Guest Editorial by Ron Kerbs, founder and CEO of Kidas
More and more, we see online gaming becoming the venue of choice for predators and criminals alike to carry out creative cyberattacks and expose gamers to danger.
Children and teens are particularly vulnerable.
Every day, thousands of gamers, particularly younger ones, fall victim to a multitude of serious and disturbing online threats, such as cyberbullying, fraud, harassment, and even grooming.
Malware and phishing schemes carried out against young gamers also put the families of these gamers at risk.
The success of the gaming industry relies on the long-term loyalty of the gamer. Loyalty in gaming is comparable to loyalty in any other consumer or entertainment market and is driven by a pretty simple notion: did the player have a positive or negative experience?
Game developers and publishing houses are well-served to take action to better protect youth gamers. The industry is continuing to see an emergence of technologies engineered specifically for just that.
Employing these new technologies not only enables a better gaming experience for youth gamers but also fosters peace of mind for the purchase decision-makers: their parents.
(GMA series about tweens and tech examines the perils of online gaming. Courtesy of ABC News of YouTube.)
Top Dangers that Children Face While Gaming
Research shows that 54% of players have left a multiplayer video game because someone was exhibiting cyberbullying behavior.*
Given that 38% of players have avoided a multi-player video game because they were concerned about cyberbullying behavior, developers should be on the lookout for incorporating solutions to counteract player avoidance.**
Among the most toxic experiences reported by gamers are cyberbullying, financial scams, and predatory grooming, as mentioned above. With open access to chat and voice features across many popular games, these incidents are growing increasingly common.
For example, bad actors targeted a child by promising them extra Roblox points for logging into the game through a third-party website. From there, the third-party site hacked her account and made $2,500 worth of charges to her parent’s credit card.
While her parents were able to dispute the charges with the credit card company, others haven’t been so lucky.
What’s more, online bullying in gaming can translate into real-world interactions. Many times, to avoid this, youth gamers choose to switch to games without voice communication.
(Hear from Tom Screech from Philly Esports to talk about Cyberbullying and how to protect your children while gaming. Courtesy of KidasNet and YouTube.)
The Crux Developers Face
The most popular games in the world are ones that require strategic multi-player engagement. The positive experience of these games hinges on the ability of players to unite, talk strategy and play as a team.
When gamers opt out of these multiplayer games, more and more developers face a grave reality: lack of user retention will negatively impact a game’s ability to realize sustainable revenue.
The crux developers face is establishing their own philosophy and the unique governance of in-game moderation. On one hand, well-moderated group chats are inherent to the continued lifetime loyalty of young gamers. But, on the other hand, developers also want to avoid being perceived as “Big Brother” monitoring everything.
Developers need to accept in-game moderation as a fundamental component of any multiplayer game. It is integral that developers work on establishing the right protocol and application of moderation that is “on brand” for their game and the demographic of its players.
The ideal scope of moderation should take into consideration factors such as age appropriateness and an understanding of what the game’s players would deem to be offensive. At the same time, the purpose of moderation, in general, should be to facilitate an enjoyable and immersive gaming experience.
Before implementing moderation decisions, developers should spend time studying and understanding who their players are. It’s important to take an ethnographic approach to unveil the characteristics, values, and motivations of the gaming subpopulation unique to their game. Then, work to quantify and validate those insights.
(For students in schools across the country, sitting in front of a computer screen for hours on end is the new normal. But it comes with problems made even worse by the pandemic. Courtesy of CBS Sacramento and YouTube. Posted on Feb 25, 2021.)
Previous Attempts at Solutions in the Industry
The perfect approach to moderation is not one size fits all. Looking at what has been done historically points us toward what will work now and into the future.
In the past, developers have, more or less, taken two approaches to report toxicity:
Rely on players to report toxicity they experience, and/or
Utilize a moderation team.
The problem with the first is that it disrupts the natural immersive flow of the game, and young gamers often don’t trust that reporting will be anonymous.
The problem with the latter is that, due to the sheer volume of incidents being reported, toxicity teams struggle to make this approach sustainable.
Some developers have even considered creating unique “worlds” – one for the bad actors and another for non-toxic players.
This is difficult for numerous reasons, including it is hard to distinguish these players across different games and the unfortunate reality that there would still be excessive toxicity in one of the “worlds.” Not to mention, this still does not solve the core issue at hand.
(ONLINE GAME CHATTING: Dangers your children come across on the web. Courtesy of KETK NBC and YouTube.)
How Technology Can Help
Adopting the market’s newest technology provides solutions where the above fall short.
Between the massive amount of gaming data that must be sifted through to developing an effective moderation solution, creating a lasting and meaningful solution to this ongoing problem is a tremendous lift for any in-house development team to tackle from start to finish.
But suppose developers can identify and work with a third-party expert specializing in this area. In that case, it becomes much more possible to integrate an intelligent AI that instantly categorizes, ranks, and reports threats – all with close to perfect accuracy.
One idea to consider is to build in an onboarding tutorial for gamers that displays suggested “Do’s and Don’ts” and sets the stage for a positive gaming experience while the game loads.
Further, it’s difficult for a company to gather resources and the necessary capabilities to build a solution from scratch. These solutions are built by machine learning engineers, cybersecurity experts, and child psychologists.
This is why it’s important for companies to be open to learning about, and leaning into, the possibilities that open up from experts who are incredibly specialized in their relative niche.
Technology has the potential to move the gaming industry forward in a significant way and by having developers employ these technologies, we begin to create an industry that is fundamentally geared toward the safety and enjoyment of all players from the beginning.
Ultimately, we all want what’s best for the world and the gaming industry.
It’s a phenomenal thing to see so many bright minds working every day to protect kids’ well-being and to see the industry as a whole give more attention and effort toward supporting the health and safety of all players.
About the Author
Ron Kerbs is the founder and CEO of Kidas, a technology company that develops anti-cyberbullying and predator protection software for online gaming platforms.
Enthusiastic about utilizing big data and machine learning to help people reach better decisions, Kerbs is a seasoned R&D Team Leader with a strong information technology background (Technion MSc, IDF’s top technology unit).
Kerbs has extensive business experience within various major startup scenes (Israel, Germany, and the U.S.)
* Journal of Information Systems Applied Research, Volume 8, Issue 1, April 2015, ISSN: 1946-1836
** Journal of Information Systems Applied Research, Volume 8, Issue 1, April 2015, ISSN: 1946-1836
Kidas analyzes all in-game communications on PCs and alerts parents about potentially dangerous activities in video games.
ProtectMe is gaming privacy and protection software for your family’s PC, that notifies parents/guardians when dangerous activity is detected while your child is playing online video games.
(Kidas is a bullying and predator protection software for your child’s PC games. Download and install ProtectMe by Kidas onto your child’s or family computer to receive alerts of any threats or dangerous activity. Courttesy of KidasNet and YouTube.)
ProtectMe isn’t just a piece of nanny software, alerting parents to their own child’s misbehaving. It also recognizes signs of incoming harassment.
The program uses artificial intelligence to monitor alarming behaviors between kids in over 120 games. ProtectMe specifically looks for context; it can tell the difference between a playful jab and an actual threat.
At the end of each week, the software generates a report which is sent to the parents alerting them to any concerning behaviors from — or towards — their child.
With ProtectMe by Kidas you can monitor your child’s online social gaming habits without disrupting their fun.
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The Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force Program is a national network of 61 coordinated task forces, representing over 5,400 federal, state, and local law enforcement, dedicated to investigating, prosecuting, and developing effective responses to internet crimes against children.
(Child exploitation cases have skyrocketed, presenting agencies like the Seattle Police Department with a massive challenge to save more children from these heinous crimes. This story is about a few officers in Seattle, WA, but their narrative is a strong reminder that there are good cops everywhere solving heinous crimes and putting their lives on the line for citizens worldwide. Courtesy of Cellebrite and YouTube.)
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