It's no secret that online games like Overwatch, League of Legends, and many others suffer from toxic communities. From raging over sub-optimal team compositions or under-performing teammates to slinging insults steeped in racism, sexism, and homophobia, it's a problem that has plagued gaming pretty much as long as we've been connecting our computers to play with and against each other online.
Now, more than 30 major gaming companies, including Blizzard, Riot, CCP, Twitch, Discord and Epic are teaming up to tackle the problem collectively through an organization called the Fair Play Alliance. The hope is that by sharing research, lessons learned, and best practices, the companies will be able to develop a better understanding of why toxicity happens, how to deal with toxic players, and most of all, how to stop toxicity from happening in the first place.
Many of these companies are not new to tackling toxicity. Riot has had established teams in place fighting toxicity in League of Legends as far back as 2013, to varying degrees of success, while Blizzard discussed at BlizzCon last year that it now has a team in place addressing toxicity across all of its games. With the Fair Play Alliance, those teams are now collaborating with each other, too.
"A lot of these challenges today are super intimidating," Riot senior technical designer Kimberly Voll told Kotaku. "These are big cultural shifts. As an industry and as a society online, we’re trying to find our way. Having to be a company that steps out and says 'We're gonna be the ones to do this' is kinda scary. This is an opportunity for all of us to say 'What if we walked together as an industry?'"
Voll and many other designers from the Fair Play Alliance hosted a day-long summit at GDC this week, mostly sharing insights from the work they've been doing so far. In a series of talks, for example, Blizzard research scientist Natasha Miller discussed Overwatch's player report system, and how incidents of abusive chat went down by 25.4 percent after instituting a system that warned players (and suggested they act nicer) when they were exhibiting inappropriate behavior.
Beyond the GDC summit, plans for the Fair Play Alliance are still unclear. Voll told Kotaku that the organization is still working out how to share resources and set up an easy way for developers to get help dealing with harassment-related issues. A long-term goal is to create a standard set of rules and expectations that can be enforced across multiple games, but getting multiple massive corporations, many of which are competitors, to agree on anything will be quite the challenge.
Either way, it's an admirable undertaking that will hopefully lead to some real change.