Tag Archives: DOTA 2

Practical Solutions to Lower MMORPG Toxicity

Let’s not mince words. MMO communities are in a bad way. Trolling, toxicity, extreme vulgarity, and cyber-bullying ran rampant, and there doesn’t seem to be any serious effort being made to curtail any of this.

A dungeon encounter in World of Warcraft

I doubt it would ever be possible to entirely eliminate toxicity in online gaming. Human nature is what it is, and the anonymity of the Internet often emboldens people to let loose the worst aspects of themselves.

But far too many people, developers included, have let this fact instill a defeatist attitude toward toxicity. If you can never eliminate it, why bother fighting it at all? But while you may never get rid of toxicity altogether, I do think it could be significantly mitigated. Things don’t have to be as bad as they are.

I think there are simple, common sense solutions that could do a lot to improve MMORPG communities, if developers are only willing to make the effort.

Tangible Punishments

The punishments for misbehavior in most MMOs I’ve played tend to be pretty toothless. Usually it’s just a temporary ban. That might be an effective deterrent if the game in question was the only form of entertainment in the world, but as it is if someone gets banned, they’ll just go play something else, or watch TV, or go see a movie. It’s pretty meaningless.

I’ve long felt it may be more effective to directly penalize a person in-game. Delete a piece of their gear, or fine them a sum of in-game currency. If the latter, it should be based on a percentage of their total wealth rather than a flat amount so that wealthy players don’t become effectively above the law.

Or perhaps instead of taking away what someone already has, it could affect future rewards. Lower item drop rates and experience gains for rule-breakers or put them at a lower priority for server and matchmaking queues until they can go an extended period of time with no infractions against their account.

A paladin character in Neverwinter

As far as I know, no game has done this, so it’s impossible to say if it would work until someone attempts it, but MMO players are nothing if not devoted to min/maxing. If good behavior becomes a requirement for peak performance, I think you’ll start to see things get a lot nicer in no time.

Feedback on Reports

Moderation in MMOs is almost entirely dependent on players sending reports when they see someone breaking the rules. Unfortunately, there’s rarely any way to know if these reports are doing any good, or if anyone is even reading them. They vanish into the ether without a trace.

If you’re the one sending reports, this can get demoralizing pretty fast. It starts to feel as if you’re not doing any good, and it gets harder and harder to bother sending reports in the first place.

Instead, there should be some sort of feedback on player reports. In DOTA 2, if your report results in action being taken against another player, you’ll get a notification. I think this is an idea all of online gaming should embrace. It doesn’t necessarily need to get into detail, but simply knowing that a report you sent has made a difference sends the message that reports do matter and that action is being taken, and that can make all the difference in the world.


Another frustration that players face when reporting is a lack of clarity on what is or is not actually against the rules. Usually filling out a report offers you a small list of vague categories to choose from, and it may not be clear what exactly each category entails. For example, I would interpret “harassment” as any abusive chat, but others seem to define it only as ongoing campaigns of bullying against a player conducted over an extended period of time.

Ideally, a report system should come with a decent variety of categories, and a brief but clear description of each one. This could perhaps be backed up by more extensive explanations of the code of conduct accessible elsewhere in-game. We shouldn’t have to wonder whether someone is breaking the rules or not.

Active Moderation

A group of players take on an Arkbreak in Defiance

One of the problems of moderation in MMOs is that it is entirely reactive, and dependent on the reports of players. Imagine if game masters actively monitored players in-game and could take immediate action if they saw someone doing something bad.

“But wait,” I hear you say, “MMOs are far too big to monitor every chat channel. It can’t work.”

You’re right. It’s totally impractical to monitor all chat at all times.

However, it may be possible to monitor some chat, some of the time. If even a small team of GMs were to be devoted entirely to monitoring player behavior and taking direct action, I think it could have a significant positive impact on communities.

The thing is, players wouldn’t know when they were being monitored. The very possibility that a game master may be watching would, I think, serve as a deterrent to bad behavior and perhaps provide a sense of security to the other players.

One of the biggest issues adding to the toxicity of MMO communities is the belief that developers simply don’t care, that there are no consequences. The trolls think they can get away with murder, and by all appearances, they’re right. Anything that sends the message that the community is actively policed, even if it’s largely symbolic, would have a positive impact.

Positive Reinforcement

Not all methods for improving communities have to be about punishing the troublemakers. There may also be value in recognizing those players who do treat their fellows in a decent and helpful manner.

A character in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

Players could be given a way to “upvote” those they feel have been especially patient or helpful, and people could progressively unlock various rewards, cosmetic or otherwise, for receiving enough upvotes. Final Fantasy XIV has a system along these lines, and I think it’s something that should become industry standard.

I don’t think that offering rewards will, on its own, completely change the temperaments of players, but it may encourage people to go the extra mile to be helpful or at least provide an incentive not to be too harsh to their comrades. At the very least it would make helping out other players less of a thankless chore than it tends to otherwise be.

The main concern about such an “upvote” system would be the potential for abuse, but I think there are ways to prevent people gaming the system too much. For example, it could only be enabled for PUGs to prevent people simply spamming upvotes on their friends.

This could also tie into the suggestion of tangible punishments mentioned above. If you receive an infraction against your account, it only makes sense that you would lose access to any rewards earned for being a good community member, even if only temporarily. It adds another layer of incentive for players to mind their manners.

Ask the Experts

These are just ideas that seem to me like they would be helpful, based on my many years as an MMO player. But I’m sure there are those out there who would have a far better idea of how to make things better.

MMO developers should be hiring on behavioral experts to help them find the most effective ways to regulate their communities. They may find solutions that would not be obvious to the rest of us, who come at the problem from a layman’s perspective.

A close-up screenshot from League of Legends

The only game I know of to do anything like this is League of Legends. Riot has poured significant effort into finding the best ways to cut down on the infamous toxicity of their players. I’m not an LoL player, so I’m not sure how much success they’ve had, but I do greatly admire the effort.

MMORPG developers need to start viewing community-building, and community-policing, as a crucial part of design, as essential as environment art, encounter design, or coding. Communities are a crucial part of the online game experience, and if they’re neglected, the games suffer.

It might not be “sexy,” and it might not look exciting in a features trailer, but it is every bit as important as any other element of game design.

Which MOBA Is Right for You?

All but unheard of a few years ago, MOBAs (massive online battle arenas) are now one of the fastest growing genres in gaming, enticing players from all the over world with their intense action and fierce competition. But if you’re new to the genre, where should you begin? We’ve taken the time to write a breakdown of some of the biggest and best MOBAs to help you choose between them.

Heroes of the Storm:

A team zones into a match in the MOBA Heroes of the Storm

The newest big name entry in the genre, Heroes of the Storm is Blizzard Entertainment’s attempt to to take the core gameplay of MOBAs and strip away the more arcane or frustrating mechanics. For example, it doesn’t matter who gets the last hit on an enemy minion or hero; the entire team shares experience.

Even more dramatic is the fact that Heroes lacks items. Instead, hero customization is achieved through talents chosen at certain points throughout a match. This is intended to put the focus squarely on the action, with less need to return to base.

Blizzard has also taken some steps to lessen the toxicity that plagues MOBA communities; chat with the enemy team is disabled in all games, and players have the option to disable chat with their own team, as well.

But just because Heroes is more casual-friendly doesn’t mean it lacks for challenge or depth. One of its unique features is a wide pool of maps, each with unique mechanics that must be mastered in order to claim victory.

Heroes has a smaller pool of playable characters than some of its competitors, but new ones are being added on a monthly basis, and there are already many characters with very unique mechanics. For example, Abathur, who cannot fight directly but instead manipulates the battlefield by summoning minions, laying landmines, and casting abilities through his allies.

Like all entries on this list, Heroes of the Storm is free to play. Heroes can be unlocked by paying real money or in-game currency, though the latter is a bit of a grind, and it also offers cosmetics for cash.

Heroes of the Storm is best for players who want a MOBA that’s low stress but high excitement and easy to learn while still offering depth at high levels of play.


A skirmish in the MOBA DOTA 2

At the opposite end of the spectrum from Heroes of the Storm is DOTA 2. It stays the most faithful to the Defense of the Ancients mod from which the entire MOBA genre spawned and thus retains a high degree of difficulty and mechanical complexity.

For example, not only does DOTA 2 have last hitting, but it also retains the practice of “denying,” where a player will kill their own team’s minions at low health to prevent an enemy player from earning the gold from killing them.

DOTA 2 has a large stable of playable characters ranging from the relatively simple to some that are incredibly complex and challenging to play, such as Meepo. Meepo is capable of creating permanent clones of himself, with all of his abilities, that can be controlled separately, but this mighty power comes with a major disadvantage: If one Meepo dies, they all do.

On the downside, DOTA 2 releases new heroes very slowly, usually around four per year, and it has only one map for standard play.

DOTA 2 has the most player-friendly business model of any entry on this list. Every hero is immediately available for free. Only cosmetics are charged for, and even those can be acquired in-game with some effort.

DOTA 2 is best for those who want the deepest, purest, and most challenging MOBA experience.

League of Legends:

A screenshot from the MOBA League of Legends

Halfway between Heroes of the Storm’s lighthearted simplicity and DOTA 2’s punishing difficulty is League of Legends, the most popular MOBA on the market and possibly the world’s most played video game.

League of Legends still has traditional elements like items and last-hitting, but it does away with some more arcane mechanics, like denying. While LoL has fewer and less diverse maps than Heroes of the Storm, it offers significant variety compared to DOTA 2’s single map. The standard Summoner’s Rift map remains the most popular, but there are others with somewhat altered play styles, such as the Howling Abyss, which forces both teams into a narrow space to create constant team fights.

LoL’s community is famously toxic, even by MOBA standards, but the developers have put an incredible amount of effort into addressing the problem, implementing player tribunals to judge offenders and contracting teams of psychologists to help manage poor player behavior.

LoL is another game with a huge stable of playable characters. While new champions were once added very frequently, new releases are now much rarer.

The business model is similar to Heroes of the Storm, with characters unlocked through cash or in-game currency, as well as optional cosmetics available for real money purchase. One difference is that the in-game currency is also required to unlock runes, which provide in-game bonuses to champion performance. This can make unlocking characters a bit slower for new players.

League of Legends is the best choice for those looking for the most popular MOBA with the most middle of the road mechanics.


A screenshot from the mythology-themed MOBA Smite

Smite takes its inspiration from real world mythologies, allowing players to step into the shoes of gods from around the world like Thor, Athena, and Kali. However, its most defining feature is the fact it eschews the standard top-down camera and click to move control scheme for an over-the-shoulder third person camera and keyboard-based movement. This makes it feel much more natural for those coming from an MMO background.

Smite has a large number of colorful heroes from mythologies spanning the world, and releases new ones fairly often. However, mythological purists may be somewhat off-put by the often silly, over-sexualized, or pop-culture inspired gods and their skins, especially since some of them are from religions still practiced today, like Hinduism or Shinto.

Like League of Legends, Smite has a relatively small selection of maps/game types, but still offers a decent level of variety.

Smite’s business model is much like that of LoL or Heroes, but they do also sell an Ultimate God Pack that gives you access to all present and future characters for a very low price, giving it a sort of soft buy to play option.

Smite is a good choice for those who dislike the standard MOBA camera and control scheme.