Sportsmanship in team-based online gaming is a design problem, not a social problem.
That was the message from Riot Games' lead designer of social systems Jeffrey Lin at GDC yesterday, as he talked about ways in which designers have sought to reduce unpleasantness and complaints among players of its successful League of Legends game.
In his speech, Enhancing Sportsmanship in Online Games, he showed how simple techniques can be used to encourage good behavior among players, and to discourage abuse and bad language. "Sportsmanship can pave the way for a really positive experience," he said. "So we encourage it early."
Much of Riot's work on this issue stemmed from research into players who tick teammates off with an abusive attitude. Lin said Riot takes the view that all players are good, but that sometimes they have a bad day, and this can affect their interactions with others.
Even so, while the vast majority of players have solid reputations for being nice and supportive, a small percentage attracts a significant amount of complaints. They are far more likely to make use of a list of ten phrases and words that are commonly accepted as negative or abusive, and less likely to use encouraging words or phrases, like "ggwp" (good game, well played).
Instead of banning these players, Riot gives them a limited budget of interactions with other players. So, they can decide to use their chance to communicate with others to talk tactics, offer encouragement or dole out abuse. Players who change their behavior are released from the restricted chat mode.
"This is more effective at improving player behavior than using bans," Lin said. "Players respond to positivity and improve the way they communicate."
As a result of the scheme, Riot found that bad language, as a whole, dropped 7 percent and that positive messaging actually went up. Lin pointed out that negative players, if unattended to, tended to get worse over time, but when addressed, usually changed for the better.
Often, creating lobbies in which players can feel like they have more power over their choices of who to play with, and which characters to choose, also cut down on strife. Riot changed its entry system to allow players more time and more information about their games and their teammates. Players rated having positive teammates as much more important than being able to get into a game quickly.
The company also uses algorithms to encourage a good social mix. Researchers found that a team comprised of a group of friends was the most harmonious, followed by a group of friends who had been joined by some strangers. The least harmonious was a merging of two groups of friends. This caused a confusing lack of leadership and culture, which often led to trouble. Such groupings are now avoided.
"We have seen a lot of success in the last year by making sportsmanship the path of least resistance," said Lin. "If being negative is hard, most humans opt to be good."