By: Dennis Scimeca
This was my first Xbox Live Enforcement panel, and I never would have thought that a room full of gamers, a lot of whom were undoubtedly guilty of breaking many of the Xbox Live Terms of Service, would be so happy at a panel held by the men who doled out their punishment when appropriate. The audience laughter and applause was some of the loudest I've heard at an Expo panel thus far. Perhaps, as Stephen “Stepto” Toulouse noted, it was just that the panel wasn't being held on the last day of the Expo as was traditional, when everyone was hung over from partying the night before.
“One of the things that I love about Xbox Live is that Microsoft actually invests in my team,” Toulouse said. To a point, Microsoft doesn't have a choice. “There are millions of people playing Xbox Live right now. Some of them are jerks.” Toulouse introduced the panel by outlining the three ways his team keeps the Live service clean. They go through complaints, they actively police the system by sending people out to play games, and they do education (like talking at PAX).
Andreas Holbrook, known by the gamertag “XBLBigBrother,” showed a series of videos dispelling some myths about XBL enforcement. No, no one is autobanned after 100 complaints. No, they do not have ban parties where Stepto tosses people off the service as he feels so inclined. The image of a white-robed Toulouse drinking beer straight from the pitcher and asking for victims to ban will stick with me for a while. Also, no, you should probably not answer messages from someone named UberL33tHax0r who says he is Special Agent John Smith and needs your Live name and password to verify your account.
The highlight of the panel was when Boris Erickson, known on Live as either “Bootblack” or “XBLPET Pap” gave the audience a first look at the Vulcan software tool that the XBL Enforcement teams uses to process all the myriad complaints sent their way by irate gamers worldwide. Why did Toulouse name it Vulcan? Because the mythical deity who goes by that name is identified as “the God of hindering and enabling fire,” and Toulouse thought it sounded cool.
Vulcan can actually be operated with an Xbox 360 controller, using the colored face buttons to designate levels of appropriate response to complaints, and pass them further down the chain for other enforcement personnel to act on. Erickson showed a video that demonstrated how gamertag and profile complaints are handled, but promised that a video of Instant Enforcement, which Erickson called, “the most satisfying feature I have ever had the pleasure of designing,” would be coming to YouTube.
Toulouse then took to the podium again and told a tale of playing Anarchy mode in Bulletstorm, which requires playing together as a team to fulfill Skillshot challenges and advance to the next level. Toulouse and the other people on his team were all noobs except for one player who was taking the time to teach them how to play. Toulouse said that last year at PAX East he talked about sportsmanship, and how it's the job of gamers to spread that idea, to follow Wil Wheaton's Law of “Don't be a dick.”
Toulouse reflected on growing up in arcades where there was often a sense of camaraderie, and getting cheered on by someone even if they had the next quarter on top of the machine, i.e. they had the next game. “I wonder if it's not time to go beyond Wil's suggestion and not just not be a dick, but be excellent to each other? That Bulletstorm guy, he was being excellent to everyone.”