A member of the team behind failed MMO Lego Universe has shed more light on the challenges of ensuring an online game is safe for children in the face of, well, penises.
In a series of tweets, Megan Fox – now at Glass Bottom Games – explains how difficult it was to automate a filter for inappropriate content, and how many people would be require to manually moderate it.
Her experience – not to mention the precedents set by titles such as Spore – leaves her sceptical about how games developers will ever be able to fully protect children using titles built around creativity.
The tweets were originally made on May 29th 2015, but have since been spotted and retweeted by other users.
“We were asked to make dong detection software for Lego Universe,” Fox wrote. “We found it to be utterly impossible at any scale. Players would hide the dongs where the filtering couldn’t see, make them only visible from one angle, or make multi-part penis sculptures.
“The moderation costs of Lego Universe were a big issue in general. They wanted a creative building MMO with a promise of zero penises seen.”
To achieve this, developer NetDevil formed a large moderation team that would be sent screenshots of every model created – as Fox describes it, “entirely whitelist-based building”. Players could build whatever they liked, but it would be inaccessible to other users until the team had done a “penis sweep” on it.
“It was all automated, but the human moderators were, if I remember correctly, the single biggest cost center for Lego Universe’s operational costs,” said Fox.
She goes on to recall that one employee was very nearly fired for building a penis themselves. While it was on his own in-game property, a child user wandered into it while the studio was conducting a test of the game on young people.
“We’re talking ‘test operator rushed forward, blocks the monitor, slams the game closed, four alarm fire to find who built the penis’ here,” Fox wrote. “After which a memo went out indicating our new absolute zero tolerance on building penises of any kind, anywhere, in the game.
“This is all obvious, simple stuff, and is why dealing with COPPA – which protects kids – is so damn hard in online games. Even devs build dongs.
“This is a roundabout way of saying ‘never build an online game for kids’. Or ‘I have no idea how Minecraft hasn’t been sued over this yet’.”