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OverwatchMay 3, 2018 5:00 pm CT

The Overwatch team is (still) working on better tools to fight Overwatch toxicity

We mentioned last month that Blizzard is working on AI specifically to fight toxicity in Overwatch — but that doesn’t mean they’re not also working on other methods right now. Scott Mercer posted to the Overwatch forums, detailing how Blizzard is changing the in-game report feature to hopefully streamline the process and make it work better for players trying to report bad behavior in-game.

One way they’ve improved the feature is by adding in-game warnings so that players who aren’t aware of their bad behavior — perhaps they’re simply used to playing games alone or with other players who act in this manner — will now receive such a warning and will therefore have the opportunity to amend their behavior. Another change is based on the recently added ability to mark players you don’t want to be grouped with. At present, this feature only allows you to mark two players, but the intention is that it will increase in the future so you can avoid grouping with more players.

Originally Posted by Scott Mercer (Official Post)

Hello, everyone! Today I want to discuss many changes and improvements we’re making to create a friendlier place to play Overwatch and provide you with more control over your game experience. The Overwatch development team has formed a “strike team” to coordinate and execute all these efforts alongside our customer service teams, community team, and several other departments across Blizzard.

The core tool we rely on to identify bad behavior is the player report system. Recently we changed the in-game player reporting categories by removing the “Poor Teamwork” category and changing “Griefing” to “Gameplay Sabotage”. We made those changes to make it easier to correctly choose a report category that matches the bad behavior being reported.

Accurate in-game reports of bad behavior are the best way for you to help us improve community behavior, and we want to make sure that process is easy and clear for everyone. We also monitor our Overwatch social accounts for reports of players behaving badly, and we follow up on these reports with investigations and appropriate penalties.

I’ve seen many comments from players who think that their reports are meaningless, but we want to stress that they are actually very helpful and incredibly important to improving the Overwatch community. The in-game thank you messages we recently added let you know that the time you spend making a report is indeed making a positive contribution. Just this last week, we corrected an issue that prevented many players from receiving these messages, so players should now start seeing even more feedback about their reports. To further improve these systems, we’re doing a lot of exciting work to develop “machine learning” systems to assist in accurately identifying abusive chat and gameplay sabotage. These technologies will work together with player reports, empowering the community to quickly bring attention to bad behavior so that the appropriate steps can be taken to discourage or prevent future bad behavior from ruining others’ experiences playing Overwatch. These same systems will also protect players from false reports.

That being said, we recognize that anyone can have a bad day, and they might not even realize they are using abusive chat or acting negatively to their fellow players. To help players realize that other players have taken notice of their actions, we recently added in-game warnings to let them know they’re acting in a way that’s unacceptable to the Overwatch community.

Recently we provided another active tool to give you more control of your Overwatch experience: the ability to mark players as people who you don’t want to play with as a teammate. Our initial deployment of the feature only allows you to avoid two players, but we want to increase that limit over time as we become more confident that it doesn’t negatively affect matchmaking.

We’ve also made some changes to how we penalize repeat offenders for abusive chat. Repeat offenders used to be penalized with a silence, restricted from communicating with other players in the game, with each subsequent infraction incurring a longer silence duration. We’ve changed this so repeat offenders can now be suspended, and therefore unable to play Overwatch, for longer and longer durations. If someone continues to use abusive chat even after being warned, silenced, and suspended enough times, they’ve proven they do not want to be a positive member of the Overwatch community and will be permanently banned from playing Overwatch.

Going forward, we’re also really excited about some new social features we’ll make available in the summer. We’ll talk about those more when they’re closer to being ready for testing on the PTR, but they should give players even more ways to control their gameplay experience online. Thanks, everyone!

The change to the penalties players receive when they’re being punished for such behavior also includes longer in game suspensions and permanent banning from Overwatch play. This will hopefully serve as a deterrent in these cases. Scott mentions that in-game reporting is still absolutely vital, there is currently no replacement for it, and it’ll likely always be extremely helpful in determining abuse patterns. Don’t assume it’s meaningless — they rely on your feedback and reports.

Jeff Kaplan also stepped in recently to correct some ideas players have about the way Overwatch handles these reports. First up, if you’re worried that you’ve been a bit toxic but you want to know just how toxic, don’t worry — Blizzard will issue you an in-game warning before they start taking action on your account. You will know when you’ve gone too far. He also pointed out that a human being looked over everything that was considered toxic chat. There are currently no machines doing that work for them, an honest-to-Omnic human being went over that thing you said and determined you shouldn’t have said it. If you think you’ve been warned or actioned by mistake, it likely wasn’t, and it certainly wasn’t a machine doing so.

It seems that Blizzard is still working on a solution to toxicity in Overwatch and it’s not going to be a magic bullet, but rather a layer of personal and automatic oversight. We’ll see how well it works as they develop more options.

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