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New Xbox community features will create "virtual safe spaces"

"The anonymity of the internet doesn't always lead to the best behaviour"

The new community features announced for Xbox Live at E3 are part of a broader initiative within Microsoft to encourage diversity and protect its players from abuse.

Xbox boss Phil Spencer detailed several new features during MIcrosoft's E3 press conference yesterday: Xbox Live Clubs, which allows gamers with shared interests to come together; Looking For Group, a related feature that allows like-minded gamers to find each other; and Xbox Live Arena, a new and accessible system for creating custom tournaments.

While these features are relevant to the longstanding gaming audience of young males, they were created with other groups firmly in mind. In a post on the Microsoft blog yesterday, Spencer placed them in the context of a wider initiative called "Gaming For Everyone," which is expressly designed to make gamers of all kinds feel welcome.

"To truly have a lasting impact requires a culture shift, one that won't happen overnight," Spencer said. "However, our team is committed to get better each day, to teach one another to pause in our decision making process and think about the amazing diversity of needs, abilities and interests amongst gamers around the world.

"These tools are important because we all can see what happens in different social spheres out there"

Phil Spencer to Bloomberg

"It has forced our team to think differently across the entire gaming experience - from hardware, to games and service."

Speaking to Bloomberg, Spencer said that the new features would be able to create a sub-community for, to use Spencer's own example, "dads who don't like profanity and go to bed at 10." New "Online Safety features" will allow Xbox users a greater degree of control over potentially offensive content, including both violence and swearing, while Club founders will be able to set rules, control membership and police anti-social behaviour. Together, these tools will facilitate the creation of "virtual safe spaces" for those who have been mistreated or endured abuse from certain parts of the online gaming community.

"These tools are important because we all can see what happens in different social spheres out there," Spencer told Bloomberg. "The anonymity of the internet doesn't always lead to the best behaviour."

Gaming For Everyone has been steadily evolving since an initial meeting at MIcrosoft in December 2014, and it now applies to the full breadth of the Xbox business. That includes greater diversity in its workforce and within the actual games, which will display a greater commitment to fairer representation of both gender and race and be made with accessibility for gamers with disabilities in mind.

According to Shannon Loftis, GM of global publishing at Xbox, "Increasingly my job is to diversify our portfolio, and that's a huge part of our thinking when I am bringing in new pitches and seeking funding for these studios."

This isn't the first sign that Microsoft is committed to making its online services more inclusive. At the start of this month, it announced its participation in a new Code of Conduct to prevent and police online hate speech.

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