Thursday, April 3, 2008

Jackasses hurt gaming's bottom line

My theory that being a jackass in online gaming is a bad thing is bolstered today by a new article on Gamasutra by a game developer. Bill Fulton, who worked on Shadowrun, asserts in his essay, "Fixing Online Gaming Idiocy: A Psychological Approach," that online jerks are hurting the game industry by driving new customers away.

Research shows, he says, that new players would rather not play at all than subject themselves to all the verbal abuse. Fulton advocates engineering game features to create a social environment that discourages jerkism.

Not long ago I wrote about "Gamers at their worst," where I vented my outrage at the rampant use of the "N-word" in online games. It's encouraging to see that game companies have a financial incentive to build games in such a way to discourage awful behavior.

The bottom line is the only reason companies ever do anything. If they can make more money by creating a social environment online where it's uncool to spew racist, homophobic and generally crass babble, then more power to them.

I am frustrated, though, that withdrawing from a game early is classified as jerkish behavior. Many games penalize you for leaving early, and Xbox Live gamers can "avoid" you for it. I've been subjected to people leaving the game for no apparent reason, which can be annoying, but there are MANY legitimate reasons for leaving a game. The phone rings and it's an important call. The dog has to go out. Your wife needs help with the groceries. Or, you might want to check out of a game because the room is full of jerks spouting the N-word. You leave, because you're sick of hearing it, and then some jerk labels you a quitter.

What's the answer to that dilemma? Looks like some social engineering is in order, Mr. Fulton.

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