The first rule of MMORPGs is turn off global chat. Think about that for a sec. This is a genre that is expressly multiplayer and social, where one of the best parts is that we’re supposed to be able to connect to people all over the world. And we tell our newbies to turn off the multiplayer-est of the channels immediately, to opt out of those connections for their own sanity.
I realize that not all MMOs are that bad. I don’t, for example, feel the need to turn off global chats in Lord of the Rings Online. But my summer foray into Albion Online right after its mobile launch showed me that some MMO chat is just as disgusting as I remember, an endless stream of teenagers and edgelords screaming sexist and racist epithets all day long. It’s the worst MMO chat I’ve ever seen in over two decades of gaming, and it wasn’t just one incident; it was all day, every day. Then MMO Fallout’s Connor recently tweeted something similar about chat in Bless Unleashed. And I doubt the conversation situation in World of Warcraft is great right about now.
I wanna talk about MMO chat in this week’s Massively Overthinking. Is open chat getting worse in MMOs? Is it a change in culture, a change in the demographics of MMOs, a change in what companies will let folks get away with? Do you still turn it off and recommend others do the same? What game owns the worst chat in the MMORPG genre?
Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): I actually never turn off general or global chat. Part of this is because I feel I need to be reminded of what the majority of the community looks like, especially when I cover online games. If it’s a game just for me, I may put it in a different tab to “visit” once in a while, but I’ve also found good recruits in general chat because, well, not everyone uses official forums or social media.
Admittedly, I also tend to go into smaller MMOs these days, or online games that limit chat, and frankly, it’s sad to admit that this does tend to make the game feel better. That being said though, I didn’t have too many issues with people in Crowfall, either during beta or my little time during post-launch. Yes, there were some people getting squelched, but they tended to be the same dudes hitting PvP games and acting as edgelords to attract similar people who frankly tend to stick with the game for a few months before claiming they “won” and crawling back under whatever rock they tend to call home between the release of “hardcore PvP” games. And of these people, they tend to be personal attacks.
I saw the same thing in Darkfall in multiple languages. TERA was similar for me, and this was on a PvP server that also hosted in-game political debates between people running for the in-game offices (so no republicans or democrats, just AnimeNinjasX vs. OldSchoolPvPGuild). Frankly speaking, Blizzard games always felt the most toxic, which was a big reason I nearly skipped WoW and was hesitant about Overwatch. Limited chat sadly helps Blizzard games a lot, and while I’ve met cool people thanks to its games, I don’t think any has stuck like they did in my previous MMOs.
But between COVID and recent politics in America, people are very polarized, and game companies just aren’t equipped to handle the mass amounts of toxicity come from some people. I’m also someone who reports these people and have friends/guildies who’ll do the same, but it’s very frustrating when it feels like you have to call the virtual police because your fellow players are such rotten human beings that you’ve filled your block list multiple times over.
I don’t suggest people turning off most chat channels, especially if they’re looking to trade, offer services, or looking for pugs, but I do suggest they put those chats in different tabs.
Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): I’m not even sure if EVE Online has true global chat, but I’ve learned that ignoring local chat while exploring in lowsec is an extraordinary bad idea!
Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): The only reason I know Albion’s chat was terrible was that I willingly toughed it out in English a few weeks before giving up. I wanted to be in a game that felt alive, and I thought that eventually, I’d block enough of the game’s most toxic people and make the chat something enjoyable. That day never came, and the 150-name cap on the list ensured it never would, so in the end, I had no choice but to block the whole channel and retreat to the much more mature and useful help channel.
But in most MMOs, I do try to keep it on – I don’t really see major problems in LOTRO, Guild Wars 2, or City of Heroes. But then I am already filtering the games I play to begin with, so Albion is the exception that proves my rule that I am just better off avoiding MMOs with toxic communities period.
Has it changed over time? I think tolerance has changed more than anything – ours as well as the studios’. While I certainly remember some awful chat and harassment and toxicity in the earliest MMOs, I also think that the studios were much more strict and willing to drop banhammers on toxic offenders in the most popular titles back then. The games that attract those trolls now seem far less willing to do anything about the toxicity of their target market. So we’ve had to bin ourselves accordingly.
Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): Ever since I experienced Barrens chat in World of Warcraft, I have ensured that all public channels are muted immediately the moment I fire up any MMO if the option is allowed, as well as any open voice comms or other wide-reaching comms tools. Additionally, this is still good common practice for anyone new to the genre.
Why is this happening? Probably because people are growing up emboldened by the fact that their digital bile is free of the righteously applied throat punching saying things in meatspace would provide, I guess. I don’t know and frankly don’t care. I have better things to devote brainpower to than wonder why people are gremlinoids online. Let them shriek into the vacuum until their vocal chords are ripped asunder.
Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): General chat is, more or less, how it’s always been. It can be interesting and sometimes even helpful, it can be nonsense chatter, it can be stale memes, and it can be trollish arguments. I usually, but not always, turn it off once I get plugged into a good sub-community (i.e., guild), which is what I feel a whole lot of people do. General chat isn’t as regulated and monitored as some of the more private chat communities (guilds, Discord), so people seeking sane conversation within community guidelines tend to scoot away.
That said, I don’t want to give up on general chat. It can make a game feel alive and be a nice social companion for when you’re adventuring and no one is talking in your guild. I do think that MMO studios need to invest some thought and resources into improving chat instead of letting it float there like a decaying relic of a time long past.
Sam Kash (@thesamkash): I don’t know if open chat is getting worse. It’s always been pretty bad. I don’t typically close it completely, but I do usually minimize it so that it is less prominent in my interface. I think I’ve mostly just gotten used to the type of conversations that come out of it. I’ll usually glance at it to see if players are saying anything worthwhile (almost never), and if I see something particularly offensive I’ll right click and report. I don’t remember specifically noticing the chat being vile in most games, but Albion Online was the worst in recent memory.
Otherwise it’s just a random stream of consciousness that I’ll watch pour out while I’m running between points.
Tyler Edwards (blog): Public chat in any online game is pretty bad. WoW and SWTOR are especially awful — just a constant deluge of racism and toxicity — and I’ve taken to keeping public chat muted as much as possible in those games as a result. ESO can get pretty bad too, but not quite as consistently in my experience.
However, if you want the absolute worst I’ve seen, that would be TERA. The entire brief time I played that game, the only topic of conversation in general chat seemed to be guys openly lusting over the Elin — you know, the race that looks like six-year-old girls. Ugh. Where’s Chris Hansen when you need him?