Let’s just take a second to imagine what the Replies field on John Smedley’s Twitter account must look like. That man, the CEO of SOE, is the public face of several MMOs. Do you think he has his TweetDeck notification bleeps turned on, on the nights the servers go down? How about the week aimbots took root in Planetside 2?
The news that Black Ops spokesmouth David Vonderhaar had suffered “threats of violence” after a negligible gun tweak sparked rightful uproar - but you can bet other developers suffer as much in relative silence.
SOE’s solution? Ban the most offensive and anti-social buggers from their games.
“Not only will we ban your forum account, but if it's serious enough we'll call up customer service and have you banned from all of our games,” SOE community relations director Linda Carlson told GamesIndustry. “We do not need those individuals as customers.”
Carlson was very clear - it doesn’t matter how influential a player might be, or what position they hold in what guild: “we’ll still ban them”.
“In our games, if you are an exploiter we don't care who you are, how big your guild is, how many people you threaten to take with you when you go,” she said.
“We can control anybody who's playing our games...[but] if we know who you are and you're abusing somebody on Twitter, we will ban your game account and we will not accept you as a customer ever again. It's not always possible to identify people [in that way], but we take that seriously.”
SOE uphold different standards for each of their games: they wouldn’t expect the same kind of behaviour in a competitive shooter like Planetside 2 as they would in a collaborative MMO like EverQuest. But Carlson said standards do need to exist, in clearly-stated form - and that SOE need to reinforce them with bans for bad behaviour both in and outside their games when necessary.
And while Carlson doesn’t believe that “anybody needs to put up with” the sort of abuse that seemed to have caused Phil Fish to leave games, she noted that developers need to develop a certain amount of tolerance for what she views to be “human nature”.
“They need to understand that this is normal. You may not like it, but knowing that is normal will help you deal with it,” she said. “It's not just you - it's everybody, and, yes, they are jerks, but that's normal.
“I don't necessarily like humanity, or the fact that human nature so often trends towards the negative - just because that's how we're wired - but understanding that makes this whole field of study very fascinating to me, and I do consider community management to be a field of study. It's constantly changing, because our online communities are changing.”