Tim Cook, the Head of Solutions at Spectrum Labs, discusses the role of analytics in the gaming industry and the importance of trust and safety in creating a positive gaming environment. Spectrum Labs offers AI technology to detect toxic and positive behaviors in user-generated text across various platforms, including gaming, social media, and dating sites.

Guest: Tim Cook, Spectrum Labs

Website: AI Content Moderation for Trust and Safety | Spectrum Labs

Tim Cook, the Head of Solutions at Spectrum Labs, discusses the role
of analytics in the gaming industry and the importance of trust and safety in creating a positive gaming environment. Spectrum Labs offers AI technology to detect toxic and positive behaviors in user-generated text across various platforms, including gaming, social media, and dating sites.


00:00 Intro Welcome to the Player Engage podcast where we dive into the biggest challenges, technologies, trends, and best practices for creating unforgettable player experiences. Player Engage is brought to you as a collaboration between Keyword Studios and HelpShift. Here is your host, Greg Posner.

00:15 Greg Posner. Hey everyone, welcome to the Player Engage podcast. Today we have with us Tim Cook, the Head of Solutions at Spectrum Labs. With his extensive experience in trust and safety, audience creation, and marketing analytics, Tim brings a wealth of knowledge and insight to our conversation. Tim has some tremendous data-driven stories to share, highlighting the power of analytics and its deep impact in the gaming industry. We’ll be diving deep into the world of gaming, discussing the latest trends, technology advancements, and the crucial role of trust and safety in creating a positive gaming environment. Get ready for an engaging discussion and exploring all the different assets of gaming. So Tim, thanks for joining. I’m excited about our conversation today. Anything I missed, anything you want to touch on about yourself or you want people to know?

00:57 Tim Cook I really appreciate you having me, Greg. Excited to be here. I think I’m pretty hopped up on a big coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts and then half-caf coffee, so I’m ready. I’m raring to go. I think there’s a lot that we can get into, so I’m happy to just dive right in.

01:14 Greg Posner I think your intro was spot on. Spoken like a true East Coaster with their Dunkin’ all ready to go. Tim’s from California, originally from Jersey and then California, and I’m sure he’s missing Dunkin’. I don’t know if they made it to the West Coast yet.

01:27 Tim Cook There’s one. I’m originally from Long Island, just for the viewers to just know the real real. My wife’s from New Jersey, though, so respect.

01:36 Greg Posner We’ve got to wrap New Jersey a little bit here. Give us a high-level kind of what is Spectrum Labs so people understand what you guys do? Can you kind of explain like a five type of thing, right?

01:49 Tim Cook Yeah, absolutely. So Spectrum Labs is an AI technology that is leveraged by our customers to detect toxic and positive behaviors in user generated text in any place that user generated text exists on the Internet. So those places may include gaming, social websites, marketplaces. It may include dating, if I didn’t say that already. That’s a big area where people are having conversations back and forth via text. And there is, you know, human beings being the way we are, there’s the potential for positive interactions, generally neutral interactions, and then also the potential for toxic interactions, which we really try to surface for our customers so that they could figure out how they want to action on those given users or those messages.

02:44 Greg Posner I think it’s crucial tools to have for almost any app that has a community these days. You hear about toxicity all over the place. I’m going to want to come back and speak more to Spectrum, but I have questions about you first, Tim, because I’m pretty sure and I don’t want to make assumptions here that people don’t go to school or grow up dreaming to be working in trust and safety. I’m sure it’s super cool these days to be able to see this stuff. But how do you get into this? What’s your background? What brought you here?

03:07 Tim Cook Yeah, it’s funny. Everybody has a different story about how they ended up in trust and safety. And a lot of folks may have ended up in the in the field based on experience working, you know, if they love a game and they become part of the community, they volunteer to be a moderator for that community. And then they end up eventually actually working in trust and safety, which is, weirdly enough, a bit of an emerging space that’s been around in some form since the advent of user generated content. But I think the the coin of trust and safety is only a few years old. And the space itself is being maybe more widely recognized with everything that’s happening with Twitter. For me, it was a bit of a long road to end up in this space. You know, I really started in the advertising operations space in the beginning of my career. So I was at a company in New York City, super excited as a Long Islander, I can I’m sure you understand as a New Jersey native, you know, the potential prospect of working in New York City as a 20 year old, what the all that excitement entails, I got to learn the ins and outs of what actually happens with advertisements on the web in the background, which was something I really didn’t know anything about. Really interesting space that eventually led me to dive deeper into the data space, which just so happened to be blossoming in 2014. I worked at a company called crux, which was considered a data management platform, the acronym that we so lovingly use was DMP. Some of y’all might be familiar with that. So I work with them really to expand the data strategy for content publishers. And this is really before the advent or the popularization of influencers. So the content publishers that I’m talking about are the likes of, you know, like the New York Times and companies that are producing news media content, or special interests niche content, maybe about sneakers or about music, really trying to figure out how to compartmentalize those audiences. So these publishers could effectively sell ads to them at a higher rate. Ultimately, thankfully, crux was purchased by Salesforce in 2016, which ended up being just a great situation for all of us involved. And it was through Salesforce that I actually started I learned about this opportunity in the gaming space. So I you know, just a little context, I’ve always been an avid gamer, really more of a casual gamer. And at the time that I learned about this opportunity, I didn’t even know what that a casual gamer was. I learned a bunch, you know, I ultimately was at an event called Salesforce connections. And I went to a famous Chicago pizza place, and I’m probably going to get the name wrong. So anybody listening in Chicago is going to be upset. But it’s I think it’s Lou Melanati’s. Lou Melanati’s, come on, Lou Menard. Gotta respect the deep dish. I respect it, man. It was really good. But my colleague was actually telling me about a position that she was interviewing for on the west coast. And I it came about because I was telling her about how horrible the New York winters were on my mental health and that I had visited Los Angeles to see some clients. And I felt like even if the hope may have been superficial people at least had hope. So she had told me about a position she had interviewed at a small gaming startup called Activision Publishing. That’s a joke. And she she mentioned that, you know, they they were really interested in her for the role, but they required that whoever took the role moved out to Santa Monica where their headquarters is located. And it just didn’t the cards did not align for her. So she said you should give it a try. And, you know, it sat with me for a little bit. And I was like, I don’t know, maybe. So ultimately, you know, I had talked to my wife about the prospect of moving to the west coast. It was either going to be Los Angeles Bay Area, any place that has seemingly consistent weather year round. You know, if that’s not the case anymore, and I can go on about it, but I won’t. So she said we can’t move out there unless we visit together. So I say, OK, so that that makes sense. That’s totally fine. I, I ended up having to buy a suit for my friend’s wedding. And it was one of those two for one deals with men’s warehouse. I got this blue suit that I actually liked better than the suit I needed for the wedding. And there’s relevance to this, I promise. So I go out to California and I had this vision of myself in this blue suit, giving a just a kickass interview to Activision, that gaming company that I had heard about. And then I also had a vision of me in a Mazda Miata with the top down on the 405 in traffic on the phone in that same blue suit. So it had a crucial kind of impact on me that that suit itself. So I at that point, I decided to just reach out to the recruiter for the role. I had the blessing from my coworker, the recommendation from her, which I think helped. And immediately I heard back from the recruiter, you know, I still keep in touch with him. He’s a bit of a linked influencer now. Very good, great guy. So then I hear from the folks at Activision that they want to do effectively six hour interview. And I’m like, OK, this is this is something. But ultimately, I needed to prepare for it as well. I needed to create a deck and I needed to convince the folks that were interviewing me that I’m the right person to basic and effectively what they needed me to do. And what got me into the gaming space was implement their data management platform. And since I had the experience at Salesforce and Crux implementing data management platforms for publishers and marketers alike, and they were a marketer, I fit the bill. I was able to, you know, this is probably too much of insider information, but I we my colleagues had at Crux had tried to pitch Activision at one point. So they had a extensive deck where they had research and all of the things that Activision was trying to accomplish. So I was able to take that information and distill it into a deck I created for my interview, which was very fortunate to have and explain to them how I would basically make all of their dreams come true, which I had some inside baseball on because we had tried to pitch them previously. So ultimately, the the interview went well, you know, it was six hours, which was probably the longest interview process of my life. And then ultimately, they made the decision to hire me, which was great. And so then I move, they moved myself and my wife out to Santa Monica. And that’s why I’m there now. And that’s when I started to learn about things like casual gamer, and that that started to set the stage for how I ended up in trust and safety. But before I go on, because I can continue on forever, I wanted to give stop and give you a chance to ask any questions

10:49 Greg Posner you might have about that experience. There’s a lot of information to take in there. But I think it’s all awesome stuff, right? I mean, you know, years ago, like you were saying, when there were four influencers being able to understand in marketing, right? What’s gonna get you the most reach? What’s gonna get you the most engagement? What’s gonna get you the most? These are things that I think, unless you’re in marketing or measuring this, if you don’t understand, like a like in Facebook isn’t equivalent to a reshare or stuff like that. And how do you start measuring this stuff? And then you talk to about building audiences, which I’m sure that data that you learned from from crux helped you kind of build out these audiences, right? And then that’s right, I can see this theme going on, right? You go to Activision, they say, Hey, you know, data, you know, audiences, we can start to put this together. And then I’m assuming that whatever, right? But we assume that then you trust and safety is a division of an audit, there’s an audience of bad characters that are out there or good characters, right? And then you start building that out. So I do have a few questions based on this stuff, right? Absolutely. If you’re starting a company today, right? You’re gonna start a gaming company, what are some of the key metrics you think you want to start collecting from the beginning?

11:57 Tim Cook Yeah, I think out of the gate, it’s important to have, you know, the term is your telemetry set up correctly. And that is effectively just your data library. You know, the Activision was an established company for 3940 years before I joined, they did a lot of things, right? But they’re also kind of facing a new world where data driven marketing, data, data driven decision making was happening. And their competitors like Epic Games with Fortnite, even Apex Legends under EA, they were making decisions with data. So Activision realized they had to evolve. And part of that is creating a data library that that captures extensively what you need without maybe exceeding the cost of what that what maintaining it would be. Now, the the good news is that the cost of storing data from a cloud perspective is relatively cheap. So at this point in time, you could create a data library that’s extensive enough to capture everything you need and then kind of whittle it down if you see necessary. But you never know what potential use cases could come out of data that you may not even think you need.

13:06 Greg Posner You know, I love data. I’m a numbers guy. I love analytics. I love all that stuff. And I talk with a lot of people and they want data. But what happens is, all of a sudden, you get this data, right? And maybe it’s formatted in a Power BI or a Tableau or a Looker, right? But like, how do you drive insights from that data? And I think that’s what people forget that just because you have data doesn’t mean it’s going to equal insight. So there are tools, it’s just something with time you learn.

13:29 Tim Cook Yeah, I mean, so ultimately, the first it starts with having a relatively clean data set. Otherwise, it becomes very onerous to derive those insights. And then you have a clean, explainable data set, you’re able to start to pull together insights based on and it really comes down to time and then the metrics that you are looking at. So, you know, the going back to specific metrics that I’d recommend that people pull is if you’re a gaming company, you want to make sure that you’re recording your revenue. So any of the MTX transactions, if you’re able to record a box transaction, if you’re a premium game or even a game that sells yourself for $20, if you’re able to record that information, it’s important. And the reason why these things are important is because you can be they can be applied to what we call lifetime value of a user. And that’s the revenue plus time, plus, you know, you need to also record the user’s information in some way, shape or form. So when I was at Activision, one of the things I pushed for, you know, whether popular or not, from a privacy perspective is just being able to record a persistent identifier for a user. One of the things is also important to do. And I think I would recommend this for any gaming company that’s starting out there is to make sure that you’re respecting any of the laws, the privacy laws, whether it’s GDPR, CCPA, anything else that may arise around that user’s information. So that, you know, but it is important to capture that information. So whether it’s an email address, or if you generate a ID that’s associated with that particular user, or if it’s a username, that information just becomes very critical to understand your user’s behavior. You can tie that back to revenue. You can tie that to specific behavior within your game. So you may be able to measure what kind of modalities within a game your users interact with the most. It helps with so many different things. It’s hard to even list, but it helps with decision making as far as assets within the game to create. It helps with creative decision making. It helps with advertising, personalization. There’s so many different things that understanding your user can help with that, you know, it’s almost invaluable. And I think from, you know, it’s a necessary investment for any startup gaming company that’s out there.

16:06 Greg Posner Yeah, I like what you’re talking through, right? I think lifetime value is something that maybe people think about, but they don’t really know what makes up lifetime value. Maybe they just think it’s how much time Tim or Greg spends in my app. But if I’m out there promoting your app, and if I’m out there praising your app and bringing people to it, but maybe I don’t spend a dollar an app, there’s still value there and understanding that and being able to measure that. And it’s funny that you talked about this next one, which is the persistent identifier. Because I have been working in this industry now for probably five years, I always thought, why don’t we have just this common identifier? So if someone logs on on their phone, or if they log on on their browser, if they log on on their Xbox, we don’t know who that is. It seems like it’s such a I know there’s tools out there, there’s things like PlayFab that might be able to help with that. But it just becomes it’s such this interesting problem that I see in this market that it’s not easy. It’s not easy to understand who is who cross platform. So it’s interesting to hear that. So now that you’ve kind of transitioned from this audience building and these data driven kind of decisions to spectrum, what I guess I have multiple questions, right? But what learnings have you come from audience building that do translate well, because it does seem like it’s kind of two separate worlds. It’s you still are dealing with an audience, but go on.

17:25 Tim Cook Of course. So there’s a big overlap between the two. And I think it’s super interesting to think about communities more holistically. You know, when I was at Activision, we really focused on communities based on their interests, based on, you know, certain propensities, propensities to turn propensities to buy. The the kind of sentiment layer is another component that can be added. And I think it’s important to think about when you think about your community holistically is in the trust and safety space, we now have the ability to to identify a couple of different things. So there are positive users, which is you can kind of quantify as maybe you can and you can decide on a sliding scale what you want it to look like. But you could have, you know, 10 to 15% of your users be what you may consider positive. And there’s parameters you could set around that. Then there’s this percentage of users which are neutral. Then there’s this percentage of users that may dabble in toxicity a bit. And we call those folks the movable middle. Because there’s a belief, and it’s this translates really into audience as well as that you can change behaviors within your community. And those are the folks that are worth investing the time and effort in changing. And then you just have your your ultimately toxic cohort, your trolls. And that percentage of your community, depending on how you started, could be as high as 5% or as low as sub 1% of beauty. And you want to be really thoughtful about how you go about handling those users. Is it as simple as just banning everybody? Probably not. Because unless you’re doing ID verification, which most gaming companies don’t do, and I wouldn’t recommend it, because it creates a barrier to entry, they’re going to be able to come back. So I, you know, ultimately, you want to think about how you slowly shift those behaviors over time, or you continue to weed out some of those trolls. The movable middle is really interesting, because I think through engagement, and creating a bit of a two way communication platform between your audiences, your community and yourself, it gives the opportunity to potentially change behaviors for the positive. And what we’ve seen is working with some gaming companies, some software media companies, by implementing some auto redactions for hate speech, by implementing some redactions for other nefarious behaviors, and letting those in the community know the reason why these things might be redacted. It’s actually shown a positive impact incrementally, as far as the community itself. You know, there’s been, it’s taken notice that these communities are less toxic. And you could measure that by the amount of messages that are coming through. But there’s also been, and this kind of ties back to the audience work that I did, from a measurement perspective, you know, incrementality testing with a testing control group that shows that if you eliminate the toxic users, or you change those behaviors, the propensity for people to churn actually lessens. So you’re able to retain more users, which is, you know, like it or not, it’s an important metric that gaming companies need to continue to track. Because ultimately, like you were saying before engagement, there is a strong correlation between engagement and spend on a platform. So the more and I don’t think it’s secret to anyone, but the more time that someone spends on a platform, the more likely they’re going to actually spend money. So it’s important to especially for free to play a platform is to make sure that users are in a comfortable place, and that they are able to engage and feel like they are having a positive experience, so that they engage for as long as possible as long as necessary.

21:39 Greg Posner Is there a metric that looks at user retention compared to kind of those classification that you were mentioning, right? The movable middle, the positives and negatives, right? Like at maybe 35% negativity of an audience or of a game, then we start seeing user attention drop from four months to, I don’t know, throwing numbers out there. I don’t know what the appropriate numbers are. But is there a direct correlation to that?

22:17 Tim Cook Yeah, so we haven’t done that level of measurement with a customer. I’d love to. You know, the biggest thing is I don’t think a lot of our customers are currently segmenting our users based on that level of toxicity. They use the signals for actioning, and they use the signals to kind of either ban users or reward users based on their behavior. But I don’t think there’s been a direct tieback to the segmentation that they have on their end. And I think that could be very interesting, because it’s completely possible from a technical perspective. I think it’s really a matter of convincing folks to measure it. And the only challenge that we’re up against, which I think is like, and I say only challenge, and I don’t want to minimize it, is just competing priorities. And we’re in a space right now where we, in 2020 and 2021, and even trailing into 2022, you had this ultimate captive audience because the world was locked down. So if you look at the numbers, it’s incredible. There’s this unbelievable growth because effectively people had nothing else they could do. The world opened up, and people went back to their lives and priorities changed. And now, you know, I would call them to say that most gaming companies, if they were measuring based on those numbers, they’re going to be in panic mode, because that growth that up and to the right is now basically going straight down. And then you add a ever looming recession on top of that. And so it starts to change folks’ priorities. And they’re not thinking about, you know, how potentially trust and safety might be on their audience. They’re thinking about, okay, this is a red alarm fire. We need to cut costs. We need to think about areas where we can focus to drive more revenue. But I would recommend that if a company is able to prioritize that measurement, it’s important, because I think they’ll see the correlation between, you know, changing behaviors to positive and the extended time people spend on platforms. I think you have some strange outliers that also occur though, right?

24:31 Greg Posner Because some of the most successful games end up being the most toxic over time, right? You got Siege, you got League of Legends, you got all these games that didn’t be top of their class, right? Making the most money. And everyone knows that for the majority of them, they are toxic communities. But I think that just comes with time is with popularity comes the negativity along with it.

24:56 Tim Cook Yeah, it’s super interesting. And I think part of me thinks that a lot of what happens is gaming is a great tool that facilitates a space for people who may be the lone wolves of society, let’s say people who are typically rejected in their normal life. And I’m not saying this is every single gamer because a gamer profile is extensive and way more extensive than it was in like 2006. It could be anybody’s a gamer basically. But you know, there are I think gaming invites people that gives people an opportunity and it gives them an outlet that they may not have in their normal life. And these are potentially hurt people. And there’s that phrase hurt people hurt people. And I think that they may not know how to interact with people beyond putting hate in the world, putting toxicity in the world. And I really would I would really love is for us to use technologies, technologies like us, our customers to really try to address these people and give them a place where they feel belonging. And I think I think, you know, maybe, hey, that’s not okay to be terrible to somebody. But we we love you, we care about you, and it’s going to be okay. You have a home here. I think there’s there’s something culturally that we can do and to shift behaviors of these people because we just live in and we may have always lived in this age where there was a lot of lonely people out there, but they just didn’t have the ability to connect. They just sat at home and maybe read books or live in a shed like, you know, Ted Kaczynski, and we don’t want anything like that. So now these people have the ability to connect and they have an outlet. I think if we’re able to identify an area of hurt for these people and give them a sense of community, a sense of belonging, and not jeopardize that or, you know, change or make them question the trust that they have, I think it could help maybe, you know, this might be a stretch goal, but, you know, heal some of the pains in society, you know, if I think if we could get to somebody who’s being radicalized before they end up on 4chan and start reading, you know, racist, you know, eugenic material and start believing things because what’s happening in that situation is they’re feeling accepted by some community and it’s not a good community to be accepted by. So if we can use gaming, which is a community that they’re able to join at their will, to try to change these behaviors, give people a sense of belonging, give people some type of purpose, I think, you know, we can do some real good in the world.purpose, I think, you know, we can do some real good in the world.

27:48 Greg Posner I so I want to connect a few points here. I agree wholeheartedly with everything that you mentioned. I really would love to kind of do a push and I’ve been talking to people about it is like rewarding good in gaming, right? And I want to get to a point where we can talk about how you measure positivity because that’s an interesting one. It’s easy to say you’re a hateful person based on what you say, but how do you measure that? But a while ago in our conversation, you brought up the fact of user journeys and customers experience, right? And I think this is going to be essential for your movable middle, right? Because these are the ones that we can influence and if we give them the right space, we give them the right surroundings, we give them the right journeys, they’ll be positive, right? And by rewarding the positives, you can also then help sway that. But it’s all about these custom journeys. And when you’re working at Spectrum, do you ever go or think out loud or go to a company and strategize to say, hey, if we create a specific journey, and I feel like this is outside your purview, but like, you create these specific journeys and with your audience back, we think we can help shift the tone of this subset of the movable middle.

28:59 Tim Cook Yeah, I mean, to the extent that we can, you know, I do that. And we have seen some success there. I think what happens is we tend to really work with the trust and safety folks. And, you know, the people who are facilitating journeys are either product or marketing teams. And at the times where we can get in front of them, and work with them on these things, I think, you know, we are able to implement positive change and, you know, leverage positive behaviors and positive measurement to encourage people to do good things. Now, there, you know, and I was lucky enough when I was at actually the Dice Conference, and I was lucky enough to be part of a roundtable about rewards and awarding people, which was a super interesting topic. A thing that, especially in trust and safety, and just shifting behaviors that you want to be really cognizant of, is making sure that people are doing things for the right reason. So not, you know, what happens in gaming is people will game assist them. So if we have a reward for being positive, you may create, and it’s the right thought, or right process is not built around it, you may create an environment where people are actually just gaming the positivity and it creates almost like this toxic positivity in a pursuit of just getting whatever the reward is. So it’s such an interesting dynamic, but I think there’s ways to do it that you could be thoughtful and mindful of that. And to your question though, I’d love to do more of it. It’s just a matter of getting in front of marketers, product people, the people who have the pull to make these things happen in game.

30:46 Greg Posner Yeah, and Tim and I had a conversation a couple weeks ago, and we’re around the same age, and I think we both grew up in the era where GTA 3 was mind blowing and came out, but then all of a sudden everyone came, started coming out and talking about how video games are, helps or encourages violence and guns. And I think as a gamer back then, just like, how are you making that connection? Like that doesn’t make sense. And I get where people are coming from, but it’s completely wrong. But if we need to change that stigma, but it’s an interesting point, I didn’t really think about it. Yeah, people are going to gain the system if you’re giving away a prize or something. And people see that you’re going to create this new terrible subset of positivity, positivity, negativity, I don’t know what’s right.

31:35 Tim Cook It’s an interesting dilemma to be in. It’s an interesting dilemma. And that’s why I think any decision is just has to be really thoughtful. But yeah, going back to your point about the stigma around gaming, and you still see it today, and it’s happening again. It’s easy. And it’s with movies, it’s gaming, it’s very easy. If something happens, just pick something to blame, right? It’s easy to make an extremely complicated issue, and then pick something to blame. And you know, there, am I going to just turn a blind eye and say that like the ability to maybe kill a hooker and get your money back in a game is not going to have any impact on somebody’s psyche? I wouldn’t, I would be kind of foolish to say it wouldn’t. But I would also say like, and this is a really impactful area for me. It’s a really meaningful area for me, because when I worked at Activision, you know, the number one game that we put into market was Call of Duty. And Call of Duty is a game where if people don’t know, it’s a first person shooter. And those are typically the first games that get blamed in an event that, you know, a shooting happens. And unfortunately, you know, over the last few years, these things have been happening. But it’s, I think it’s easy for groups to just throw it at gaming and say, that’s it, that’s the culprit, that’s the only thing, and ignore the deep rooted societal issues that allow for these things. So and the thing that brought me comfort in those times was, okay, well, you know, these games are available in Australia. These games are available in Canada. They’re available in the UK, they’re available. And we’re not seeing the same impact. So you know, you could easily blame gaming. But if you look at the control group, which are different countries, you can start to understand that there’s more of a societal issue at play. And that’s why, you know, going back to my earlier point, I think there’s an opportunity as for gaming as an outlet, because I do think as whatever impact it may have on folks, in a negative way, there’s probably 10 times more of a positive effect, one because of that outlet for people. But also, I think two, because it just it gives people a sense of community, I think there’s an opportunity for us as trust and safety professionals, and as a gaming community world, the generator, I think to really change behaviors in a society where, you know, things have maybe gone awry and behaviors that would not be acceptable at all in, you know, before 1990s, are now just commonplace.

34:07 Greg Posner Yeah. And you know, there’s definitely the need for trust and safety these days, with the growing, growing communities, both online on discord on forums and stuff like that. But how does it, you know, changing the topic of discussion a little bit here, how does an indie company with maybe a few people working on a game? How do I manage a community with these tools? Like, are you providing resources? What is their best practices that like, these companies that may not be fully staffed that can help do this?

34:48 Tim Cook Yeah, I mean, it’s so difficult. And, you know, we, and this happened before I got here. But, you know, we were, we had the foresight and the understanding that the a lot of these companies, the trust and safety folks might be the only person at the company that’s representing that. And if you’ve ever worked at a company where you’re the only person or you’re the only person in the department, there could be a level of frustration that’s unthinkable, because people may not understand what you’re going through. So we’ve created a trust and safety community called the TS Collective that allows trust and safety professionals to tap into the brains of folks, veterans that have been in the space, other trust and safety folks to kind of bounce ideas off of each other, throw best practices out there. We have resources around transparency reports and other policies that can be created for people to tap into. So just trying to create an environment for people who may be on their own island to tap into to be able to actually do the hard work and think about things. And, you know, I think because it is a bit of an emerging space, there’s not a lot out there. So, you know, we have our communities, I know that there are other communities that are out there to support this. So I think the more of that, the better and maybe the more open source resources that are available are important as well. I think there’s this notion of a transparency report, which a lot of sites have voluntarily. The DSA that’s coming out of the European Union is going to effectively, you know, make sure that anyone who’s participating in the space has transparency reports. So I think those will be resources that companies and practitioners can tap into to understand policies and things they need to enact. But it’s still tough. Like there’s, I’ve seen policies that contradict each other. I’ve seen policies that there’s a lot of gray area and there’s going to be a lot of gray area. So trying to mitigate, it’s not a nothing is ever black and white, unfortunately. So trying to figure out how to best navigate that gray areais super important. Yeah, especially when you go global, right?

37:09 Greg Posner Every country is going to have their own laws. I mean, we already have that with GDPR, which is great, but it’s only in Europe right now. But we need these more standard things. And it gets me thinking, right? I love this idea of a TS collective because emerging space, I used to work in compliance, I know compliance officers were also kind of their own individuals that would get hate on because they were the in charge of making sure everyone stayed safe, right? But how does trust and safety and the TS collective, how does that are the common same KPIs measured across verticals? So gaming, dating, shopping, are there different different KPIs that you take a look at?

37:42 Tim Cook Yeah, I think the there’s definitely a need for maybe consistency and KPIs across the board to measure. But I do think there’s probably common themes. So any website, any platform can measure engagement can measure retention. Those are things that, you know, if you’re a data driven company, you should be measuring out of the box. The there is that they may not be measuring are around, you know, those audiences and how to label those audiences if they’re toxic, or if they’re that movable middle, if they are positive, you know, they would need to license a tool like ours, or they would need to, you know, look for other tools that might be out there or audience segmentation tools to create their own logic. So I think those are not as common. But some of the other metrics like retention and and LTV, those are pretty standard across companies. The thing is that trust and safety folks may not actually even have the clearance to tap into those types of things. Or they they might not have access to the data teams to run analysis to prove that effectiveness of their efforts.

38:52 Greg Posner Do you think that type of data always matters? So for example, no matter how much my lifetime value is, right? If I start doing something, I became become part of that negative set. Do you want to trust and safety team to be able to understand, hey, Greg is a high value customer, we have to take it easy? And I think to myself, yes, that is important. But also, I think to myself, no, you got to kind of play neutral here. But it’s a company and the company wants to make money at the end of the day. But I’ll leave that question to you.

39:28 Tim Cook Yeah, it’s a very tough question. And you know, we kind of remain agnostic there. And as a company, but we leave it up to our customers. And our customers are saddled with pretty difficult decisions. You know, what if you have your number one most toxic user is also your your whale and is your highest spender? What do you do, especially in a time like this? And the you know, we ultimately leave those decisions to our customers. And, you know, there there could be times where the higher spenders get more grace. And it’s, I think it’s a reflection of the world that we live in as well. So, you know, somebody who commits a white collar crime may get a year in prison, because they’re generating millions of dollars as a business owner. And then, you know, someone might be in jail for 15 years for a weed offense. And it’s just it’s such a strange correlation with how society is, it’s a tough it’s a tough area. It’s a tough gray area for sure.

40:35 Greg Posner Do you think there’s a maybe there is already I’m just unfamiliar, but is there ever going to be a time when spectrum shares data with other trust and safety is like a global, a global list of offenders, right? And this might go back to what we talked about earlier with the persistent identifier, maybe that doesn’t exist, right? Or who knows, right? But do you see a place where in the future this type of data is similar to the no fly list where it’s shared everywhere?

41:03 Tim Cook So there are companies that do that. And there are even gaming companies that are looking at building collectives to facilitate this. For us, we don’t necessarily transact in known data. So we we’ve made the decision to kind of opt out of the PII space and not act as a data processor. So we basically tokenize and anonymize any of the personally identifiable information we get. So we wouldn’t necessarily be able to participate in something like that. But there are companies, you know, like Thorne out there that would be and it’s for really egregious behaviors like child trafficking and things of that nature. So these companies will effectively have this data and create, like you said, that no fly list. And then there are big gaming companies that have projects where they’re looking to create a collective of toxic users. What happens in that space, it gets pretty hairy when you think about GDPR and CCPA. So there’s a lot of considerations that need to be taken in for that. So it gets it does get difficult, for sure.

42:15 Greg Posner I’m going to change the tone of the podcast here a little bit. Of course. Yeah. We’d like to talk about emerging technologies and what’s exciting out there. And you’re a data driven person. Sure, you’re all this stuff. But are there any trends in the industry that you’re seeing that excite you that you like to play with?

42:34 Tim Cook Yeah, I’m really excited. And you probably will hear this from everybody. But the prospect of generative AI in gaming and what that could do from multiple angles. So we talked a little bit earlier about that two way communication between a user and the company. And if you’re a small indie gaming company, you may not have the budget to hire somebody to talk to everyone that’s out there. You know, with the advances in generative AI, with the ability to feed data into those models to personalize it and give it the voice of your company and give it the maybe context and relevance of your company. Chat bots could be created to instill the policy, but also potentially provide us that social component for a user and that two way conversation between the game, the brand and the user, which I think creates a deeper level of maybe love and affinity for a given brand. So that’s one thing that excites me. And I’m really excited as well for indie companies to be able to leverage some of the generative AI that’s coming out of the NVIDIAs of the world and the unities of the world. The ability, not so excited for my graphic designer, 3D animator friends, but the hope is that there’s just the need for so much content that it’s okay. But like these indie studios can now create assets, they can create worlds, they can create, you know, maybe some they can create NPCs, you know, within hours with, you know, maybe one tenth of the cost of what it would, because they can use potentially generative AI to help create some of these assets and experiences within the game. So I’m super excited about that. I’m excited about the prospect of gaming expanding, you know, into the cloud space. And the reason being is because where gaming is today, it gets difficult because the games are so big and space is limited. And then, you know, especially with triple A games, modern games, publishers are trying to ensure that their users have the most, the richest experience possible. But what happens is that means you have to update the thing. So whenever I would turn on my PlayStation, I’d have to wait to update it. And I’m on the phone with a friend, they’re like, all right, let’s go. And you know, this is probably user error, but I was always behind. I’m like, okay, I should leave it in rest mode. But so with the prospect of cloud gaming and cloud computing, it becomes kind of like what Valve and Steam did for updates. It allows for asynchronous updates to games. It potentially allows people to have access to games that they wouldn’t have. There’s a lot of things to be figured out there as far as like compensation for the developers and the publishers, but it just opens the opportunity for access in a big way, which I’m super excited about. And let me think, is there anything else gaming?

45:42 Greg Posner I think that’s really the bulk of it. I think, you know, not to blame anyone, but one of your previous employers may be the reason that cloud gaming should take off because when it takes up the entire hard drive of an Xbox, you got to start thinking, hmm.

45:52 Tim Cook Oh, actually, that brings me back. So yes, and you’re right. And you know, when we were trying to get people to download Warzone, and you know, we were on a race to 100 million downloads, one of the only detractor, because it’s free, was the size. And you know, and the size comes as a result of the developers and the publisher trying to just create the best experience possible. And for Call of Duty, it’s got to be realistic. And that comes up the cost of size. So another thing that I think is super interesting is that AI will effectively be able to enhance what I like to call parlor tricks that happen in gaming. Like if you see a tree in the distance, and you get up close to it, and the tree looks better, that tree didn’t always look the way it did. It generates as you get closer to the tree. And so what AI is going to do, and Nvidia is already doing this, not that I’m trying to plug them, but they’re just doing a lot of cool stuff, is they’re making the ability for resolution, and to kind of trick the mind into seeing the most high quality components of a game, while not compromising the size or the latency of that given game. So I think ultimately the player experience will be richer as long as those tools are implemented for that. Because there is the opportunity too for some companies to use generative AI to just create whatever to make money. And that’s not going to be a great player experience. But those things kind of get like sand sifting out diamonds at the beach. It gets worked out over time.

47:28 Greg Posner I think one of the things about the Vision Pro announcement that they had the other day is that with the dynamic eye tracking, it’s going to be able to blur parts that you’re not looking at, which I know other headsets do now, right? But the ability to actually see it, and I’m sure Apple’s probably going to do it better than anyone out there, and with their eye tracking, that’s going to boggle my mind. You’re not even going to know how blurry it is because by the time you look at it, it’s going to be updated. It’s just a parlor trick, right? It’s mind blowing.

48:05 Tim Cook Yeah, there’s so much areas, I guess, that you reminded me. VR and AR, I’m super bullish, super excited about. I think that I’m a big Apple fanboy. And I do have an Oculus, just to be clear, and I love it, and it’s fun. I’m fortunate enough not to get motion sick. And I hope that Apple does what they did with the phone for AR, and they’re doing it with AR with QR codes. I hope they do what they did with the phone with headsets, and I hope over time, the battery life increases, that they get less bulky. But ultimately, there’s so much. In my opinion, what it comes down to is AR. VR is great, but human beings, we were on the Serengeti 10,000 years ago, and if you put a blindfold on and a lion got you, that’s not good. And I think that inherent fear is still within us. So a lot of people are not easily comfortable being immersed in this complete experience because they’re worried that lion’s going to get them, and they don’t need to because they’re in their living room. But I think AR and the ability to pass through is going to lend itself to so many uses. And I’d say, and hold me to this, in the next 15 years, we’re not going to have phones. I’ll be on my phone, and my kid’s going to be like, dude, what are you doing with that old piece of tech? I think that there will be a level of wearables, and that’s how you’re going to interact with the world. And the cool things I could see with it is you’re cooking dinner, and you need to know how much maybe a paprika you need to put into your taco seasoning. You could look at it, you could query it through your voice, and it will give you a bit of a readout for the menu. And there’s just so many possibilities. It’s going to be nuts.

50:02 Greg Posner So I’m going to challenge you there. And I hope you’re right. Don’t get me wrong. I was having this conversation with someone yesterday. I think if VR, AR was ever going to go mainstream, it would have been during the pandemic. And I know there’s challenges for just still $300. And don’t get me wrong, $3500 is a lot of money for people. But it was fairly cheap, and you were locked up in your house to begin with. And if you wanted to get out, you could have been in it. And I think we’re now entering a state where people want to get out of their house. And luckily, being on the East Coast, we’re now getting Canadian wildfire smoke coming in again. So it’s like we can’t go out again. But I do hope you’re right. But I just I see it being troublesome to go mainstream with the exception. And I remember this years ago, maybe you do. Microsoft had the HoloLens. Yeah, it used to show like this plumber or mechanic that didn’t know quite what was happening. Those use cases, I think makes so much sense. They’ll definitely happen. Right? It’s just the mainstream. I have trouble to. And I hope you’re right. Don’t get me wrong. But I don’t know, it’s gonna be an interesting one to see where it goes.

51:14 Tim Cook I think you’re right in that if there are certain things that if they didn’t take off in the pandemic, like when are they ever going to take off? And like that, that’s the maybe problem with the metaverse and the ready player one aspect of things, unless we unfortunately end up in like a totalitarian regime where we can’t go outside. Never say never. Yeah, I hope that. But I do think it comes it’s the AR component that will potentially allow it to expand beyond the home. And it’s you know, the it’s that component of being transported out of the real world that’s, I think scares people from mass adoption. I think, as it becomes something that you could just wear, you know, outside of your house, I think it will be more adopted. I think Apple has the ability to drive the masses like they did with the phone. I think like the Google Glass and those things, the price the barrier to entry was too much. It was a little too experimental. You know, I would have loved to get my hands on it. I just didn’t think at the time I could afford it or figure out even where to get it. So it comes down to like, wearability outside and the distribution, like those goggles. I’m sorry, Tim Cook, who shares my name, like it’s not going to be easy for people to wear outside. I think as but I have faith that technology will evolve and it will be something that’s a little bit more fashionable and less maybe abrasive to a social situation.

52:32 Greg Posner Yeah, and right. We’ll see what time says. Obviously, with time, it will get slimmer, more more affordable, more compact. Let’s flip the question. All right. And this will be my final question. Well, one of my final questions is, what technologies are you seeing that keep you up at

52:55 Tim Cook night that may worry you? I mean, the same ones that excite me worry me. So, you know, being a human in a capitalist economy, you know, I’m all about it. But I think that with AI, there’s potentially the incentive to start to push labor out of situations, which happens in any technological revolution. So we can’t just sit here and be like, we’re going to keep these jobs because we need them. I think it’s do we have the ability as an economy and a society to replace those jobs with something meaningful or equitable that doesn’t completely tank the economy? So like if all graphic designers, all writers, you know, whatever are replaced by AI, which I don’t think could happen immediately because AI doesn’t have the ability to imagine what what happens, right? What kind of crisis do we lend ourselves to if the and if there’s an arms race as well to the best in the eye and then there’s a race to, you know, AI that prompts itself? What does that you know, how quickly do does our mind go to the Terminator? And like how quickly do we end up in Skynet? And, you know, what if the machine in its in its hope to optimize for us as humans discovers the best way to optimize is to eliminate all humans? Now, clearly, that’s a you know, I say that as a joke, and it’s a very extreme scenario. But you can’t really discount anything. And I think, you know, we’ve learned with any technological advance, there’s so many positives that come out of it. But there’s always going to be unintended consequences. The one thing I would would plea to just anyone in the space is, let’s be really thoughtful about the decisions that we make. And if we’re racing, if Google, Microsoft, Apple, are out here and chat GPT, OpenAI are racing to create the ultimate product, let’s just be thoughtful about every decision that we make and make sure that we have revisions in place to prevent any harm that could be caused because it opens the door for scams and anything you could think of.

55:05 Greg Posner To your point, there’s always gonna be bad players, right? Of course, goes back to trust and safety at the end of the day, right? You could have the best tools in place. So I think that’s what it comes down to. And it’s really all I have for you, Tim, I have one last question, but I’m going to kind of lead you out here. So you can finish with it. I appreciate our conversation. I think it was great. I think we’ve learned some great stuff about audiences about data about trust and safety about how to build this stuff out. I think it’s great. The last question I’m going to have for you is usually when I asked in the beginning, but we got right into the conversation. And then you can also say anything you want the audience to know about you. But what games are you currently playing? You said you are a gamer. So what excites

55:40 Tim Cook you? Yeah, so I’m a bit of an old school gamer. So I end up playing like Super Metroid from 1994, a lot, at least once a year. But I am, you know, like I said earlier, casual gamer. And usually casual gamers are more Nintendo folks. So I’m currently playing Tears of the Kingdom. I just beat my third temple, the water temple. So I’ve got the sky, fire and water down. So now I got to go to the desert and beat that one. Been having a blast with it. I got to check how many hours I put into it. But since I’ve been doing so much traveling recently, it’s given me the opportunity to play, which I didn’t think I would be able to make the time for. But you somehow find the time. So that’s one of them. Another game that I’m a big fan of is an older one. And it’s a great case study and how to write size things. And that’s No Man’s Sky by Hello Games. You know, they came out in 2016 and really just disappointed the community. And over the last, geez, seven years, we’re able to deliver just an amazing experience for that community. And what got me back into it and what actually got me to spend $60 again for the PC version of the game was to be able to play in VR on my Oculus. And what an experience that is, you know, it will be a Saturday night, my wife will be focusing on her writing or watching a TV show. And it will be two in the morning and I’ll be mining a planet somewhere. And then realize that, oh my god, I’m in I’m just in

57:18 Greg Posner my closet. What’s happening right now? I agree with you. And I hope secretly, not secretly, I really want Redfall to succeed. And it’s, it’s it’s not doing great right now. But I’m hoping it take one from No Man’s Sky, because that is probably the best, best case study for for how to

57:37 Tim Cook honestly, yeah, it’s super. I mean, it’s very respectable what they did. It’s nuts. And I think other game companies can take a page of their book. Cool. Is there anything else you want to say I say, or let people know where to find you? It’s up to you? Yeah, um, no, I appreciate the time. If you want to find me, I am on LinkedIn, I like to post some tongue in cheek material on there, but also some serious stuff from time to time. And you know, ultimately, I’ll leave off with, you know, I’m optimistic about what we can do with the technology advances that we have and, and, you know, where trust and safety is going, and hopefully the ability for us to make a better

58:19 Greg Posner world. In general, I agree, making a better world should be the this statement for almost every company out there. And, Tim, I appreciate you coming on. It was a great conversation for people listening. I appreciate you listening, but you can check out spectrum labs, you can check out Tim, we’ll have information on our website about that. And Tim, thanks again for coming by today. Of course. Thanks for having me. You have a great day. You too.

Greg Posner

Avid gamer with a passion for storytelling. My goal is to unpack the narratives of customers, partners and others to better understand how industry-leaders tackle today's challenges.

View all posts


Subscribe to keep your game strong with the freshest Player Experience insights from the industry's finest. 🎮

Community Clubhouse @ GDC

Player: Engage

Reserve your spot now to join the ultimate destination for enhancing player experience and support, ensuring trust and safety, boosting community engagement, achieving compliance, focusing on player-centric game development, and driving revenue growth.