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Blizzard has recently introduced a silence penalty into their flagship MMO World of Warcraft.

Supporters are not just happy but aggressively supportive about the intention of silencing bad behaviour. However there are some more cynical thinkers wary of the old adage “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. As great as the intentions are, it is important to evaluate the potential results.

An argument I commonly see is the free speech versus hate speech opposing perspectives which we see in real life right now. People are concerned about being permanently silenced for wishing to talk about divisive issues. But because the game chat doesn’t count as a public space the Warcraft user-base seems to be in support of the silencing.

Players also noted that there was already an ignore and block feature in the game. They express that this feature is over the top and a misallocation of staff resources.

A more recent and also interesting point is a user revealing that some real monetary trade websites that sold Warcraft services such as levelling and currency for money are also selling silencing services. Pay them some money and they will get your enemies globally silenced forever.

wow_silencing_sale

A screencap of a supposed silence service.

The potential for abuse from unsavoury players and businesses selling the power to abuse the system interests me.  I asked myself, what is the impact of the silencing and how exactly does Blizzard determine whether someone should be silenced or not?

From Blizzard’s article a silencing results in:

No instance chat (Raids, Party, Battlegrounds).

No access to global channels such as General or Trade.

Cannot create Calendar Invites/Events.

Cannot send in-game mail.

Send Party invitations.

Cannot send War Game Invitations.

Cannot Invite to Duel.

Cannot Create or Update a Group Listing.

Silenced players are still able to:

Whisper friends

Reply to whispers

Party/Raid Chat Only

Create Party/Raids

Talk in global channels only if there is a moderator

Share Quests

Sign up to premade groups.

The global chat restrictions seem fair enough however the restrictions for group interactions seems to be quite excessive especially since the game is so group focused.

Interestingly you can create parties but not invite anyone into them which makes me think what is the point?

The silence starts off at 24 hours and is doubled for each penalty received with no limit. This shows us how the permanent silence is achieved (many reports).

All up I think the punishment is a little excessive considering the limitation of gameplay not only generic chat features.

So what are the mechanics involved with silencing? Citing the Blizzard article “any player who is reported multiple times under the Spam or Abusive Chat categories will, after investigation, receive an account-wide silence penalty.” From this we can infer the following:

Step 1: Multiple Reports of Spam/Abusive Chat

Step 2: Investigation

Step 3: Silence

Multiple reports can easily be abused by dummy accounts or simply many people ganging up on someone but what of the investigation? The article doesn’t elaborate on the nature of the investigation. Is it done via automation or by a human?

Automation is possible and false positives can be minimised by programs analysing the reported text and/or using heuristics to observe writing patterns but no matter how complex the method used it is always open to exploitation.

Training and maintaining the manpower to handle requests is a possibility albeit an expensive possibility. Training for investigators to understand language and cultural norms as to not ignore context is important but requires time and money. For example being much more lenient on the Oceanic realms as Australians like to revel in friendly banter in which other cultures would find grossly offensive. Who polices the police? With humans it is difficult to maintain intentions. Just as there are corrupt law enforcement and public officials. Who’s to say there aren’t corrupt people within the Blizzard support staff supporting the RMT companies on side for extra money?

Blizzard has implemented a silencing feature before in their title “Heroes of the Storm”. When implemented they used the word “investigation” throughout their article promoting the feature similar to the Warcraft article. However users have reported that it is 100% automated. Inquiries lead to Dustin Bowder the game director of Starcraft 2 and Heroes of the Storm tweeting that it is indeed 100% automated.

dustin_bowder_silence_tweet

https://twitter.com/DustinBrowder/status/643956704489504768?s=09

This leads me to believe the article written by Blizzard was intentionally vague to minimise criticism. There is also a lack of information in regards to contesting or appealing these reports and penalty’s. Can players simply abuse the system with no recourse?

An interesting topic to say the least. My impressions after investigating the issue is that this is a well-intentioned mistake that may cost Blizzard. Firstly if they are truly investigating matters with man power it will be costly. Secondly customers leaving due to either too many false reports getting falsely accused or a stagnate atmosphere from the fear of being reported. This results in unhappy customers which will leave the game and act as negative advertising as they will share their negative experience.

I leave you with some interesting player quotes and anecdotes I’ve found.

Top comment on the Warcraft silence penalty article.

comment01

Some people are able to laugh in the face of adversity.

comment02

This user compares this to the abuse of social metrics on other services such as youtube.

comment03

This user is referencing WoW Tokens which is Blizzards first party RMT solution.

comment04

This user is in admiration of the RMT companies.

comment05

This user believes the silence services are are scam. I hope so too.

comment06

A little naive considering the discussion is about the possibility of feature abuse. But I like the optimism.

comment07

 

Most of the quotes I’ve pulled oppose the Idea but opposition on the official Blizzard forums is very much in the minority. I didn’t include many supportive quotes as the majority of them were not constructive. The supporters posts were quite vehement and emotion filled or downright insulting. The themes of supporters were as follows:

  • Anyone who disagrees deserves to be silenced
  • Insults
  • Spam
  • Accusing critics to be trolls, sock puppets or liars.
  • Accusing critics that they fear the silence because they are the type of people to get silenced (veiled insult).
  • Condescending veiled insults “Don’t break the rules, Don’t get silenced”
  • Exclamations of victory over critics
  • Futility of critics and that they will never “win”
  • Naive comments believing Blizzard will always do things well despite the lack of evidence
  • Claim human involvement with investigation despite the lack of evidence.
  • Posturing and Virtue Signalling (To be fair almost all social media platforms have this)
  • Simple disbelief and that critics and thinkers are conspiracy theorists.
  • A lot of CAPSLOCK
  • “I” don’t want to hear “opposing opinions”
  • Supporters seemed use “I”, “myself” a lot. Their desire to speak in first person seems a lot higher than critics. (Possibly narcissism combined with the blizzard forum being an echo chamber of virtue-signaling?
  • I hope you get silenced!

Unfortunately I do not have an active subscription to interview or participate in discussion on the Blizzard forums.  But it’s still an interesting topic to think about. Maybe you can think of a similar occurrence in your games or communities?

It seems to be a hot topic at the moment with threads going up constantly. If you wish read them yourself click here. I’m certain you’ll find the general sentiment to reflect what I’ve written.

*Note: Only subscribers can interact with their forums so responses may be biased in favour of Blizzard

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