The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Xbox Live Enforcement

In: Articles by Nicholas "Heartbreak Ridge" Sylvain

29 Jul 2010

codeofconductsonI was unaware of online gaming until I got my first Xbox 360 at launch. Fortunately, in the run up to launch I had become associated with some fine gaming folks at AVS Forum who in turn pointed me to some gaming communities for adults interested in enjoying their favorite hobby with each other. As a result, my first few online experiences were with online lobbies full of mature adults who were interested in gaming, talked to each other, and generally displayed consideration and tolerance for each other (especially the online newbies). Nobody sang into a microphone, Gamertags were readable without decoding, and nobody started yelling out obscenities or slurs like a monkey flings poo.

In other words, it was not a typical session on Xbox Live.

Since then, from time to time I have ventured out into the lawless wilds of Xbox Live, playing among the general membership. Needless to say, it seems as if it is only a matter of minutes before the uglies come out to play. If it’s not an arrogant jerk screaming at people for making mistakes, it’s a prepubescent squeaker, a homophobe, or another sort of unpleasant folk. If this  kind of experience were typical when I first signed on to Xbox Live, I wonder if I would have come back.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I agree that Xbox Live does a good job in giving you tools to mute, avoid, and report the jerks. That is the Microsoft mantra, preached by Stephen Toulouse (aka: Stepto, the director of Policy and Enforcement on Xbox Live) on Major Nelson’s podcasts and during his own sermons from the Book of Enforcement at PAX. While this is good, I don’t think it is good enough.

To me, the online twerps are an online poison. One drop among many is sufficient for a potent venom to have a toxic effect, and so even a small number of cretins can seriously take the fun out of gaming and give you a reason to not game online (or at least with people you don’t know). If you can identify who is the source of verbal diarrhea (which can be difficult during a frantic game and which can be made harder depending on a game’s user interface), you can mute them, but by then the abuse has had its effect on your ears. Avoiding them in theory means you won’t be subject to their special brand of foulness, but that hardly makes a dent in the hordes of online cockroaches out there or reduce the likelihood of running into someone similar in the next game.

If you have grounds to file a complaint, the hardest part of the process may be deciding which single category of offense to pick. However, at this point you run into a different problem: You never really know what happens to your complaint, for good or for ill or somewhere in between. Even if you make a point to check offenders Gamertags regularly, unless they get Gamerscores reset or get “Code of Conduct” slapped all over their profiles, you may have not even an inkling if they got to taste even a whiff of the “banhammer.”

In the past, if you got lucky, you might see that jerk speak up in the Account Suspensions and Console Bans forum on Xbox.com. I also admit (as I yelled out to Stepto at his PAX East panel) I have found that forum to be a source of daily amusement and an instructive experience because the enforcement team (oftentimes “The Pro,” in his own delightful style) would recite the specifics of the miscreant’s deeds and leave the reader in no doubt as to what was done wrong. More recently, the Enforcement Team seems to have added a lot more to its ranks, but the results are disappointing. Rather than inform and entertain the audience, the Enforcement Team members simply quote the reason for the enforcement action. I’m sure this has sped up response times, but without examples, the educational effect and the entertainment value are entirely absent.

It is a legal maxim that justice must be seen to be done. This is part of what the current Xbox Live enforcement model lacks. If you can’t see justice being done, then you have doubt about whether the killjoys are getting what’s coming to them, and that’s not a prescription for a quality online experience that encourages people to keep coming back.

One way for Xbox Live to address the matter would be for some form of clan support, which has been on many wish lists for a very long time. Playing with people you know is the best way to avoid the jerks, and allowing members of large gaming communities to easily find each other would be a step forward. You can certainly accumulate a friends list full of decent people, but that’s a clumsy manual process and you’ll quickly run out of room in any decent-sized gaming community. It would be more helpful to instantly access a larger membership list, particularly if it included tools so that you could also find fellow clan members who are interested in a particular game or genre. Now that legacy original Xbox support has been eliminated, perhaps we will finally get some movement on this long awaited feature?

My fingers are firmly crossed!

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1 Response to The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Xbox Live Enforcement

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XBL’s New Price: Virtual Gold Takes a Hike - GameHounds

August 30th, 2010 at 12:05 pm

[...] more excited about measures that let me play only with friends and avoid the trash — you know, like clan support? Or perhaps a more robust matchmaking system with better fine-grain [...]

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