Minecraft’s community is toxic: What should they do?

What's going on with Minecraft?

Minecraft is one of the larger video game communities with:
141 MILLION active monthly users… 

but is the game with the LEAST percentage of players reporting harassment, at 46% , which was well ahead of the game that came in second, Rocket League, at 59%. 
Having said all of that, Minecraft has been rocked recently with reports of the community becoming more toxic over time.

Minecraft is a game that was built on community, so it’s a really important issue for the Minecraft team to work on improving.  

2 out of 3 gamers have experienced toxic behaviour in online multiplayer communities. 
That’s a really big deal. 
Online abuse can cause real world harm: 
64% of players feeling emotionally affected by attacks and 11% of them reporting depressive or suicidal thoughts as a result.

The developers (Mojang Studios) have recently rolled out some major updates with views to permanently ban offending members to address this toxic behaviour, but it’s been received with major backlash from the community. I’m talking INTENSE…

Let’s back up and provide some context and look at:

1) How the toxic vibes increased in the first place
2) How the Minecraft developers have attempted to deal with the increased toxicity (which resulted in a community backlash)
3) What the Minecraft developer team SHOULD consider doing, backed by community research which analysed some of the Minecraft servers

How did the toxic vibes increase?

Firstly, let me provide some context about Minecraft. 

Minecraft is a popular sandbox style video game, acquired by Microsoft. 

The average Minecraft player is a 24-year-old male. Despite the enormous popularity of the game with children, the average Minecraft player is a man in his mid-20s. 

Players can create and break apart various kinds of blocks in 3D worlds, there are no real goals to this game, it’s really up to the player’s imagination as to what they build.
There are two ways for Minecraft communities to exist: either via their:

Java edition – where players can independently host and privately run their own game servers with zero oversight by Microsoft
Or via

Bedrock edition – which is primarily hosted by the game developer themselves (Mojang). There is generally more oversight on those servers.
The size and scope of these server communities can vary from an individual hosting a small server to a group of friends to an entire school using it to explore group learning in a digital space. 

Even the United Nations has used it to provide digital experiences around urban planning!

Mismanaging community expectations led to increased toxicity

Developers pushed out an update (known as the Minecraft 1.19 update) that the community was NOT happy about. 

The update was very specific to game play, for example – players were expecting fireflies that had utility in the game, and that didn’t happen in the developer’s update (they realised fireflies were toxic to frogs…  honestly if you’re interested more in this part I’d highly recommend reading the game rules but I’m moving on as we’re focusing on community!). 

Minecraft developers had built up expectation in the community around some new features that would be released, only to break the hearts of many when they realised those new features weren’t actually going to happen.

Once news broke about this, people got MAD…

Some Minecraft players were so mad they were taking it out on the developers, sending rude and hateful comments which other players noted was changing the general community vibe.

People started complaining that the community had become more toxic and the dissatisfaction was being felt all around. 

Toxicity in Minecraft servers was measured by ADL

Official research was conducted by ADL looked at 3 different types of Minecraft game server communities. The 3 servers varied in membership size and moderation capacity.

The study found that among the 3 servers where over 1.4 million messages by over 9000 unique users in 3 months was assessed:

  • over 28000 messages could be categorised as severely toxic
  • over 24000 as sexually explicit
  • 7500 as hateful.

That’s a lot of toxic messages!

The study also found that:

  • Many in-game offenders are repeat offenders.
  • Hateful messages were 21% higher in public chats then private.

It’s plausible players use hateful language in the community to provoke outrage or garner attention, and it may often start with an invitation for other members to join in to hateful language.

How the Minecraft team tried to address the rising toxic vibes in their community

Minecraft introduced a player reporting tool in their Java edition (that’s the side where players can play independently and privately run their own community game servers). 

That now means that the Developer had decided to take a way more active role in the Java Edition, by introducing a reporting tool for players to report inappropriate chat messages or dangerous behaviour. 

Minecraft moderators would review these, and for those deemed offending members they would be permanently banned from the server and playing the game as they were considered to have violated community guidelines. 
Players FREAKED OUT at this update.

Mojang confirmed that this effort would only focus on what players report and exclude any proactive monitoring or moderation. 

So you could see situations arise where players could be unfairly banned from the game, especially by other players that perhaps were trolls themselves. 

The toxic vibes in the community rose EVEN MORE as Minecraft players reacted badly to this update.

What the team SHOULD consider doing (and anyone else looking to improve the toxic behaviour in their community)

Let’s face it, this is an incredibly tough issue to crack. Minecraft has been around for 11 years, and servers on Java have been running independently with no interference from Minecraft before. They have been able to set their own rules independently and manage the community in their own unique way.
  • The servers on Java are being hosted/paid for by the hosts, so they’re going to believe they should have full power over how their servers are run
  • The main issue arises that Minecraft is owned by Microsoft, and both of these brands want to ensure that their own set of community guidelines are being met. Otherwise you have these issues where although people are in these independently run servers they are being subjected to toxic behaviour that doesn’t actually adhere to Minecraft’s terms and conditions. 
From the same ADL study that I mentioned above, it was found that:
Servers with in-depth community guidelines were associated with more positive social spaces.

Of the three servers reviewed, the server with the most extensive community guidelines and highest ratio of moderators to players had the lowest frequency of sexually explicit, hateful, and severely toxic behavior between users, suggesting the positive impact of robust guidelines.

Server rules appear to matter more than moderation enforcement in shaping communication norms.

Community mods are still important, but having solid server rules are EVEN MORE important!

Temporary bans proven to be an effective solution for reprimanding bad behavior.

Early evidence shows temporary bans to be more effective than muting in reducing the rate of offending behaviors by the moderated player.

Temporary bans reduced actioned users’ sexually explicit content by 82%, hate by 93%, and severe toxicity by 85%. 

Invest in content moderation efforts and robust community guidelines.

Active, effective human moderation and community guidelines are critical to reducing sexually explicit, hateful and severely toxic behavior in gaming spaces as the server with the most staff and most extensive guidelines had the fewest incidents of these kinds of behaviors.
  • These servers may be independently run but they’re still hosted with a connection to Minecraft, so work has to be done to communicate with these server owners to ensure there is a minimum baseline of community guidelines that must be met, and they are free to create their own additional guidelines/server rules and completely customise their own server on top of that (as long as they don’t conflict with their community guidelines.
These guidelines should be high level and generally speaking they should be focused on what is required to ensure a healthy community.

Aspects like treating everyone with respect, no hateful, offensive, sexist, racist, homophobic, harassing or bullying messages.

Given the need for Mojang to increase their oversight over the Java servers, I would actually recommend a system where the community guidelines were mandatory to be displayed on all servers, and any clear violations of these guidelines could be reported and must include evidence.

In cases that were considered offending, temporary bans would be placed.

There should be a way for a player to appeal (and I have seen Minecraft does offer the ability to appeal but it needs to be communicated more strongly so that people don’t react so negatively), and perhaps they would have to get the backing of an individual servers’ admin/community manager to ensure that this has been properly assessed and confirm how the original reporting case was inaccurate.

If it turns out that a false report had been made after further investigation, then the player who had made that false report should be permanently banned.

All other rules should be up to the individual server hosts.

Improve communication with the community

The most important aspect here is having open communication with the server owners on Java. 

They have to be empathetic and understand that this is a frustrating change, but given Minecraft’s situation has also changed (i.e. they were acquired by Microsoft) and the rise in toxic behaviour leading to real world harm and impact on gamers health, they need to work together to work on a solution. 

Avoid all “talk” without walking the walk. For example, they state that players feedback is important to the Developers, but where is the evidence that the community is being listened to?
This is why you can see so many community members frustrated that their voices haven’t been heard. When you look at web3 community tools like Snapshot that allows for community voting for major decisions – this is where you can show the community that their voices actually matter and can as a whole make group decisions that affect them.
Even if Minecraft developers don’t believe in crypto/blockchain, they could learn a lot from web3 communities and the way they are treating their community members.

Player/ member verification

This goes without saying, but make sure you have tight security to avoid bots or people joining the community more than once. Globally blocklisting players banned for severe harms is also important so that they cannot join several different communities around the world. 
If you’re a Minecraft fan, an active member of the Minecraft community or have your own thoughts on how to deal with toxic members, leave a comment below as I’d love to hear from you.

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