A total overhaul of Xbox Live is one of Microsoft's big plays for next gen, and there are fascinating consequences as regards the Reputation system. This is being upgraded from Xbox 360's simple five-star rating to a learning system which will track player misbehaviour and effectively create tacit communities of ne'er do wells, safeguarding the rest of us from their evil designs. Speaking to OXM at an exclusive Xbox One reveal event in May, Microsoft's senior product manager Mike Lavin explored the ramifications.
The key aim is that players won't have to splinter off into Parties to ensure they aren't matched with objectionable types in multiplayer. "There's a lot of folks, a lot of our core consumers who just want to basically kick back and stay in touch with some of their old college buddies," Lavin began. "That's cool, and Party Chat today and our Party system is leaps and bounds ahead of competitors, from the standpoint of just being able to isolate yourself and cross-game chat.
"But the problem we see is that this fragments voice communication within games. It's very difficult, because if you're isolated in Party Chat, you're leaving everybody else behind." Microsoft wants everybody to communicate, ideally, and "in order to do that, you need a community of folks that aren't screaming vulgarities every ten seconds, or the griefers or the harassers, those types of folks.
"What we're looking at doing is creating a very robust system around reputation and match-making," he continued. "If people are in your friends list, we're not touching that, we're just making it easier for you to come together. It's really the anonymous side of things where we're making these investments. Ultimately if there's a few per cent of our population that are causing the rest of the population to have a miserable time, we should be able to identify those folks."
Microsoft will do more to encourage good behaviour - and shut down the griefers. "There are industry best practices we've looked at, about giving kudos and props to people who behave well. We've learned from everything we've seen, and we're trying to take it to the next level. So there'll be very good things that happen to people that just play their games and are good participants. And you'll start to see some effects if you continue to play bad or, or harass other people en masse. You'll probably end up starting to play more with other people that are more similar to you."
This raises the grim, intriguing prospect of a layer of the community only the most dastardly offenders will ever experience - an Xbox Live populated exclusively by griefers, trash talkers, and sharers of illiterate comments about your parentage or sexuality. It's almost like Microsoft has created the Xbox Live version of hell, we suggested. "I didn't say that," Lavin retorted with a grin. "Some people might like to play with people that are similar to them. I would not necessarily want to play with those folks."
The system will be proof against exploitation, he continued. "Let's just be clear, there is no way at all that a conglomerate of people can conspire to sink your Reputation on the system. The way that it's built fundamentally stops that. It's very much over a period of time - if we see consistently that people, for instance, don't like playing with you, that you're consistently blocked, that you're the subject of enforcement actions because you're sending naked pictures of yourself to people that don't want naked pictures of you... Blatant things like that have the ability to quickly reduce your Reputation score."