Online communities present a great opportunity for game developers and publishers to advertise their releases, support their players and create lively social hangouts for people who share something in common. At least, that’s what any gaming community should look like.
Unfortunately, despite becoming increasingly recognized and respected among the mainstream as a form of art much like any other, the world of video games has also developed something of a reputation for toxic communities.
Aside from generating negative content that discourages others, a bad community can produce a knock-on effect on your wider reputation as a game developer. For example, despite its immense popularity, hit title Playerunknown's Battlegrounds has developed a reputation for its toxic communities. This has had a direct impact on player reviews on Steam and other platforms.
While cultivating a healthy community can be a challenge particularly when it comes to popular multiplayer titles, laying the right foundation for a community that is less susceptible to attract toxic behaviour is a must .
Here are three things you need to know.
Understanding Why People Misbehave
The first step towards building a healthy community is to understand why members indulge in toxic behaviour. These individuals are unlike your everyday spammer, who is usually easy enough to block using technology solutions. No, trolling community forums is a much more complicated matter.
When we’re referring to toxic behavior, we’re not referring to constructive criticism; we’re referring to people who seem to have little interest in anything other than being as disruptive and as offensive as possible.
While there’s not much you can do about trolls other than to ban them from your forums, it’s important to remember: not every troll is an online bully dead set on hurting others. Although there’s no shortage of insecure individuals who get their kicks from abusing people from the relative safety of their computer screen, there are those who have a tendency to go off the rails if there aren’t any rules - or, someone to enforce them.
How Technology Helps
Every community forum should have a code of conduct that’s enforceable through a mix of the right technology and community moderators who set a good example.
Not only does the right technology help moderators do their jobs better – it also helps members get more out of the community. For example, you could provide members the option to report offensive posts, shadow ban trolls or you could allow them to block private messages from specific individuals.
Building the right community platform will also help you reward constructive users with recognition. For example, you can assign a rating system that allows for peer-to-peer moderation and rewards members who consistently post high-rated content with a special rank. Another option is to implement an achievement system that awards custom badges to your most valuable members, thereby encouraging people to post constructively.
The Role of Community Managers and Moderators
Community moderators aren’t a virtual police force, and neither should they consider themselves as such. Instead, they’re expected to operate like upstanding community members that others look to for guidance.
Sure, an important part of their job is moderating user posts and comments, but they’re really just active members with strong social skills who command respect and gratitude.
Furthermore, they should treat your code of conduct as guidelines, which might not necessarily apply in every situation.
Moderators primarily serve to encourage the right sort of behaviour by actively helping others and bringing offenders aside, rather than publicly naming and shaming them. If your members start seeing them as overly zealous wielders of the ban hammer, they will likely feel less disposed towards good behaviour.
In that respect, your moderators may themselves end up building a volatile community that attracts toxic behavior. That’s why it’s so important to implement a combination of the right technology, code of conduct and skillful, experienced moderators who have a vested interest in the health of your community and reputation.