swg_tatwi
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swg_tatwi

Guild Wars 2 and Planetside 2 are good games to consider for this topic as well, due them being designed in opposite ways. In GW2, players in the open PvE world are virtually always a benefit to each other and that’s due to some very clear design choices made by ArenaNet. In PvP, apart from the “stick you with a dancing llama” thing, GW2 is also quite amicable towards other players, even enemies. To contrast, in PS2 your team mates can kill you, can “steal” your kill shots, can dumbly block you from saving them causing you both to die, and sooooo many more ways they be an accidental burden to you. Add on a little malicious intent and you have a recipe for toxicity. But it doesn’t end there. The death screen and many weapons cause the killer to actively taunt the player, with some weapons like the quick knife existing exclusively to annoy people. PS2 was designed with these cheesy systems explicitly to annoy people and thus directly encourage toxic behavior. It’s very clear to anyone who spends time in either game which one of the two has the better community (it’s GW2).

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Utakata

I am not sure I can add or subtract from what Mr. Eliot has to say on this….other than the fact that the onus is also on the individual players to play nice. And be encouraged to do so. Toxicity will unlikely disappear though. However, steps can likely be made to encourage it to take a back seat…so to speak.

Also: This subject needs a Mr. Schlag gif. <3

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Utakata

Yeah, I know…it was kinda corny way of looking at things, like my jokes sometimes. But the real question we should be asking in regards to toxicity: Is this the life we really want? There’s a song about that of late on the internets. You should go look that up…

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Ashfyn Ninegold

Until a preponderance of the gaming community decides common decency, good sportsmanship and integrity matter to it, cheating and the toxicity it breeds will continue.

Cheating, although not the precise issue here, is part of the toxic mix brewing in most games. Cheating is a form of corruption and once you’ve cheated and gotten away with it, it becomes easy to curse, and once you curse, you have no trouble calling another an ugly name, and once you’re free to do that, then you move on to racial epithets, misogyny and politics.

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steve

You can’t eliminate toxicity, and the most effective way I’ve seen to moderate such behavior is to put tools in place that allow players to fight fire with fire.

EQ had a reputation for being both horribly toxic and enforcing pro-social norms. If you were a ganker or a loot ninja in that game the full force of the community would come down on you like a hammer.

I don’t see any clean, politically correct solution to this problem. I say give everyone a ‘gun’ and let us sort each other out.

Bree Royce
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Bree Royce

I know I’ve said this before, but the EQ community has been so idealized by virtue of hindsight. The same powers that made it hard for scammers to get away with ninja looting also allowed uberguilds to bully everyone else on the server. Give everybody a gun and the bad guys make a team and all you end up with is warlordism where might wins and everyone else is screwed.

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steve

It was hardly ideal, I agree. That was the “horribly toxic” side of things.

I’d rather live under a warlord than suffer complete anarchy. Tribal coalitions are a step up from every person for themselves in my estimation. How else do you build a civilization, if not from the ground up? Is it really all that different from our own world? If I strong arm someone on the street in my locality the hammer of justice is not my only worry.

Remember, those same tools that allowed for villainy also engendered heroism. My guild helped enforce rotations that were as fair as any I’ve seen in a world without instanced raiding. We were able to moderate the behavior of the top guild. We saved a lot of raids from being wiped. It wasn’t all lord of the flies.

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Veldan

The problem is that this kind of thing only worked in server communities. Cross server and megaserver have totally killed it, because noone knows each other anymore, and if the 116th random idiot of the day does something unacceptable, there’s not much you can do.

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Noel

I think the difference between toxic players past and present amount to their propensity toward anger, and the degree of maturity and self-esteem to practice restraint. I’m not naive enough to think toxicity is a new thing, I think I encountered less of it because there were more people then than now that understood that while anonymity hid your identity, it couldn’t hide from themselves the shame of knowing they’ve outed a deplorable existence.

It seems to me that the idea that game design and mechanics are to be partly blamed for enabling toxicity is a flavor of determinism. Choice (restraint) is operative.

Regarding deemphasizing the “I” in games – It’s instructive to note that while there is no “I” in “team,” there would be no team without several I’s. In any cooperative endeavor, every participant is necessarily an impediment to another’s success, if each person’s performance is to have meaning in that cooperation. I can conceive of no game that can (or has) surrendered that idea — play badly, we win; play well, we win — without reducing itself to a tepid time-waster.

Toxicity comes from the wider culture. Games castrate their own designs at their own peril. I would rather just kick them out, and let the justice system, self-improvement, or the march of age sort them out.

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Arktouros

Fundamentally you aren’t ever going to get rid of the toxicity in competitive environments. It’s been around forever and has existed in many various forms of hazing and punishment in all sorts of actual group organizations (sports, clubs, etc) long before the internet even came around. Competitive scenarios are stressful and most people like to vent their frustrations towards what they believe (correct or incorrectly) the source. If you take away people’s ability to directly confront the person, they’ll just find another way to do so that you have no control over.

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draugris

I would agree with most of the points with one exception and that is the part of the decoupling players and characters. Imo anonymity has a lot to do with toxic behavior and let´s face it there are many many kids out there without any form of manners. I am pretty sure a lot of mum´s would be shocked how their sweet boy is behaving on the internet.

The other thing is that nowadays you depend on nobody in games.You do a dungeon, hop into group finder with people you probably never see again. So if one of the N00bz has shitty game play let´s flame him to the ground because i don´t have to see him any time soon. Imo rude behavior should be punished way harder with perma bans than it is today. In Archeage i had to quit the world chat because what people wrote there was disgusting on a new level, nothing i wanted to read in my precious free time.

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kidwithknife

Some good food for thought, I hadn’t considered some of these points. I do have to disagree with pretty much everything pertaining to anonymity, however. It’s tempting to say that there is some connection, in some way, between anonymity and toxic behavior because it just seems obvious that there SHOULD be a connection. Duh, right? However, we only need to have a look at the adjacent technology of social media to see that this is not the case. Facebook and Twitter are loaded with awful, disgusting behavior, perpetrated by and towards people whose names, pictures, friends and family’s names, jobs and physical locations are posted publically for all to see. Given that people are so willing to behave awfully in social media without anonymity for either the perpetrator or the victim, what reason do we have to believe anonymity or lack thereof has anything to do with similar behavior in gaming? I don’t think there is any.

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SmugglerSteel

I think one the other angles missed in the conversation though is what is toxic to some isn’t to others. Obviously some behavior is for the most part universally considered bad to most people. It’s the moving nature of this target that makes it particularly hard to pin down. Part of the solution has to be personally burdened. It’s easy to say but oh so very hard to put into practice specially in a era where polarization is the lingering theme of the day. We each have to learn some level of tolerance for things that we don’t like or that bother us. We have to do better about letting things roll off our backs more, and not see every slight as a personal attack. We have to learn to accept that just because something isn’t to our tastes, doesn’t mean we might not have to put up with it at least to some limited capacity, or at the very least let is slide by with out creating an incident. We have to accept that just because we don’t agree with someone doesn’t make them our enemy out right. It just means you are an unique individual with different views and you move on.

Now I am not saying there isn’t some stuff that can’t be over looked, but even that needs to be dealt with in less hostile manner. Generally dropping to your opponents level only serves to worsen the situation and it propitiates it. If you live your life with the prospect of eye for an eye, and tooth for tooth, don’t be surprised when everyone is blind and hungry. The solution starts with ourselves.

I will say I also agree that much of the worst behavior is going to be seen in games that at it’s core is about besting, or pushing other players around. If you play these sort games though you can’t be surprised by it happening. If you don’t want to deal with that sort of play, don’t support those types of games. You in the end have the freedom of logging off, and walking away. I know it’s hard, trust me there games I love accepts of but fundamentally the game does not cater to what I enjoy so alas I bid it a fair the well.

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Loren🌈ろーれん

This is a hard chestnut to crack, and I’m not sure there’s any way to really beat it completely in competitive games. But I do think that any efforts to improve things pretty much have to come from the devs, with software changes, at pretty much a base design level. I personally feel like the biggest success we’ve seen in this vein is pre-raids Guild Wars 2’s PVE design with the no ganking, no node stealing, proactively providing in game rewards for ressing and helping one another, etc. A game has to be structured that way from the ground level, I’d argue even down to the marketing, personally.

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Veldan

This. I’ve been saying this for years, toxicity is for the largest part decided by game design. I do not believe that PvP automatically means toxicity either, though I will admit that it’s harder to combat in PvP environments.

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Castagere Shaikura

I can’t take devs seriously when they say they are going to address this. They have been saying it for years and its worse then ever in all online games now.

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John Kiser

I don’t think there is a way to actually address it at this point. The cat is out of the bag and can’t be put back in so to speak. Unless gaming once more becomes a niche activity it won’t be going away anytime soon and the odds of gaming going back to geek/nerd culture and becoming a niche again are slim to none sadly.

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steve

Don’t count us out. Nerds and geeks are still the core of all this. I still have faith.

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John Kiser

You can’t really avoid toxicity in MMO”s now that the can of worms that is mainstream gaming has opened up to the mmorpg genre particularly with games like WoW. Once you bring in the mainstream crowd you bring in the toxicity that the mainstream crowd brings with them and ultimately that is the heart of toxicity in gaming in general. You brought in the mainstream crowd and basically all the troll like bile filled antics of a very immature crowd.

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Castagere Shaikura

I really miss the old days of mmo’s being niche/geek pc only thing.

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kidwithknife

I really, REALLY want to disagree. But I can’t. Mainstream gamers just aren’t as invested in their gaming communities as those of us who liked these games back when they were a niche thing. I don’t think that’s 100% of the problem, but it’s a pretty large part of it. The player who pops in game for an hour to putter around and harass other players for lols and then logs to do something else just doesn’t approach games with the same attitude that people who consider it a full-blown hobby do. They don’t care if their community burns down around them because they don’t have any stake in it and don’t want one.

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John Kiser

That’s the thing of it. Mainstream brings with it problems. Yes there is some toxicity without it, but when games were smaller population wise if someone was toxic it was much much easier to “shun” them or oust those people from the community. Now it is much much harder to do so.

The mainstream has become systemically toxic (not in mass part), but those areas that are more techy and the like relating to gaming and the like or media in general. It has become a “for the luls because anonymity” and if you get upset at these people you are called autistic and other shit and it has just gotten absurd.

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Jacobin GW

Any game with a competitive element be it direct pvp or a scorecard (item level) will have winners and losers which gets people who are invested riled up.

There is no way to ‘fix’ this without creating a sanitized, hollow, emotionally barren environment which will not sell games.

Developers want ‘a brave new world’ with permanent highs all the time, but in a game where everyone is forever winning it quickly becomes meaningless.

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Melissa McDonald

Not much I can contribute other than my personal belief in what is called “original sin”, i.e., we are born into Sin, live in a fallen creation, strife and bad things happen due to this condition. In my religion these truths are inescapable and are why a Savior is needed, i.e., these problems are unsolvable and divine help is the only salvation from this fallen state. YMMV.

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Cypher

As a “lapsed” Catholic I’d agree partially, I. Believe we should look to ourselves first since that’s where the problems came from…
God helps those who help themselves and it’s through people that his works may be known… something my local priest once said… before being carted off by ‘Operation Yew tree!’ :-/

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Sally Bowls

Well today we had “The first known attempt at creating genetically modified human embryos in the United States has been carried out by a team of researchers in Portland, Oregon, … The process is termed “germline engineering” because any genetically modified child would then pass the changes on to subsequent generations via their own germ cells — the egg and sperm. ”

At least there is a faint hope that if we can find whatever impels people to want to PvP, perhaps we can genetically engineer it out of the species.

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athiev

Be that as it may, my secular Jewish self would still much rather live in a neighborhood with a high employment rate and friendly, efficient police than in a failed state. Ultimate solutions to the human condition we can discuss, but let’s at least make with some effective partial institutional remedies in the meanwhile.

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TheDonDude

Agree with much of this, but I do have a few quibbles.

1. I wouldn’t dismiss getting rid of the individual toxic players as merely treating the symptom. It will help, and it will act as a bit of a deterrent.

There’s also nothing wrong with treating the symptom (along with the root cause problem).

2. Penny Arcade’s strip does hold merit. Yes the target being anonymous can add to the problem, but the attacker’s anonymity is as well. Consider the many cases on the Interwebs where folks are stalked or bullied or hassled. Gamergate, as an example.

3. I would be interested in the hypothetical article about more substantial and specific solutions.

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Rottenrotny

Anyone who has read my comments on the subject knows that I think humans are generally wretched and this especially is apparent online and in multiplayer games.
I don’t think we’re ever going to get to a place where all the human race is entirely respectful of one another and gets along. Or at least not in my lifetime, so that’s “ever” to me.

With this in mind I think having systems built into games to reward friendliness and punish douchebaggery would be prudent.
Maybe a character reputation mechanic could work.
In FFXIV you can do something like that right? You select a member of the party to give them a nice job click?

Well, I’d take it one step further so that once you get X amount of thumbs up/likes/nice jobs you get priority in queues, cheaper gear repairs, bonus XP and if you get lots of thumbs down/dislikes/reports you can’t queue for dungeons, more expensive repairs etc.. or some disadvantages like that.

The idea being that if it inconveniences the troll player enough it might discourage the poor attitude and behavior while encouraging friendliness with some little buffs.

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John Kiser

There is a reward for a lot of commendations in FFXIV. The problem at least in FFXIV’s case tends to be the limit on it. You get one commendation you can give out and can’t commend each member you thought did a good job. It wouldn’t be a horrid idea, but given the toxicity of the communities too punishing people could end up with problematic results if you get a group of trolls running around.

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Dug From The Earth

When a real solution to toxic players is found, it will also be a solution to pretty much every evil bastard that has ever existed or will exist in the real world as well.

If there is the ability to be good or bad, people will be. Thats humanity for you.

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I’ll be honest I only skimmed this article. I skimmed it because I don’t consider it to be that big of an issue. I skimmed it because there will always be hot heads and foul mouths. I skimmed it because its prevalent in any sport. You can not filter and police millions of gamers effectively. Punishment is a strange thing in games. It has the potential to push more players away than it nets you. So they are not and will not be heavy handed with it. To be honest, I think everyone is just a bit thin skinned and there are mute/squelch functions that exist for a reason. Those are the only tools I need.

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plasmajohn

Complaining (or leaving) just slowed things down, and depending on circumstance, it might actually get me into a worse situation (like lowering my season rating or locking me out of battleground and dungeon queues).

I see your point about how this relates to your topic but consequences for leaving a match or group instance are there to combat certain forms of griefing.

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Justin Olivetti

This is a good thinkpiece with a lot of well thought-out points. But I disagree that you can’t treat the symptoms as well as the cause, because games and communities absolutely should. Players sign an actual contract (TOS) and tacitly agree to a social one when they enter massively multiplayer settings, and if those rules are broken, there should be punishment. Perhaps it will have an effect to dissuade the offender or onlookers from repeating the act, but it at least shows that this sort of activity will not be tolerated or condoned and that it will have consequences.

Game studios bear a lot of responsibility here as Eliot mentions. But a failure of personal responsibility and poor behavior as a player shouldn’t be hand-waved away as a “symptom” that isn’t worth addressing.

In short, do both. Address the core design and culture as well as the individual acts. Be consistent. Be public with what’s being done. And (for the studio) don’t make yourself into a raging hypocrite.

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MesaSage

I’m squinting to get an image of a toxic player reading the TOS. Perhaps if the devs gave players the option of having a hottie read the TOS out-loud in a mildly NSFW video, they might see it.

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Schmidt.Capela

A good first step would be to provide a good summary of the rules.

Kinda like what Creative Commons do with their licenses; when browsing their licenses each comes with a full legalese version of the license that will stand in court as well as a concise summary that explains in less than a page, using clear language, what can and can’t be done with the licensed work.

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Bree Royce

I know the toxic commenters I delete here don’t read our rules either, but I did my part in printing them – the rest is on them. So my goal in clean-up isn’t to be some internet troll’s mom but to make the comments better for everybody else. If I have time, I might be mom too, but it can’t be my chief consideration. Riot Games, however, has that kind of money/time/patience. Blizz too.

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Rumm

Solve toxicity in online platforms and you’ll win a nobel prize.

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Sally Bowls

A recent Gamasutra article on toxicity in FFIX had

In her landmark study My Life as a Night Elf Priest, anthropologist Bonnie Nardi observed that “we cannot forget the ‘hand of God’ that is the software artifact and the power of designers to shape activity.” …

“If you permit ganking, you are seeding a toxic subculture in your game; player vigilantes who emerge to combat that subculture are also a result of that choice.”

Nardi was not content to leave it there, however. She reiterated that “a world in which ganking is possible was precisely the world intended by designers, and it was what they encoded into the rules.” She made the point that any “mangle” of player innovation and design intention was still, to some degree, heavily determined by what the designers intentions are.

In short, as I said, you get the community you design for. If you permit ganking, you are seeding a toxic subculture in your game, without question; player vigilantes who emerge to combat that subculture are also a result of that choice. That is the social dynamic you’ve created with your design, locking your players into a given sociological reality.

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wandris

This idea that game companies can socially engineer toxicity out of players is dubious at best. What I expect is this will be taken as a challenge being made against players, and ultimately only increase bad behavior. The toxicity in games is a reflection of real life. You would have to be delusional to think you are going to be able to change people’s mind and behavior when the source of all this is from outside the games themselves. I think people can live with assholes better than live with overbearing rules, broad manipulation and witch hunts.

This idea that EvE is some hotbed of toxicity is wrong, because unlike many games it is an unrestricted social game with consequences determined by players. It is a world with heroes and villains, which is a cornerstone of the entire game, and part of its charm.

Games have always attracted dysfunction. The entire industry has been built on an internet subculture of dysfunctional people. IF you start attacking an entire element of the gaming community just because they are undesirable it could have a backlash. I am not toxic player, I don’t associate with toxic players, at least not the worst of them, and I think this kind manipulation is misguided. Toxic and dysfunctional people need a place to go too. As long as they are not stepping over the line of what is socially acceptable within gaming they should be left alone. Players are capable of looking after themselves. Nobody needs papa blizzard coddling them.

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athiev

This is a hard point of view for me to wrap my mind around. Don’t people behave differently at a frat party than at a church worship service? So if human behavior in general is highly contextual, why should online behavior not be? “Toxic people” are mostly people in an environment that encourages toxicity — most people who are toxic in one context behave themselves in other contexts.

So changing the rules of the game absolutely can help reduce toxicity. Changing gaming culture will help even more. Every time someone in our culture says toxic behavior is just the way the world is — that feeds toxicity.

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wandris

Who gets to decide what gaming culture should be? I guess that is what my problem with this insanity boils down to. Culture is not something that can or should be arbitrated by outsiders or those who are in power based on whatever high minded principles they deem right. Do gaming writers get to decide? Politicians? Corporate? No the people decide, and to a certain extent developers. Up to now developers have generally given players what they want because they are usually participants themselves. The kinds of content they desire. Now we are stepping into the realm of manipulating game design to change players and change culture. It is abhorrent and disgusting that a few are going to push whatever they think is right down on everyone regardless of what they want. I guess I shouldn’t worry too much. Communities can be unforgiving and implacable when it comes to outsiders messing with them. Outright rejection of entire games is possible if people get pushed too far.

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Sray

In regards to that Penny Arcade strip, we can see in our day to day lives that it’s demonstrably false. You can look at people’s Facebook and Twitter feeds to see that anonymity has literally nothing to do with people spewing hatred out onto the Internet. The problem is the lack of tangible consequence for being a dick.

Manners came about as a survival mechanism back when we were basically still apes: if you pissed off the pack’s alpha, there was a decent chance he was going to beat you to death, so the rest figured out rules of behaviour that would hopefully avoid that fate. As humans grew in complexity, so did our behavioural rules; but the ultimate point of “please”, “thank you”, “hello”, and “goodbye” is to prevent getting your ass kicked. Quite literally, people are badly behaved on the Internet because they know that they’re not going to get punched in the face for it.

It’s the social engineering challenge of the digital age: getting people to abide by the rules of human behaviour in the absence of the possibility of immediate physical repercussions (the aforementioned punch in the face). Like it or not, that’s probably going to take an entire generation to sort itself out. In the meanwhile, financial consequences need to be considered: perhaps digital “swear jars” in online games. I know, that’s nowhere remotely close to an ideal, or probably even workable solution, but the idea of punching someone in the wallet when they’re badly behaved is probably the only thing that’s really going to work.

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TheDonDude

Though it’s not always the case, anonymity often aids in ensuring there’s no consequences for bad behavior.

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Sray

Even then, it still not actually about anonymity, it’s about the absence of consequences. Anonymity is simply the means by which consequences are avoided.

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Zander

Lots of stuff here. Some agree, some don’t.

Getting rid of individual toxic players, as Blizzard purports to do, is merely treating the symptom. We need to discuss the disease.

Argeed. The problem doesn’t start with the game. The problem starts with the individual, their upbringing and beliefs. Toxic gaming behavior is a slice of actual society. A topic that could be written about for years.

I’ve found plenty of people praise Final Fantasy XIV‘s community as just being less toxic in some often hard-to-define way.

Competition. Like Guild Wars 2, in FF you are not competing for loot drops and there are armor/skill caps that make for an even playing field. Less competition means less toxicity.

This is not about the offender’s anonymity. What’s happening is not that you’re anonymous and thus act like a jerk; what happens is that your targets are anonymous.

I don’t agree with this. Anonymity gives people shield to hide behind. While some would act that way regardless, most would be unwilling to confront or be accountable for their behavior if they knew there was legitimate consequences.

these games are environments where offenders are punished in only the weakest of ways.

Totally agree and it’s frustrating to know the money they give is more important to the developer than the integrity of the game’s community and accountability.

Don’t design these elements as the beating heart of your game.

I would love to refute this but your right. Right now, we as a society are not going to change so we have to change the game platform we’re using to attract and accommodate those types of people we want playing.

Only thing I can say is, we’re fucked until either revolution or catastrophy happens. Either way, I use gaming as blocker to not see or think about this stuff and the games I choose to play, reflect that.

A saddening but good article, Eliot.

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Dug From The Earth

I don’t agree with this. Anonymity gives people shield to hide behind. While some would act that way regardless, most would be unwilling to confront or be accountable for their behavior if they knew there was legitimate consequences.

One of the later year interviews Robin Williams did touched on this exact topic. It showed how its actually BOTH things here, not just the anonymity of the toxic person.

Here is a summary of what he said (not quoted): When you insult someone in real life, face to face, you see the effect your words and actions have on that person. You see them wince, or cry, or look hurt. This key element is what has allowed people to learn “Hey, I shouldnt say this sorta thing because it causes a person pain or sadness”. On the internet, because of anonymity and the “lack of a face”, when you do or say something, you dont get to see the visual results of what your words or actions did. This isnt natural by any social human standards.

Its why its not JUST about the offender being anonymous and “safe to be a jerk”.

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Sunken Visions

This is fairly simple; toxic games attract toxic players. Games like ArcheAge have open, unregulated PvP, which is literally designed for people that like to gank and otherwise harass players. Games like Lord of the Rings Online are rooted in mature IPs and focus mostly on player cooperation. Guess how different the player base is in those two games?

Only an egocentric buffoon of a developer would assume that their game is somehow making people behave in an antisocial manner. Sure, there are mechanics that don’t facilitate social behavior, and I think most MMOs fail to help people socialize, but they certainly aren’t turning people into toxic brats. That’s something that happens after a lifetime of abuse and neglect.

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Tobasco da Gama

I agree with pretty much everything in this column, Eliot. Reports and bans are the last resort. Toxicity problems, and therefor their solutions, are strongly influenced by the game design itself.

There’s a reason why GW2 used to be known as one of the friendliest communities. Yeah, you had some dungeon and fractal speedrunning elitists demanding AP checks or kicking Rangers or whatever, but those activities were such an afterthought in terms of “end game” and the true (rather than invented) barriers to entry were so low that you could easily find casual PUGs if you just wanted to see the content.

GW2 raiding, on the other hand, has gotten a lot worse, especially since the raids came with the explicit introduction of gear gating and DPS checks to the game. When a suboptimal group member is making the difference between a successful clear and a failed one rather than the difference between a 5 minute clear and a 7 minute one, shit gets toxic pretty fast.

And I’m picking on GW2 just because I was actively playing and paying attention to the way the community interacted with itself at the precise moment raids were introduced, so it’s just a conveniently stark and instructive example. It’s far from the worst game in this regard, but it does have a convenient inflection point to highlight and say “this is when it all went wrong”.

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Wanda Clamshuckr

As noted, and as also experienced through the years, you can’t get rid of toxic people. The magic for that to happen simply doesn’t exist. That would mean the world, you know, the real world, would also have to be purged of people that are engaged/triggered into aggressive, negative, anti-community behaviours.

What I have seen a decline of is in-game GM’s. Way back in the day, they’d float in and out, but were always within easy reach. They were responsive problem solvers.

Now we submit tickets, which enter a queue, and may or may not be actioned on. So, JackAss420_bro gets to harass and pollute the chat as long as he likes, because the system itself is failing the community. Customer Service has taken the worst hits for funding and quality in almost all the games I’ve played or hear about. Consequences for that are an increase in abhorrent community members literally getting away with anything they want.

If more funding went into a more pro-active approach, be it active GM’s that can respond to messaging and follow the chat, or intervene as an avatar, to better staffing on the back end so issues are dealt with sooner and more competently, then we’d see less flare-ups and reduction in the duration in those incidences.

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Sashaa

As long as the industry will consider gm and cm jobs to be somehow entry-level, there will be a huge turnover, bad pay and couldn’t-care-less people. And bad policies too…. I used to work one time for a company where actually appearing ingame to players was prohibited. You still needed to pop ingame and stand close to the player for inspection but had to remain invisible. Robot treatment.

And what about the common trend of voluntarily not answering to the question in a player’s request or pretending you don’t understand and pass up the issue while actually closing it and working your quota. Most players will not write a second ticket… except for specific issues like account problems or harassment (speaking about harassment, it actually requires really solid proof to lead to a ban, which always remain a potential money loss, and you don’t want that, oh no). And who cares about the fact that another gm will have to deal with the same problem again, thus not helping more people. Or the fact that the player whose request has been left unanswered will remain with the feeling that CS is zero.

If management shows it doesn’t care that much for players satisfaction, loyalty, or whatever you would call it, don’t expect most cs people to do. Of course there are passionate people out there, and will always be, and they should be respected, and thanked, but in my own experience, them numbers are shrinking…

And I won’t touch the subject of regular players “hired” as gamemasters or community managers, without experience nor training at all, and left with (almost) no supervision, not with a ten foot pole.

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Wanda Clamshuckr

As long as the industry will consider gm and cm jobs to be somehow entry-level, there will be a huge turnover, bad pay and couldn’t-care-less people

I agree.

It is a systemic problem. If the company doesn’t want to spend money on anything more than barebones CS, then they can’t adequately reinforce their TOS, or solve more technical problems in a competent or timely manner.

Take a look at Daybreak vs SOE. SOE used to have great CS! Well, better than most, anyway. Then, after the..incident..huge cuts and layoffs gutted Daybreak’s CS to be almost non-existent. So much so, that they made it one of the perks of membership to have access to CS. Meaning, FtP scrubs couldn’t file tickets.

Or, Trion. I played TROVE for a bit to take a break from mainstream MMO’s. One of the issues I kept reading about on the forums was the CS nightmares people kept reporting. Often, their CS would just outright copy/paste ..something.. which usually wasn’t even relevant to the problem, then direct them with a link to the forums to ask the community for help. My own experience was so frustrating, that it was the driving point to make me delete my account and never return.

Even ESO has a terrible rap, which should not be the case considering how profitable they are right now.

CS is your problem solving and moderation resource for the community. Train them well, pay them properly, and staff them adequately so the workers aren’t overwhelmed by a mountain of requests and issues. Do that, and you will see diminishing returns on various levels of toxicity, with an increased wellness visible in-game and on the forums.

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Tobasco da Gama

Hopefully, today’s Twitter news (They gained zero users over the last quarter. ZERO.) will be a wakeup call. Nobody wants to swim in a cesspool.

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Mark

May want to add “popularity” to this list. The wider the net, the more likely you pick up the scum along with the fish you want. (I tried to have a fishing metaphor, I really tried)

Smaller, tighter-knit communities tend to be friendlier (Istaria, Ryzom, maybe LoTRO?) – at least intra-community.

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McGuffn

People are awful. That’s the root of the problem. Awful people play games and awful people create games. Some people are more awful than others.

People also don’t like having their time wasted. That’s going to be a problem in grind heavy games, or games with goals, rewards, or anything of the like.

Group focused activities are obviously another problem, because you’re always waiting for people to join or waiting for people to stop being bad.

Competitive games exacerbate the negative aspects of all of the above. They attract awful people, if someone beats you your time is wasted, and if your team sucks they’re wasting your time too.

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Sally Bowls

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pogo-we-have-met-the-enemy.jpg
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Bryan Turner

In PVE and PVP you simply use systems to segregate Elitist/Toxic people from every day people.

One thing GW2 does right is math make PVP opponents based off their win/loss ratio to keep matches even instead of a curb stomping.

One thing GW2 does wrong is not have tiered raiding which would keep your easy going T1 T2 Fractal running 80s in a more chill raid tier with different quality rewards as opposed to the only Tier we have now which community is run by Toxic Elitist Min Maxing POSs.

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KumiKaze

Many of these points are pretty spot on. There are a couple of things I would add to the discussion. When you have hyper competitive features in games and you give people the ability to communicate you are going to get toxicity, especially with voice chat where there are no logs to verify and punish offenders as easily. One thing I have noticed while playing Overwatch/LoL, as the communities have grown, so has the number of ass holes in game. I played LoL from its closed beta for about 5 years. The community started out awesome, but as more people started playing, well you know the rest. The same has happened with Overwatch as well. This is just statistics, and can’t really be helped.

One thing I will disagree with in this article, is about wanting the jerk’s money more than punishing him. When you have a smaller number of players, this may be true. When this player starts making people quit/not even bothering to play the game, he becomes an issue. At that point he is pushing more money away from the game than he is putting in himself. So as games get bigger, then penalties for being toxic will also get bigger.

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mike foster

There are other factors than revenue. Part of Blizzard’s chat rules on WoW is determined by how that chat impacts the game’s “T” ESRB rating. If they don’t enforce T-level chat, they can lose their rating.

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camren_rooke

Unfortunately, I don’t see toxicity as solvable in mmos.

It is rather a symptom of much larger issues with humanity, issues touching on all areas of society. As such it is much more complex than just taking out certain mechanics.

Not to say one shouldn’t try, just I don’t think mmos are any more toxic than what lies under that plastic smile so many people put on when they head outdoors.

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Sashaa

I don’t think mmos are any more toxic than what lies under that plastic smile so many people put on when they head outdoors.

This. So much this. After years of working in the video game industry I’m still amazed when people talk to me about “video games toxicity”. The only thing different is that people don’t have to actually wear that “plastic smile” because of the relative anonymity that being behind a computer provides. Other than that, people are exactly the same. You find in video games what people bring to it, no more, no less.

If an mmorpg studio fails in the community management part (policing a community, moderation, helping devs to implement the right tools, it all used to be part of it), it is human failure, and has nothing to do with the medium. It is always easier to blame it on the horse than the rider.

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Bobuliss

You mention EVE several times in this article, but EVE has without doubt the least toxic player community I’ve ever been a part of. Sure, you might get ganked, but then the ganker will convo you to have a chat about what you did wrong and may even send you the isk to replace your ship if you aren’t a total douche. People are always always willing to offer advice and help whenever asked. There is very little atmosphere of elitism because there is no “gear” or progression. In fact, the people who do get made fun of are usually the ones that bling out their ships and then die in a fire. Of course, there will always be bad apples, but they are a long way from the majority.

Tl;dr I’ve never met a more helpful and welcoming community than EVE players.

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Jonny Sage

It best if you just dont bring EVE up on this site. It is not welcome here.

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Space Captain Zor

but then the ganker will convo you to have a chat about what you did wrong

Oh man I just feel like this is exactly what I want in my gaming experience… “wrong” must have been “you logged in and dared to fly around”

plasmajohn
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plasmajohn

Nah, Eve’s pretty darn toxic. Take the Rogue Drone event (please and shoot it dead). Imagine a new player struggling to kill all the waves only to have one of your “helpful” buds come kill the payoff NPC and make off with the loot. Real welcoming.

Bobuliss
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Bobuliss

Ahhhh, I get it now. “Toxicity” is a byword for big bad competition. This article makes so much more sense now.

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Utakata

How about sophisticated toxicity? One that comes with a not so unpleasant intellectual interaction (ie. uses less 4 letter words), but still by definition, toxic. o.O

Bree Royce
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Bree Royce

It’s really not.

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Schmidt.Capela

More like lack of basic courtesy. Doing the same thing in the real world would label that person a jerk, or worse; even in other MMOs that act would be labeled killstealing, and whoever does it would be shunned upon (I’ve in the past kicked people from groups for doing similar acts, with the full support of the rest of the players in the group).

EVE is different in that regard. It, and its players, welcome such behavior. It’s part and parcel of being designed as a cutthroat game, of course, but that doesn’t make the practice any less despicable for everyone else.

(BTW, the reason so many MMOs are moving to individual loot — i.e., every player taking part in a kill gets loot as if he did the kill solo — is precisely to nip that practice in the bud.)

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Sally Bowls

But you are missing the definition of toxic. I don’t disagree with “I’ve never met a more helpful and welcoming community than EVE players.” I could agree with EVE having a very strong sense of community. But that is completely irrelevant to toxic. The fact that 99.999% of the water around Cherneybol is pure does not mean it is not toxic. 99.999% by weight of your bodily fluids not being fatal STDs does not mean they are not toxic. Those of us who Netflix over movie theaters understand that 99% of the people are quiet with silenced cell phones. No amount of fulsome praise of the 99% changes the fact that the “1%” (and tbh it is certainly more than 1% for EVE) makes the environment toxic.

tl;dr: toxic does not mean completely or even mostly bad – just tainted by enough bad to be ruined.

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BalsBigBrother

While I am sure that EVE, like other mmos, has its bad apples maybe even more than most I do have to agree. Though I would point to another mmo, lotro pre-f2p, as the most helpful I have personally experienced.

My own experience of EVE since the game clicked for me has been a pretty pleasant experience and I do have to say I am surprised given the reputation the game has. It is one of the reasons I am still subbed to it and still playing it.

I have been ganked but that is part and parcel of the game and I went in knowing this would occur at some point. What I have not experienced to date are any unpleasant messages, being continually taunted, picked on or anything else of that nature. This is more than I can say about other mmos I have played where some of these things have happened before I even got out of the tutorial zone.

This is just my experience and I acknowledge that others will have had different ones even had bad ones but to me at this point in time EVE is no worse than any other mmo I have played in terms of its community.

Bobuliss
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Bobuliss

Thank you. It’s good to know there are others on the site that have experienced EVE enough to understand it doesn’t deserve a bad rep.

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BalsBigBrother

People that I have chatted to in game have been for the most part just ordinary folks looking to enjoy their game time. No better or worse than other folks I talk to in other mmos.

I should clarify I don’t participate in the Eve out of game community and have no experience of the the forums or reddit so I cannot comment at all on that. However in game I have had no problems to date with regard to the community of players that are active in EVE.

Bobuliss
Reader
Bobuliss

Exactly. And what is a community other than a like-minded group of ordinary folks? Speaking of which, I don’t know if anyone would be interested in this, but I created an in-game channel for MOP readers called “MOP Space Nerds.” Stop by if you wanna chat or anything.

Reader
Utakata

I think Mr. Bal’s is saying his experience is anecdotal. And quite similar to my brief experience with the game. Doesn’t mean it’s true for others.

And not to mention, others who do relish in this stuff are more inclined to give rosier and apologist views of their experience. This doesn’t make toxicity in EVE go away however. :)

Bobuliss
Reader
Bobuliss

You seem to be suggesting that some people’s negative experiences in EVE are somehow less anecdotal than someone else’s positive experiences. But who decides what is “toxic?” These days, it’s getting pretty damn hard to tell.

Reader
Utakata

I am only suggesting being anecdotal, it should not be considered as evidence. I agree though, moving the goal posts on the definitions of toxicity makes it seem almost it’s not toxic at all.

Bobuliss
Reader
Bobuliss

So, what should be taken as evidence if not the personal experiences of players? Is there an objective toxicity gauge somewhere?

Reader
Utakata

We could start with more “interesting” stories reported here, for one as well as this article. The shenanigans, to which the EVE community seems to building a reputation, that go on in the higher level of gaming is not…how do I put it…normal and to a degree, highly dysfunctional. I think that generally accepted assessment is what stands. I have seen no compelling and convincing evidence of anything different to that.

With that though, you seem to be coming to own conclusions on this…to which you don’t seem to want to move from. So I am going to agree to disagree here, and move on from there. Thank you for you time. :)

Bobuliss
Reader
Bobuliss

Those instances that make it into the news, including on this site, are news worthy specifically because they’re rare, and by definition anecdotal.

Reader
Utakata

Err…it doesn’t work that way. And yes, IMO, the parrot is dead here…and not just resting.

Reader
Schmidt.Capela

Of course, there will always be bad apples, but they are a long way from the majority.

That, IMHO, is true of just about every online game.

The issue with EVE is that the game allows those bad apples to act on their destructive impulses and become truly harmful to other’s enjoyment of the game. In a game like LotRO, GW2, WoW, etc, the most one such “bad apple” can do to me is usually calling me names on chat, which I can solve by merely ignoring him; in EVE, a bad apple intent on griefing can make the game simply unenjoyable for his or her victim.

This is why after my stint with EVE I will never again even consider playing any game where another player can attack me without my explicit consent.

Bree Royce
Staff
Bree Royce

If I turned off global chat, stuck to my guild, didn’t go into battlegrounds, never went to reddit, skipped the official forums, ignored obnoxious ads, and somehow managed to miss a decade of studio and drama bullshit, I’d say the exact same thing about WoW’s community too. And it would be just as wrong. (Of course, each game has its own baggage, like WoW’s LGBTQ guild snafu and RealID idiocy or EVE’s HTFU campaign and mittensgate, but the point stands.)

The idea that EVE is the most welcoming and helpful community in a world where games like LOTRO, ATITD, and Glitch exist(ed), just for a start, beggars belief. I totally get wanting to believe your pet community is the best — I’m sure everybody has this instinct, especially when he or she has a great sub-group to rely on — but it’s important not to deny the parts of our broader communities that suck and need fixing.

And seriously, don’t go to EVE’s Reddit.

Bobuliss
Reader
Bobuliss

Not really sure what you’re referring to about r/eve. Every day I see at least one post along the lines of “New to EVE. Any suggestions?” and the thread is full of helpful EVE players offering genuine advice. Moat of the rest is just alliance memes and propaganda. I’ve never come across a r/eve post that I thought was seriously toxic.

Reader
Nosy Gamer

Oh my! Seriously, if you want a friend to stick with Eve, warn them away from r/eve. That sub-reddit is filled with bitter vets who stopped playing the game but still have to opine on how bad Eve is. Also, the regulars seem to always have to be attacking someone. If there is no player handy, they go after the developers.

The situation got even worse after Kugu opened back up for business. Many of the best posters moved back to Kugu and stopped posting on r/eve.

On a personal level, reading r/eve has led to my two periods of inactivity in Eve. This latest time, I spent a couple of months playing Guild Wars 2 because I wasn’t sure I wanted to be in the same game as the people who inhabit r/eve. Fortunately for me, I have enough social contacts in Eve that I know the majority of players are not like the inhabitants of the cesspit that is the Eve sub-reddit.

I’ve always said that if you want to see the worst of a game community, go to its forums. But r/eve is so much worse than the official Eve forums, it’s very sad. I wish that CCP would stop legitimizing that sub-reddit by posting there.

Bree Royce
Staff
Bree Royce

Literally every time I go there looking for information, every other thread is filled with sexist, racist, homophobic garbage. Maybe that’s what you’re dismissing as alliance memes and propaganda, but that’s the toxic part, and it’s pervasive, and it’s a mirror of the metagame in EVE. WoW’s sub has plenty of idiot trolling (I mean, far bigger game/sub, so you’d expect it), but it gets buried, and it’s seldom like EVE’s. The only ones that come close to EVE’s toxicity are ArcheAge’s and BDO’s, probably for a lot of the same reasons.

Like I said. If you turn all that off and have an awesome alliance or are capable of ignoring it or aren’t the target of it in any way, you’d breeze on through. My husband still plays EVE and still pays for that damn sub, so I know that it can be a great place just like any other — if you can look the other way. The best, though? I can’t back you and Brendan on that one.

Brendan Drain
Staff
Brendan Drain

I just got around to reading the comments on this and I’m probably going to surprise a few people with this but I agree with pretty much everything Bree wrote. EVE may contain some of the friendliest people and groups out there, but it also has a very toxic side. It’s been getting worse every year, and at this point it’s become almost part of the game’s culture and won’t ever be dealt with.

EVE has some really positive elements like how helpful the community is to new players in-game, support for charitable causes, and support schemes like B4R. There are some genuinely friendly and inoffensive streamers, bloggers, video creators etc, and a very positive twitter community. Some of the in-game corps and alliances are great people, and many of the friendships I’ve made in EVE have been profoundly more impactful than in other MMOs. But a community is judged by all of its publicly visible collective actions and often by the worst behaviours it tolerates, and in that regard EVE is a cesspool.

The official forum is now populated entirely with people trying their best to insult and offend each other, and the EVE subreddit has a lot of bitter ex-players being edgy assholes (even if it is mostly propaganda and memes). The way the EVE community flings words like cancer and autism around as insults is notably worse than in other games I play, and players have collectively done some unforgivable stuff over the years. Remember last year when they harassed a streamer to hell and back for daring to be female? Or when they started sharing nude photos of another streamer in protest to CCP hiring her? Or the level of organised harassment against me and other members of the gaming press over mittensgate in 2012? Hell, there was even the guy who scammed people and then invited them into voice chat to subject them to hours of emotional torture with the promise of getting their stuff back.

Yes, EVE does contain some of the friendliest people and gaming micro-communities you’ll find in the MMO genre, and that’s what I love it for. But Bree is right that you have to close your eyes to a lot of less savoury stuff to have that as your primary experience of the community. The worst elements of the EVE community seem so much worse than in other MMOs, and both the players and developers appear to tolerate a high level of toxic behaviour.

wandris
Reader
wandris

“Literally every time I go there looking for information, every other thread is filled with sexist, racist, homophobic garbage. Maybe that’s what you’re dismissing as alliance memes and propaganda, but that’s the toxic part, and it’s pervasive, and it’s a mirror of the metagame in EVE. ”

Who are you or anyone to say that that kind of behavior in EvE, BDO, archeage needs “fixing”. It is within the parameters of what is socially acceptable within those games. I think it far worse to turn your head from the reality than to see it for what it is. Systematic suppression of undesirable elements is not going to solve anything except to push those elements into even greater conflict or disperse them wider. That does not mean you have to agree with it or you need to subject yourself to it. There are literally 100 other games with different social parameters and there is no need for every single one to be the same.

Each game is a microcosm of subculture. The players themselves decide what this will be. The games hosts are the final authority, although they can only alienate their customers so much before they revolt or simply leave. Games are not the real world, and the internet is not the real world. Trying to apply the same standards of social conduct to a place infinitely divisible and with such malleable boundaries is just a bad idea and unnecessary.

If players had such a problem with EvE, BDO, or archeage they would not have such enthusiastic diehard communities. The only people who really complain are outsiders, and why should their opinions matter on how a community chooses to conduct itself?

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Utakata

“Who are you or anyone to say that that kind of behavior in EvE, BDO, archeage needs ‘fixing’.”

Reasonable paying customers for one. Does that scare you? o.O

wandris
Reader
wandris

Eve has been running for a decade, BDO over a year and archeage for a few, and I can’t recall more than the rare person upset with the status quo, almost all of it comes from outside. Most of the outrage in BDO atm is all about the impediments keeping players from unrestricted slaughter of their fellows, and never anything about the nasty business which goes on in global chats, even though there is everything from blatant racism, anti-gay, degenerate perversions, to human sacrifice RP, political threats etc. I would venture paying customers in these games are content with the way things are, because no amount of offensiveness really means anything. This is the internet, the offensiveness and watching people push the boundaries of decent behavior is one of the charms. If when they go too far and get banned, both the offended and the amused can applaud, shake there heads and move on.

It does scare me though, that they will try to push this onto gaming communities, because of a few people with thin skin. Every game has its own rules on acceptable behavior, and is moderated. Most games have tools or ways to limit offensiveness. Players always have choices. Yet instead of getting a new moderator to keep a lid on things they are talking about widespread suppression and redesigning entire games just to manipulate people into not being assholes.

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Utakata

“It does scare me though, that they will try to push this onto gaming communities, because of a few people with thin skin.”

So you’re afraid of people with thin skin? Somewhere an irony gland just popped in my left pigtail. o.O

wandris
Reader
wandris

Nice job deliberately misinterpreting my words. Go find someone else to bait troll.

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Utakata

Err…that’s pretty much the summery of your stated position. The troll bait line you crossed when you said “thin skinned”. So I can only take it that you have issues with folks who beneath your emotional contempt, when instead they’re raising valid concerns about toxicity. What can I say? /shrug

wandris
Reader
wandris

There is nothing you can say, your previous two responses to me say enough. Although I will add one of the great things people will lose in the proposed sanitization of games is the chance to learn how to detect clever jerks.

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Utakata

If you say so. But I am not really into entertaining the hyperbole though. So sorry, I can’t agree to that.

Reader
Loopy

Games are not the real world, and the internet is not the real world.

Wrong. It involves social interaction between humans, and exists as an extension of what has become the norm of communication between humans, so therefore it’s very much the real world.

Just because you say that the community has the right to enact its own subculture, doesn’t make the norms under which that subculture operate any less toxic in the eyes of an external observer. You have 100% the right to continue operating as such, but don’t get mad when your community gets called out for its intricacies.

EVE doesn’t exist in an opaque bubble, and therefore is subject to judgement by everybody who stumbles upon it.

wandris
Reader
wandris

I am not mad, and eve is not usually a community I interact with, so I really have no skin in that game atm. However what is being proposed goes beyond judgement into action. Eve has always been judged and usually unfairly. That is not the point or the problem. What the problem is with these proposals to actively manipulate and control communities and otherwise natural behavior through intentional design and pressure by outsiders. It would be like some foreign government manipulating other people to vote or act certain way to improve their own position, their own advantage or “for their own good”. Nobody gets to just decide this is the way it is going to be for everyone, and since it is not this way for you, we are going to make it this way for you whether you like it or not. I suppose they could try but these kind of things never end well.

Bobuliss
Reader
Bobuliss

Well said.

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Sally Bowls

1) Speaking of toxicity, you should not out your husband that he pays for a sub. There are usually “only morons and slackers pay for sub … ISK easy…” experts on the forums, so why not hide his shame?

2) (Disclaimer: As a Randian STEM MBA, I have been happily politically incorrect forever and resent how the Neandrathal idiots in gaming put me reluctantly but firmly on the PC side:) But I don’t see how the 4% female population in EVE can be a coincidence.

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Nosy Gamer

“Morons and slackers”? Sounds like Gevlon Goblin. Sorry, but I’m paying for my subs. I’m not turning EVE into a second job, and a very low paying job at that.

Bobuliss
Reader
Bobuliss

1). Actually, there’s been several posts recently on r/eve about how it makes more sense to pay for a sub with real money rather than PLEX, especially seeing as how PLEX prices have been skyrocketing. Personally, I’d rather spend my actual money on my sub and my ISK on fun things in game, but to each their own.
2). I have no idea what the actual percentage of female EVE players is, but even if it is at 4%, it’s a bit of a leap to suggest that only cause for this is “toxicity.”. Also, if you do have actual data on this, how do other MMO’s female player percentage compare to EVE?

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Sally Bowls

2) The 4% came from CCP and has been widely discussed. The google box that occurs before the search results for “percentage of female eve” had 96% male. Let’s not open the modern can of worms that female% does not equal 100%-male% due to … There was an old Wowinsider article “Nielsen: WoW is most played core game by 25-54 females” I tend to see the female % in WoW as being in the thirties but Quantic has them at 23%

Bobuliss
Reader
Bobuliss

Interesting. I’d love to read a survey of female MMO players that don’t play EVE asking them why not.

Bree Royce
Staff
Bree Royce

It’s no coincidence, and it’s not about PvP or sci-fi. (He pays because he is there to mine and screw around playing space trucker on occasion, not to build an RMT empire that will outlast his progeny. :P)

Reader
Sally Bowls

(He pays because he is there to mine and screw around playing space trucker on occasion, not to build an RMT empire that will outlast his progeny. :P)

To be clear: I was not criticising him at all; it was more of a lament on the “you’re playing the MMO wrong” crowd on forums.

Bobuliss
Reader
Bobuliss

It’s no coincidence, and it’s not about PvP or sci-fi.

Any evidence to back that up, or just your gut? In your opinion, then, are the female players of EVE just gluttons for punishment?

Bobuliss
Reader
Bobuliss

I’m seriously lost. I have never once seen any of that type of behavior on EVE’s subreddit. I just took a little stroll through the sub about 5 minutes ago to see if I was just blind and it was the same old stuff. Mostly memes about the current TEST vs GOTG war, but certainly nothing racist, unless you consider making fun of GalMil racist. (The Gallente race’s military is GalMil). People may make fun of Goons or Hordies, or individual well-known players (How many fleets can Gigx welp?) but I’ve never seen someone blur the line between in game and IRL. And I certainly wouldn’t defend it if I did. You are making it sound like a commonplace occurrence.

Bobuliss
Reader
Bobuliss

What post has a picture of someone’s junk? What homophobic insults? What am I missing?

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Utakata

Err…for obvious NSFW reasons, I don’t think the writer is at liberty to give examples here. (Not that many readers would really want to see those to begin with.) So this where one should be giving the Mr. Eliot and Ms. Bree the benefit of the doubt, and if you are so inclined…to go look that up for yourself.

Bobuliss
Reader
Bobuliss

That’s my point. I did go look it up. I spend a decent amount of time on r/eve most days, today included. And I’ve never seen that sort of thing. Also, benefit of the doubt is used to exonerate, not convict.

Reader
Paul

I agree. I’ve played a lot of open PvP games and now avoid them as a class of game like the plague they’ve become due to the toxic behaviour such games attract. Eve online is the only exception that I’ve come across.

camren_rooke
Reader
camren_rooke

I kinda understand this in pvp games but it always strikes me odd. Maybe its why I don’t play PVP, not faulting any who do though, its just not me.

Happy miner: *whistling while they mine an asteroid
Pvper: Die! Die! *fires all lasers at miner
Happy miner: What the? *pushes the red button once before dying
PVPer: Hey. *raises miner on comm
HM: uhm….why’d you attack me.
PVPer: Cause I can. Listen, let me tell you how to defend yourself.
HM: But I didn’t want to fight you.
PVPer: Yeah yeah. Listen you need to only mine half strength with shields partially up and ….
HM: Oh ok.

Later.

Happy miner: *whistling while they mine an asteroid
Pvper: Die! Die! *fires all lasers at miner
Happy miner: What the?
PVPer: Hey. *raises miner on comm
HM: uhm….I ran with half shields.
PVPer: yeah, you gonna need hardened hull plating as I also used photon torpedoes. They go through shields.
HM: But I wont have enough space to use the best mining equipment?
PVPer: But you’ll survive. Thank me later.

wpDiscuz