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Sky: Children of Light PC preview – What happens when a community regulates itself?

The only metaverse that doesn’t have a toxic community

Gaming metaverses have been around for a while. Any older millennial will remember things like Habbo Hotel and Club Penguin, and those same people will probably remember the child grooming and nazi propaganda that was plastered all over those sites. Anonymous online communities bring out the best and the worst in people, where many feel free from the consequences of their often horrifying actions. This seems to be the only part of gaming metaverses that hasn’t improved over the years. You only have to go to worlds like Roblox and VRChat to see some of the worst aspects of society.

Despite this, thatgamecompany thought it could make a difference. Best known for its soothing games like Flower and Journey, in 2019 it set out to create its own metaverse without all the toxicity, a feat people didn’t think was possible. While plenty of companies pledge to introduce measures against this sort of behavior, including AI to recognize hate speech or software that blocks certain words or phrases, thatgamecompany tried a completely new approach with Sky.

Sky Children of the Light PC screenshot

Journey had a unique social mechanic to it despite players having no way to speak to other players, neither over voice chat, nor in writing. Instead, players would hang around certain areas, wait for other players to come by and then entice them over to an exciting part of the game they maybe hadn’t seen before. There was absolutely no in-game benefit to doing this, it was merely the joy you would gain from sharing a cool experience with another. This is the vibe that Sky is trying to bring forward. While there are now unrestricted words, the same joy and kindness remains.

GLHF sat down with game director Jenova Chen to discuss how it’s possible to build a game where players interact without negativity. As you float around the world of Sky, you see thousands of messages left behind by others, and you could read every single one and never find a toxic or negative comment. Chen believes there are two reasons for this. Sky is a game about community, about giving people hugs, and piggybacks, and taking part in flash mobs. He says that it is hard for a game to remain toxic when the whole world is based around togetherness. The second reason he claims is because the community knows each other and holds each other accountable. Even if you are just a username, your name is attached to each message and as such you may pause before writing something others wouldn’t like to read.

Sky Children of the Light PC screenshot

What is interesting about Sky is that there is almost no crossover between the Journey fanbase and the Sky fanbase. Sky was initially created for mobile in an attempt to open it up to a wider audience. Chen describes how Apple essentially begged him to make it free-to-play saying that ‘people just don’t pay for mobile games’. However, making it mobile and making it free to play drove off a lot of the core gaming audience. Sky is successful in its own right. It’s hugely popular in North America and Asia, and it recently broke the world record for the most number of people attending an in-game event at once, with over 10 thousand players meeting to watch a concert by the Norwegian singer Aurora. However, thatgamecompany wants to cast the net even wider.

Sky is now getting ready to launch on Steam, and is hoping to introduce a whole new fanbase to the game. Chen says many only play that first session and never pick it up again, some complete the main story and lose interest, but where the heart of Sky is, is in the community that sticks around. What Chen believes has discouraged European players thus far is the language barrier. When Sky launched, there was no translation in place so people couldn’t read messages from players in other languages. Now that the community is so large, people happily translate messages for others, which is then reviewed by other players. It’s translation by the community, and everything the community in Sky does is for the good of others.

Sky Children of the Light PC screenshot

Sky is a world regulated without regulation, and it’s clear that this concept isn’t a pipe dream, it really works. Four years since its initial release, the community is only growing stronger and kinder, while thatgamecompany merely provides more tools for the players to create and share with each other. Many people have shared stories about how Sky helped them feel less alone, and how they made real friendships through the game, and thatgamecompany has stopped developing all other games to focus entirely on Sky’s development. It’s clear that Sky’s formula works, and we’re excited to see when more of the world unites when Sky becomes available via Steam.