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Games companies continue to neglect issue of employee harassment

But Polygon survey finds how one company is taking the initiative

Women are often the target of social media harassment at games companies.

Polygon ran a story two years ago outlining how game companies were unprepared and unserious about harassment their employees receive from toxic consumers. This, despite repeated episodes of employees, most especially women, receiving abuse and harassment from men on social media and other digital channels. This is a problem that stretches back years, and is still ongoing.

In the wake of yet more examples of toxic harassment, we recently contacted a selection of large games companies once again, to ask if they’ve addressed this problem. Unfortunately, we found the majority of game companies remain neglectful about protecting their employees from social media harassment.

A small number of companies, like Nintendo and Riot, have clearly put some thought into the issue, and have demonstrable policies (statements below). But there is one company, CCP, that offers a coherent and detailed plan of action that looks like a potential industry-wide model.

Toxic Indolence

Publisher ArenaNet fired two high-profile employees in July after an online mob dog-piled them following a testy Twitter conversation. The company’s actions were widely condemned by game developers as a craven reaction to a social media mob.

ArenaNet was poorly equipped to deal with the crisis. But few other game companies — even large companies that have faced harassment issues — seem any better prepared.

Most game companies simply ignored Polygon’s attempts to discover what policies they have in place to deal with harassment, as was the case two years ago.

The following companies did not respond to our request: Activision, Bethesda, Epic Games, GameStop, Ubisoft and Sony.

Electronic Arts, Capcom, Microsoft, Sega and Take Two acknowledged our inquiry but declined a request for comment, or did not supply a statement prior to deadline.

As was the case two years ago, Nintendo offered a statement.

“Nintendo condemns the harassment of any individual in any form, including through social media or when playing games online. As we noted in our last statement, we take steps to support and protect our employees through policies designed to combat online harassment. That includes working to keep pace with the challenges this issue raises as it grows in complexity. We are also continuing our work to limit our consumers’ exposure to negative communications or hostile online interactions while using our systems and games. Nintendo is committed, whether through its work in the industry or with the broader community, to ensuring that people can both work and play without fear of hate-fueled attacks.”

Riot Games offered a statement based on its social media policies.

“Direct engagement with players online and IRL is something we encourage all Rioters to do if they feel comfortable doing so. This direct access has been a cornerstone of building trust with players since Riot’s earliest days. In order to equip Rioters to feel comfortable and confident in interacting with the community, for many years we’ve provided training to every Rioter about how to have authentic and appropriate player conversations.

“We evaluate any negative incident on a case-by-case basis, but the one constant in each is that we do everything we can to keep the Rioter(s) involved safe. In cases where a Rioter is found to have behaved inappropriately, the outcomes aren’t determined by community sentiment and instead are evaluated through the lens of our values and principles.”

The CCP Model

CCP Games responded to our information request with unusual enthusiasm. This is the Icelandic company that publishes open-world space faring simulation Eve Online. It’s famous for consumer-facing initiatives such as Eve Fanfest.

The company has a senior community manager, Paul Elsy, who is tasked with monitoring and guiding social media interactions between the game’s players, as well as between players and employees. Elsy came from the Eve community, so he has personal experience of being a fan, and of being an employee. He is also in charge of internal documentation and training aimed at combating harassment.

“If someone in our community is harassing anyone or repeatedly breaking rules, they’re out,” said Elsy in a telephone interview. “We’re not interested in them being part of our community. If we see abuse in-game, we’ll shut them out. And if we see abuse coming to us via social media platforms, we’ll report them and request that the person’s account be shut down.”

He said that reacting to bad behavior is his job. “Even today we saw a member of the community dox another member. That’s an automatic permanent ban.”

Elsy takes a proactive role when online groundswells of outrage threaten to mushroom into something damaging.

“When we’ve experienced brigading from places like Reddit, we’ve been able to handle it by going in to those spaces and saying, ‘this isn’t cool, you need to take a step back,’” he said.

CCP also works with the authorities to maintain standards.

“We’ve established a direct line, via email, to a senior police official here in Reykjavik, who can contact local police around the world, if we get an alert that indicates certain keywords, like suicide,” Elsy said. “We’ve used it on a number of occasions and it’s about a 30 minutes response time.

“We know that many of our community members put their blood, sweat and tears into playing our games. It would be disrespectful of us to be closed off to them and to their concerns. It takes effort and commitment but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It adds to our relationship with players, which can sometimes be a bit ‘troll-ey’, where we’re having fun with each other. It’s a friendly back and forth.”

CCP’s policies aren’t guaranteed to protect employees from toxicity, but it’s the best policy we’ve seen, and it’s borne of a recognition that players and company representatives are more closely connected than ever before.

If you work for a games company and would like to talk about corporate policies or culture, please contact me in full confidence.

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