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Take responsibility for your community

PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds flap shows how game makers can set the tone for their player base with zero tolerance for toxic behavior

Earlier this week, Brendan Greene--PlayerUnknown of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds fame--butted heads with one of his game's big Twitch streamers, who goes by DrDisRespect and boasts more than 650,000 followers.

You can get a detailed recap of what happened at Waypoint, but the short version is that the doctor broke the game's rules on a stream by intentionally killing a teammate, and he was temporarily banned for it. After that, Greene and DrDisRespect exchanged words on Twitter, with the streamer joking that he would assault the developer, and the developer explaining why he didn't find that sort of joke funny.

We might have run a news story on it, but "Streamer temporarily banned from popular game for team killing" isn't much of a headline. The more interesting part is the bit where a developer of a hugely popular game is pushing back against a visible member of the streaming community that has helped make the game a sensation, and making no apologies for doing it.

Could it sour DrDisRespect or other popular streamers on PUBG? Possibly. Could that in turn hurt the game's profitability or popularity? It's unlikely to torpedo things in any noticeable way, but in the short-term, it might cost them a few sales. Was it the best course of action regardless? Absolutely.

"If you run an online community, that community is a reflection of you, and should be considered an accurate representation of your values"

This is something we need to see more of throughout the games industry, and online in general. If you run an online community, that community is a reflection of you, and should be considered an accurate representation of your values.

The tricky thing about the responsibility to manage your community is that it scales with your operation, but as it does so moral conviction needs logistical assistance. It's not difficult to keep awful people from blighting a community with a few dozen people; you just need to decide you don't want them around. As your community gets larger, it obviously requires a bit more work to manage, but there's no point at which "we have too many users" becomes a valid excuse for washing one's hands of the responsibility, whether you're running a video game, a forum, or a website with 1 billion users a month.

That's not necessarily to say that Google is an indefensibly horrible company because of what you can find in the YouTube comments. However, it does mean that Google doesn't care if some of its money comes from giving a megaphone to indefensibly horrible people.

But there's really no good excuse for that. If the toxic element accounts for a very small part of one's business, it makes little sense to allow it to remain given how negatively it impacts the rest of the user base. But if that toxic segment of the user base actually accounts for a crucial amount of the company's revenue, then Google certainly can't claim that much separation from those users. It would mean Google is dependent on being indefensibly horrible, or at least promoting those who are. And if your business can't survive without doing that, then maybe your business just shouldn't survive.

It may seem excessive to lay players' bad behavior at the feet of game makers, but developers and publishers have a lot more control over the situation than many want to believe. That control starts with laying down the rules, something PUBG does quite well with its Rules of Conduct. They begin with a TL;DR synopsis of "Play Fair And Respect Other Players" and end with a warning that "These rules are neither final nor exhaustive - we reserve the right to suspend disruptive users even if their behaviour doesn't fall under any of the above rules directly. Be nice, play fair and respect others and yourself." In between, they lay down guidelines about foul language, harassment, impersonating other people, team killing, exploiting bugs, and more. It serves as notice to those looking to grief others that they do so at their own risk.

By temporarily banning Dr.DisRespect, developer Bluehole has made it clear PUBG's Rules of Conduct are being actively enforced, even for those with greater visibility in the community. Greene's Twitter exchange with the streamer additionally made it clear he found Dr.DisRespect's joke/threat unacceptable, even though no punishment was leveled against him for out-of-game actions.

"Bad faith actors do not make a community better, and they should be dealt with in the same uncompromising way companies deal with botters and hackers"

It's a good start, but there's still clearly some work to be done. The PUBG forum has a section dedicated to reporting players for violating the Rules of Conduct, with different processes depending on the infraction involved. However, they all ask for reporting players to have video evidence of the infraction and post it to an external site they can link to in their report. That's an unfortunate amount of friction in the system (an integrated video-sharing option like the Xbox One and PS4 have might be preferable), but Greene admitted the developer is working on better reporting system solutions.

The process of community upkeep will change depending on the game (or forum, or website, etc.), but I would suggest the key constant is removing bad faith actors from the user base. Whatever rules are set down, there will always be people skirting the edges of them, looking for loopholes, complying with the letter of the law while flagrantly flipping off the intent. (As Blizzard's changes to Overwatch loot boxes in China showed, this is by no means limited to individuals, so there's something to be said here about the example you set for your players.) These people do not make a community better, and they should be dealt with in the same uncompromising way companies deal with botters and hackers. After all, publishers come down hard on those groups because they recognize the negative impact they have on the rest of the player base. Why should they be any more lenient with people whose toxic behavior is doing the same thing, and in many cases done with the primary goal of ruining other players' fun?

There have been varying schools of thought on this subject. In the past, some said you should reform toxic players. Others said you should welcome them because they are passionate and "can go to bat for you" (although I shudder to think what you would want a toxic army to go to bat for you against). The former approach is likely misguided, the latter I would go so far as to call morally indefensible were it made today.

If your players can't be civil, if they can't allow their fellow players a modicum of dignity, if they can't abide by the simplest rules of playing fair and respecting others, remove them from the game. Just like one bad apple can spoil a whole bunch, one rotten player can ruin the experience for dozens more. It's bad enough to let it happen once, but opting not to excise such tumors from the player base after they've made their malignant nature clear speaks volumes about a company's actual values, about the behavior it finds acceptable, and about which customers it cares for most.

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