Riot Games found themselves at the center of a controversy last week following several League of Legends players posting publicly that their in-game names had been changed without their consent and they’d been sent what looked like “psychiatric testing” surveys in exchange for a free name change.
The surveys were modified versions of the “Narcissistic Personality Inventory,” created by Robert Raskin and Howard Terry, and “The Aggression Scale: A Self-Report Measure of Aggressive Behavior for Young Adolescents,” created by Pamela Orpinas and Ralph Frankowski. The social media and games media backlash raised questions about the ethics of such testing being conducted on their age 13+ player base without informed consent and asked the question whether Riot Games had overstepped their boundaries. Riot Games have since contacted Breitbart to explain why they believe neither of these concerns are issues.
Initially Riot Games issued a repetition of the statement they sent Gamasutra, which read, “When a player has an offensive name and it’s reported by the community, then we change it for them. It’s a standard process for games and online platforms. Players can opt out of the free name change survey and play with their assigned names or they can pay for a name change. The survey helps players think about their behaviour and this benefits the entire community.”
However, after communicating with the head of Riot’s player behaviour team, Jeffrey “Lyte” Lin, he told us that there were a lot of misconceptions about the work his team were currently undertaking.
After raising that several names had been changed that were seemingly innocuous, including requests to buff certain champions, Lin explained that the process hadn’t been conducted as randomly as it seemed from the outside.
“Names were flagged as inappropriate or offensive if they receive a significant number of ‘Inappropriate or Offensive Name’ player reports, and fail our manual review of the names,” he explained.
He stated that any names that had been selected for changing and the subsequent survey must have been manually changed during a two week sifting period. “The issue with some seemingly neutral names being changed was one of timing,” he continued. “We turned on a system to start flagging inappropriate or offensive names, then spent 2 weeks combing through the names by hand to ensure that there were no false positives. Because of this, when we started the second step to assign less offensive names to players, some players had already purchased name changes during this 2 week period.”
He also wanted to stress that “players that already changed their names to something less offensive will have the opportunity to keep their neutral names for free. If there was a neutral name that was changed by accident, players can reach out to player support and they’ll immediately have their name reverted.”
Lin was quick to dismiss criticisms about ethical concerns, especially surrounding young players being exposed to psychological testing without being able to give “informed consent” or having their parental awareness. He assured us there were safeguards in place.
“We have to exclude minors from the research” he told us. “We collect age twice; once at sign-up of the League account and on the survey itself, and any minors or clear outliers in birth dates must be excluded from the research. All data is anonymized and we go to great lengths to make sure data cannot be linked back to an individual.”
“Regarding players’ mental health,” he added, “these surveys assess personality, and not mental health. Researchers employing these surveys should not be solely using this data for any mental health assessments, and we do not make any assumptions about mental health from this data either.”
When pushed on why these tests were being conducted and whether it was an overreach by Riot Games, he simply stated that “in research, sometimes players just being aware of the purpose can affect the behaviours and results. Once the project concludes, we’d be happy to shed more light on the goals of the survey and why it has really large benefits for the community.”