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Fortnite removed friendly fire as an experiment in combating player toxicity

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Epic Games’ decision to get rid of the friendly fire feature in Fortnite: Battle Royale was completely driven by solving in-game toxicity.

Ben Lewis-Evans, a user experience lead researcher at Epic Games who works on Fortnite, told Polygon that the team rolled out Fortnite with friendly fire on. They decided to disable it after receiving multiple reports from players that they were being killed by their own teammates so other players could pick up dropped items. The friendly fire actions of teammates were beginning to negatively affect the game, Lewis-Evans said, and so the team decided to experiment.

“People were saying, ‘People are killing me for my stuff’ or ‘People are killing me just to troll’ or whatever it might be, but we also understood that it was an important part of the genre up to that point,” Lewis-Evans said. “We had a different type of game with more explosive weapons, with faster action that had come before as well. The original decision to turn it off was just an experiment. ‘Let’s turn this off, see if it is negative.’”

The team believed in one simple ideology: If the overall reaction to turning off friendly fire, a big component of tactical shooters, was negative, they would bring the feature back in. If the survey data and response to the decision was overwhelmingly positive, however, the team would remove friendly fire once and for all.

“We had theories about what could be impacted by [turning friendly fire] on and off, but you can look at things like, ‘Did people play more field games? ‘Were they playing more with friends? ‘Was the number of accidental deaths going up or down?,’” Lewis-Evans said. “How do you tell what’s a general team kill? Another problem with team killing is that the player thinks it’s genuine, but it’s accidental. It doesn’t matter if they were, though, because the emotional impact still carries.

“If you think someone did something on purpose, it doesn’t matter if it was accidental. It affects your experience.”

Lewis-Evans calls this form of curbing negative player behavior as solving disruptive playing through game design. The idea is to get away from relying entirely on player reports and shying away from the term “toxicity,” looking instead to more palpable solutions that players can actually see and vote on through game design decisions. It’s an industry wide problem, and one that Lewis-Evans is hoping to solve with the Fair Play Alliance, an organization he helped co-found that brings together more than 30 game publishers, industry companies and developers to talk about tackling growing toxicity concerns.

“Let’s not just focus on negative,” Lewis-Evans said. “One of the good things that I’ve been a proponent of and that’s kind of been picked up is looking to game design as a solution to this rather than just reporting. We turned off friendly fire and then the friendly fire toxicity problem goes away. 100 percent solved, there is no problem. That’s solving it by design.”

There are other problems facing Fortnite, especially in wake of the game’s immense popularity and a surge of players, but Lewis-Evans said he and his team of designers, engineers, user behavior researchers and other professionals are always looking at ways to solve those problems. Now that Fortnite is available to play on mobile devices, keeping up with game design trends that are negatively and positively affecting players is of the utmost importance to the team.

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