Facepalm: Throwing simplicity out the window, Xbox has decided to adopt an eight-strike enforcement system – yes, eight strikes. It's easy to explain but is more confusing for players to digest. Hint: When a company has to create a hypothetical use-case infographic to illustrate its penalty system, the decision-makers might want to consider a more straightforward approach.
When moderating behavior in online games, a three-strike system is simple and easily understood by anybody over age 10. Everybody inherently knows that method, so there is little confusion for mods implementing it or players receiving their strikes. All players know they can receive two warnings or minor punishments before a third infraction puts them in the penalty box.
On Tuesday, Microsoft rolled out its new "Enforcement Strike System." Under the new policy, players can "stack" up to eight debuffs – er – strikes for violating community standards. Penalties increase with the strike count. Microsoft claims the changes are in the name of transparency, and on the surface, it doesn't seem that hard to understand. However, digging into it reveals a complex system that will even have some adults scratching their heads.
First, let's talk about punishments. Penalties for strikes vary. Strikes one and two result in a one-day suspension. Three gets you three days. Four, and you're out for a week. Five gets players a two-week vacation. Six strikes add 21 days to your timeout. Seven, and say goodbye for two months. Players making it to the eighth strike get an entire year to contemplate their behavior. Each strike stays on the user's account for six months.
The chart in Microsoft's use-case infographic makes it look more straightforward (above). However, as you see, another chart further breaks down infractions into a number of strikes (below). So one violation does not necessarily equal one strike.
Moderators can penalize offenders with up to three or more strikes per infraction. For instance, a player can immediately earn a three-day suspension for using hate speech. Multiple simultaneous instances can make the strikes climb even higher. There could also be conduct not listed in the graphic. As such, moderators on the Xbox Safety Team can arbitrarily decide on stikes for other behaviors.
For the most part, the system seems fair other than there apparently is no room for warnings – all strikes equal time in Xbox jail. For example, there is no warning for a first offense foul language strike or even room for moderator discretion. It's just an automatic one-day suspension.
However, that's not the system's main fault. The criticism here is the unnecessarily complex nature of enforcement. Many people, especially younger players, won't "get" this approach, especially when you throw in all the rules for appeals and how the system keeps strikes against the player for six months. The fact that Xbox needed to diagram an example says a lot about it. It's hard enough to get people to read the terms-of-service agreement, let alone a messy accountability system such as this.
Fortunately, the shot callers at Microsoft made it foolproof by implementing an enforcement dashboard. This interface shows users their strike count and explains why they received enforcement measures. It also lists how long they have on current suspensions, plus a history of past punishment.
If it works to improve online behavior, I'm in, but we'll have to see what happens once this policy has been in force for a while.