Brendan Maher in Nature:
League of Legends has 67 million players and grossed an estimated US$1.25 billion in revenue last year. But it also has a reputation for toxic in-game behaviour, which its parent company, Riot Games in Los Angeles, California, sees as an obstacle to attracting and retaining players. So the company has hired a team of researchers to study the social — and antisocial — interactions between its users. With so many players, the scientists have been able to gather vast amounts of behavioural data and to conduct experiments on a scale that is rarely achieved in academic settings. Whereas other game companies have similar research teams, Riot's has been remarkably open about its work — with players, with other companies and with a growing collection of academic collaborators who see multiplayer games as a Petri dish for studying human behaviour. “What's most interesting with Riot is not that they're doing it but that they're publicizing it and have an established way of sharing it with academics,” says Nick Yee, a social scientist and co-founder of Quantic Foundry, a video-game-industry consulting firm in Sunnyvale, California.
Riot's findings have helped to reveal where the toxic behaviour comes from and how to steer players to be kinder to each other. And some say that the work may translate to digital venues outside the game. “The work they do is extensible to thinking about big questions,” says Justin Reich, an education researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, “not just how do we make online games more civil places, but how do we make the Internet a more civil place?”