Verifiable Anonymity - Creating Fair and Safe Online Experiences
When it comes to online experiences, especially in games, anonymity is an important layer in creating safer environments for all users. Gamers are becoming more accustomed to talking to people and being social online; 82% of gamers in the US say that video games introduced them to new friendships (Health Leaders Media). Enabling social engagement without exposing personally identifiable information protects users from unwanted interactions.
The problem with anonymity in games is that it allows people to interact without any ramifications for their actions. Anonymity, often achieved through the use of gamertags in online games, is intended to protect users' personal identities from strangers on the internet. This is necessary because many online games have social features built in, which raises concerns about privacy.
These concerns primarily revolve around "doxxing," which is the act of publicly revealing someone's personal information, and the fact that both adults and minors play these games. To address these issues, almost all games default to providing players with the option to remain anonymous. This means that players only need to provide a minimal amount of information, usually just a valid email address, when creating their accounts. The decision to share additional personal information is left up to the individual player.
The Anonymity Problem in Games:
The anonymity of gamers in online environments can lead to several issues, including cheating, smurfing, and toxic behavior. Here is an expanded explanation of these problems:
Undetected Cheating: Anonymity allows players to cheat without the fear of real-world consequences. They can use hacks, aimbots, or other unauthorized tools to gain an unfair advantage over other players. This is exacerbated if cheating translates into real-world value (money).
Multiple Accounts: Cheaters can create multiple anonymous accounts to continue their disruptive behavior even if one or more accounts are banned. This makes it challenging for game developers to effectively curb cheating as accounts are not tied to a single individual.
“Smurfing”: the action of a skilled player creating a new account to play against lower-skill players.
Unfair Matches: Smurfing is more prevalent in anonymous gaming environments. They can manipulate matchmaking systems to get matched against less skilled players, leading to unbalanced matches and poor experiences for other players.
Frustration and Attrition: Smurfing often leads to frustration and discouragement among newer or less experienced players. This can result in player attrition as people leave the game due to unfair competition.
#3 Toxic Behavior:
Lack of Accountability: Anonymity allows players to engage in toxic behavior, such as harassment, hate speech, and unhelpful banter, without fearing consequences. They typically feel emboldened to behave poorly when their real identity is concealed.
Negative Impact on the Community: Toxic behavior can harm the gaming community by creating a hostile and unwelcoming atmosphere. This, in turn, can discourage new players from joining or drive away existing players.
When players are anonymous, it can be challenging to report abusive behavior effectively. Reporting systems often rely on unique identifiers, and when anonymity prevails, it can be challenging to track and address toxic players. Without a tie to real-world identities, it can be difficult to impose consequences for bad behavior, which leads to a lack of effective deterrence strategies for future violations.
The Solution to Anonymity in Games:
We value gaming anonymity but support using verified real-world identities through trusted third-party providers like Clear to overcome anonymity drawbacks. Linking real-world identities to gaming IDs would maintain in-game anonymity while ensuring one unique account per player. This approach enhances in-game interactions and quality monitoring across various games.
Moreover, we understand that this approach does not need to be mandated for all players. Rather, it can be incentivized through various means, including access to discounted stores, streamlined lobbies, or expanded content offerings. The idea is to reward players who engage in identity verification, giving them tangible benefits that reflect the value of confirming their real-world status and single-account commitment.
Cross-Game Support: This model's value extends beyond individual games, serving as a universally recognized metric for a player's quality that developers can access even before players enter their games. This synergistic approach aims to enrich both the gaming experience and the gaming community at large. With cross-game IDs, developers can gain valuable insights about their players from the moment they join, enabling a deeper understanding of player types before they engage with others.
Takeaways: Anonymity will always be a core feature of games due to its social nature and diverse demographics. This has created problems that require a new way of understanding who your users are, specifically in the real world. By leveraging third-party verification services and attaching these to universal gaming ID, games can start to build trust with anonymity that will elevate the quality, safety, and fairness of these ecosystems.