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Discuss: Blizzard is improving Overwatch's punishment and reporting system

Overwatch punishment system.jpg

In August I wrote about an Overwatch ban complaint that inadvertently revealed serious issues within the system. I stated that the system was flawed, and the problems with it were more serious than players think. A few hours ago, Blizzard released a new developer video, titled "Play Nice, Play Fair"  in which they admit that the Overwatch reporting system is indeed not what it should be, but all that is about to change. These changes, however, do come at a cost, and it's a shared responsibility between the Overwatch community and Blizzard.

"We have short, medium and long term plans and we haven't done a great job in communicating all of these things to you," explains Overwatch Game Director, Jeff Kaplan in a forum post.

I've been playing Overwatch since the beta, and one of the things that stood out for me about the game was the community; it wasn't toxic, not to the same degree of other online games. In Overwatch's first months, the friendliness and support from its community were something a lot of people talked about. It was a breath of fresh air in a very stale room. However, as time went by (and competitive play joined) it soured, and today Overwatch is no different from any other online community, it's just the degree of toxicity that differs. I've almost completely stopped participating in Competitive Play with one of the reasons being how toxic players can turn the experience into a waste of the little time I have to enjoy playing games.

A bigger reason though than toxic players is Blizzard's failure to deal with offenders. As most who play online, I've had to deal with my share of harassment, and in the more than 20 months of playing the game I have never once received a reply back from Blizzard - even when I reported someone for serious harassment. Blizzard is changing all that, and hopefully, we'll return to those early days.

Kaplan released an interesting stat in the video - to date they have taken disciplinary action against over 480 000 Overwatch accounts. "Over 340 000 of those actions were a direct result of players using the reporting system," explains Kaplan. So, we might've not received feedback from Blizzard, but that doesn't mean they didn't listen and act on our complaints.

Kaplan detailed some of the changes coming to the game in a forum post about Overwatch's reporting system. Below is a summary.

Changes coming to Overwatch's Reporting System

  • More feedback (email) when you've reported a player
  • Better feedback about the corresponding punishment to players you've reported.
  • Ideally, the system will eventually report this in-game to you.
  • Changes to the punishment threshold
  • Increasing the length of suspensions
  • Silences will eventually be replaced with bans and punishments
  • Repeat offenders (Competitive Play) will eventually all receive perma bans.
  • More aggressive to deal with those who are guilty of Skill Rate boosting.
  • A future system that rewards good behaviour & punishes bad behaviour.

"There is not going to be a moment where we have a magic patch in Overwatch that makes bad behaviour go away," continues Kaplan. "But it is a continual process that we are very dedicated to fixing and improving." The message is clear from Blizzard, if you are a serious offender, then they don't want you in Overwatch, and they are fine tuning the reporting and punishment system to mirror that decision.

Kaplan makes a very clear statement in that "Overwatch is an inclusive game space," and "the gameplay should match what Overwatch is looking to achieve." So, a return to what the game was like in the beginning, that friendly, helpful place where the environment wasn't so toxic. Reflecting on why some gamers get to that moment where they unleash rage on other players, Kaplan turns to the anonymity of the Internet as the culprit. It is something I've talked about many times - anonymity can be that catalyst that brings out the worst in us, and nowhere do we see this as clearly as in online games.

We're all guilty; we say things online we wouldn't say to people in their face. But that doesn't mean we should leave it at that and accept it. Again, we should all change the polarity of this 'freedom' to something better. It isn't wrong to give voice to your frustration but do so in a respectful manner that doesn't ruin the game for five other people. I've played many a Competitive Overwatch game where I got so angry at a player for doing stupid things that I wanted to nail them to a wall. Competitive is serious business, but I try to express my rage to the PC screen and not on the mic or in chat.

Kaplan also highlights something that for me, is even more important than Blizzard's commitment to improving Overwatch's toxicity - the community should do their part. Making sure any online community is an inclusive, safe space is everyone's responsibility - not just the developers. The problem is - if the developer is forced to spend increasingly more time punishing people, then it takes away from their core focus - improving and expanding the game. If we can cultivate a community that doesn't tolerate harassment and bad behaviour, then we empower the developer to do what they should, making the game better.

"The bad behaviour isn't just ruining the experience for one another, but the bad behaviour is actually making the game progress in terms of development at a much slower rate," explains Kaplan.

If we continue to make this an SJW issue, and not a gaming issue, then we are hampering the very thing we all want - to enjoy playing video games. For me, it's not about championing the issues of the minority, it's about enjoying this wonderful medium of gaming. By behaving like a grown up and expressing frustration in a respectful manner I do my part in bringing that idea to life - to have a positive gaming space.

Again, I get that we all slip up, I myself am guilty, but strive to do better. Kaplan concludes that Blizzard accepts their responsibility, "We can do far better, and add a lot more great systems to the game to improve everybody's behaviour and everybody's overall positive experience."

As in most things, it's a team effort, and I hope the Overwatch community shares the responsibility. We would love to hear your feedback about the issues discussed here. Do you think the Overwatch community should step up, or do you think there isn't an issue, and Blizzard should just focus on improving the game?

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"The message is clear from Blizzard, if you are a serious offender, then they don't want you in Overwatch"

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