Toxicity marshals form an orderly queue for the job
If Blizzard wants Overwatch to be an inclusive shooter, it needs to deal with the game's toxic players.
Just two months after Overwatch's massive launch, Blizzard acknowledged that its game had a toxicity problem. Since Competitive has been live, we've been doing some under the hood tuning and tweaking on [the report function] to be more aggressive
about handling toxic behavior, Overwatch game director Jeff Kaplan said at the time. But [toxicity] is not just in Competitive Play. I think as the game ages a little bit, people's dark sides tend to come out a little bit more. 15 months later,
the company's attempts to address the situation have proved painfully slow and ultimately ineffectual.
Blizzard's most recent acknowledgement is a developer update video entitled Play Nice, Play Fair, which celebrated the release of player reporting on consoles, a feature that should have been present from the start. In the 15 months it took to
implement, more than 480,000 PC players were hit with disciplinary actions by Blizzard -- 340,000 of those the direct result of player reporting -- more than a thousand per day.
Toxicity is a nebulous term, but today it's a container for all the ways that other players can make a multiplayer game a miserable experience. It's hardly an issue unique to Overwatch, but the difference in this case is that from the start
Blizzard has consistently presented the game as the inclusive shooter. The game's diverse cast of characters, though certainly not perfect, seems to have succeeded in netting a wider audience than most FPSes -- twice as many women play it than the
genre average, for example. Yet it's these marginalized players who are most hurt by Blizzard's failure to stem the flow of bad behavior within its game.
It's important to remember that Blizzard has made more than $1 billion in profits from Overwatch alone. The company could, and should, spend money on a hiring a new set of employees for whom toxicity is a specific focus -- Riot established a team
of more than 30 scientists and social systems designers to focus on toxic League of Legends player behavior in 2012 -- or the sake of the players and other developers alike. There isn't a magic bullet for toxicity, but adding bodies to the task
does help. In any case, toxicity is a problem that shouldn't require the redirection of resources. It's a core issue of all modern competitive games that affects the entire Overwatch experience, and Blizzard should have dedicated resources to it
from the start.
Blizzard is in the position to dedicate effort and resources into experimenting with ways to make truly inclusive systems. Until the company is willing to shoulder that responsibility, its promises to welcome marginalised players are empty words.
Overwatch has long billed itself as an inclusive game. But one needs to play only a few rounds to discover that Blizzard has not succeeded in its intent to create a world where everyone is welcome.
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