How Microsoft polices Xbox Live

"We focus on the really bad stuff."

The Xbox Live Enforcement team is "moving into a realm where we're applying more automation to the process" of policing gamers.

The news comes from a Microsoft-commissioned article about the virtual police force, which needs to keep the 35 million Xbox Live members in check.

In 2007, before Xbox Live hit one million users, "Enforcement was literally done by one guy with a spreadsheet who would go through the complaints once a week," revealed Stephen Toulouse, director of the Xbox Live Policy and Enforcement team.

"We knew Xbox Live was going to explode. We knew we were on the cusp of something huge, especially when we saw how many people came into the service with the launch of Halo 3."

Toulouse assembled a team and built the Vulcan tool ("designed on cocktail napkins") to help. The team now uses Vulcan 2.0.

"Most of the decisions need human eyes to keep it real," said Boris Erickson, Xbox Live Enforcement Unicorn Ninja. Really.

"Though we are moving into a realm where we're applying more automation to the process."

That human eye can be enforcers playing a game with you.

"Part of what we pay them for is to be out there in the community, listening for threats, looking for vulnerabilities, and reporting back to us."

Boris Erickson, Xbox Live Enforcement Unicorn Ninja

"The enforcement agents also play games," Erickson revealed. "Part of what we pay them for is to be out there in the community, listening for threats, looking for vulnerabilities, and reporting back to us."

"If you're playing a game on Xbox Live and somebody snipes you from across the map and you drop the F-bomb, we're not going to ban you," elaborated Erickson, "not for the occasional slip. We focus on the really bad stuff.

"We are not here to be the arbiters of all speech, but there are certainly some kinds of communication on Xbox Live that cross a line: racism, homophobia, sexism, offensive comments about nationalities and more."

Enforcement action ranges from 24-hour bans for offenders to being voted "off the island", i.e. banned for good.

The team do tread carefully, Erickson said, and acknowledge that "these are paid subscriptions we're taking away, so we want to make sure we're doing exactly the right thing".

Xbox Live, on the whole, isn't a melting pot of angst and abuse; Toulouse said the "cross-section of bad apples" dealt with daily amounts to "less than one per cent of the overall population".

"The user complaint volume has tended to stay relatively flat compared to the line of new users," he elaborated. "What that says to me is that our efforts are having an impact, and also that we're broadening our audience.

"To the extent that we do see bad behaviour, it's often tied to the belief that they're anonymous, they won't get caught, and we're not looking."

Stephen Toulouse

"We're bringing in different people that want to experience different things on Xbox Live, not just gaming, and at the end of the day that's going to improve everything."

Toulouse, Erickson and team apparently use pictures of LOLcats to lift their spirits after particularly dour cases. "They do a lot to help," Erickson said. "You sort of need that disconnection from the offensive content sometimes."

Toulouse concluded: "I've learned that the vast majority of people on our service are out there having fun. We have a great community."

"To the extent that we do see bad behaviour, it's often tied to the belief that they're anonymous, they won't get caught, and we're not looking.

"The vast majority of people are out there are trying to be excellent to each other."

Toulouse's top tips for staying out of trouble are to not cross "that line of bad behaviour"; to help each other have fun, which "makes a good behaviour ripple through the system"; to get involved with what your kids play, because "engaged parents tend to have children who don't show up in our complaint system"; and to report the naughties - "We are approachable," roared Toulouse. "We have a complaint system for a reason."

Gears of War 3 will be popular on Xbox Live this September.

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