Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Importance of Report Transparency

A while ago when talking about a more powerful report feature for WoW, I mostly was referring to many specific categories to better match what the Terms of Use covered in addition to adapting to the evolving landscape of online interactions. By doing so, players can better police each other without a need for constant moderation. As time went on, I went further by asking for feedback to be shown about the effectiveness of a player's reports. This is a feature that I initially found in League of Legends but is also featured in other games nowadays. However, I didn't really explain why this sort of transparency is so important, so in this brief article I will provide some reasons as to why having this feedback is helpful for empowering the report feature.

First of all, it would help to describe the effectiveness of report transparency by describing scenarios with and without report transparency:
  • In a scenario of no report transparency, reporting the action is about the extent that a player will be guaranteed to observe when attempting to police reportable actions. There are roundabout ways to find out whether the report was effective, but in general, there is no feedback saying whether it worked or not. This throws the effectiveness of the system into doubt, reducing player faith in such a system as observed on World of Warcraft. Questions like this shouldn't even have to be asked, after all.
  • In a scenario with report transparency, the reported action may eventually result in punishment as in the previous scenario. Unlike the previous scenario in which I happened not to mention reports resulting in punishment, a small note of feedback will tell the player that their reports were effective (or ineffective - more on this later) when such punishment is issued. Such a message need not be specific, especially if privacy is an issue. This is because even a generic message, like in the pictures linked above, does a lot to dispel doubt, allowing players to see and show off that their actions were meaningful in policing the game and ideally improving an online community. Such a feature would also make easy work of questions like the ones linked in the aforementioned scenario.
To better summarize, report transparency provides an extra step to the reporting process that debunks claims of its impotency as reasonably as possible. It also creates an opportunity for better providing feedback for abuse of the report system, since such a system can be used to send generic warnings to the abusing players. While further transparency would be ideal when it comes to reducing lingering doubts, too much information may cause privacy issues, so a generic feedback message is a fair compromise for now.

Report transparency is important because the following benefits may occur:
  • As mentioned above, report transparency empowers the report feature by showing it can be effective. The renewed faith caused by showing that the report system works will lead to more players using said system.
    • The more liberal usage of reporting would also help to prevent privacy issues since it's even less likely a player will know which specific report of their many reports was effective.
    • As for ineffective report feedback, there are ways of specifically showing why a report was ineffective without causing privacy issues (like by showing chat logs that the player observed from around the time of report).
  • With an empowered report system in place, players wouldn't be as likely to frivolously break rules. Ideally, this would have a side effect of improving social interactions between players (and maybe cut down on the botting too).
    • There is concern of censorship issues, but I would like to think this is counterbalanced by ineffective report transparency, among other things such as manual report checking.
  • Report transparency may ultimately improve the image of the company employing the method by further showing they care about their playerbase by providing a feature that ideally improves the state of their game(s) in various ways.
Ultimately I think report transparency is a rather low risk, high reward implementation. This is especially the case if potential issues are accounted for such as possible censorship resulting from frivolous usage of reporting (seriously, be careful about being too authoritarian on this - it's probably worse). It's amazing what a brief popup message can do, but it's far better than providing no feedback at all. I would especially like to see this in WoW since, as I mentioned above, there's not a lot of faith in the report system in that game even if it is effective in itself.

As an afterthought, report transparency doesn't necessarily need to just apply to games. Other mediums that rely on a report function to help with moderation, such as forums, could benefit from report transparency.

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