Blizzard is ramping up its efforts to address toxicity in Overwatch. Game director Jeff Kaplan told Kotaku that the studio is looking into–and experimenting with–machine learning to help make Overwatch a more wholesome and welcoming place for players. The goal is for Overwatch to auto-detect bad behaviour, which would theoretically be faster than players manually sending in reports when they come across questionable behaviour.
“We’ve been trying to teach our games what toxic language is, which is kinda fun,” Kaplan said in an interview with Kotaku. “The thinking there is you don’t have to wait for a report to determine that something’s toxic. Our goal is to get it so you don’t have to wait for a report to happen.”
Blizzard’s machine learning efforts have already included things like teaching the AI non-English language to address toxic language in other languages like Korean. Looking ahead, Kaplan said he wants the AI to be sophisticated enough to be able to see gameplay that looks questionable and then look further into the player.
“That’s the next step,” Kaplan said. “Like, do you know when the Mei ice wall went up in the spawn room that somebody was being a jerk?”
AI systems are not perfect. One example that Kotaku pointed out was that swearing and harsh trash talk might be OK between friends but not when speaking to strangers. The game’s toxicity monitors might not be able to differentiate. For now, the backend systems are focusing on the most extreme instances of toxicity.
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In September last year, Kaplan talked about how development on new content for Overwatch was slowed by the studio’s efforts to combat the “riding tide of toxicity” in the game.
“There is not going to be a moment where we have a magic patch in Overwatch that makes bad behaviour go away,” Kaplan explained. “But it is a continual process that we are very dedicated to fixing and improving.”
He added: “Our highest level philosophy is, ‘If you are a bad person doing bad things in Overwatch, we don’t want you in Overwatch. Overwatch should be an inclusive game space.”
Kaplan previously talked about how toxicity in games in worse than elsewhere because there is an element of anonymity when playing online far away from where your opponent may be. Blizzard is taking its own steps to combat toxicity, but Kaplan also called on players to “take a deep look inward” and think about if they could be nicer when conversing online.