Proactive protection through game design

Building preventative measures into the core of gaming to protect players and foster positive experiences.

Building safety tools into the core of gaming

As 2020 showed us, gaming is here to stay. According to MarketWatch, the gaming industry boomed to become larger than movies and national sports combined over the last year, and we’re just getting started.

It’s not just for entertainment purposes, either. More and more people are connecting online in virtual environments and video games to build communities, attend classes, or even join clubs and organizations. Some development studios are seeing a rush of life as gamers turn to them for much-needed social interaction. While games like Minecraft are even seeing a surge of growth in the classroom with their Education Edition.

We haven’t been surprised, then, that as more diverse people connect to games at a higher rate, many people, including parents of young gamers, are increasingly concerned about the safety risks involved in their favorite platforms.

But what are effective safety tools that developers can include?

At GamerSafer, we are constantly researching and watching the industry to understand how safety can be built into the core of games. Studios in 2021 and beyond will need to pay special attention to how they approach protections as they come under a more engaged eye from an active and diverse playerbase.

We need to answer that question above, though, and the best way to do that is to take a look at the GamerSafer Hierarchy of Measures to define:

  • The types of safety tools and proactive protections.
  • What the most effective tools are for improving player experiences.
  • How these measures relate to each other and create a solid system as a complete toolset.

In the future, we’ll do a more in-depth dive into this topic to cover how gamers (and parents) can utilize these different types of tools in the most effective way. For now, let’s briefly break down this Hierarchy of Measures to see where the different strategies lie.

Even though these can all work together, there are some systems that have a greater impact on player safety than others. It’s important to know what they are so that the gaming industry can make better decisions on how to prevent the worst offenses from occurring in our communities.

The GamerSafer Hierarchy of Measures

This is the GamerSafer Hierarchy of Measures for protective design strategies in the gaming industry. With these four tiers of proactive systems, we can understand the effectiveness of each in caring for a player’s well-being and safety when joining multiplayer games.

Starting from the top, the four tiers are categorized by their ability to protect players from content, contact, conduct, and contract risks (the “4cs of online risks“), with the top tier being most effective, and the bottom tier being least effective (though still very important).

They are:

  1. Prevention
  2. Mitigation
  3. Information, Education, and Awareness
  4. Encouragement

Each of these serves a unique purpose in games, and players will interact with them in vastly different ways.

1. Prevention – A Top Tier Strategy

There is a reason why the GamerSafer team is so keenly aware of and focused on prevention of safety risks. At the end of 2020, the Anti-Defamation League released their annual report and found, among many other data points, that nearly 30% of players who experienced harassment in certain games would stop playing them entirely.

It is clear that finding ways to prevent disruptive behavior from occurring in the first place would have a significant effect on a community’s well-being. But is it possible?

We believe so.

Through various practices like age and player identity verification, parental controls, and compatible matchmaking, game developers are able to directly stop the sources of risks, threats, and harmful or unpleasant experiences.

Prevention tools are uniquely capable of making sure that bad actors aren’t able to have the negative effect that they’re looking for.

Age verification and parental controls can ensure that minors are put in safer environments from the start before being targeted in unhealthy ways. Player identity verification, which should follow industry standard regulations like GDPR, LGPD, and others, can stop abusers from returning with alt-accounts. And compatible matchmaking can ensure that players with common interests and playstyles are matched up in order to prevent tilting and hostile behaviors.

2. Mitigation – A Common Toolset in Gaming

When it comes to mitigation, gamers are generally well aware of what systems are available in multiplayer communities. In the Family Online Safety Institute’s report, Tools for Today’s Digital Parents, roughly 79% of parents said that they used online safety tools currently or in the past (though 2/3 of them said they were dissatisfied with those tools).

Development teams have heavily relied on these systems and technologies and they have become a familiar toolset for protecting players.

Mitigation tools have the intention of minimizing, though not preventing, the sources, severity, and frequency of disruptive behaviors among online players. Gaming environments are redesigned to include mitigation concepts and technologies for the safety and well-being of communities.

While these systems are critical for game developers and community managers to implement, unfortunately they can sometimes be more reactive rather than proactive. Often, the bad behavior must first occur before the tools can go into effect, and some harm may already have been done.

Still, chat filters, voice modulators, moderation teams, and rule enforcement procedures work together to reduce the impact that negative experiences can have on a player.

3. Information, Education, and Awareness

Where prevention and mitigation efforts generally rely on technology and software to protect players from within the game, the next two tiers focus on empowering the gamers themselves to make the right decisions when interacting with others.

Some companies and development teams today provide content publicly for their community to learn from and become more aware of how their behaviors affect others and the game as a whole.

This can be powerful when communicated in an effective way, as it creates a culture of safety and pro-social behaviors right at the heart of a gaming community. When those players are receptive to the content studios provide, they can reinforce the mitigation and prevention methods explained above.

Raising awareness of rules and guidelines that players should follow, publishing articles about positive digital citizenship behaviors that the studio wants to encourage, and modeling player safety on full display as a proud part of a company’s internal culture, can all help move player interactions in a more beneficial direction.

4. Encouragement – Power to the Player

Finally, we reach “Encouragement.” As the lowest tier on the GamerSafer Hierarchy of Measure, you might assume that encouragement has little impact on player safety. It’s actually quite effective at combating the overall hold that disruptive behaviors can have on a community.

Players who feel genuinely rewarded and encouraged to act in pro-social manners tend to repeat those positive behaviors in the future, and others may soon follow their lead, as our Minecraft server partner AutCraft has described to us in the past with first-hand experience.

Encouragement is all about fostering individual change in players through incentives and personal dashboards where they can see and feel good about their productive contributions to a gaming community. This type of interaction between studios and gamers can make them feel more connected to the other players, as well, and more aware of how their behavior can positively, and negatively, affect others.

Most players who display disruptive and harmful behaviors are not typically repeat-offenders. They may be having a bad day, or just a bad match-up.

The other tiers can definitely help to reduce or prevent toxicity from taking hold, especially “Prevention” which can be utilized to make sure players are matched up with others like them. Ultimately, we want to give players the opportunity to course correct and come back into the positive fold of the community, and that’s where encouragement can shine.

The Hierarchy as a Cohesive Toolset

There is no one-size-fits-all protection solution for game developers to implement in their online communities, but by understanding the four tiers of the Hierarchy of Measures, we can begin to see how the various tools can work together to create more positive and healthy experiences for players.

Player safety is longitudinal. Part of this means that it is a continual battle that we must all keep in mind as we grow our communities and develop fascinating gaming environments. Strategizing where we focus our resources in this constant effort to protect our players is key to building systems that have the greatest impact.

Each of these four tiers, and the technologies found within them, play a fundamental part in the whole concept of player safety and well-being. Prevention, mitigation, education, and encouragement each have a place in the arsenal of caring game developers.

What methods have you utilized or noticed in the games you play? We’d love to hear from you. Contact us at the social media links below and let us know your strategy for improving player safety across gaming as a whole, or what challenges you’ve faced in implementing those strategies. Or click here to learn more about the GamerSafer service and how we can integrate directly with your game as a preventative strategy.

We would love to hear what you’re doing to make the gaming industry a safer and more inclusive environment.

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