Communication Channels in Games

I was recently reading an article regarding the release of the new Team-Oriented FPS Brink. The game brings some new features to the table. However, one thing that struck me was the simplification of the communication channels used in the game as a means to reduce anti-social communications. What Brink does it is forces all players to opt out of the world VOIP, and lets you add friends who you want to communicate with as you play.

I have witnessed from anecdotal evidence that noise pollution is a problem in online games. FPS and RPG servers on MMO are two particular channels that seem to suffer more than others. Many of you have probably had an experience where you were verbally assaulted by what sounded like a cross between Denis Leary and Alvin and The Chipmunks. I have seen private communities spring up as a mechanism to segregate anti-social individuals from those who want to enjoy themselves and make friends in the process. Over the course of my academic career I have often wondered what makes anti-social verbal behavior – I’ll just refer to it as noise pollution from now on – so prevalent in online games.

In my own past I have written a paper that examined the problem of noise pollution on the RPG servers of World of Warcraft. The thesis of the paper was, “We can treat the communication channels of games as public goods, and in doing so, we can use insights from research to design better game mechanics and support pro-social communication.”

Given that I have some experience thinking about the problems facing communication channels in games, I thought I would explore the problem of noise pollution. For this post I’ll define noise pollution as: Behavior that reduces the quality of a communication channel for the players using the channel. This definition includes all types of communication voice, text, visual, etc. In the definition, the term quality differs depending on intended use and the goals of the community. For example, any out of character chat reduces the quality of an RPG communication channel, intentionally  causing traffic (shouts from sellers in an MMO) reduces communication quality in a general chat, and trash talking and being an a-hats? Once a player has failed to be a decent human being do we have to leave them on the prison server or can we put incentives in place for them that make cooperation seem like a better option? I suggested that threats of sanctions and rewards could act as incentives for players to behave, but I didn’t really discuss any particular rewards or threats. Given this, my next post will explore the factors that moderate cooperation and I’ll examine game mechanics that are available for promoting pro-social behavior (beyond communication) between players. Until then.

Communication Channels in Games by Travis Ross, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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