[In this in-depth article, Fulton discusses why "the online behavior of our customers is dramatically reducing our sales", referencing his social design on Microsoft's Shadowrun to explain how we can dissuade anonymous Internet gamers.
Warning: This article uses language
inappropriate for a professional website. Unfortunately, the language
used is far less offensive than what is commonly encountered in online
Some gamers are
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
Cheating, team-killing, entering a game but not playing,
quitting before the game is over, and more, are all relatively common. Common enough that it was deemed worthy of a Penny Arcade comic, speculating
about why normal people become fuckwads 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 shouldn’t play online." Unfortunately, many
people do just that -- they stop playing online.
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 fuckwads online.
To make this concrete, here's a thought
experiment for you: imagine you go to a new restaurant, and decide to
try the meatloaf. A big guy at the next table overhears you, looks at
you, and yells: "Meatloaf? What kinda newb are you? Hey everybody,
this r-tard just ordered the meatloaf!
God, I'm glad you're not at my
table." Laughter breaks out at the tables around you, as they crane
their heads to look at the newb. The restaurant staff is nowhere to
be found, and you're not entirely certain they'd do anything anyway
-- you can tell this is normal behavior at this place. How good or cheap
would the food have to be to get you to go back there? Who would you
bring there? The vast majority of the world population wouldn't go back
there, and would warn everyone they knew to avoid it.
So again, why do I care? Because
the online behavior of our customers is dramatically reducing our sales,
and continues to stunt the growth of our industry. Non-gamers simply
don’t love games enough to put up with the crap they get online. The
reason they would consider playing online is to have fun with other
people -- and right now, playing games online with strangers rarely
delivers that for anyone outside the hardcore demographic.
Are these problems even solvable?
Short answer: yes. 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
don’t believe that social problems can be solved. A common belief
that I’ve 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
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.
Personality is certainly one factor,
but it is a surprisingly small factor. The largest determinant of behavior
is the perceived social environment. This is the good news, because
both the social environment and the perception of it can be controlled.
But me just saying that I disagree
with a belief isn’t an argument; some proof is in order. Evidence about
the effect of the social environment on behavior comes from two main
sources: real-world observation and academic studies from social psychology.
(Although perhaps I should add "cartoonists" to those two
sources. The Penny Arcade comic showing a normal person becoming a total
fuckwad when in multiplayer gaming situation -- anonymous, with an audience
-- was pretty accurate, if a bit simplified.)