In its ongoing war against toxic online behavior, League of Legends creator Riot Games has come up with a clever way to put a positive spin on multiplayer interactions: by rewarding players who made it through 2014 with a clean record.
Writing in a blog post published late last night and later reported by Polygon, Riot said that it's giving out a special "Mystery Gift" to League players who meet a few choice conditions. First, they need to be at least level five. Second, and probably more importantly, they can't have received a chat restriction, ranked restriction, 14-day ban or permanent ban at any point in 2014.
The blog post itself is very short and sweet. A Riot representative explained the decision further in a comment on a thread about the mystery gift on the League subreddit, saying that the present is meant to be a bit of "positive reinforcement" for players who behaved well, and did so consistently, throughout the past year (emphasis mine, except for that one "and"):
One, a few players are wondering why we are giving out an extrinsic (tangible!) reward for positive behavior when they might have heard we were against it in the past. This is a misunderstanding! We've always said that our player behavior philosophies include punishment, reform, and positive reinforcement. There's no silver bullet to improving player behavior in online games, and you always need a mix of punishments and rewards. You can read more about our design philosophies here: http://na.leagueoflegends.com/en/news/game-u…
However, to give more context about this extrinsic reward, the key is that it is a surprise and not deterministic. What I mean by this is that it isn't some kind of achievement system where you are sportsmanlike for your next 10 games, then directly unlock a mystery gift. If you design a system like this, players will simply behave for 10 games, unlock their mystery gift and go back to their normal ways.
RiotLyte added that League of Legends will take similar measures in 2015, saying the studio "will surprise players once in awhile for their positive behavior."
"Because players aren't sure what the next reward is (or when it is), players will strive to be sportsmanlike in a larger range of games to try to get all the surprises."
The hope, then, is that in-game incentives will a) give nice players all the more reason to keep being nice, b) encourage "neutral" players to step up their being-nice game, and c) nudge toxic players with presents and peer pressure to repair their behavior. RiotLyte continues (emphasis added again):
For positive players in the game, this won't really affect them and they'll just get surprises every so often for being awesome. For neutral players, this effort might convince some of them to put in that extra effort in a few more games to get the next surprise. For toxic players, this effort might also encourage a few to change their ways though we expect the biggest impact to be with the neutral players. It's important to note that we did 2 tests of this design before (with Santa Baron icon and IP Boosts), but in future roll-outs it will be possible for players to earn the next surprise if they've been positive since the last surprise was awarded. So, if you were chat restricted and missed a surprise, you will still be eligible for the next surprise if you were positive in the time range between the 2 surprises and are not blacklisted for life.
It's nice to see Riot, which has experimented with different ways to punish League players for being assholes for a long time now, endeavoring to find new and better ways to reward positive behavior as well. After all, despite our tendency to fixate on the worst kinds of people on the internet (in video games or anywhere else), the vast majority of League of Legends players treat each other with kindness and respect. 95 percent of them, according to Riot's statistics from November of 2014. I guess that means a lot of people could be getting presents soon!
More important than the reward itself, however, is the fact that it's rewarding consistent, long-term positive behavior. As RiotLyte indicated in the explanation on Reddit, just giving people presents in the short term seems provides too many opportunities to take advantage of the system or relapse into negative behavior.
Here's to a positive 2015, League players.