The stereotypical Xbox Live experience is where you boot up a Mature-rated shooter like Call of Duty and end up matched against a team of racist, homophobic 12-year-old boys who don’t have parents. But Microsoft has developed ways of dealing with that, and it’s revealing how those systems work.
Xbox Live has a reputation system where repeat offenders can end up with penalties that should improve the quality of life for everyone else on the service, and Microsoft only partially determines that reputation based on negative reports from people you’ve annoyed. Instead, Xbox Live uses an algorithm that looks at data from the games themselves and even how often you end up muted relative to the rest of the online population. If you are constantly spamming “Cotton Eye Joe” by the Rednex over the voiceline, and everyone you play with mutes you every single match, Xbox Live can see that behavior and punish you for it.
If negative feedback piles up, you could end up with a “Needs work” reputation. Xbox Live will let you know when this happens, and you’ll have a chance to build back up to the “Good player” level.
“It typically takes over a dozen unique reports or several dozen mutes for your reputation to drop down to ‘Needs Work,'” Xbox evangelist Larry “Major Nelson” Hryb wrote in a blog post. “If you continue to get reported for your conduct after you’ve entered ‘Needs Work,’ we’ll send you another message as a final warning. If you ignore this second message and get reported a few more times, you’ll enter the ‘Avoid Me’ reputation classification.”
“Avoid Me” is the lowest level, and it has some serious consequences. In certain games, you’ll only have the option to play with other “Avoid Me” players. In others, Xbox Live may mute your mic by default. This will mean that people will only get to hear you if they actively opt-in.
Microsoft is even attempting to use positive social pressures to coax better behavior from the worst in the community.
“You can always still play and chat with you friends, but if you join a party with your friends, the whole party will be classified as having a bad reputation,” wrote Hryb.
Finally, Microsoft has made a lot of changes to how reputations work since it launched alongside the Xbox One in 2013. For example, it is moving away from that weird “gas gauge” that shows your reputation. Instead, a warning bar shows at the top for players who are violating the Terms of Service. These revisions are also about improving the accuracy of reports, which means that Xbox Live’s Policy & Enforcement Team can delete any false feedback. Along the same lines, the algorithm no longer takes into account one player blocking another.
“We know that some players block others to avoid playing with them again versus for abusive behavior, particularly in competitive environments,” wrote Hryb.
All of this effort should make Xbox Live a more pleasant place to enjoy online gaming — although, it does seem a bit late for Microsoft to shake off the service’s own reputation.