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Overwatch toxicity has seen an 'incredible decrease' thanks to machine learning, says Blizzard

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In April 2019, Blizzard shared some insights into how it was using machine learning to combat abusive chat (opens in new tab) in games like Overwatch. It's a very complicated process, obviously, but it appears to be working out: Blizzard president J. Allen Brack said in a new Fireside Chat video that it has resulted in an "incredible decrease" in toxic behavior.

"Part of having a good game experience is finding ways to ensure that all are welcome within the worlds, no matter their background or identity," Brack says in the video. "Something we've spoken about publicly a little bit in the past is our machine learning system that helps us verify player reports around offensive behavior and offensive language."

"This system has been in place in Overwatch and in Heroes of the Storm. It allows us to issue appropriate penalties quicker, and we've seen an incredible decrease not only in toxic text chat, but an overall decrease in re-offense rates. A few months ago, we expanded this system into World of Warcraft's public channels, and we've already seen a decrease in the time disruptive players stick around by half, and we're continuing to improve the speed and the accuracy of this system."

Blizzard has also recently increased the severity of penalties for bad behavior in Overwatch and added more flexible profanity filters, which offer three levels of "accepted language," each of which can be customized further. 

"These are small steps, but they can add up to lasting change," Brack said. "Combating offensive behavior and encouraging inclusivity in all of our games and our workplaces will always be an ongoing effort for us."

Andy Chalk
Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.