An open letter to PixelTail Games - I am cancelling my Patreon subscription

Good day PixelTail Games.

It is with the deepest regret to announce that I will be cancelling my Patreon subscription, effective immediately.

As much as I would like to continue financially supporting the game and helping to keep the servers running, I am finding it increasingly difficult to justify doing so. This difficulty is not so much out of personal financial concerns, but more out of ethical, moral, and legal concerns.

These moral and ethical concerns are borne out of three principles.

  1. The recent complaints of the seemingly lax approach to the moderation of user generated content, and user conduct. As discussed in the thread; “Unpopular opinions about TU?”.

This in relation to an issue in which I had reported a player for inappropriate conduct with regards to trolling and actual sexual harassment in the US East 1 nightclub some days ago - using the appropriate channels that you have required me to use (the in-game report system). and it would seem that no action has been taken against them as they have seen to be still active in the game.

Let me be clear; ALL allegations of sexual harassment are to be taken super seriously - at all times, regardless of whether or not evidence was provided. It is not wise to simply dismiss or discard a report where allegations of sexual harassment of all things are being raised, even if no harm (physical, or otherwise) was done. I feel like a very thin line is being tread here, and continuing with this precedent could render yourselves liable to potential future legal repercussions. That is not to say that I have intentions of seeking legal recourse against PixelTail, because I do not.

As for the lax moderation; the game can not be effectively moderated by simply relying on user generated report forms alone. There needs to be at least, some form of a visible in-game presence - so that direct intervention can be taken for the most serious breaches of the rules as they happen.

An in-game presence and direct intervention will set a precedent so that the players will know where they stand with regards to moderation, they will know where the line is and not to cross it. On the contrary; an absence of in-game moderation and no direct intervention just sets a precedent for outright anarchy.

I see comments over on the Tower Unite subreddit claiming that “moderation is taken very seriously”, and given by what I’ve learned about and observed over the last few months of play, I am seriously starting to have my doubts.

  1. Allegations being made against yourselves with regards to harbouring paedophiles and allowing child porn to be hosted in condos.

I am currently aware of a recent dispute between yourselves and persons whom up until recently have been banned from the forum; whose name shall not be mentioned, whom has made allegations against yourselves with regards to the harbouring of paedophiles and allowing actual child porn and other such illicit materials, to be on display in condos.

This is dangerous territory as you genuinely have minors playing the game.

As I understand it, your position on what happens in condos is outside of your remit, and that the responsibility of what players are allowed to do inside condos ultimately lies with the respective host. The problem is, however, that if again any of these allegations are true, it is still taking place in your game.

If for example, you have consulted with your legal team and determined that the content and conduct in player condos is legitimately outside of your scope, then you are morally obliged to display a disclaimer screen absolving yourself of responsibility prior to joining any condo server, and disclaimer text on such a screen should be explained in the simplest terms possible.

If you haven’t yet consulted with your legal team, then you yourselves, by extension, still have an obligation to moderate what is taking place in condos. Better to be safe than sorry, no? If again, these allegations being made against you are true, then quite frankly I am nauseated at the thought that you yourselves are by extension allowing this to occur and that this is quite simply beyond the pale.

Lastly, if allegations of sexual harassment made through the report system aren’t serious enough to warrant an investigation and potential suspensions and bans from the game, then what is?

  1. No statements or policies concerning commitment to transparency and accountability.

The events of January 6th’s attempted insurrection and overthrowing of the US congress has undeniably, prompted many of us to question how it got to this point, and this has also forced the hand of big tech’s social media platforms to clamp down on both offensive and inappropriate content and conduct, both far and wide.

The lack of transparency and accountability on big tech social media over the last decade or so is to blame for the rising tide and spread of misinformation, toxic politics, conspiracy theories, radicalisation, among other things.

While I understand that PixelTail Games are not exactly big tech, it begs the question as to what you are doing with regards to COPPA compliance, as I am genuinely interested to know.

I would also like to see more transparency with regards to moderation, and what you yourselves are doing to combat malicious conduct in-game.

What about your infosec procedures? How can I be rest assured that my data is safe with you?

  • End.

All this is to be taken as constructive criticism. I must have spent the best part of an hour or so in wording this as carefully and tactfully as possible. I have thought long and hard about this. I have proofread and proofread and proofread down to the last letter.

If there is anything I may have got wrong, please do correct me.

I do truly love the game and wish to see it grow, but I can not continue with my Patreon subscription at this current moment of time.

I wish to see a positive change and revision with regards to your policies and procedures first.

Kind regards.

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I have a player report from your account on record that I can see, and that user was banned from Global Chat, Local Chat, Voice Chat, and the Media Players in the plaza forever based on your report. At present, these bans are distributed over the Global Chat, and in the Plaza Servers.

We are working for one of the next updates, to make our bans by default affect Game Worlds and Condos. For instance, if we voice ban someone in the Plaza, that player will be default Voice Banned in a Game World or Condo, with the ability for a player to override the ban on their end for that particular user should they wish.

We DO take all allegations seriously. However, for serious allegations, definitive evidence is required.

I may be biased, as I handle 99.9% of all moderation duties on Tower Unite, but I wouldn’t describe it as LAX. I, and the team, have alerts that go off within 30 seconds of a player report, and I strive myself on dealing with them as soon as they come in. I interrupt work, testing the game, even taking a pause in meetings to look into a new report. This extends to my off work hours as well, pausing a game I am playing to look at a report. I have a laptop out while I watch movies with my family, just on the off chance a report comes in while we’re watching. It’s the first thing I look at when I wake up in the morning, and the last thing I look at when I go to bed.

Almost 90% of all the reports I receive however, I have to throw away, because there is no evidence. I cannot simply ban a user for an action they are accused of, without any evidence whatsoever. If it’s in Text Chat, Global Chat, the Media system, we log all of that, so that’s something we can take a look at, but Voice Chat and conduct in Game Worlds and Condos (which we don’t moderate), we don’t have any evidence on our end for, and that needs to be supplied by the user filing the report.

That being said, we are a very small team working on a very large game. There are only 10 of us, so having a in-game moderation team is completely infeasible. For this reason, we have given the community so many tools for self-moderation, and ways to report players to us, because we can’t be there 24/7. We have local player blocking systems (which are still being expanded), local chat and voice muting, etc.

I’m not going to speak much about this particular individual, only that the user has been banned for uploading illicit materials to our forum, and the material and information on the user were sent to the proper law enforcement agencies.

Condos are private servers, hosted by the condo host, and run on the condo host’s computer. Our position on the condo system is the host creates the rules for their condo, and they are responsible for any of the content they have.

This being said, we have and will continue to have made changes to the condo system, to make it clearer. Early on, we added a Canvas warning system, that would tell users that there are canvases in this condo, and asking if you should trust this individual.

This system is entirely being reworked in one of the next updates. We will be adding a default canvas host whitelist, which by default is populated with image hosts that have public abuse pages for reporting illicit materials. Users can change this should they wish, to add or remove from the list what they desire. If a user enters a condo, and it has canvases which are hosted on a domain that is not in this list, the user will be notified, shown the domain/url of the canvas, and asked if they want to view it. The user can then decide if they want to continue or not, and if they want to add that domain to the whitelist.

We have also talked about the disclaimer popup you’ve mentioned, and having it display on every condo you visit, unless you specifically trust the condo host. I don’t have any updates to share on this, but it has been discussed.

We also have a moderation system planned with our upcoming server browser backend, the ability to ban users altogether from having condos in public view, preventing users from setting their own condo name (Harassment, Racism, etc), and we’ve talked about some sort of mature flag the condo host can set. We’ve also seen the suggestions that blocked player’s condos shouldn’t appear in the list and we agree.

ANY illicit materials in a condo would likely be distributed through the Canvas system. The Canvas at its core, is just a web browser, the image of which it is holding is hosted on a web server, which are not owned or run by PixelTail (Imgur, Discord, Reddit as a few examples). As the material is being hosted on that service, those services need to be informed they are hosting illicit material, and they will remove it and report it to the proper law enforcement agencies, along with information of the user who uploaded it.

Steam, the platform of which Tower Unite is on, requires all registered users to be over the age of 13. Tower Unite is not specifically designed for any age whatsoever.

I’m not entirely sure I understand the question, but I can go into it a bit. We take security of our systems very seriously, when we’re made aware of an issue we fix it as soon as we can. Most user data is stored directly on Steam (Inventory, Stats, EXP, Condo Saves).

The only user data we store on Tower Unite is the amount of units, and date and timestamps of global chat messages, plaza server chat messages, and media requests in the plaza. The only identifier for users given is the SteamID of the account which sent the messages or made the media requests. For Tower Express, the only information stored is order history for a user.

In the interest of making our systems more robust and less dependent on Steam, we had once discussed moving Inventory away from Steam, but made the determination that it would be too time consuming and would take away focus from the rest of the game. However, we have discussed in greater detail moving Stats and EXP to our own system, which would then in turn attempt to update Steam when it could. This would remove a burden and requirement on Steam operating 100%.

Hopefully I’ve answered your questions, but if not please ask.

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definitive evidence is required.

me on my way to get my forum permaban
799539889795629076

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The game already has plenty of ways to block/ignore/untrust other players. The trolls will troll if you don’t ignore them.

The NSFW condos are mostly upfront about its contents. Most condos will have it labeled right in the title, or make the player take a portal or potion with NSFW warnings posted. I’ve only seen one condo that blasted the player with NSFW images right ontop of the spawn.

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The Devs can’t predict what people do. People are unpredictable, and they don’t have the time, energy, or resources available to moderate condos and what they do. If you have a problem with it, then report the user with evidence and go on your merry way. Caboose made good points in that the devs can’t act on baseless accusations. This is Tower Unite, not a Karen’s Twitter thread.

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We believe you are implying there was a user who was banned for making a report. That is not what happened.

A couple months ago, the individual who is now banned from our forums (person A) had notified us that a user (person B) was distributing illicit materials to other members of the Tower Unite community, through an unofficial Tower Unite related Discord server and on Steam.

We informed the individual (person A), that they should report these materials to Discord, Steam, and the appropriate law enforcement agencies, as that is where the material was being hosted and distributed. And that we cannot report for them as the materials were not posted or hosted on our Discord or our servers, nor was it sent to any of our staff.

We immediately took action against the user who was reported (person B) by banning them from our Discord server and working with the unofficial Discord server to also ban person B.

A few days ago, person A sent us a DM on our forums, posting edited versions (yet still illegal) of the illicit materials, which was then uploaded and hosted on our forum server. There was no new evidence provided that anything was being done inside of Tower Unite, only of the original events that transpired on an unofficial Discord and Steam.

As person A uploaded illicit materials to our forum servers, we took action immediately and reported it to the appropriate law enforcement agencies and banned person A for uploading and redistributing illegal content.

They were not permabanned for making a report. They were banned for uploading illegal content to our servers. Making a report should have been done without re-uploading illegal materials (a simple description would have been sufficient). Making a second report was also unnecessary as we had already taken action and informed them of the proper channels to report to law enforcement agencies through Discord (where the original incident took place).

These illicit materials should not have been distributed, and should not have been sent to us, they should have only been sent to law enforcement.

In the future, please only make reports to us without uploading illegal materials. We only need descriptions. Illegal materials need to be only sent to law enforcement, not us. We don’t need to see it. We take these matters seriously and we take action on what we can within our game and what is hosted on our servers.

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Me coming back from my break away from TU:

1597957589222

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Yeah- including the images is definitely not something I’d’ve done, but like Caboose said- “definitive evidence is required.” My thing with that post was mostly bein’ a bit frustrated because the player report page says you need evidence. Sometimes you include evidence- nothing happens. Sometimes you include even more evidence because the same individual is breaking the same set of rules- nothing happens. Also. the character limit on the player report page gets halved. Something like pedophilia isn’t something you should accuse people of willy-nilly like, so having detailed, well-supported, evidence does seem like something that should be required in this case. Again- I agree that those images probably could have been done without, but also like- it had already been reported be someone else and disregarded 99.9% in the past. If it wasn’t something that had happened in an official Tower Unite discord or within a PixelTail moderated section of the game, why was the person banned this time? Like- I by no means agree with doxxing, but from what I hear the Big ol’ Greenman didn’t do that in a PixelTail moderated server and that dude had a petition on the plaza browser for months. And maybe it wasn’t the pedophilia stuff- maybe it was them repeatedly bugging people for GMT source code. I don’t have anything else to finish that thought other than saying you care more about your source code than you do -probable- predators roamin’ around your community, which I really hope isn’t the case, so I’m gonna move away from that bit. Though even if it was that- most of those interactions had happened outside of TU as well, such as on Discord or Steam. So I’d hate to side with someone who- based on what I’ve heard- may or may not be a lil bit of a freak, but I don’t think they should’ve been banned then. Bet you didn’t think I’d be siding with person B on this- did ya? It really took that individual kamikaze-ing to get that person banned.

It is for this reason- I am now on team #FreeDemeryx. Free my mans- he did nothing wrong- at least not in a PixelTail moderated environment. He can keep the leaderboard ban tho- I don’t trust Ball Race players. Never have, never will.

Also I’m kidding about that last part, frick that dude- please just moderate consistently. I beg of you. Plz don’t ban me from the forums- I’m just being funny haha regular badge haver. hummina hummina awooga- am I right?

Also also- person A was like, a separate someone months ago. So there’s at least like- three people here. Imma say it’s none of my business- but there should at least be a person C, and if the alphabet goes in chronological order, C would be the person who got nuked.

Thank you for coming to my TedTalk, please view some of my Little Crusaders suggestions:
Require Knights to be on the ground to be stomped
Disable (or add option to disable) camera smoothing as dragon

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Please refer to our posts about this issue. For now I am closing this thread. In the future, please follow this guide: How To Report Players

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