In video games, community management is about listening to the fans’ concerns and communicating with them in a way that makes them feel like their concerns are being listened to. But what happens if some of the involved players themselves become a cause for concern?
That’s the question two major gaming companies have been grappling with in recent days, with community managers saying customer harassment is making it harder for them to do their jobs.
The first example comes from the Lot 2 community on Reddit, where a member posted on Wednesday complaining about the declining number of threads receiving an official response from Bungie. Lot 2 Community manager Dylan “dmg04” Gafner responded to explain that he took some time off work due to “some serious harassment towards me and my family,” which has led to “an amount of reduced communication as the team plans future protections/strategy to help avoid these kinds of things.”
The harassment Gafner talks about goes beyond “just rude comments on Twitter or vague comments,” he wrote, and includes “real threats against our people and our studio” from fans. Some of that harassment has apparently come through private channels. “Just because you can’t see it directly in a particular tweet or forum reply doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened,” Gafner wrote.
Gafner’s statement comes just days later Lot 2 Developer Bungie has filed a lawsuit against a fan the company claims has made threats against Gafner and other Bungie employees after dodging multiple in-game ban attempts.
“I’ll be very clear in saying that I appreciate the studio for the amount it has personally helped me after some serious harassment from me and my family,” Gafner wrote. “This gives me some time off.”
While Gafner acknowledged that “it’s a shame we haven’t been interacting as much here lately,” the reduced communication is not intended as a “retaliation” against the respectful bulk of the community. “Sometimes we just need to take some time to set things right,” he wrote. “Could take weeks, could take months, just like any development pipeline, because we want the best for our players AND our employees. That said, we can’t just continue ‘business as usual’ until things are sorted out. It sucks , but we want to make sure people are safe and cared for.”
The second case of a recent conflict in the gaming community comes from the world of Minecraftwhere developer Mojang recently announced a new global chat moderation system that could lead to player bans that even apply to private servers.
In an FAQ following that announcement, Mojang clarified that it focuses less on minor offenses like swearing and more on serious cases of “hate speech, harassment, intimidation, sexual solicitation, or making real threats to others.” Mojang also says it won’t actively monitor chat on private servers (other than a player’s complaint), people will be involved in ban decisions, and bans are subject to appeal.
Despite this, the new moderation regime has led to a lot of pushback from fans. Lots of angry fans are organize under the #SaveMinecraft hashtagwhich contains numerous dramatic comparisons to that of George Orwell 1984. “Just remove the chat report system completely”, a Twitter user wrote in one of the less overwrought examples on the hashtag. “Servers should be in charge of moderation as they always have been.”
— Walnut Bread Guy (@WalnutBreadGuy) July 19, 2022
On Reddit, relatively new Community Manager MojangMessh wrote that while the company “appreciates”[s] and value[s]“This kind of feedback Mojang does not intend to change its new chat moderation system. Listening to feedback “does not mean that feedback will always change the design principles Mojang Studios adheres to,” added MojangMeesh.
But MojangMeesh went on to criticize some members of the Minecraft community because they go too far with their feedback. Overzealous and intimidating messages from some fans eventually hampered communication between the company and its players, he wrote:
There have been people following Mojang employees here on Reddit, responding to unrelated posts from them, and commenting on this system. Please understand that this behavior does not encourage employees to engage with the community, nor will it bring about the desired changes. If you feel strong for something Minecraft, please tell us in the appropriate locations (like these threads) because we want to hear what you have to say! Harassment doesn’t help anyone, though: not the developers who receive it, nor the players who are passionate about an upcoming change. We want to have a constructive and open dialogue with you, and this kind of behavior gets in the way.
While problem players are nothing new in the gaming world, it’s rare for community managers to make such direct and public complaints of harassment that make it harder for them to do their jobs. Let’s just hope that cooler heads in these communities prevail and that the companies involved will continue to give their community specialists the support they need.