February 6, 2017

How a Restricted Chat System Hurts Minors

In a game like Wizard101, clear communication is essential. Teammates with menu chat can sabotage battles, especially if they aren't aware of cheats, to the point that people actively discriminate against menu chatters, avoiding fighting with them at all costs. Here is a real player's account of this issue.
"Get rid of menu chat. I suggest making a replacement chat that is more filtered then text chat but still allows you to actually talk like a human being. My main account got muted for ten years so I understand the struggle. Which by the way I got wrongly muted, I don't now nor have I ever had open chat, just text chat. And I constantly got reported for dumb reasons which lead to my mute. But anyway, as someone who is forced to use the chat on a daily basis, I can tell you it's awful. I can't tell you how many times people have refused to add me, quest with me, etc., simply because there's no real communication. Using menu chat is like being a robot. So overall, I'd suggest scrapping menu chat and replacing it with a chat system that still allows people to talk by typing but maybe has a more strict filter then text chat. And I don't mean a chat that just lets you say like: hi, hey, I am level 100, stuff like that. Because again, a team-based game like Wizard101 needs communication. And saying hi just doesn't cut it. And I know you can say more then just hi but again it makes you sound like a robot. Not to mention it's annoying having to click on a bunch of different little tabs to find what you want. I literally had to memorize all the different clicks in the menu chat just to somewhat engage in a conversation. I can't stress this enough, Wizard101 is a team-based game and you know it."
Have you ever seen a max level menu chatter? I didn't think so. Menu chatters struggle with the game much more because of the communication issue. A study investigating how communication changes the video game experience recorded the average level in a sample of video games with a max level of 100. They found that the ones with less communication freedom had lower average levels.
Not only can menu chatters sabotage battles, as I have mentioned before, but players often avoid helping them. It's not only hard to battle with menu chatters, but they don't always understand your response if you are unavailable to help them, so they often keep bothering players for help. This leads to them getting deleted to halt the pestering. The study I mentioned above gathered the average numbers of friends on their sample of games. Once again, the games with higher communication freedom had higher friend averages. The games with ~90% communication freedom took up nearly half of the friend averages added together.
Menu chat isn't the only problem, as you can probably see by now. A poll on Wizard101 Central revealed that ~73% of players were dissatisfied with the chat system. To give an example of the silliness, the word 'grapes' passes through the text chat filter, but not the open chat filter. This is only scratching the surface. An awfully lot of completely innocuous words are filtered out.

What most people, including KingsIsle, don't seem to realize is that less communication freedom actually decreases the safety of video games. When players are under a more restricted chat system, they often create new accounts with a less restricted chat system then either start over or transfer their wizards to that account. This has been happening in record numbers with open chat, serving to expose minors to things they should not be exposed to. The complaints about the chat system spread and players just joining started inflating their age. If text chat had been less filtered in the first place, most players would have complained less and likely seen going to a less restricted chat system as not worth the trouble, and thus not have been exposed to the things they would've been. In games with one restrictive chat system, hacking increased. This could be due to players trying to free up the filters.
Toni Dimayuga, a game reviewer, put Wizard101's overall mood/quality and graphic setting as well as the general fun nature of the game in the pro column. The combat, in particular defeats, and the overly restricted chat system were seen as the major minus points, however. Most video game players would agree with Toni. Less restricted chat systems soak in more profits for video games on average. One of the factors could be foreigners having an easier time with communication because they aren't fluent in the video game's main language.
So what's the secret of the mostly free chats of some of these games in the study's sample? The companies leave it mostly up to the parents to police their kids. Think about it. Age is merely a guess at maturity, it by no means tells you how mature someone is. Remember, people lead vastly different lives. That's why you have to judge people as individuals, not as the collective. KingsIsle is not enabled to do this; the best they can do is judge people as the collective. 

Parents, on the other hand, know their kids more then anyone else; they've lived with them all their life. If parents can set filters for their kid, it could both be less restrictive and more protective. For example, they don't have to filter out every region; they can just filter out the region they live in. This can apply to other personal information. Parents can set reasonable limitations for their kids because they know them best.

If this is implemented, no longer does KingsIsle have to ask for your year of birth. They don't have to implement a privacy-invasive system like sending pictures of your ID in order to get open chat. If the company could hand over some of their power to the parents, both Wizard101 and Pirate101 could become better games that other games look up to mimic the massive success they would gain. 

Addendum 1:
Another interesting point to think about is that Wizard101 and Pirate101 aren't really kids' games. You barely see any young people who are good at the game and you see a ton of teenagers and adults playing it. Just take a look at this thread on the official Wizard101 forum. Every single person there isn't going to be lying about their age.

I think KingsIsle should definitely start marketing to an older audience. Think about it. Nine to thirteen year olds aren't going to be paying ten dollars a month for a membership; the game is too expensive for the audience it's directed at. In PvP, players are spending a lot of money to be ahead of the game, and it requires a certain level of reasoning and skill that you don't see that often in nine to thirteen year olds. I recommend this video if you want to see this argument more in depth.

Addendum 2:
Before some of my fellow nerds go typing in the comment section of how I only cited one study, I propose one question to you: if you wanted to see a deep scientific analysis, why did you come to a video game fansite? I have lots of other studies to back this up, but chances are this post will get more success if I don't overload people with scientific data. Also, the study gave the data points for their graphs, so I simplified them using a chart making service in order to axe irrelevant data and make them easier to read. For example, some of the original charts showed results for games that weren't MMORPGs, which is clearly irrelevant. Besides that, though, it's loyal to the study.