In video games, community management is all about listening to the concerns of the fans and communicating with them in a way that makes them feel that their concerns are being heard. But what happens when some of the concerned players become a cause for concern themselves?
That’s the question two major gaming companies have faced in recent days, with community managers saying that harassment from customers is making it harder for them to do their jobs.
The first example comes from the Destiny 2 community on Reddit, where one member posted Wednesday lamenting the shrinking number of threads that receive an official reply from Bungie. Destiny 2 Community Manager Dylan “dmg04” Gafner responded to explain that he has taken some time off due to “some serious harassment towards me and my family,” which has led to “an amount of reduced communications as the team plans future protections / strategies to help avoid these sorts of things.”
The harassment Gafner is talking about goes beyond “just rude replies on Twitter or vague comments,” he wrote, and encompasses “real threats toward our people and our studio” from fans. Some of that harassment has apparently come through private channels. “Just because you can’t see it directly in a given tweet or forum reply doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen,” Gafner wrote.
Gafner’s statement comes just days after Destiny 2 developer Bungie filed a lawsuit against one fan who the company says has made threats against Gafner and other Bungie employees after evading multiple ban attempts in the game.
“I will be very clear in saying that I appreciate the studio in the amount that it’s helped me personally after some serious harassment towards me and my family,” Gafner wrote. “I’m taking time off in part because of this.”
While Gafner acknowledged that “it’s a bummer that we don’t have as much interaction here as of late,” the reduced communication isn’t intended as a “retaliatory action” against the respectful bulk of the community. “Sometimes, we just need to take some time to get things straightened out,” he wrote. “Can take weeks, can take months—just like any given development pipeline, as we want what’s best for our players AND our employees. That said, we can’t just move about ‘business as usual’ until things are resolved. It sucks, but we want to be sure that folks are safe and taken care of.”
The second instance of recent gaming community conflict comes from the world of Minecraft, where developer Mojang recently announced a new global chat moderation system that could lead to player bans that apply even on private servers.
In a FAQ following that announcement, Mojang clarified that it is focused less on minor infractions like swearing and more on serious instances of “hate speech, bullying, harassment, sexual solicitation, or making true threats to others.” Mojang also says it will not be actively monitoring chat on private servers (absent a player complaint), that humans will be involved in any ban decisions, and that bans will be subject to appeals.
Despite that, the new moderation regime has led to a lot of pushback from fans. Many angry fans are organizing under the #SaveMinecraft hashtag, which includes plenty of dramatic comparisons to George Orwell’s 1984. “Just remove the chat report system completely,” a Twitter user wrote in one of the less overwrought examples on the hashtag. “Servers should be in charge of moderation like they have always been.”
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Writing on Reddit, relatively new Community Manager MojangMessh said that while the company “appreciate[s] and value[s]” this kind of feedback, Mojang is “not planning on changing” its new chat moderation system. Listening to feedback “does not mean that feedback will always change the design principles Mojang Studios adheres to,” MojangMeesh added.
But MojangMeesh went on to criticize some members of the Minecraft community for taking their feedback too far. Overzealous and harassing messages from some fans have ended up hindering communication between the company and its players, he wrote:
There have been some folks following Mojang employees around here on Reddit, responding to unrelated posts from them and commenting about this system. Please understand that this behavior does not encourage employees to reach out to the community, nor will it bring about the changes you’re wanting. If you feel strongly about something in Minecraft, please tell us in the appropriate locations (such as these threads) because we want to hear what you have to say! However, harassment does not help anyone: not the devs who receive it, nor the players who are passionate about an upcoming change. We want to maintain a constructive and open dialogue with you, and this kind of behavior inhibits that.
While problematic players are nothing new in the world of gaming, it’s rare to see community managers making such direct and public complaints about harassment that makes it harder for them to do their jobs. Here’s hoping that cooler heads in these communities prevail and that the companies involved will continue to give their community specialists the support they need.