The lights are on
I remember a time when signing onto Xbox Live meant sportsmanlike conduct, friendly banter, and general awe that a console offered both online play and voice chat. The shine quickly wore off, and players started realizing that voiced communication is only slightly less anonymous than an internet message board.
Microsoft has an enforcement team that works to ensure that users comply with the terms of services. The banhammer is dropped often, but it still doesn't land on every antagonistic player.
According to an interview with OXM, Microsoft senior product manager Mike Lavin says the company is working on a way to further segregate the rule-abiding folks from the griefers. The new system will push the "bad" players together, freeing up the airwaves for those that engage in sportsmanlike behavior.
Lavin cites the party system as a strength, but also indicates a hope that the new process will encourage small groups to join the game chat channel. "The problem we see is that this fragments voice communication within games," Lavin said. "It's very difficult, because if you're isolated in Party Chat, you're leaving everybody else behind."
Lavin assures that the system can't be tampered with by a group of people conspiring to lower one user's reputation. Actions like being blocked or avoided will, over time, sink you further into the pit with other players of the same ilk.
Our TakeOn paper, this is a great idea. Microsoft's own biggest barrier to getting players to join game chat is the strength of the party system and chat, though. The Xbox Live team will need to find ways to incentivize players to join the game chat channel. Years of conditioning have taught groups of friends to stick together and off the public airwaves.
Microsoft will need to evidence that the system is already working before skeptics take the plunge. As important is that the process to switch channels and rate other players will need to be as easily accessible and simple as possible. Right now, the rating process takes multiple button presses in order to complete. Changing the chat channel is a bit easier, but still takes a few button presses.
The user interface needs to support the new ratings system, not stand in the way of it.