Blizzard knows that Overwatch, like every other competitive game online, is full of toxic players who make the experience worse for everyone around them. But it's especially disappointing in Overwatch, because the game attracts a wider audience than most shooters. Despite Blizzard acknowledging the problem shortly after launch, "15 months later, the company's attempts to address the situation have proved painfully slow and ultimately ineffectual," as we recently wrote. At BlizzCon today, we spoke with principal designer Scott Mercer about changes coming to Overwatch, like new hero Moira and new map Blizzard World, and we also asked about the development team's plans to deal with the worst members of its community.
"For us, that's one of our highest priorities, improving those systems," Mercer said. "We know directly that when someone's berating their teammates, they're flat-out disrupting the game for others. We need to address those in as direct a way as possible."
Mercer said that the team has "a multitude of initiatives internally" that they're working towards as ways to address toxic behavior. He cited a pilot program that emails players when their reports have lead to action against offending players, and mentioned plans to integrate that into the game client itself.
"It's super important for people to realize that accurate reports are super meaningful," Mercer said. "If you do see someone being aggressive, being harassing, whether it's language or their actions, completely throwing games, any kind of toxic behavior, reporting does work. It's the best thing we can do to make the Overwatch community a better place to play."
We asked if Blizzard was dedicated to hiring more staff specifically to help make the community a better place, as Riot Games did for League of Legends. While Mercer didn't confirm that directly, he did say that tackling the problem doesn't begin and end with Overwatch.
"I think something that's important to understand is that this is an issue that's not just an Overwatch issue. It's something that across Blizzard, we've become very, very mindful of," Mercer said. "On Overwatch we have a lot of the same issues as Heroes of the Storm does. We both have these player vs. player team games. People acting aggressive, harassing others, unfortunately that happens on all of our games. So we've been reaching out, not just within the Overwatch team, but also to the other teams. We have groups within Blizzard that are trying to help address this for all of Blizzard.
"… It's definitely not the kind of thing where there's one silver bullet that will magically address all the toxicity issues. It's something that's going to take time. It's going to take continued vigilance, by not just us on the Overwatch team but across Blizzard. So far it's been that process of reaching out to teams across Blizzard, whether it's our global insights team, our customer service team, the customer support tools team. We've all been trying to work together, really trying to sit down and say 'How can we make our games a better place?'"
You can follow along with all of our BlizzCon 2017 coverage right here, and expect more news, interviews, and hands-on impressions over the next few days.