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Less communication, better community

Online games typically feature voice and text communication channels. I believe they may be better without them.

Nick Gravelyn, Blogger

August 18, 2015

3 Min Read

During a recent session of Rocket League, I found myself joining a game with players who had just beaten us in the previous game. The first thing that appeared as the game launched was a text chat message in the top corner: "welcome back [derogatory word for African Americans]." I immediately exited the game. Regardless of any punishment by the game (a 15 minute ban from matchmaking), I refuse to engage in any way with people who feel compelled to use that kind of speech. Then I started thinking about the very concept of open chat in games.

Hearthstone is a popular online game that has no way for users to directly communicate aside from a few preset options.

(Image from fullcleared.com who shares my opinion on Hearthstone's emote system)

This limitation gives a range of expressions for the player without allowing people to communicate freely. This provides the social interaction many want, while giving players a safe space free of harassment by other players. 

Rocket League likewise has a quick chat feature (primarily to accomodate the gamepad control scheme) where players use the directional pad to select first a category and then specific message that can be sent to teammates or the game. These options range from instructional text like "I'm defending" to reactions like "Wow!" and "OMG". In total Rocket League provides 16 such messages that can be sent with just two presses of the directional pad (as a bonus, these quick chat messages can be automatically translated by the game enabling communication across language barriers).

However while Hearthstone has no custom text entry, Rocket League does provide the option to users in addition to the chat options. While most of my games have been nothing but quick chat and friendly messages, it only takes a couple bad apples to sour the experience. People putting down the opposing team or even members of their own team really makes the experience less fun for everyone.

I really do believe that any game that doesn't require or benefit from extensive chat (e.g. games featuring shorter experiences like Rocket League, Hearthstone, or even many "round" based first person shooters) likely would be best suited by a limited communication system. It allows for some level of communication and expression, but ensures the content of the communication stays friendly and focused on the game. And that seems like a big plus when your game is dependent on building a happy user base to fill your servers.

Of course there is a compromise here that Rocket League could (and in my opinion, should) take. Given their dedicated PC user base and background, they could add an option that allows users to block text chat except for quick chat options. This would allow an opt-in "safe" mode for chat which, while not as nice as being the default, at least provides those of us who'd rather not have people harassing us an option to limit the chat to only the friendly and safe quick chat options.


As an aside, I've also noticed an interesting trend where the higher my ranking in Rocket League, the less friendly chats I seen. At the start many people on opposing teams would give "Nice shot!" messages to the other team but that friendly spirit seems to diminish on the way up the rankings. It's interesting that the better players get, the generally less friendly they are to opposing players. It's not a rule; I've seen people at all stages complimenting each other, but it's definitely less frequent from my experience.

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