In this UX Case Study, I will delve into my design process, elucidating the rationale behind the decisions I made to re-design Steam with the primary objective of addressing toxic behaviors and fostering a more wholesome gaming environment.
This project aims to redesign the interface of Steam, the largest digital distribution platform for PC gaming, to reduce toxic behaviors in gaming. The project will use gamified UX design to create a more positive and inclusive gaming environment.
Toxic behavior in gaming has become a significant issue, with players experiencing abusive and inappropriate behaviors while playing games. These behaviors can lead to a negative experience and discourage players from using the platform. The impact of toxic behavior on game playing and the gaming industry is significant, potentially harming a studio’s entire reputation. This case study explores the impact of toxic behavior on gaming, the challenges faced by players, and the potential solutions to address this issue.
Why is it Challenging to Solve?
Combatting toxic behavior in gaming is a complex challenge that requires a multifaceted approach. Some of the current challenges with designing games/game platforms to combat toxic behaviors in games include:
- Identification: There is a blurred line between toxicity and freedom of action/expression, making it difficult to identify toxic behavior in real-time using automated moderation tools that can analyze player chat and voice communications and flag toxic behavior.
- Reporting: Players do not actively report toxic behavior, but let it go, which is discouraging to user attention.
- Implementation: It is difficult to implement anti-toxic measures without interfering with game experience, which can negatively impact the user experience.
- Fun: Sometimes, being toxic is fun, and players may not be willing to give up that aspect of the game.
User Research and Current Practices
For the user research, I looked into reports issued by gaming companies, studios, software companies and platforms, and academic publications, e.g., Unity for Games annual report, Riot’s Update on Player Dynamics, Ubisoft’s Player Protection and Reputation System.
I also conducted an extensive survey involving 56 participants to gain valuable insights into gamers’ perspectives on game toxicity and potential avenues for improvement. The survey yielded significant statistical data and provided insightful feedback.
Current practices include:
- In-game penalties: Players losing in-game gameplay items if they exhibit toxic behavior ; Players get fined if they exhibit toxic behavior ; Players banned for a period of time.
- Real-time evaluation through chat, text, and audio monitoring: e.g. Riot is implementing Central Player Dynamics which works with all their games and detects disruption in communication between players, including gameplay-specific reports like AFK or intentional feeding (inting).
- Reputation system: Players will be assigned a “reputation score” based on their in-game actions and “branches.” e.g., The Reputation System on Rainbow Six Siege.
- AI-based tools: Technologies enabled by ML algorithms are coming into our sight. For instance, Ubisoft and Riot Games are co-developing a research project: Zero Harm in Comms works towards a shared database and labeling ecosystem to gather data and train AI-based tools to detect and prevent disruptive behavior.
In the context of combating toxic behavior in gaming, there are some key aspects missing from the current approach:
- Collaboration between game publishers: While individual publishers are working towards a healthier environment, there is a need for collaboration between multiple companies to address the issue on a larger scale.
- Extending anti-toxic methods beyond individual games: Most anti-toxic measures are currently limited to specific games and do not extend beyond them. To foster a healthy environment and supportive community, there is a need for a public space that enables multi-game monitoring and behavior systems.
- Positive reinforcement instead of pure punitive solutions: Game mechanics and features that attract and promote non-toxic players can also help in repressing the toxicity of others, creating a more positive gaming environment. Good behavior can be promoted and encouraged through positive reinforcement, aka awards!
Based on the user research, I decided to choose Steam as the platform for re-design, as Steam offers the opportunity to leverage its vast reach and wide audience across different genres of games and from a wide range of publishers. It can facilitate cross-game improvements, foster a sense of responsibility among players, and have a solid gaming community to establish the behavior system.
Conception to Functionality Requirements
Positive reinforcement in psychology is a concept that focuses on encouraging desired behaviors by providing positive and rewarding stimuli or consequences in response to those behaviors. In essence, it involves rewarding good behavior to increase the likelihood of it being repeated.
- Credit/Reputation System:
- Implement a point-based system where players earn credit points for positive behaviors and lose them for toxic actions.
- Clearly define the criteria for earning and losing credit points, such as sportsmanship, teamwork, and reporting toxic behavior constructively.
- Display a player’s credit score prominently on their profile to encourage accountability and recognition.
- Ensure transparency in how credit is calculated and how it impacts a player’s standing on the platform.
2. Cross-game Report:
- Develop a centralized reporting system that allows players to report toxic behavior across all games on the Steam platform.
- Ensure that reports are reviewed promptly and consistently, with appropriate actions taken against toxic players.
- Implement a system to track and manage reports efficiently, minimizing false reports and abuse.
- Communicate the outcomes of reported incidents to players, reinforcing the importance of reporting.
3. Gamer Behavior Statistics:
- Collect and analyze data on player behavior, including chat logs, gameplay data, and interaction history.
- Present statistics in a user-friendly way, allowing players to view their own behavior metrics and compare them to community averages.
- Use data to identify trends in toxicity and areas where positive reinforcement can be most effective.
- Regularly update statistics to reflect a player’s recent behavior, providing an incentive for continual improvement.
4. Community Reward - Ranking System:
- Establish a tiered ranking system based on credit scores, with various rewards and privileges tied to each tier.
- Prominently showcase top-ranked players on leaderboards or in community announcements to celebrate positive contributors.
- Make rewards meaningful, such as exclusive in-game items, badges, or early access to features.
- Encourage healthy competition by periodically resetting or recalibrating the ranking system to give everyone a chance to climb the ranks.
Revisiting the Interface:
Key challenges that I found when re-visiting the current Steam desktop app interface are Visual Complexity and a Less Intuitive Information Architecture.
By which I mean, there are:
- Too many information on each page, including both textual and visual, thus added visual burden for user to navigate. It is difficult to find a simple path to go forward, especially for first-time users.
- With the need of containing a massive amount game/user/community related info, it is imperative to categorize them well by creating a simple and effective information architecture. Otherwise it’s easy to fall into a labyrinth of disorienting links.
Thus, the following prototype demonstrated some changes I propose to the interface re-design, with the addition of Anti-Toxicity features that I want to introduce.
- Gamification Beyond Games: The success of gamification principles applied to this interface redesign underscores the potential for future developments. A ranking system interface, geared toward rewarding community engagement and contributions, could be a powerful tool to foster even more positivity within the gaming ecosystem.
- Balancing Freedom and Moderation: This study highlights the delicate balance between promoting healthy behavior and stifling the spontaneous and often intense emotions that can arise in gaming. Striking this balance requires ongoing attention and research to ensure design choices don’t unintentionally harm the gameplay experience.
- The Role of Technology: In our pursuit to combat toxic behavior, we explored the integration of cutting-edge technology, such as machine learning, for behavior detection. The future of the Steam platform may lie in harnessing the power of AI and machine learning to proactively identify and address toxic behaviors, making the gaming environment safer and more enjoyable for all users.