On Trolling

Two years ago, I talked about countering toxicity via intentional game design. The example was Hearthstone, which continues to be relatively accessible and innocuous. Blizzard accomplished this by limiting non-friend player interaction to a handful of emotes. Granted, a whole new implicit language of BM (bad manners) has developed in the meantime, but there is both a timer attached to the emotes and, crucially, the ability to disable them from your opponent.

I bring this up for two reasons.

The first is that Supercell finally came out and addressed the rampant trolling emote spam that takes place in Clash Royale. And by rampant, I mean I get surprised when I do not see gloating emotes during a game. Supercell’s response? Trolling helps their bottom line:

The same principle – evoking strong emotions – is at the heart of why we’re not planning to implement a mute option. Emotes are loved by some and hated by others – even within the Clash Royale team! We believe these strong emotions are integral to the core of the game.

Clash Royale is not a single player game and shouldn’t feel like one. Emotes are an important reminder that you’re facing another human being – maybe they’re a nice guy, maybe they’re not – but there’s a person at the other end of the Arena and not a robot. You can communicate with them and they can respond, regardless of language or cultural barriers.

Given advancements in AI, it’s possible we’re already playing against robots.

Now, Supercell didn’t come out and say that this helps their bottom line, but… it does. Get spammed with emotes, get tilted, lose, then you buy a bunch of gems to unlock more shit. Or win against impossible odds, feel good, buy some gems. It’s all the same. Which is fine, whatever. But I still fail to see how adding the option, buried in the menus somewhere, to mute emotes automatically isn’t possible or would affect one goddamn thing other than the trolls.

The second reason I brought up Hearthstone is because, as I’ve mentioned before, Overwatch makes me salty. And what makes it worse is the direct communication feature between teams. Again, what possible good exists in letting Team A talk to Team B? Because what I mostly see is stuff like this:


Absolutely useful features.

Honestly, this is downright mild in comparison to the “die in a fire” and worse from the earlier days of gaming. Or probably current days of gaming if you’re a woman and have a microphone.

But the more time passes, the less value I see in having much in the way of communication at all in these sort of games. In MMOs? Yes, of course, there is a need to build social bonds and such. Nobody is building anything with emotes in Clash Royale other than ulcers and kidney stones. Nor with chatting in Overwatch, really. So… why have them in these games? Habit alone?

Unless, of course, your business model is based on exploitative psychology.

Posted on June 16, 2016, in Commentary and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. I like it. Sure, it mostly leads to trolling, but I usually get a good laugh from that.


  2. I like it as well, as by my observations a spammer is generally a lower-skilled player, so it lets me know this is likely someone who isn’t that good and I can aim for 3 crowns vs them.

    Plus honestly, if emo-spam tilts you, that says more about you than the emote spammer, doesn’t it?


    • A lower-skilled player in the 2600+ queue?

      I should have been more specific about the ordering, in any case. The tilting is a result of realizing that the opponent’s deck is a hard counter, or stacked with level 2 legendaries, and then the emote spam starts from them. As for “what this says,” well… Supercell’s entire point is that they want these emotes to affect people.


      • “lower-skilled’ is all relative. I think someone who is lvl 8+ and at 2600 is low skilled, yes, while I view someone who is lvl 9 and at 3200+ as high-skilled. But someone at 2000 might think that 2600 player is awesome compared to what they can do, while someone at 3600 sees that 3200 player as unskilled.

        Regardless of the trophy range, my general observation has been that when a match starts with an emote from the other side, I tend to win more of those games.


    • “Plus honestly, if emo-spam tilts you, that says more about you than the emote spammer, doesn’t it?”

      It means that you’re a social, a M&S in thrall to ape subroutines of his primitive ape brain. It is only fitting for such weak and stupid creatures to be crushed by perfectly rational Randian superbeings such as myself. Moreover, expecting a higher power (be it Supercell or the government) to intervene on your behalf instead of bootstrapping yourself is exactly the entitled liberal behavior that is the source of all evil in modern society!

      (Now read my guide on making stacks of gold by farming match rewards in Arena 1 for 12 hours a day)


  3. I turn off cross-faction communication whenever available and same-faction communication whenever toxic. Anyone who looks down on me for doing so is also someone I’m not going to talk to.


  4. I’ve commented on this before, but the idea that toxic behaviour drives away players, that it is a net negative, is an assumption that has not been proven. It might be correct, but there’s a certain amount of evidence that it is incorrect. Mundane toxic behaviour like trash talk might not be enough to cause people to quit.

    The key of course is “net negative”. Some people might be driven away, but if more players are attracted to the competitive environment, it’s a net positive.


    • Right… but unless you’re suggesting that trash talking is a necessary component to a competitive environment – which would be silly – what is the harm in minimizing it via game design? Clash Royale’s core gameplay does not change a single iota by having emotes on a 5-second cooldown, or having the ability to “mute” players.

      And, at some point, one has to look at the moral argument. Perhaps Supercell does indeed make more money for allowing emote spam. Hell, let’s just straight up assume that explicitly encouraging toxic behavior is a net positive on a company’s bottom line; the playerbase spends more money the more awful they feel. Would such a game be considered “good” or well-designed, assuming it increases shareholder value? Or should we look at it in the same way we look at cigarette companies marketing directly to children? The method is both effective and profitable… but not something we actually want to encourage.


      • “but unless you’re suggesting that trash talking is a necessary component to a competitive environment – which would be silly”

        EVE is one prime example that if you remove the trash talk, the game would be dead, so I don’t think its all that silly. I’d use LoL as another example, in that after years and years of people talking about how ‘toxic’ it is, Riot still hasn’t disabled chat and still has one of the most popular games out.


      • EVE is an MMO, a genre which I already addressed.

        As for LoL, it is indeed still popular… despite having the worst reputation of any non-EVE game out there. And, actually, is cross-team talk not disabled by default? That is what is coming up in Google searches. In which case: QED. Nevermind all the design time spent on Tribunals and such.


      • I’m not surprised that no one has mentioned Supercell’s older title Clash of Clans, a pretty obscure game about fighting goblins. It ostensibly had some PvP modes, both casual and competitive, but since there were no spammable emotes and extremely limited opportunities for trash talk, no one ever bothered with those. Without Supercell deliberately encouraging abusive behavior, the community failed to reach the threshold of toxicity required for success. Clash of Clans is an object lesson that no matter how good your design is, how much polish you put in, or how frequent your updates are, if you don’t base your game on a Pay2Troll model from get go, your game will be an unmitigated financial disaster.


      • Not sure about the default, but cross-team is still used in almost every game, so either a ton of people enable it, or that info isn’t correct (our two accounts have it enabled, and neither of us did anything to make it so, suggesting it at least wasn’t retroactive to the hundreds of millions of existing accounts).

        My point was you are off IMO on LoL being popular despite the competitive (toxic to the weak) environment. I think that’s a key to the success, as like EVE, it gets people more invested/motivated to play and improve. When you are facing what might as well be a bot (HS, etc), you care a whole lot less and it makes it very easy to drift away.


      • @Syncaine

        As Eph mentioned: how exactly do you explain Clash of Clans then? Maybe you don’t see it as competitive?


      • Have you ever seen the CoC reddit?


      • “Have you ever seen the CoC reddit?”

        No, which is the whole point. It is perfectly possible to PvP in CoC for years without ever having to look at its subreddit.

        Imagine that Supercell intergrated CoC reddit into the game. Every time you went raiding, every time you attacked someone in a clan war, you’d get bombarded with randomly picked quotes. There would be no option to turn it off, of course – ever. If that happened, would you still argue that reddit integration is a core integral part of the game and CoC would be dead without it?


  5. If trash talking or even worse social behavior is inherent and absolutely necessary in these games, it might explain why, at least partially, I’m turned away by so many PvP or even semi-competitive games. I have very low apetite and very low patience for these. I do not know however what proportion of players are like me.

    I’m glad though I’ve seen very little chat interaction in Overwatch, because it is a very enjoyable game and hope to be playing for a long time.


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