This week, The Ancient Gaming Noob posted up an image of RIFT Prime, where Trion asks people to… play nice. “Just a neighborly reminder that 1-29 chat is for RIFT chat, ideally things relevant to level 1-29 gameplay,” the UI HUD reads. “Please be good to each other. We’ve muted some and shall mute again. Have a great evening!”
Meanwhile, over in Trion’s Trove, I’ve had to report-and-block dozens of fellow players just in the last few days for disgusting slurs in multiple languages, stuff the filter doesn’t catch. For a free-to-play game that’s also on console, yeah, I guess I expect no better from the playerbase. But but but RIFT Prime is subscription-based. Surely that means a strong community, where such polite warnings from developers aren’t necessary? Yeah, not so much, as anyone who played old-school MMORPGs can tell you. This is a problem even in games whose devs prioritize community and care a whole lot.
So this week, let’s talk about in-game chat. Do you use it? Do you watch it? Do you turn it off? Is it really terrible everywhere, or just in some games? Which one is the worst and the best, and what should developers do about chat specifically?
Last week, we covered an ESPN piece in which the author called out Blizzard for sitting on its hands after an Overwatch League player signed to the Dallas Fuel, Timo “Taimou” Kettunen, was caught openly using homophobic, racist, and ageist language toward other players, not the first time for the Fuel. It was just one more piece in a long series of incidents in Overwatch toxicity that’s now spilled over into the e-sports league itself.
Or is it? After initially reportedly dismissing the complaint back in January, Blizzard announced this weekend that it was fining Taimou $1000 for the slurs. It also fined an LA Valiant player $1000 for account sharing, issued a “formal warning” against a Houston Outlaws player who posted an offensive meme, and fined a fourth player, Félix “xQc” Lengyel from the Dallas Fuel, $4000 for having “repeatedly used an emote in a racially disparaging manner on the league’s stream and on social media, and used disparaging language against Overwatch League casters and fellow players on social media and on his personal stream.” In fact, we’ve covered Lengyel before when he was fined, suspended, and benched back in January for homophobic remarks to an openly gay fellow player.
What’s going on in the online video games business this week? Let’s dig in.
Steam, toxicity, and Kartridge
The Center for Investigative Reporting (via Motherboard) has a scathing piece out on Steam toxicity this week. Valve has traditionally maintained a hands-off approach with Steam groups, which means that the groups can easily become a toxic cesspit. The platform is accused of being loaded with hate groups, many of which support racist agendas or promote school shootings. Motherboard notes that Valve has refused to respond to questions on this topic since last October.
Meanwhile, Kongregate is launching Kartridge, a potential Steam competitor that says it will embrace indie “premium” titles and small-fry developers. “Our initial plan is that the first $10,000 in net revenue, one hundred percent will go to the developer,” Kongregate’s CEO says. “We’re not coming in just to build another store. No-one needs that. This is about building a platform that is focused on creating a very fair and supportive environment for indie developers” – as well as on social and community tools.
Ubisoft is sick of toxicity in its games, and to combat it, it’s whipping out the banhammer as a “first step” in getting the playerbase under control.
“Starting next week, we will be implementing an improvement on the system we have been using to ban players that use racial and homophobic slurs, or hate speech, in game,” the company told Rainbow Six Siege players on Reddit over the weekend. “The bans for this will fall within the following durations, depending on severity” – that’s everything from two days to a permanent ban. “Any language or content deemed illegal, dangerous, threatening, abusive, obscene, vulgar, defamatory, hateful, racist, sexist, ethically offensive or constituting harassment is forbidden.”
Moreover, toxicity-related bans will be broadcast via global message for all to see.
This week’s dev-written Saga of Lucimia blog asks everybody over the age of 35 to think back to bygone days “when reputation used to mean something” and miscreants were blacklisted by the community.
“For the most part, there is little cooperative spirit in most modern-day MMORPGs, even on the so-called PvE servers,” the indie sandbox’s creative director Tim “Renfail” Anderson asserts. “Instead, it’s a free-for-all storm of mayhem where play-nice-policies are no longer enforced, and player toxicity is allowed to run rampant in favor of generating the most amount of money possible to satisfy investor needs.”
“In a group-based game where you couldn’t really solo anything, reputation was the most important currency anyone had. If you did something bad enough to justify your name being posted in the forums, you very quickly found that no one would group with you. If no one would group with you, your forward momentum was halted; you couldn’t progress through the game. The bad apples of the community were quickly rooted out, and either rage quit, changed to a new character, or learned how to play nice with others.”
Back in 2013, when Linda “Brasse” Carlson still fronted SOE’s community branch, she made headlines for making SOE’s anti-toxicity policies very clear. “If we know who you are and you’re abusing somebody on Twitter, we will ban your game account and we will not accept you as a customer ever again,” she told trolls. “It’s not always possible to identify people [in that way], but we take that seriously.” At the time, MMORPG players were divided on whether that was an overall plus for online game communities or a creepy invasion of privacy.
But it’s 2018 now. Times and sentiments have changed, and Blizzard is trying a similar approach now in Overwatch, where toxicity has taken root and blossomed in spite of Blizzard’s apparent efforts to prune it.
In Overwatch’s latest developer update, Jeff Kaplan says fighting toxicity is still a “major initiative” for the studio and that recent additions – like console reporting and suspension warnings – have cut chat toxicity by 17%. Another effective tactic? They’re watching toxic players on social media, particularly in video.
When is it appropriate to send verbal abuse to someone you don’t know personally? When is it appropriate to tell someone that you hope they lose their job or suffer significant personal injury? The obvious answer to these questions should all be “never,” and yet a new article by small indie developer Morgan Jaffit points out that in the game industry, dealing with vicious targeted abuse is part of the cost of doing business. Development across the board is dealing with people who feel that there is a point when all of this is appropriate, even if they differ on the circumstances when it’s appropriate.
Needless to say, this has a pretty huge impact on development, and it spills over to related fields. (Is it appropriate to say awful things to a community manager over a feature you don’t like when the community manager is not a developer and had nothing to do with it?) The article cites the omnipresence of social media and the popularity of personalities who “tell it like it is” (read: spew invective and curses at top volume), and it’s the sort of thing that everyone who cares about the future of games should read and consider.
Among last year’s toxicity-in-gaming stories was the one that taught the internet an important lesson: how to spell homunculus. No, that wasn’t it. It was “don’t be a game dev who insults and jokes about your toxic players’ deaths,” or at least, don’t get caught, because at the end of it all, the toxic players will still be playing and you’ll be out of a lucrative job.
We’re talking here, of course, about Tyler1, who was banned by Riot Games from League of Legends back in 2016 for toxicity – in his case, specifically verbal abuse, harassment, and outright cheating. Even though he kept streaming, you probably forgot all about him until October 2017, when Riot’s Lead Experience Designer apparently drank a little bit too much joy and then called him a “humunculus” in public, remaking that it’d be “gucci” if Tyler1 were to “die from a coke overdose or testicular cancer from all the steroids.” Though Tyler1 (wisely) stated he wasn’t upset and had no hard feelings over the insults, Riot still fired the employee.
And while the whole ordeal did cause a noticeable spike in google searches for the word homunculus, which continues to amuse me, it may have also influenced Riot’s decision to unban him, news that he announced on his twitter account yesterday and which appears to have been confirmed obliquely by Riot.
Toxicity in online gaming is easily one of the biggest stories of the year, particularly in Overwatch, where Blizzard has been focusing its anti-toxicity efforts with such persistence that it’s almost become silly. And yet here we are, with the problem unsolved and a whole lot of people sure it’s unsolveable or content to direct victims to just “ignore” it.
So how bad is it? Eurogamer collected clips of female gamers and streamers being harassed via voice chat in Overwatch and toted them to BlizzCon, showing them to attendees who agreed to be interviewed about their reactions and their own experiences. Forewarning if you’re going to watch the video below: The clips are awful and will make you angry once you realize they aren’t parody. The worst part? Most of the men and women Eurogamer interviewed basically all have that same stony look on their faces that I currently have on mine because it’s par for the course – and it’s just the misogyny brand of toxicity. The video doesn’t even touch on racism or homophobia.
Two days ago, we reported that a League of Legends
developer had landed himself in hot water after he went grossly overboard in insulting a banned troll and streamer
while using a Riot tag in a public Discord channel. The dev, Aaron “Sanjuro” Rutledge
, publicly suggested that it’d be “gucci” if the streamer would die from “a coke overdose or testicular cancer from all the steroids,” after likening him to a “humunculus,” incidentally causing a spike in searches for the word “humunculus.”
This triggered a quick and harsh response from both the community and Riot Games. Riot and Rutledge apologized for the comment and said he was taking some time away from the community, but now it looks as if they’ve severed ties completely.
Rutledge has since posted the following comment on his Facebook page: “Heads up to friends and family. I no longer work at Riot Games. Please call or txt me for more details.” There is no confirmation as to whether he was fired or voluntarily left the studio, as neither party has yet addressed the circumstances.
Over the weekend, a Riot Games
developer made a Terrible Mistake: Lead Experience Designer Aaron “RiotSanjuro” Rutledge insulted a banned streamer in League of Legends’ public Discord
using an official Riot account, saying the streamer “looks like a damn humunculus.”
“[H]e’ll die from a coke overdose or testicular cancer from all the steroids.. then we’ll be gucci,” he wrote. That caused community uproar as some players interpreted that as not just an insult but a wish for the streamer’s death.
Sanjuro has since apologized for the comment.
“I displayed a gross error in judgement last night and whole-heartedly apologize for my comments. They were out of line, and not what any of you deserve to hear, especially from a Rioter. I’ll be taking time away from Reddit, discord and in game chat to reflect on how I communicate with players. Sorry again for the insults and the language.”
The EVE Online
community is aflame this week after alliance leader gigX was permanently banned
for making threats of real-life violence against another player following possibly the biggest betrayal in EVE history
. Some players don’t want to accept that gigX crossed a serious line and deserves his ban, and others have been asking why The Mittani’s similar actions in 2012 resulted in only a temporary ban. CCP’s official stance
is that its policies have become stricter since 2012, but it’s still not entirely clear exactly where the line is drawn.
Another side to the debate is that the internet itself has evolved over EVE‘s 14-year lifespan, and a lot of toxic behaviour that was accepted or commonly overlooked on the early internet is now considered totally unacceptable. Many of us have grown from a bunch of anonymous actors playing roles in fantasy game worlds to real people sharing our lives and an online hobby with each other, and antisocial behaviour is an issue that all online games now need to take seriously. The lawless wild west of EVE‘s early years is gone, and I don’t think it’s ever coming back.
So what’s the deal? Does EVE Online tolerate less toxic behaviour today, has the internet started to outgrow its lawless roots, and what does it mean for the future of sandboxes?
Hello, trade chat, my old friend; I’m turning you back on again. Because the team on World of Warcraft has addressed your issues at last, so the players who were filling you with spam will not be banned, but will make sounds of silence.
The new silence penalty is being rolled out with the game’s pre-patch for Legion and will hopefully provide a useful midpoint between banning players and simply silencing those who others find continually offensive. When a player is reported for offensive behavior in chat and the report holds up under review, a silence penalty will be implemented, preventing the player from inviting others to groups, talking in general channels, or sending mail to other players.
At first implementation, the silence penalty will last for 24 hours. Each subsequent silence penalty will double, with no upward limit. Your 10th silence penalty would last for about 512 days, or just about a year and a half. So for players who just can’t stop dropping ethnic slurs in chat, there’s a means to get them to hush up. No word on whether Simon & Garfunkel play if someone under the penalty attempts to use a forbidden chat, but we can certainly hope so.