Radd Seiger, COO and CLO at Squid Networks Ltd, the creators of Reef, the first online gaming platform that will reward players for game time alone, takes a look at one of the issues that he is tackling at the moment.
DO NO HARM
As I look around at my talented and entrepreneurial colleagues here at Squid Networks and the exciting technical work that they are doing in developing Reef, one of the main aspects of my job is to scan the horizon for risk and to protect our brand and reputation, and to ensure, in so far as that is possible, that anyone who comes in to contact with our product, suffers no harm.
The issue of the safety of viewing and playing video games has long been debated by various parts of societies and between generations. However, the link between for example playing games with violent content and subsequent criminal activity has largely been dispelled by scientific research (Molecular Psychiatry and Royal Society for Open Science). There does not appear to be any real link. Indeed, more widely, audiences have been seeking out entertainment in cinemas and elsewhere that involves viewing graphic scenes of violence. Video gaming, when it came along, was simply an extension of what had gone before, albeit a more immersive one. Virtual Reality games, where players effectively jump into the action, have taken the experience to a whole new level.
WHAT TYPE OF CONTENT IS ACCEPTABLE ON AN ONLINE GAMING PLATFORM?
That all said, many countries operate a system of censorship, trying to ensure that violent games are labelled appropriately and are only accessed by the relevant age group. That approach makes perfect sense, albeit many parents admit that they find it difficult if not impossible to vet. What is clear is that the video gaming industry is here, set to stay and to grow. It is already a huge multi billion dollar global industry spreading its tentacles ever wider. Indeed, Esports is now the fastest growing spectator sport in the USA and is a legitimate varsity sport in the educational systems of eight States in the USA.
So in that context, as Reef is being developed, it falls to me and the leadership team to think about what sort of games to have on our platform available for the community to play. Reef will be a community driven and led ecosystem where game developers and gamers will be able to come together for fun and economic reward. The gamers will be involved in that decision making process with us and the most popular games will succeed. We want to encourage the developers to be as bold, creative and innovative as they possibly can and push the boundaries where ever possible, never standing still as no industry can.
But what about content? Can you just have a lawless free for all, with any type of content being admitted regardless of how extreme or offensive it might be? If not, who should be the content police and what sort of content should be allowed? The developers themselves, the gamers, government regulators, parents, or us as the host of the games? These are all questions that have vexed not only stakeholders in the gaming industry, but in big tech as well, recently. By and large, social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and `Youtube have taken a “nothing to do with me” approach, leaving it up to content creators and the law of the land to deal with offensive and hateful content. They are coming under tremendous pressure to change that approach and indeed have upped their game slightly in terms of attempting to control what content is placed on their platforms. Likewise, Valve, who run the online gaming platform Steam, have taken a similar approach, essentially stating that they would allow any content on their platform, leaving the choice of who plays what to the gamers. That has however landed them in deep trouble recently when they allowed a game called Rape Day on to their platform and left it there for weeks, until public outraged demanded that they take it down. The game apparently involved precisely what the title calls for, raping and killing women. Valve also got in to trouble last year for allowing a game called Active Shooter on to their platform where players could play the role of an active shooter in a school setting killing as many civilians as possible. This is leading to increasing calls for tougher regulation of the industry in some countries and indeed a UK member of parliament (SNP member Hannah Bardell) is now calling for specific legislation to ban offensive and harmful content in the gaming industry. No specific proposals have been brought forward yet and it may be difficult to be precise about what does and does not constitute harmful content. However, what is clear is that enough of population have been offended by these developments to prompt legislators to look at the issue and consider regulation. If the industry cannot regulate itself, government will step in on behalf of the population and do it for them.
ONLINE PLATFORMS DO HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY TO CONTROL CONTENT
So, here at Squid Networks, we usually like to take a simple but considered approach to risk. We have core values which guide us in every aspect of the business we do. We care about the people we come into contact with, and we behave with integrity, ensuring that we abide by the applicable laws of the countries where we trade. We think that in this context all means that, unlike some of our colleagues in the gaming industry and other tech companies, if you want to create an online market where suppliers and customers come together to sell and buy games, you do have a responsibility to control what content comes on to your platform. You cannot simply create it, benefit from it economically, and yet take a huge step back and say that content is nothing to do with you.
So, although we are passionate about free speech and expression and we are not the moral police, and your boundaries of what is and what is not offensive may be different to ours, we intend to take a balanced, common sense and non-extremist approach to the content we allow on Reef. We have a game recruitment panel consisting of at least one member of the senior leadership team who will look to judge what we believe is and is not acceptable on the basis of what the average person would and would not find offensive and harmful. Games that involve and glorify the harming of women and children, or the celebration of any form of extremism of whatever nature, or games of that kind will not pass the test. Reef will be a fun and entertaining place to come with plenty of good edgy content, but we will do no harm.