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The state of toxicity in multiplayer games in 2021 and beyond

by Merridew Smith on 11/18/21 11:28:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

This post was originally a Unity blog. 

Every day, millions of players log in to connect and enjoy the games they love with friends and strangers across the globe. Multiplayer communities within a game are a huge part of the industry and keep players coming back – but what happens if that experience turns sour?

Toxic behavior and malicious players damage your player base and affect the success of a game, potentially even harming your studio’s reputation. The good news is, these issues can be addressed and it begins with understanding how these attitudes develop within player communities.

One of the goals at Unity is to empower creators with solutions to tame disruptive behavior and promote positive and engaging communities within online games. That’s why we’ve commissioned The Harris Poll to uncover new insights around toxicity in multiplayer games. These insights, paired with the announcement of OTO joining our Unity family, are part of our initiative to keep multiplayer experiences fun and accessible for everyone. 

[Get the full report]

The nature of the problem: Disruptive behavior

Unity's 2021 gaming report found that, while gaming has been growing in popularity for decades, HD gaming rose by 38% during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Part of this growth is undoubtedly the meteoric rise in multiplayer gaming, which connects friends and strangers across the globe to create unforgettable social experiences offered by no other medium.

However, as more people started playing multiplayer games this last year, our survey found that 68% of gamers – defined as those who played multiplayer games in the past year –  expressed that they felt there was a surge in toxic behaviour among gamers during the COVID-19 pandemic, with a majority of gamers (74%) either witnessing it or experiencing it themselves.

1. Nearly three-quarters of multiplayer gamers (72%) have witnessed toxic behavior towards others while playing multiplayer games, with more than two-thirds (68%) experiencing it themselves. 

With roughly three quarters of multiplayer gamers having witnessed disruptive behavior towards other players, and more than two-thirds having experienced it themselves, it’s clear that toxic gamers are disrupting the majority of your players’ experiences. Among those who have witnessed it, toxicity can appear in many forms – from hate (58%) to aggravation & abuse of play (53%). 

Type of disruptive behavior

Among those who have witnessed towards others

Among those who have experienced it themselves

Hate (i.e., verbal or other abuse, including intimidation, ridicule, or insulting remarks based on another player's identity)

58%

50%

Aggravation and abuse of play (i.e., stealing, sabotaging, trolling)

53%

50%

Cheating (i.e., exploiting the rules of the game to gain an advantage or disrupt play)

49%

43%

Harassment (i.e., seeking to intimidate, coerce, or oppress another player in or outside of a game) 

45%

42%

Unintended disruption (i.e., players unaware they are ruining others' experiences)

38%

38%

Extremism (i.e., expressing a religious, social, or political belief system that exists substantially outside of belief systems more broadly accepted in society)

30%

32%

It should also be noted that gamers who communicate with other players (78% of multiplayer gamers) are more likely than those who don’t communicate with other players to have witnessed toxic behavior either towards others or towards themselves (86% vs. 35%). With in-game communication technology meant to help players have fun and work together, this disruptive behavior can ruin the experience.

Interestingly, the issue of disruptive behavior seems to be more likely to affect console (79%) and PC gamers (76%), rather than mobile gamers (66%). But with still over two-thirds of mobile players reporting bad behavior, it’s clear that no platform is safe from disruptive players.

2. More than half (53%) of players have witnessed toxic behavior at least sometimes during gameplay, with 22% reporting that they witness it often or every time they play.

Witnessing toxic behaviour from other players once in 10+ years of gaming is a completely different story than being witness to toxic behaviour nearly every time you play. Add in the fact that 21% of players experience that behaviour directed towards them often or every time they play and you can see the potential toxicity has to ruin the online gaming experience for everyone.

If nearly a quarter of your players are experiencing disruptive behaviour nearly every time they play, it’s going to wreak havoc on your player engagement and the overall enjoyability and playability of your game. 

3. Among those who have witnessed or experienced toxic behavior, shooter games (61%), battle royales (35%), and fighting games (21%) are the top game genres where toxicity was witnessed or experienced  

So where do the toxic gamers coalesce? Surprisingly or not, shooters, battle royales, and fighting games seem to be the biggest targets. And the old idiom is true, one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch – playing with just one individual with a bad attitude in a PvP setting can lead to a whole team of unhappy players. 

Among those who have ever witnessed or experienced toxic behavior, here’s how it breaks down over genres: 

  • Shooters – 61% (e.g Modern Warfare, Apex Legends)

  • Battle royale (e.g PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, Fortnite) – 35%

  • Fighting (e.g., Super Smash Brothers, Street Fighter) – 21%

  • Sports (e.g., Madden, FIFA) – 19%

  • Racing (e.g., Need for Speed, Gran Turismo) – 17%

  • Sandbox (e.g., Minecraft) – 16%

  • Action adventure (e.g., Assassin's Creed) – 15%

  • Puzzle (Candy Crush, Tetris) – 15%

  • MMORPG (e.g., World of Warcraft, EVE Online) – 14%

  • MOBA (e.g., League of Legends, Dota 2) – 13%

  • Home repair simulators (e.g., Wrenchworks) – 12%

  • RPG (e.g., Skyrim, The Witcher) – 11%

  • Other – 4%

*It should be noted that games that rank lower on this list may be due to the fact that the respondents do not play these types of games regularly. 

How do toxic gamers affect player behavior? 

Toxic behavior is happening across all platforms and genres, but how are other players reacting?

A majority of multiplayer gamers (67%) say they would likely stop playing a multiplayer game if another player were exhibiting toxic behavior, and more than one-third (34%) say they would be very likely to do so. That means toxicity runs the risk of costing you not only lost revenue opportunities but your active player base as well. 

Here are what multiplayer gamers who have witnessed or experienced toxic behavior during gameplay have done to address it:

  • Quit playing/left the game – 43%

  • Ignored it – 43%

  • Called the player out – 40%

  • In-game reporting – 40%

  • Recorded the encounter and posted the video on social media - 18%

  • Something else – 7%

  • Nothing – 7%

While a majority of gamers witness disruptive behavior during gameplay, of those who do something to address toxicity only 24% say using in-game reporting is what they do most often to address the behavior – so in-game reporting may not show the whole story of toxicity in your game. 

18% of those who have witnessed or experienced toxic behavior while playing multiplayer games have even gone so far as to record the encounter and publicize it on social media, with 10% choosing this route most often to address toxicity. Having a video go viral of a rage quitter yelling at their teammates in your game could be disastrous for your reputation and your ability to retain (and grow) your player base. 

Unfortunately, among multiplayer gamers who have done something to address toxicity, women are more likely than men to say they most often quit playing/just leave the game entirely in order to address toxic behavior while playing multiplayer games (30% vs. 18%). Men, on the other hand, are more likely than women to most often use the in-game reporting functionality (28% vs. 20%) or record the encounter and post the video on social media (13% vs. 5%). While men are more likely to be more direct in addressing the disruptive behavior, many women decide instead to disengage from the game – possibly for good. 

Additionally, older gamers ages 45+ are more likely than younger gamers (ages 18-44) to say they also often quit playing when confronted with toxic behavior (34% vs. 19%).

Creating a safe, welcoming, and positive environment for people of all ages, genders, ethnicities, and denominations should be a top priority for studios that aim to provide great multiplayer experiences. Addressing these issues and how it affects players differently should be a major focus for devs in 2021 and beyond. 

What to do about disruptive behavior in online games

With toxicity in gaming being so rampant and harmful to gamers who experience it, what can you do to address this? When asking players, we found a few key areas to focus on to cultivate a healthier online community for your games. 

  1. Growing games need to solve for toxicity

The volume of HD multiplayer games grew by over 38% in 2020, and over two-thirds of gamers (68%) believe there was a coinciding surge of toxic behavior among gamers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This can potentially be a consequence of fast game growth experienced during 2020 as people were looking for new social outlets during quarantine. It’s no question that the more popular a game is, the more the developers need to have a handle on the toxicity of the community – before it ruins your players’ experience and your studio reputation. 

  1. Protecting players from toxic behavior should be a priority for game developers

Players want you to focus on solving disruptive behavior, with more than three-quarters of multiplayer gamers (77% each respectively) agreeing that protecting players from toxic behavior should be a priority for developers and more solutions to reduce toxicity are needed to create safer online gaming environments. 

In particular, female and older gamers really stress the importance of protecting gamers from these negative experiences, with women more likely than men to agree that protecting players from toxic behavior should be a priority for game developers (82% vs. 74%), and older gamers ages 45+ more likely to agree with that statement than younger gamers (ages 18-44) (85% vs. 74%). 

While you might think the issue is out of your hands, players see ongoing toxicity in the community as a problem for developers to address. Developing and implementing community safety technology in your games should be a high priority – a move that promotes a strong online community and encourages growth. 

Finding new ways to encourage player reporting, re-evaluating consequences for negative players, and researching solutions that will introduce faster and more effective ways to predict, detect, and moderate disruptive behaviors.

  1. Gamers believe that consequences should be implemented and enforced to reduce toxic behavior 

Nearly all gamers (92%) think solutions should be implemented and enforced to reduce toxic behavior in multiplayer gaming. 

Players getting suspended from playing for a period of time if they exhibit toxic behavior (44%) tops the list of solutions multiplayer gamers think should be implemented, followed by players getting ejected from games (42%), and getting banned from games (42%) if they exhibit toxic behavior.

Consequences for negative players include: 

  • Getting suspended for a period of time (44%)

  • Getting ejected from the game (42%)

  • Getting banned (42%)

  • Losing in-game gameplay items if they exhibit toxic behavior – 30%

  • Monitors for in-game chat – 27%

  • Getting fined for toxic behavior – 25%

  • Losing in-game cosmetic items if they exhibit toxic behavior – 23%

  • Having adjustments made to a mechanic of the game (e.g., reduced speed, sitting out a match round) – 23%

These are just some examples of steps you can take to punish disruptive behaviour to protect your community. However, this would also rely either on more in-game reporting from players that witness the toxic behavior (which puts the onus on the players) or implementing smart solutions like OTO to identify the players who exhibit this behavior (which allows the developers to take more control). 

Conclusion

With the ever-increasing popularity of multiplayer gaming, toxicity must not be allowed to grow unchallenged alongside it. With nearly 7 in 10 (68%) of multiplayer gamers experiencing a surge in toxic behavior since 2020, this poses a serious threat to online gaming communities and the mental health of players, which was already put at risk by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Developers need smart solutions to combat these attitudes and these insights are just the first step in understanding and being able to address the issue of disruptive behavior in games, and you can access the full report of findings here

Interested in what Unity’s doing about the problem of toxicity in games? Read more about our latest announcement of OTO joining the Unity family. By working together, we hope to help developers cultivate healthy communities for their games. 


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