The fourth talk was Will Bonner from Yeti, who it turns out loves Renegade Ops, who talked about how to make online spaces safe to visit and free from harassment.

Will Bonner – Safe by Design

Sharing game experiences can improve or detract from our enjoyment of games.
Talk started at GDC when listening to Anita Sarkeesian, about her horrible experience in connection with her video game critique.

Any solution that gives players the opportunity to communicate, you will have problems, since it’s impossible to police people. Anti social behaviours are responsible for many of the stereotypes that we see reproduced around us. It prevents people from engaging in games.

What can we do? Sharing is more fun than breaking the experience. You’re not going to catch everyone with encouraging mechanics, but you can reduce impact of the harmful behaviors.

Deconstructing the problems
Designing the game with this in mind will most likely make the game a better experience.

Common excuses
Building games is difficult.

– single player
– Too busy making core gameplay
– Worry about it later
– Toxic player safe

It doesn’t matter how you distribute you game, you will still be a part of the online community. As soon as someone starts playing and posting things till happen. There are some good tools to make this happen (Steam, App store, Kongregate) as long as you consider cost and risk.
Don’t develop irrelevant social features. Find out what the game is about and build it around the game mechanic.

A good integration with social mechanics can make the game more successful. You’ll always have trolls, but make sure that you police them, and that the community is positive.

Social features are not developed the same way as “normal” mechanics, no iteration, no testing. Journey does it well. Robin Hunicke shared her design experience at a previous conference, where she talked about the process. They had four players to start with, but they found that the players backstabbed each other. They reduced players, they took the communication via speech away from the player’s, but they left the essentials.

What does this mean? Don’t implement a social feature until you know how this will affect your game. Who are your players? How will they communicate? How will this tie into the game?

You need quality data to make decisions or draw conclusions. You can do it too by using online research tools. Nintendo targets young and family. They’ve created a drawing game where you can post almost anything, which leaves it vulnerable to trolls.

3 steps
Automated defense
Community tools

The manual mechanisms are fed into the automated defences to strengthen the safety of the community. Raising the barrier to enter the game may not be a bad idea. The number of accounts connected to one machine can also be limited so that a ban is actually a punishment.

Tools and approaches
Automated defense can be a classification algorithm, statistic mute, etc. You need a source of data, and time to continue working on the game.

Community tools can be useful and communities can also be used to provide data to be judged.

Nintendo gives people the benefit of the doubt and it will take a first offence to be blocked from immediate posting.

Banning should be a last resort, they are after all your customers. Give them a chance to better themselves. Haters are however going to hate, and piracy will happen.

How do you select the tools to protect the community? Start by looking at your target group. Adjust the tools accordingly. What is the experience? Quick gameplay requires a quick communication, whereas slower games can be slower in their communication.

Restricting the player social connections can work. League of Legend is used as an example. The game had problems because people were leaving the game due to bad behaviour. They brought in a behavioural psychologist that started investigating the game. They found that anyone can behave badly, and that bad behaviour can spiral.

They made some subtle changes, they quieted players down. They put in suggestions to the player to behave better. They did this with experiments with a control group and tested the changes before implementing them. This resulted in the Tribunal and the Honor system. The tribunal let the players themselves judge the player. The honours system gave the players rewards for helping other players.


My comments

Good, meaty, concrete and specific talk. The only thing I would have wanted to see is less jokes, because making fun of Anita Sarkeesians experiences by talking about it and at the same time showing a “mock horrified” woman on screen isn’t really respectful, at least not to my mind.