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Fulton: Online Gamer Behavior Affecting Game Sales
Fulton: Online Gamer Behavior Affecting Game Sales
April 2, 2008 | By Staff

April 2, 2008 | By Staff
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Speaking as part of an in-depth Gamasutra opinion piece, former Microsoft game user research head Bill Fulton has suggested that "the online behavior of our customers is dramatically reducing our sales", suggesting some possible solutions.

As part of his introduction to the piece, Fulton, who worked in-depth on Microsoft's online FPS Shadowrun to attempt solutions to these issues, notes:

"Of all the ways I spend my free time, playing games online is the only one I would describe as "frequently barbaric". Insults of all kinds, including racist and homophobic slurs, are commonplace.

The women I know who play online avoid anything that would identify them as female -- including voice communication -- in order to avoid the unwanted, and frequently negative, attention.

And that's just how players are intentionally insulting -- what some people do while playing online can also be aggravating.

Even more gamers go online a few times and then never play again. This isn't just my personal speculation; I have seen convincing data from two different sources that the biggest problem with online gaming is the behavior of others. The biggest problem isn't the cost; it isn't connectivity issues, or even the quality of the games -- it is how people are f*ckwads online.

Why do I care? Some gamers might be thinking "If he's so thin-skinned that he can't take the online banter, maybe he shouldnít play online." Unfortunately, many people do just that -- they stop playing online."


So what's to be done about the problem? Fulton suggests that there are things you can do to make the atmosphere less toxic:

"Social environments and culture can be designed. Just like good game design creates fun gameplay, good social design creates fun social experiences. Unfortunately, online games seem to have allocated very few resources to designing the social environment.

But honestly, I don't believe that resource constraints are the source of the problem -- I think that most people donít believe that social problems can be solved. A common belief that Iíve heard used as justification for not addressing the social environment of games is that "jerks will be jerks". Essentially, many people believe that:

1. Behavior is determined by personality, and

2. You canít change peopleís personality

While I (mostly) agree with the second point, it is moot because the first point has been consistently contradicted by 60 years of social psychological research. Human behavior is complex and determined by many factors."


You can now read the full Gamasutra opinion piece on the subject, with plenty of detail on Fulton's attempted fixes with Shadowrun, as well as psychological insight into other possible solutions.


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Comments


mikael 665
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I'm sory to say that this article seems like a poor and desperate attempt to convince it's (few, probably) readers that MMO's or other types of online games are ... how did he said? ... "barbaric", "homophobic" and "insulting", generally bad for you.



it's the same method used by parents on the small children, when they have to take it on faith that certain things are not good for them...



Well, from my experience (and i play MMO's and other O's for quite a few years ) i'll have to say that, with very few exceptions, he's wrong.

Or maybe i was just lucky?

neah...

Please try your evil psychological corporatist methods somewhere else!



Oh, and I have never ever ever ever ( just to let you know that I mean "No exceptions this time") met any sexist behavior in any online game.



Let me enjoy my game!

Anonymous
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Mikael, consider yourself lucky.... Or, the other games you play have exceptionally behaved / well-mannered players. In some FPS I play it's frequent to see gamertags or hear racial and homophobic slurs. I often hear frequent bullying as well. It's actually made me constantly mute voices even when I'm on team versus team games (I don't even want to hear my own team). Lately I've not even bothered to play online - I play games to have fun, not to experience a bullying, offensive environment.

Theresa Adams
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In my opinion it isn't what the author suggests that is costing companies sales. There are options in most games to add players like that to an ignore list so they don't see what they say.



Game companies that allow AFK play in a game is one of the bigger issues. AFK players get in the way of quests etc and ruin the RP aspect of a game as well.



Many of the AFK players are credit farmers who sell game money in return for real money.



Those two problems have caused cancellations of subscriptions and will continue if something isn't done to lower the numbers of credit sellers and AFK players. Then, word of mouth gets others not to buy the game.



So, those are the two biggest problems in mmorpgs.

Anonymous
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There is a reason that most games don't appeal to a mass audience. They are designed by gamers who are alienated from that mass audience.

Games attract the audience they're aimed at and antisocial designers have built games they would play themselves. The only way to get out of this catch22 is to design games that foster positive social values by rewarding them within game play.

One game I worked on was 'aimed at girls' but when I suggested that maybe there could be 'mercy points' awarded for taking defenseless prisoners instead of blasting them to smithereens I was ridiculed. Until games are designed from the ground up with women and non-hardcore players in mind the hardcore players will be the only folks who play.

Anonymous
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I doubt very much that game developers are the ones responsible for the racist and sexist content that goes with the online experience, as you seem to be insinuating. Instead, I'd blame the combination of adolescence and relative anonymity.



Game developers are typically introverted, but introversion is common in all creative fields, and being introverted does not imply hostility, ignorance, or obliviousness to social decency.

Craig Hamilton
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Thank you, I couldn't agree more. Labeling game designers as antisocial in the first place is as bad as any other type of labeling due to race, orientation, or whatever. No game will ever appeal to everyone. Trying an online game aimed at girls is a far, far bigger risk than one aimed at hardcore gamers. It's all about the dollar. The main reason people are jerks online is because they CAN be. It's similar to posting opinions online anonymously, you let your opinion be known but don't have to be accountable for it. They can't do it in real life and get away with it like they do online. They're just feeding they're id.

[User Banned]
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Nicolas Brosseau
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Online Gamer Behavior is really a hot topic among many online communities. It's really nice to see that it's starting to get the attention in deserve not only from small developpers but from big one as well.



However, I don't think there's any kind of current in-game or technological solution alone that can really solve the problem. The reason being that most players that want to cause trouble will always tend to find ways to get around whatever barrier or technological limit we set to avoid them.



Cheaters have been prooving that for a long time as they've always manage to find ways to exploit any kind of weakness in the code and it's the same thing is true for bad behavior.



People who want to swear online can easily find ways to get around the chat filters by saying "@$$h0les" instead of "assholes" and it's been proving many many time that the vote-kicking system is no longer the best ways to get rid of people that are annoying.



Maybe by accident, MMO's have really shown that the only way to really create an good social environnement is to make clear in the first place that there's always someone watching that can not only kick you if you tend to misbehave but can ban you from playing online.



I think that until it's possible to come up with somekind of very sophisticated administrative A.I. that can pick up at least a wide variety of general exploit, more attention should be given to the development of any game's community and give them a more administrative role in the management and access of game server.



And popular games should not be affraid to go out and ban player who are regurlaly misbehaving and even go has far has mentionned the possibility of legal repercussion when using this behavior frequently. Not only should people be hold responsible for their action in the real world but they should also be held accountable for their actions online.

Anonymous
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@mikael thee



You are stupid and gay.

Dana Hanna
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The online console world is slowly learning what MMO developers have known for many, many years: effective community management is critical to a successful business. One turd in a swimming pool will make all bathers run screaming - and word travels fast.



Although every MMO has some automated safeguards operating under the hood (profanity filters, anti-cheat code, spam guards, keyword beacons, etc), keeping the pool clean still requires a lot of human intervention. That's expensive, and it's difficult for some to understand its direct relation to the bottom line.



It's much, much harder to get banned (permanently or temporarily) from an online console service than from an MMO, in general. There's also the "broken windows" phenomenon, where small things like graffiti and broken windows lead to an overall disrespect for one's environment and more bad behavior. In a nutshell, the online console business has devoted less resources to throwing those who poop out of the pool, and that's probably led to more people thinking it's fine to take a dump there.



I think it's slowly changing. The more we acknowledge that effective community management spending actually increases profits, the cleaner the pool will get. And often, the $50 a year you'll lose by banning a jackass is outweighed by the $500 you earn by removing the irritant driving away ten other customers.

Anonymous
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Hmmm...CoD4 has none of the "social" engineering that Shadow Run had - yet is played on-line by over a million poeple a day...

I do agree that bad on-line behavior is an issue - but there are plenty of game design things that can be done to help with it - such as easy ways to mute all but your friends/team mates, etc. Unfortuntaley most games that have these features (My xbox live default is set to mute all but by friends) also have bad user-interfaces...

Duncan McPherson
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It doesn't appear that much of the content is actually getting through to the intended audience. It's not that game -designers- are ill-mannered while online; it's that game -players- are ill-mannered while online.



To recap some of the key points made in the article, while the social engineering will neither make nor break the core gameplay (the CoD4/Shadowrun comparison by Anonymous being particularly apt here), it is becoming an increasingly important component of games that contain an online component.



Developers will limit the size of their audience -- and thus the saleability of their games -- if they cannot learn to address the fact that a significant number of people will -- in a world without true consequence -- act like jerks. Heck, people act like jerks in controlled, social situations. The added bonuses of no consequence and anonymity only -encourage- those with a jerky streak to behave in a negative way.



Developers need to realize -- and some do! -- that this self-created limitation on future sales can harm a title, a brand, and a company. (Don't kid yourselves. Game development is a business every step of the way.) Yes, some methods already exist for moderating online behavior. No one is arguing that. What is argued is that not enough attention is paid to this issue by developers -in general-.



In order to get this into games properly, developers need to factor this task into their schedules. Of course, that will cost time and money, which means that most developers will need to sell the publishers on this idea. Since it will initially prove to be an expense, the developers will need to show their publishing partners that the cost will be worthwhile (in the form of future/untapped sales).



Hardcore gamers -- and some developers -- turn up their noses at making "mainstream" games or "casual" games. The fact is, you can find yourself making a "AAA" action RPG one year, and the next year be working on a children's title because that will provide a more stable stream of income for you and your teammates.



Learning how to better tap into your market, how to expand your market, and how to satisfy the needs (spoken and unspoken) of your customers is central to your survivability as a developer.



(I just noticed that Dana Hanna had a lot of good comments as well. Right on!)

Arjen Meijer
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We did some asking around with gamers some time ago, but its true that the only big problem with online gaming is the people that play games online.



It will be a big task to fix this or even to make it less irritating for people.

But the key will be in a new sort of system to communicate and to place people with same skills together.

How much i don't like EA, there already working on a skill system to do this and you won't have to play vs cocky 14 year olds.



I really think games will have to be build with these sorts of systems to place people together accordingly and that can play better and more balanced together.

Most people will start to argue against people that are better then they are and fighting will start.



For the rest admins and server moderators will also do some work on keeping people that start a fuzz out of there servers creating little community's in games of people that have fun.



Don't complain on my typing I'm just brainstorming a little on the subject.

Albert Engelbrecht
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From what I've seen, you have to take a look at *how* gaming audiences get together. Take a look at PC's. How do gamers get together on this format? Well, they have a list of servers, and then they pick one. Now, they don't like the people on that server, they find a new one. Then you find that they, in turn, frequent servers that tailors to them. For example, they might enjoy the skill level of the people in the server, the things allowed on the server (cursing, sprays, roleplaying, etc.), or even the fact that the server is without hackers or exploiters.



Now compare this experience to consoles. You hit quick connect, it joins some random people together, they talk and brag while waiting for more people to get in, and then they play. Generally, the people who keep with you are people you know. This means that this makes people feel like they are anonymous, and thus have no qualms in doing what they wish.



The question is how can we properly take the positives from the server selection and apply this to the console experience. A few ideas come to mind. One is to blend the console and server experience together. The question is, how can you properly do this?



The first step would be to establish the ideas of areas. I think that this needs a little explanation. When I say areas, I mean places that you are able to come back to. It has the same rules, generally same people, and even possibly some sort of forum-like area (or the ability to link an external site to a server, thus making it possible to set up gaming communities). The reason for this is that you are able to set up your own virtual server. You are able to allocate admins, add members, have a description, etc.



In hand with this, there would be another way of connecting to servers. With quick connect, you would be joining groups that fit your preferences, so that if you wanted to jump into a game, then it would be easy. You would also be able to view the various groups that were up, and from there, pick what you want. Perhaps with the quick connect, you could establish favorites and rate the server. This way you would get rid of the pain of joining servers that don't fit the descriptions, and return to the areas that you enjoyed to play in before.



Again, the idea is that you are able to join the groups of people that you enjoy to play with, as well as make your own groups easily and quickly, so that you can always play with your group of friends. You could also implement the idea of having a ranking of skill, but you could also get past this by getting invites from friends that are in a higher ranked server than you could get into normally.



I feel that with a little thought, this problem of "f*ckwads" in console games can be taken care of, so that people who enjoy that type of thing can do their own thing away from mature players.

Anonymous
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Well, I will say I have encountered bad behavior on the net before while playing games. But a lot of this behavior I find is avoidable, in games like World of Warcraft I'll commonly shut off my local chat and stick to guild or party chat in town if things are looking nasty when I enter. Even that though is fairly rare.



I have heard from friends of mine these problems tend to be worse in other circles like on PVP servers especialy it seems to be a problem.



I would wonder if there isn't some way to design a game to 'uninstall' itself or at the very least lobotomize it's own functioning on a perminant ban. I dunno like have it delete it's own network code so the player who's behaved baddly enough to earn a perminant ban can't use it to go online anymore. Just a thought.


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