Leo Burnett Toronto Introduces the First Rating System for Online Gaming Toxicity

The rating system targets gaming organizations and digital communities, urging them to intensify efforts to combat toxicity in gaming, educate parents, and provide a more inclusive gaming experience for everyone.

In recent months, Leo Burnett campaigns worldwide have spotlighted pressing global issues, harnessing the power of gaming for social good. For example, Leo Burnett Tailor Made launched “The Originary Map” on Fortnite to draw attention to the critical state of the Amazon rainforest, while Leo Burnett LATAM introduced a new game on WhatsApp, helping make gaming more accessible.  

Leo Burnett Toronto builds on this momentum with new Melanin Gamers partnership, a leading digital community advocating for diversity and inclusion in the video game industry, and the Angus Reid Group, a full-service market research and data services provider, to introduce a toxicity rating system.   

The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) currently offers age and content ratings. However, these ratings primarily focus on in-game storylines and characters, overlooking the significant aspect of online interactions where toxicity often thrives. The Watch Toxicity Rating System bridges this gap by evaluating and rating the online component of games, offering a comprehensive and holistic understanding of the gaming environment. 

The system aims to address and mitigate harmful and abusive behavior within gaming culture, providing a safer and more inclusive environment for over three billion gamers worldwide. It also aims to provide parents, guardians and the global gaming community with critical insights into the level of harmful interactions present in popular online games. 

To develop this campaign, the team conducted extensive surveys with hundreds of gamers across major gaming communities, exploring their experiences with toxicity during online gameplay. The findings revealed a widespread issue, with similar levels of toxic behavior across various games, underscoring the need for a dedicated system to address online interactions specifically. 

To drive home the point of change, the team also launched a petition, urging the community to put pressure on the ESRB to change how games are reviewed and rated. 

By involving gamers in the development process, the campaign ensures the solutions provided are practical and effective and remain authentic.   

“We recognize the urgency of addressing toxicity in gaming and are committed to using our resources to effect meaningful change,” says Steve Persico, CCO of Leo Burnett Toronto. “Our hope is to spark positive conversations and drive collective action to promote a safer gaming community for everyone.” 

We spoke with Tyler McKissick, Art Director at Leo Burnett Toronto to learn more about the campaign and the pressing need to revamp current rating systems.  

What inspired the concept of The Watch Toxicity Rating System? What was the brief and what challenge(s) were you asked to solve? 

The brief was an extension of what last year’s campaign started with The Watch. We asked ourselves how we can further our mission to help reduce toxicity in online gaming and make it a safe space for all. 

We started looking into how games got their ratings and discovered that the ratings were based on the story portions of the games and didn’t include any of the online interactions. And over the years, games have shifted to be more and more online with the community playing a bigger and bigger role in the gaming experience. 

 The big challenge we’re taking on is making online gaming a safer space for everyone, and as we looked at ways to show how prevalent the issue is, we realized giving the online portion a rating system of its own could do more than show the problem, but also be a useful tool. 

The survey conducted by Melanin Gamers, Leo Burnett and The Angus Reid Group involving hundreds of gamers, played a crucial role in assigning ratings to individual online games. What were some key findings from the survey, and how did they inform the strategy and creative process? 

If you’ve spent time playing some of these games online, the results won’t be that shocking but what really stood out was just how similar each toxicity rating was to one another. It shows just how widespread this issue is within the online space. 

Purpose-driven work can sometimes sound preachy. How were you able to balance the messaging and tone against raising awareness and encouraging action and accountability, while respecting the shared love for gaming? What strategies did you employ to ensure that the campaign not only raises awareness but also inspires tangible action and change within the gaming industry? 

We know gamers are a passionate group of people which is why we kept them close to this campaign every step of the way. We wanted to ensure we were being authentic and providing tools/solutions that would help make change. In launching the work, it was important to show the seriousness of the issue in a straightforward way. It’s all about presenting a real possible solution that might help in some way, and we wanted to make sure that came through clearly.

With the focus on parents this year, how might this tool impact social interactions in gaming and its goal of creating a safer gaming community? 

Hopefully it sparks conversations between parents and their kids, or even among parent groups. The more parents know about the issue, the better chance we have of collectively putting pressure on developers and organizations to enact real change. 

How do you envision The Watch rating system complementing existing ESRB ratings? Are there any plans to collaborate or integrate with the ESRB in the future? 

We see it as an extension of the ESRB rating, providing insight into the online gaming communities. We’re in talks with the ESRB currently working through how we can partner together. 

Looking ahead, what is the long-term goal in terms of impact for “The Watch” campaign and the toxicity rating system? How do you measure success in terms of fostering a more positive gaming environment for players of all backgrounds?  

Success with this campaign is building out a more robust library of games, and having parents use it as a tool to inform them about the games their kids play. And whether we make an impact on a single gamer or millions, we’ll keep pushing towards our end goal of making the online gaming space safe for all. 

Over the past year, we’ve seen a boom in “gaming for good-type” campaigns, tackling various social issues. Leo Burnett Tailormade has introduced “The Originary Map” on Fortnite to bring awareness about the state of the Amazon and just recently, Leo Burnett LATAM launched a new game on WhatsApp to unite a region of new gamers. As gaming-specific campaigns continue to grow in popularity, what do you believe are the key considerations for a successful campaign, ensuring authenticity and effectiveness in engaging the gaming community/industry?  

These gaming campaigns reflect just how large the gaming industry has become, and how much work there is to be done to safeguard it. We always take into consideration the people that matter most, gamers, and ensure we’re not only raising awareness but actively trying to help solve the issues.  

The Watch Toxicity Rating System is envisioned as an extension of the ESRB ratings. Discussions are underway with the ESRB to explore potential collaborations and integrations, aiming to provide a unified rating system that encompasses both game content and online behavior.