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Typeform vs the trolls: how a gaming addiction service screens out spammers

We’ve chatted to Cam Adair before: he overcame gaming addiction, and is now on a mission to help others do the same. Here’s how he kept his helplines open when spammers tried to overwhelm them.

  • ChallengeHow could Cam Adair’s helpline for gaming addicts avoid being overrun by spam and hatemail?
  • SolutionCam turned the Game Quitters chat into a multiple choice typeform.
  • ResultCam no longer receives up to 40 pieces of keyboard smashing every day. He can help those in need faster, and has his sanity back.

Cam Adair is a phoenix. You might've read about him on our blog already. Over ten years ago, he was locked in a battle with addiction. He dropped out of school, lied to his parents about having a job, and gave up on non-virtual friendships — all to play video games 16 hours per day. He realised that, in one sense or another, his current path was going to take his life. So he quit cold turkey.

Now, he runs a program helping others around the world who struggle with gaming addictions. He lives a life of travel and adventure, and also works as a motivational speaker. Cam's initiative, Game Quitters, has helped tens of thousands of people liberate themselves from addiction. 

But, unfortunately, becoming one person's hero almost always makes you another person's villain. 

Enter the trolls 

Up until Spring 2021, Cam's website used to have a live chat feature. People could message and get direct access to Cam himself, all at the click of a button. Anyone, anywhere could request help, and he'd receive an email. Though intrusive for Cam, this was a personal mission. He wanted to talk to people who were struggling with gaming addiction, because he knew exactly what they were going through. 

However, 8 out of 10 of the messages he received weren't from people whose online habits were causing depression and anxiety. They were spam. It was usually from gamers who saw Game Quitters' existence as an attack on their community. Cam describes: 

“I've been told to walk off a pier with cement tied to my shoes. To go kill myself, all that sort of stuff. Most of it is so outrageous that I didn’t respond to it as a serious threat. I’ve been receiving this stuff for years, every day, over and over.”

Cam Adair, CEO, Game Quitters

For nearly five years, Cam was receiving up to 35 spam messages per day, many of them just hateful jibberish. 

Cam has a lot of empathy for his trolls. He mentioned that many gamers feel furious when the question of addiction is raised, because they're used to being looked down upon.

Gaming, he explained, is traditionally a marginal pastime. In fact, gamers have been demonised for almost as long as video games have existed. There's a long history of politicians and activists linking video games to violence, without much evidence. Some gamers are frustrated that they still have to defend their community as a fun, legitimate and social one. 

“It's unfortunate that gamers get defensive when addiction is mentioned, because every gamer knows someone who plays too much. It's not like that's a giant secret in the community. And my stance has always just been: let’s just help.”

Cam Adair, CEO, Game Quitters

Quittin' time for Game Quitters? 

After years and years, Cam had no more interest in receiving death threats. He did what any of us would do — he stopped reading them. For weeks at a time, his inbox would fester unopened. Obviously, this wasn't a practical solution. He started missing work opportunities and important life stuff. But the thing he found most troublesome: he missed messages from those who genuinely needed his help. He could no longer offer the lifeline his website promised. 

Replacing the chat with a typeform

In March 2021, Cam devised a solution. He turned his live chat into a typeform. Now, instead of messaging Cam directly, users answer a series of multiple choice questions. The typeform asks whether they're seeking help for themselves, or a loved one. It also checks in on what kind of addiction support they'd like, and whether they are able to pay for it.

Depending on their answers, Cam can either hook them up with a specialist counsellor, direct them to local services, or recommend self-help materials. 

Cam embedded this typeform as a popout, so it still looks like a live chat. It's also hooked up to Slack, so he gets a notification every time someone completes it. But the answers that come to Slack are answers to closed-ended questions. 

Of course, if someone's really determined to be awful, they'll always find a way. There’s nothing to stop you from overrunning the typeform with fake information. However, the option to anonymously scream into Cam’s DMs is no longer there.

It's not just that this is preserving Cam's hard-won peace. The information in his inbox is also more helpful. Now, when he receives an inquiry for help, it comes with enough context to direct that person to services right away. His response time has reduced from days or weeks, to just a couple of minutes. 

“Last night I got an inquiry from a parent at 11:45PM, and I responded to it within three minutes. Within 10 minutes, they were emailing a counselor I’d recommended back and forth.”

Cam Adair

Cam believes that shorter response times have improved the outcomes for the people who Game Quitters serves. 

“When someone is in that moment when they’ve decided to connect with a therapist, it's really important that a connection happens fast. Two days later, they might not have the same motivation, they might be in a different mental space.”

Cam Adair

As a result of this typeform, there are people getting support, who otherwise might have talked themselves out of it. 

A future where everyone gets the best possible support   

It seems incredible that Cam ever ran Game Quitters as both CEO and customer support. However, now that the initiative offers several different types of support, it's looking likely that his future will involve more teammates. Cam is working to make the support chat scalable, while retaining the human-to-human attention that makes it so effective.

He's planning to integrate the typeform with Notion, so that new inquiries appear on a kanban board. He'll use this to filter the cases, so that if someone writes in with more complicated circumstances, Cam can send an email. Cases which appear to be straightforward will get a reply from a trained colleague instead. 

Haters gonna hate ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Rather ironically, Cam only kept his DMs open for so long out of love for the gaming community. Unfortunately, to some people, he has come to stand for an argument that he actually never made. 

It's clear from speaking to Cam that he doesn't want to demonize gaming — at all. His message is simply that gaming became a demon for him, and if you relate to that, you don't have to struggle alone. 

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