Blizzard Entertainment have revealed Overwatch 2 will not only record players’ voice chats but that they’ll also need their phone number.
As part of the “Defense Matrix” initiative, Blizzard Entertainment admit ahead of Overwatch 2‘s October 4th launch “While this is an exciting time, we also recognize that free-to-play introduces new challenges in how we disincentivize disruptive behavior and gameplay.”
“Defense Matrix encompasses our infrastructure of systems designed to help protect the integrity of gameplay and promote positive behavior in Overwatch 2,” Blizzard explained. “This initiative is spearheaded by a group made up of cross-functional teams throughout Blizzard, and they have defined a set of goals that’s guiding our mission to ensure a great experience for all Overwatch 2 players.”
These “core philosophies” that will guide the team include “Define, develop, and nurture programs that will ensure a positive experience for all players,” “Ensure competitive integrity at every level of play by rapidly identifying and eliminating cheaters and disruptive players,” and to “Create a safer community both in and out of the game by embracing a firm stance against disruptive gameplay and enabling players who are both positive and constructive to be the leading voices in the community.”
Blizzard Entertainment hope to do this via “SMS Protect,” claiming it “brings meaningful change when it comes to disruptive play. This additional layer of security is an industry-proven solution in combating both cheating and disruptive behavior, further protecting your Overwatch 2 experience from bad actors.”
This would be more than a log-in verification code being texted to players, however. “The security of your account is important, and SMS Protect helps verify ownership of your account in the unforeseen event of an account compromise. Similarly, if a disruptive player has been suspended or banned, SMS Protect makes it more difficult for them to return to the game.”
“Starting October 4, 2022, all players across all platforms, including consoles, are required to have a phone number attached to their battle.net account to launch Overwatch 2,” Blizzard Entertainment revealed.
“The same phone number cannot be used on multiple accounts at the same time, and players can’t use the same phone number to create multiple accounts. A phone number can only be used once when making a new account, and certain types of numbers, including pre-paid and VOIP, cannot be used for SMS Protect.”
Similar is also demanded for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II and “newly created Call of Duty: Modern Warfare accounts.” These phone numbers are intended for free-to-play games.
As the original Overwatch is being updated into Overwatch 2, Blizzard Entertainment added, “Even if you own a previous box version of the original Overwatch, you still need to activate SMS Protect to play Overwatch 2.” Warcraft III: Reforged had also updated over the original game, much to the disgust of fans due to it being inferior in many key areas.
If the demand for a phone number felt invasive to some, it was sure to be exacerbated by Blizzard Entertainment’s use of “machine learning and audio transcripts.” After explaining how machine learning had been used to detect and prevent “disruptive behavior” and text chat, they revealed “We’re expanding our detection capabilities by introducing audio transcriptions in the following weeks after launch.”
“Audio transcriptions allow us to collect a temporary voice chat recording of a reported player and automatically transcribe it through speech to text programs,” Blizzard Entertainment educate. “The text file is then analyzed for disruptive behavior by our chat review tools.”
“Once the audio recording has been transcribed to text, it’s quickly deleted as the file’s sole purpose is to identify potentially disruptive behavior. The text file is then deleted no later than 30 days after the audio transcription,” Blizzard Entertainment insist.
Nonetheless, the system is not entirely automatic, as players need to report the offending behavior or speech as soon as it’s seen as Blizzard Entertainment “do not store voice chat data long term.”
Voice chat recording is also utilized by Riot Games’ Valorant, though the automation could cause some hypothetical issues. While not confirmed to be due to automation, Japanese Apex Legends players have found themselves being banned for saying “nigero,” or “run” in their own language.
As such, an automated system may be missing key context — such as only recording a person’s response to torment, failing to realize all involved with the voice chat don’t object to the language being used or topic in discussion.
Other aspects of the Defense Matrix-driven overhaul of systems design include improving the first time user experience. Excluding those who played prior to October 4th or bought the Watchpoint Pack, new players will have less heroes and game modes initially available to prevent them being “overwhelmed.” That content is unlocked over “approximately 100 matches” — though most restrictions are “lifted while in a group.”
Player levels will also be removed (experience going to the Battle Pass instead), and players will need to win 50 Quick Play matches to unlock Competitive matches. These matches are also analyzed to optimize future matchmaking for that player. “While this process helps new players join the fun, it’s also an effective way to discourage disruptive behavior and cheating,” Blizzard Entertainment claimed.
Endorsements will only have a single category per match, and can only be given to those on the player’s own team. Portrait borders and skill tiers are not shown before matches to prevent “judgement” of teammates and opposing players. A ping system will be added for those who don’t wish to use voice chat, and general chat is being removed as it was “an area where frequent disruptive behavior occurred” with no “productive purpose.”
The Defense Matrix will be enforced via Blizzard Entertainment’s numerous departments, who can “conduct specialized cheat investigations and reverse-engineer cheats to understand how they work, how they hide, and how we can prevent them from impacting our players. These teams also conduct targeted deep dives on player sociology to improve our disruptive behavior investigations.”
Parent company Activision Blizzard King, along with “external partners and security vendors” and the Fair Play Alliance to combine their expertise studying distruptive behavior in other franchises, encourage positive play, and create anti-tamper, anti-cheat, and anti-reverse-engineering technology.