Debate on ‘toxicity’ in online video gaming has raged back and forth for years. Whether you believe that there’s merit to taking action against rowdier members of a community or think ‘toxicity’ is just a buzzword used as justification for censorship and complaint, you’re likely to find many on both sides of the argument who agree with you. As a victim almost of its own success, Overwatch has sat at the epicentre of much of the recent debate on the subject. Yesterday, game director Jeff Kaplan added fuel to the fire with comments made on a recent forum thread.
“Overall, the community is awesome to us. But there are some pretty mean people out there. All of our developers are free to post on these forums. Very few of us actually do because it’s extremely intimidating and/or time consuming. It’s very easy to post the wrong thing and make a “promise” to the community that no one intended to make.” The developer claimed in the ~1300 word post, the quote perhaps summarise his argument best. “Also, because we are open with you and do not hide behind an anonymous handle (like all of you have the luxury of doing), we often times get personally attacked and threatened. Most great developers I know just love being head’s down making or playing games. The “public speaking/posting” part of the job is downright scary and intimidating. It often feels like there is no winning.”
The comment has already generated plenty of discussion among journalistic circles, with pcgamer.com calling it a ‘sobering thought’ and implying that Kaplan and his team would be justified if they ‘go into their shell’ as a result. It’s hard to deny that forums can sometimes be a negative environment (although the fact that a post just above Kaplan’s criticising decisions at the top level is currently sitting on a ‘score’ of -20 suggests it isn’t quite the wild anti-developer frontier some would have you believe).
If Kaplan’s claims about death threats or requests he be fired are accurate, then regardless of what you think about the Overwatch community and complaints of ‘toxicity’ you have to recognise when the debate goes too far. It’s clear that Kaplan’s passion for the game is very real; by his own admission he often wakes before 6am to head to the office, and developer diaries and updates are still a regular fixture on Youtube. More vocal complainers in the community should perhaps stop, take a few steps back, and recognise that the team can only achieve so much at the same time. Wearing them down with such threats is not likely to make them work any harder, and complaining in the loudest voice will not necessarily have one enjoying the game any more. Patience, understanding, and a little bit of compromise are key.
Still, as much as (supposedly) open communication with developers is a good thing, one does have to ask where the role of an Overwatch community manager sits in all this. Twitter suggests the game does indeed possess one, and there’s even an opening on the Blizzard website for a job in the field. If posting on the forums under a real name is too risky, putting a professional community manager to work seems like an obvious solution.
Kaplan’s comments come off the back of recent discussion about the ‘toxic’ community within the game itself, and while many praised his comments here some expressed concern over increasingly heavy-handed moderation being used as a substitute for actually managing a community. The Internet can be a harsh place. Ultimately Kaplan is the one who has chosen to place himself in the public eye, and while a baseline level of respect should be afforded to him without a doubt he must also accept the fact that his decision leaves him the most visible target for frustrated players bearing legitimate grievances with Overwatch. Asking for ‘constructive feedback’ can only go so far if players consistently feel their concerns are repeatedly not being addressed in a game they played £/$50+ for.
At age seven, Jordan wanted to be a paleontologist. That went well. He now fills the void by writing on all manner of mildly-interesting topics - when he finds time in between complaining how everything was better in the 'good old days', that is.