If you’ve ever played a game online either on the PC or a console, you’ve most likely encountered some form rage, whining, or general unpleasantness from other players. It’s been going on so long that encountering these people has simply become a cost of doing business when playing games online. While some see it as an unavoidable consequence of combining anonymity and online gaming, Valve sees it as a problem which can and should be mitigated. During the debut of the Seven Day Cooldown podcast, Gabe Newell co-founder of Valve, discussed the steps they are taking to promote a more productive and tolerant online community.
Their solution is fairly straightforward, according to Newell, “An example is – and this is something as an industry we should be doing better – is charging customers based on how much fun they are to play with.” That’s right; Valve is experimenting with an “asshole tax” for online games. Like a digital swear jar, those who wish to provide nothing but negativity to the community could see their colorful four letter adjectives come back to haunt them and their wallets.
Valve’s work on Dota 2 most likely lead to this decision. The game itself has a ridiculously high learning curve which is made worse by impatient veterans with hot tempers and short fuses. As Newell puts it, “There are other people where if they’re playing we would [rather] be on the other side of the planet.” Player rage in Dota 2 may have given them the idea, but it seems as if this is a system that will be applied to the entirety of the Steam community and not just to a single game.
Dota 2’s newest item.
The whole idea is to encourage and reward positive player contributions to the community while discouraging negative player contributions, Newell says, “It’s just a question of coming up with mechanisms so that we recognize and reward people for doing things that are valuable to other groups of people, so, you know, if somebody’s doing a really useful guide, if somebody’s a really good trainer, those are some of the things that we’re trying to accommodate which I can’t really point to an existing free-to-play model and say it’s just like that.”
The key element for success will be for Valve to come up with a system that actually makes these distinctions among players in order for them to grant rewards or exact punishments. Since the system itself is designed to be incorporated within all of Steam, players that contribute in one game may see rewards in another, the other side of the coin, however, will be that players who rage in one game may see punishments in another. In Newell’s words, “So, in practice, a really likable person in our community should get Dota 2 for free, because of past behavior in Team Fortress 2. Now, a real jerk that annoys everyone, they can still play, but a game is full price and they have to pay an extra hundred dollars if they want voice.”This is what Newell meant when he said that Dota 2 would be free-to-play, “but with some twists.” If you’re a valuable member of the community it might be free-to-play, but if you’re not it won’t.
Pick your hero and murder each other, just be polite about it.
Is Valve crossing a line here or are they once again attempting to be the innovators of modern gaming? Other companies have come up with systems to deal with rage and unpleasantness; Riot Games have their League of Legends tribunal which has seen some success in dealing with these issues, although their punishments are usually some form of a temporary ban, not a “tax” like Valve is suggesting. Other games usually just leave players with the ability to mute or sometimes even ban other players, but given the competitive nature of Dota 2 and the necessity for teamwork and communication, Valve is attempting to condition players to work together using real life punishments and rewards.
It seems Valve makes improvements to Steam and its community with every major release; Team Fortress 2 applied the free-to-play model to a Valve game for the first time, Portal and Skyrim both now have tools for users to create their own content, and Dota 2 will mark the beginning of a community wide rewards/punishment system. Even their corporate structure is innovative. Last week their employee handbook leaked, showing Valve’s inner workings and their flat organizational structure (Page 5). In their words “nobody ‘reports to’ anybody else,” meaning there are no bosses or managers in the traditional sense. Valve doesn’t just innovate games, they innovate how they’re made and how players interact with them.
Free-to-play, not free-to-rage.
At first Steam was simply a digital distribution service, but recently it has begun to look more like a social network for games and those who play them. With the introduction of a community wide rewards/punishment system, Steam may not only be a place to purchase games and play them, but to become a better player and teammate overall. Their hope is that this system will address some of the issues that no one else seems to. Sure there will always be angry jerks spewing every four letter word in the book, but at least we can take solace in the fact that in order to rage some players may have to fork over hefty sums for a game that other more constructive players got for free.