Originally Posted to Techdirt.
Hop onto most any online multiplayer forum or other chat site, and you will find horror story after horror story of foul mouthed, homophobic, misogynistic, racist rage quitters. Bad behavior has become almost synonymous with gaming online. Thankfully, many game developers are looking at ways to combat such behavior. While many companies have systems that punish bad behavior, some are looking in the opposite direction, of rewarding positive behavior.
League of Legends developer, Riot Games, has taken this latter approach. In a new system for fostering positive behavior, such as team work and friendliness, Riot has hired a group of experts to implement an honor system in its game.
Here’s the background: Six months ago, Riot established Team Player Behavior — affectionately called Team PB&J — a group of experts in psychology, neuroscience, and statistics (already, I am impressed). At the helm is Jeffrey Lin, better known as Dr. Lyte, Riot’s lead designer of social systems. As quoted in a recent article at Polygon:
We want to show other companies and other games that it is possible to tackle player behavior, and with certain systems and game design tools, we can shape players to be more positive.
Which brings us to the Honor system. Honor is a way for players to reward each other for good behavior. This is divvied up into four categories: Friendly, Helpful, Teamwork, and Honorable Opponent. At the end of a match, players can hand out points to those they deem worthy. These points are reflected on players’ profiles, but do not result in any in-game bonuses or rewards (though this may change in the future). All Honor does is show that you played nicely.
So how is this honor system working out for League of Legend players? After all, this is what it is all about. Improving the lives of gamers. Well, The Mary Sue provides a few LoL players who were willing to share their stories. For instance, there is this player’s experience.
When Honor went live, there was an immediate difference in tone. I had allchat [cross-team chat] disabled in the game because I was tired of hearing incredibly sexist, racist, and homophobic comments being tossed both ways, and if I was playing with randoms, I would often mute them as well. After Honor went up, EVERYONE became nicer – I went from seeing problematic behaviour in almost every game to seeing it something like twice over the span of 20 games (and even then, it got shut down pretty quickly). I’ve turned allchat back on, and I love the dynamic both in game and after game. People compliment each other’s play-style, and on top of giving people on the other team credit for being honorable opponents, you can also give your own team points for being friendly, helpful, and being team-oriented. It’s nice to be able to give the good ones credit for what they do, and it’s also nice to be able to see such a drastic shift in mentality, even if it is sort of constructed.
While this change in some players’ experiences is great, not every negative player will change. There are some people who are fully entrenched in being jerks online. There is no curing such people. Of course, this was expected. For one of the experts, Dr. Lyte, this is not about changing negative players to positive players but about helping neutral players shift toward the positive end of the spectrum.
“The average player in the game is not toxic or positive, they’re neutral,” Lin says. Because the Honor system allows players to praise other players for their actions “we’re able to nudge them a little toward the positive.”
I am glad to see that more developers are looking at this as a way of improving player experiences in game. Other developers, such as Blizzard, are more focused on punishing and banning unsavory behavior. What that seems to do mostly is cause people to complain loudly when they are banned. Often these players will make claims that they were banned unfairly or for no reason. Whether true or not, these accusations can then make others a little more wary of taking up the game in the future.
Now, the idea of rewarding positive behavior is far from a new concept. We not so long ago highlighted an experimental program from Valve that attempted something similar. We have highlighted numerous other stories of creators who took the time to encourage positive behavior in their potential customers (you know, by convincing them to buy).
More importantly, this kind of reward system could have a far more important impact on LoL. It could be a great way to keep gamers in the game. It is this large number of players on at all hours that adds value to the game for the individual players. Because of its multiplayer nature, people would not want to play if few people were on and those that were are jerks. So by ensuring that more positive players stay on for longer, the experience will be greatly improved. This positive atmosphere and high value could also have the added benefit of convincing more players to buy in.