The world’s most popular game, League of Legends, is now scientifically testing new features in order to curb player toxicity.

The MOBA – which boasts over 67 million players – faces a major issue, as a steep learning curve combined with an impatient community has led to thousands of gamers turning away, citing the community as “too toxic”.

Riot Games responded to the issue by hiring a team of researchers in order to gather behavioral data on its user base and perform various social experiments.

Jefrrey Lin, Lead designer of social systems at Riot, spoke to nature.com about his team’s social engineering in making user experiences less toxic:

Common wisdom holds that the bulk of the cruelty on the Internet comes from a sliver of its inhabitants — the trolls. Indeed, Lin’s team found that only about 1% of players were consistently toxic. But it turned out that these trolls produced only about 5% of the toxicity in League of Legends.

“The vast majority was from the average person just having a bad day,” says Lin. They behaved well for the most part, but lashed out on rare occasions.

That meant that even if Riot banned all the most toxic players, it might not have a big impact. To reduce the bad behaviour that most players experienced, the company would have to change how players act.

In late 2012 Lin began “mass priming” players – displaying images or messages that could change player behaviour from better to worse, or vice versa.

These included tooltips encouraging constructive feedback, changing colour schemes and the introduction of “reform cards” which explained to banned players the exact reasoning behind their punishment.

SANTA MONICA, CA-JULY 25, 2013: left to right-Darshan (ZionSpartan) Upadhyaya, Josh (NintendudeX) Atkins, Danny (Shiphtur) Le, and Brandon (DontMashMe) Phan, members of the eSports team going by the name of Team Coast, play a match in the League Championship Series for League of Legends, a tournament for a PC-based video game at Riot Studios in Santa Monica on July 25, 2013. Danny (Shiptur) Le from Edmonton, Canada on May 29, 2013 became the first eSports player to get a P1-A visa to play on a U.S.-based eSports team. (Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

Since that system was switched on, Lin says, verbal toxicity among so-called ranked games, which are the most competitive — and most vitriolic — dropped by 40%. Globally the occurrence of hate speech, sexism, racism, death threats and other types of extreme abuse is down to 2% of all games.

Reports would indicate that Riot are not the only developers performing these kinds of experiments, only that they are the most public given League of Legends’ enormous player base.

As it stands, you could be playing an online game right now with various cues engineered into the experience trying to make you a less toxic person.

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