One of the most common problems that fans of “Overwatch” have is how any online match can quickly turn into an abusive shouting match between frustrated, sometimes hateful, players. It’s not a problem limited to “Overwatch” but it is something problematic enough to push Blizzard into action.
It’s why research scientist Natasha Miller and the other members of the “Overwatch” team at Blizzard decided to implement an endorsement system. It encourages players to reward positive behavior like shot calling, teamwork, and having a positive attitude while giving them incentives to report disruptive behavior.
“Disruptive behavior is any negative behavior that disrupts the core intention of the game,” Miller said in a packed room at GDC. “It’s things like intentionally losing a game, typing or saying horrible things in chat or on mic, or being away from the keyboard during a game.”
That behavior often came when players with different goals interacted in a match, like two players who were working their way up the ladder (sometimes to try and go pro) getting matched with a casual player with a similar ranking. It led to players frustrations brewing over a lack of teamwork or communication.
Miller said that that type of behavior was occurring due to the lack of societal consequences. “It’s a difference between physical and online communities,” she said. “If you’re constantly tardy and you only do the bare minimum at work you’re not going to get promoted. You have to watch someone else who does the work get the raise.”
“In online communities, there are usually no consequences for bad behavior and no rewards for star players,” she added. “We wanted the community to have their own reward system.”
The endorsement system, which was implemented earlier in 2018, features numbered levels for players that rise and fall as they gain endorsements. Loot boxes and the ability to form positive groups (where players could match with others who were of equal endorsement level) were granted as rewards for positive behavior. Those positive groups could even form around specific languages.
Loot box rewards came at random intervals, which prevented negative behavior from happening after rewards were dispersed. It also created a “path to redemption” for players who had made mistakes. “Even if you slipped you could come back,” she said. “If players slipped during any randomized checks, they wouldn’t receive rewards.”
Miller analyzed several sets of data after the endorsement system had been out in the wild for the better part of the year. One data point that examined the number of reports per match showed that there had been a 40% reduction in matches that had disruptive behavior. “We also put out a server to see if players perceived the endorsement system to be the reason for the decrease in negative behavior,” she said. “Perception can be different than reality, it was close in this case. Players agreed the system was working the way we intended it to.”
The system included features that Miller believed would encourage positive behavior. It had a thank you message for reports to tell players that their messages were being received by the company, it included a “looking for group” option to help players find teammates with similar playstyles, and penalized players for leaving matches early.
One of the biggest obstacles they faced was getting player to actively engage and trust their endorsement system if they didn’t believe it helped them they wouldn’t use it. Data, including points that focus on the number of reports coming, showed that there was a 130% increase in player trust in the system.
Miller finished her talk by saying that she was happy with the results the data showed and that they’d continue to listen to feedback and improve the system in the future.