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Speaking at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco this afternoon, research developer at Blizzard Natasha Miller shared how the studio implemented social features into Overwatch to promote positive behavior among players.
The two social features mentioned above include "endorsements", designed to reward positive behavior (good sportsmanship, supportive teammate, etc.) conveyed through a level system.
"Looking for group" gave players the options to link up with players who had a similar play style.
Miller explains that one of the first steps Blizzard took in fostering positive behavior was adding a thank you message to players after they sent a report. On the flip side, they studio began sending out warning messages to players accumulating verified penalties.
“We wanted to give them a chance to change their behavior after we penalized them,” Miller said. Blizzard decided to focus on prevention first. "How do we go about preventing these behaviors? We did research in the form of focus groups and surveys."
Miller mentioned two key areas that usually encourage disruptive behavior among Overwatch players, the first being a lack of social consequence. "By performing well within society’s expectations, you're rewarded. In online communities there aren’t effective consequences," she said. Thus, bad behavior.
She added that there also wasn't a clear way to reward players either, and it was important to highlight those who did play nice. Implementing endorsements was a way to focus on the lack of social consequences.
In-game positive reinforcement rewarded players for good behavior, and can be given to the enemy team as well. The more endorsements a player acquires, the higher their level becomes. This feature uses positive reinforcement to be a good player, Miller said. It encouraged consistent, positive play and consequence for deviating from that.
“If you’re not consistently getting endorsements, if you slip up, you’re not going to get endorsements and your level is going to slip," She added. If a player does slip up and their level falls, Miller said it was a form of loss aversion.
"This often causes players to want to get that level back and keep going, which offers a path to redemption."
Miller also said that peer recognition was important and endorsements had a positive impact on players after a match. The decision to add loot boxes as a reward after a player's endorsement level increased was something Blizzard hesitated with.
“It was a really big discussion for us. We didn’t want to encourage the wrong behavior either. We wanted most of the push to be good to come intrinsically."
So loot boxes as reward operated under a more randomized schedule. "Even if you slipped you could come back. If players slipped during any randomized checks, they wouldn’t receive rewards."
Miller then provided some data as to whether or not the social systems worked (endorsements in particular). There was a 40 percent reduction in matches that contained disruptive behaviors since implementation.
When asked if they saw it as a product of the system, players agreed. “The system makes people nicer.” Miller explained that players appreciated they were able to show thanks and support for their team. In addition, 50 to 70 percent of players have given endorsements.
Miller concluded by saying that the team was happy with the results so far, and planned on improving upon the systems and maybe implementing more in the future.