Coming Together to Create a Playbook for Prosocial Game Design
When Natasha Miller joined Blizzard’s Player Interactions & Trust (PIT) team 5.5 years ago, she was one of the first people hired to work on the powerful machine-learning tech that now automatically screens reported voice and text chat logs in many of our games—the original primary focus of the PIT team.
In the process, Natasha—a Senior Research Scientist with a behavioral science background and a member of the Fair Play Alliance executive steering committee—realized that even though the screening technology is a vast improvement compared to the tools it replaced, it still requires that players misbehave before something can be done about it.
Natasha has since forged a new path at Blizzard with this problem in mind, spinning up and leading a new, second focus for her team aimed entirely at getting ahead of bad behavior and encouraging the good kind. This focus on “Behavior by Design” is not about creating a moderation tool or reactive system but mapping proactive frameworks and best practices for designing games that encourage respectful interactions between players while also examining the root(s) of what causes the opposite.
Rewarding positive behavior is the most obvious manifestation of this, like the Overwatch 2 endorsement system that’s helped reduce disruptive chat by over 30%, but it can take many other forms. For instance, the team has found that warning players preemptively about a chat message warranting a penalty can help significantly reduce the number of repeat offenders. Another form it’s taking is setting play expectations, like the recently added social contract for World of Warcraft that players must agree to before loading in. A multipronged approach like this is necessary as there isn’t a single solve-all for reducing disruptive behavior.
Several gaming companies, including Blizzard, are now focused on reinforcing and encouraging prosocial behavior in-game—each are finding that some aspects of their approach are working, while some are not. This is an area where it’s advantageous for studios to cooperate and share their findings for the greater good of gamers everywhere, so Natasha and other members of the Fair Play Alliance have come together to compile what is working.
The result is the beginnings of the Design Playbook for Digital Thriving, which covers concrete approaches to prosocial and inclusive game design practices and innovative ways of measuring the effectiveness of their execution.
Introducing the Design Playbook for Digital Thriving
As a partnership between the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and the Fair Play Alliance, and supported by the Riot Games Social Impact Fund, the playbook is at the center of a cooperative effort across the industry to better understand how to design games with respectful player behavior and interactions in mind. Its stated mission is to make it easy for anyone to design online spaces and games that help individuals, groups, and communities truly thrive in today’s connected world.
While the first iteration is being spearheaded by Blizzard, Riot, and Brace Yourself, the team is sourcing a collection of promising and proven approaches from all corners of the gaming sphere and would love to hear from you! You can learn more and contribute to the project at fairplayalliance.org/digitalthriving, which is where the playbook will ultimately be posted later this year.
Check out GDC for more information!
The research strike team for the project currently consists of Natasha, Kimberly Voll, Studio Head of Brace Yourself Games, and Weszt Hart, Head of Player Dynamics at Riot Games. Natasha will be joined by Weszt to give a first look at the playbook at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco this Friday, March 24. If you’re attending GDC, check it out! The session recording will be available on the GDC vault following the conference. You can keep tabs on progress by following the Fair Play Alliance on Twitter at @FairPlayA.