Eight strikes and you’re out: does Xbox’s new enforcement system go far enough? 

xbox strikes

Xbox wants to educate players about respect – but is its new ‘eight strikes and you’re out’ enforcement system go far enough? Vikki Blake takes a closer look.


As part of its plans to “empower players to respectfully interact with one another”, Xbox recently unveiled a new enforcement strike system to ensure “everyone deserves a place to comfortably be themselves online, free of harassment and bullying”.

The new system sees players risk anything from a 24-hour to a 365-day ban depending on just how bad their infraction is or how many times they’ve been reported in the last six months.

What does this mean for us? Well, if later this evening you happen to be reported for, say, profanity, you’ll get one strike and a day-long suspension. Cheating will net you the same consequences. Be sexually inappropriate with someone, and you’ll get two strikes but the same one-day suspension. Hate speech – a criminal offence in some parts of the world – nets you three strikes and a three-day ban.

Described as “similar to the demerit strikes used in driver’s licence systems”, Xbox permits players to chalk up to eight demerits – no, I don’t know why they settled on eight either; I’m pretty sure the saying is “three strikes and you’re out”, right? – in a rolling six-month period before the 365-day ban hammer falls.

Of course, if you’re caught doing something illegal, it’ll be made permanent, although interestingly even a 365-day ban doesn’t prevent you from playing; the ban only prevents you from using Xbox’s social features like messaging, parties, and party chat… so even the most persistent offenders will still be able to play single player games and retain their game libraries.

I’m always grateful when companies look at new ways to keep their communities safe, but it’s difficult not to read Xbox’s proposal without deflating a bit. At its best, it’ll ensure repeat offenders will likely space out their attacks. At its worst, it’s a toothless gimmick. I mean, going by this system, someone would only get a 365-day ban on the third occasion they were reported for hate speech in a six month period, and four times before they get the same punishment for being sexually inappropriate.

Yes, there are suspensions in that interim of course – on strike seven, for instance, the sexually inappropriate player would get a three-month ban – and yes, Xbox’s penalties for breaking the rules escalate, but do we really have to tolerate this kind of cyclical and persistent toxicity before repeat offenders are removed from the community altogether?

Beyond the usual issues of who decides what is or is not sexually inappropriate, harassment, or flagrant hate speech (this system will require an entire army of moderators to implement fairly, swiftly, and consistency), how will the system safeguard against false or malicious reports? What happens if the sexual inappropriateness includes threats of sexual violence and hate speech? How can a player prove that they didn’t cheat or make a derogatory remark if, say, an entire opposing team took exception to a battering on Destiny or Overwatch 2 and filed false flags? And conversely, how can a player prove that someone was inappropriate with them if both parties have differing views or cultural references on what “inappropriate” even means? And while there’s explicit reference to an appeal process for the strikee, is there the same appeal system for those who are making the reports?

For Xbox, however, the onus seems to be on educating players and challenging unacceptable behaviours rather than punishment. At least, that’s according to Dave McCarthy – corporate vice president for Xbox Player Services.

“In 2022, fewer than one per cent of all players received a temporary suspension, and only a third of those received a second,” McCarthy explains. “The strike system is designed to further empower players to engage positively and appropriately on Xbox and with the community.

“Each player will now have a view of their enforcement history including strikes and the overall impact these have on their player record. This revised system gives players a better understanding of enforcement severity and the cumulative effect of multiple enforcements. Enforcement transparency is about giving players clarity into how their behaviour impacts their experience.”

That’s right – all players can see their standing at any time, and while I personally liken it to a helpful head’s up in much the same way some people – not me, no siree, I’d never do such a thing, honestly – keep track of their sick days so they know when they can next take the next one without triggering a warning in work, Xbox believes this transparency should “typically stop inappropriate behaviour after one enforcement, [as players] quickly learn what is and is not acceptable based on the Xbox Community Standards and how to better engage on our platform”.

Honestly? I genuinely, sincerely hope Xbox is right. I hope that this new transparent system – regardless of whether you think it’s too relaxed, too late, too harsh, or too little too late – does exactly what Xbox hopes it does. But without knowing what other infractions players could be reported for and how many strikes they carry – Xbox has only given us “examples” rather than a full run-down at this time – or even how moderators will be trained in adjudicating reports… well, eight-strikes-and-you’re-out feels like five too many to me. We’ll see, I guess.

Vikki Blake has a column every week here at whynow Gaming. You can read her previous dispatch here.

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