People

New Unity study shows just how toxic online gaming can be

Unity is acquiring AI moderation company OTO to combat online abuse.

Man gaming on PC

Most people who play online multiplayer games experience toxicity in some form, Unity said.

Photo: Eduardo Toro/ EyeEm/Getty Images

Game development platform Unity has released a new study on online behavior in video games, and its findings paint a particularly grim picture of the gaming community's propensity for toxicity. The study found that seven out of 10 players say they've experienced some form of toxic behavior, described as "sexual harassment, hate speech, threats of violence, doxing" and other abusive chat or insulting voice activity.

Nearly half of players say they at least "sometimes" experience toxic behavior while playing, and around 21% report experiencing it "every time" or "often." Around two-thirds of players admit they're somewhat likely to stop playing a game if someone else is abusive toward them or exhibits toxic behavior. A vast majority, or about 92%, think there should be better solutions to enforce compliance with in-game codes of conduct and rules around toxic behavior. The study was conducted with 2,076 U.S.-based participants ages 18 or older in partnership with The Harris Poll.

To that end, Unity said toxicity is an addressable problem, and one solution is improved automated moderation. The company's study coincides with the announcement of its acquisition of OTO, an artificial intelligence firm specializing in analysis of voice chats. Unity said OTO's software, which can analyze the sentiment with which someone says something, will allow it to improve tools for game developers. That way, games can better monitor online behavior, especially spoken conversations over in-game voice chats, to try to root out abusive actors.

"We believe that online communities, especially with the rise of online multiplayer, have a rise in toxic behavior," said Felix Thé, a vice president of product management at Unity, in an interview with Protocol. "Toxic interactions at any level are something we need to address."

Thé said online games have seen a surge in new players during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that, in turn, has exacerbated toxicity issues in gaming. Newer players are more likely to be turned off by toxic behavior, while more-seasoned players may be more inclined to act abusively toward less-experienced newcomers.

Toxicity also has an acute effect on women who play video games. The study found that men were more willing to engage in voice chat and other communication tools while playing games, and therefore experience toxic behavior more often. However, women often avoid online communication tools because of gendered abuse such as sexual harassment. Women who do participate, the study found, are more likely to stop playing a game because of such toxicity.

Thé said Unity's plan is to incorporate OTO's technology into its existing Vivox tool, which gives game makers easy-to-use voice and text chat features. There's no concrete timeline for when the new AI-based tools will be incorporated, but Thé said they're working to do so soon.

Thé also stressed the effectiveness of OTO's sentiment-based moderation, pointing out how it can help reduce the error rate in issuing bans and other forms of punishment by differentiating between when someone is using expletives or other language in a friendly manner among people they know versus being legitimately abusive toward strangers.

"The tech is being used to assign a propensity of whether an interaction is toxic or not. From a privacy standpoint, it's far superior and more importantly, more effective," Thé said, adding that it's able to scale to more languages faster because sentiment when speaking is often the same in languages of similar origin, like European romance languages.

Because only the AI sentiment analysis of reported incidents is later reviewed by human moderators, Thé said it's a better method than constantly recording human conversations and storing them for review. "We believe this is fast, privacy-centric, much more effective and scalable," he added.

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Photo: LaunchDarkly

Gone are the days of quarterly or monthly software update release cycles; today’s software development organizations release updates and fixes on a much more frequent basis. Edith Harbaugh just wants to give business leaders a modicum of control over the process.

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Tom Krazit

Tom Krazit ( @tomkrazit) is Protocol's enterprise editor, covering cloud computing and enterprise technology out of the Pacific Northwest. He has written and edited stories about the technology industry for almost two decades for publications such as IDG, CNET, paidContent, and GeekWire, and served as executive editor of Gigaom and Structure.

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Photo: Twilio

Lybra Clemons is responsible for guiding and scaling inclusion strategy and diversity initiatives at Twilio.

I’ve been in the corporate diversity, equity and inclusion space for over 15 years. In that time, I’ve seen the field evolve slowly from a “nice-to-have” function of Human Resources to a rising company-wide priority. June 2020 was different. Suddenly my and my peers’ phones started ringing off the hook and DEI leaders became the most sought-after professionals. With so many DEI roles being created and corporate willingness to invest, for a split second it looked like there might be real change on the horizon.

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Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic and founder of WordPress, poses for Protocol at his home in Houston, Texas.
Photo: Arturo Olmos for Protocol

In the early days of the pandemic, Matt Mullenweg didn't move to a compound in Hawaii, bug out to a bunker in New Zealand or head to Miami and start shilling for crypto. No, in the early days of the pandemic, Mullenweg bought an RV. He drove it all over the country, bouncing between Houston and San Francisco and Jackson Hole with plenty of stops in national parks. In between, he started doing some tinkering.

The tinkering is a part-time gig: Most of Mullenweg’s time is spent as CEO of Automattic, one of the web’s largest platforms. It’s best known as the company that runs WordPress.com, the hosted version of the blogging platform that powers about 43% of the websites on the internet. Since WordPress is open-source software, no company technically owns it, but Automattic provides tools and services and oversees most of the WordPress-powered internet. It’s also the owner of the booming ecommerce platform WooCommerce, Day One, the analytics tool Parse.ly and the podcast app Pocket Casts. Oh, and Tumblr. And Simplenote. And many others. That makes Mullenweg one of the most powerful CEOs in tech, and one of the most important voices in the debate over the future of the internet.

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

China

Why China is outselling the US in EVs 5 to 1

Electric cars made up 14.8% of Chinese car sales in 2021, compared with 4.1% in the U.S.

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Photo: VCG/VCG via Getty Images

When Tesla entered China in 2014, the country’s EV market was going through a reset. The Austin, Texas-based automaker created a catfish effect — a strong competitor that compels weaker peers to up their game — in China’s EV market for the past few years. Now, Tesla’s sardine-sized Chinese competitors have grown into big fishes in the tank, gradually weakening Tesla’s own prominence in the field.

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Shen Lu

Shen Lu covers China's tech industry.

SKOREA-ENTERTAINMENT-GAMING-MICROSOFT-XBOX
A visitor plays a game using Microsoft's Xbox controller at a flagship store of SK Telecom in Seoul on November 10, 2020. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP) (Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images)

On this episode of the Source Code podcast: Nick Statt joins the show to discuss Microsoft’s $68.7 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard, and what it means for the tech and game industries. Then, Issie Lapowsky talks about a big week in antitrust reform, and whether real progress is being made in the U.S. Finally, Hirsh Chitkara explains why AT&T, Verizon, the FAA and airlines have been fighting for months about 5G coverage.

For more on the topics in this episode:

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

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