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.
The spectrum of opportunities and positive aspects of online games has never been so clearly recognized.
We haven't been surprised that as more diverse people connect to games at a higher rate, the efforts to support and safeguard players have become more relevant, just as we highlighted at the beginning of 2021.
Recent reports have validated the importance of these efforts by illustrating the growth of harassment, hate and discrimination. And there are even worst conduct to look for, such as grooming, threats of violence, extremism, doxing.
In alignment with this context, the Fair Play Alliance Disruptions and Harms in Online Gaming Framework illustrates that game developers are looking for consistent and reliable solutions to protect players from harmful conduct and the many challenges involved in this task. Realistic, actionable, and efficient safety resources, tools, frameworks, and features are demanded from the industry, so we have some catching up to do.
But what are practical safety tools that developers can include to address crimes, predatory and harmful conduct in their games?
At GamerSafer, we are constantly researching and talking with the industry to understand how safety is built into multiplayer games.
To help with answering the question above, we created a Hierarchy of Measures looking into:
Even though these can all work together, some systems have a more significant impact on player safety than others. It's important to know what are those to make better decisions on preventing the worst offenses from occurring in our communities.
Before we begin: Some notes to consider
The discussions around player safety design and measures is a complex matter. Understanding this topic takes continually monitoring, research, and analysis of trends as they evolve across a wide range of games, cultures, demographics, and company needs.
We introduce this hierarchy of measures as a way to continue tough conversations and form a basic understanding of where some of them can be more or less effective than others. Still, there will need to be many more conversations and articles in the future as we continue to investigate and illustrate the concepts here.
As you read through, consider that the design of a game and community can also significantly impact the effectiveness of each measure in preventing, managing and reducing harms. In fact, the gameplay design and community itself can promote or halt the progress of improving player behaviors.
We'll discuss other key aspects of safety by design and many other relevant topics in future blog posts.
Delivering play safety and well-being at scale: a hierarchy of measures
We made this Hierarchy of Measures to promote protective strategies and measures within online games. The purpose of these tiers is to help prioritize, implement, and understand the effectiveness of measures that enable a player's well-being and safety.
Starting from the top, the four tiers are categorized by their ability to protect players from criminal, predatory and harmful conduct such as identity theft, child abuse and exploitation, account stealing, phishing, threats of violence, stalking, doxing, extremism, sustained harassment. The top tier being most effective, and the bottom tier being least effective (though still very important).
Each of these serves a unique purpose in games, with players and platforms benefiting from them in vastly different ways.
We recognize that these four tiers can be combined to work together in delivering safe, fun, and fair gaming experiences at scale, but that doesn't diminish the fact that some protective systems have a more prominent impact on player safety than others.
For this reason, it's essential to think and discuss the whole spectrum of approaches holistically and critically. When talking with product development, moderation, and player dynamic teams; blocking, removing, and lowering the possibility for harm before it ever manifests is always our favorite place to start this conversation.
1. Prevention – A Top Tier Strategy
At GamerSafer, we believe in the prevention.
Prevention for us means intentionally and continually work to block the sources of criminal, predatory and harmful conduct from occurring in the first place, or to minimize them as much as possible without compromising (a) the ability of gaming platforms to function positively at scale and (b) the player's in-game experience. Respecting and even promoting the designer's intent for the game, the focus is to understand player identity, motivations, and what events trigger conflicts and abusive scenarios.
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 have experienced harassment in certain games would stop playing them entirely. Finding new ways to address root causes, prevent and minimize crimes and harms is needed.
So, how can this be possible?
Through various practices like age verification, enhanced player identity management, parental engagement, safety controls, and compatible matchmaking, game developers can drive preventive measures.
Examples of preventive measures implemented by customers using our technology:
2. Mitigation – A Standard Toolset in Gaming
While prevention is focused on addressing the origins of crimes and harms, mitigation measures intend to identify, minimize and manage occurrences and their effects on players. Both systems complement each other and collaborate to take player safety and fair play to the next level.
While these systems are critical for game developers and community managers to implement, they can be more reactive rather than proactive. Often, the bad behavior must first occur before the tools can go into effect, and may have already done harm.
Players are generally well-aware of most of these systems in multiplayer communities. Some of the challenges when relying primarily on these systems to promote player safety are: (a) the dependence on players to report transgressions of harmful conducts, (b) players not knowing and being concerned if their report had any effect at all, and (c) the lag or friction when using moderation tools.
Still, with the widespread familiarity of players to this toolset, and the impact that well-formulated community guidelines and enforcement policies can have on community management, mitigation efforts should be used in conjunction with the other three tiers in this list to reduce disruptive behaviors.
Examples of mitigation measures and resources:
3. Information, Education, and Awareness
The next two tiers focus on being transparent about what is expected in a gaming community, and educating players to protect their gameplay while making the right decisions for themselves.
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. On top of that, different educational resources can help players understand risks, precautions, and actions to prevent or report online crimes.
Education as a player safety tool can be powerful when communicated effectively, 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 this content, they can reinforce the mitigation and prevention methods explained above.
Raising awareness of rules and guidelines that players should follow, publishing articles about digital citizenship behaviors that the community wants to foster, 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.
These actions and programs are essential and play a part in protecting players, but they are resource and time-consuming considering the scale of games. They also rely on users with different needs, backgrounds, and expectations to access digestible information concerning a broad spectrum of challenges, understand, agree with it and then take effective action. For these reasons, information, education, and awareness are positioned at the third layer.
4. Encouragement – Power to the Player
Finally, we reach "Encouragement." As the lowest tier in the Hierarchy of Measures, you might assume that player encouragement has little impact on safety. It's actually quite essential to combat low, mild and severe transgressions.
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.
Encouragement includes leveraging incentives and personal dashboards where a player can see and feel good about their productive contributions to a gaming community to foster behavioral change at the individual level. This type of interaction between game companies and their players can make them feel more connected to others and be more aware of how their behavior can positively and negatively affect the entire community.
The other three tiers can help to reduce or prevent harmful conduct, and ultimately, it's important 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.
Fostering individual change is not enough to protect players from professional criminals, hackers and other forms of severe abuses, and it can be challenging to scale to a diverse player base of a game. That’s why this is positioned at the lowest layer.
Conclusion: The Hierarchy as a Cohesive Toolset
There is no one-size-fits-all protection solution for game developers to implement in their online communities. Still, by understanding the four tiers of the Hierarchy of Measures, we can see how the various tools can work together to create more positive and healthy experiences for players.
Player safety is longitudinal. Part of that means we must all keep in mind this continual battle 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 most impact.
Each of these four tiers, and the solutions 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 game developers.
What methods have you utilized or noticed in the games you play? Contact us at the social media links below and let us know your strategy for improving player safety!
GamerSafer's vision is to scale safety, positive and fair play experiences to millions of players worldwide. We offer multiplayer games and Esports platforms an identity management software to defeat cheating, crimes and transgressive behaviors using computer vision and artificial intelligence.