PlayStation 5
Privacy Settings

zero to done in 2.5 (screens, that is)
Project Overview
During account creation on the PS4, we ask players to go through social privacy setup so they can control how they are presented to other players on our platform.

As more games moved online and more social options became available, we added more privacy settings. Eventually, new players had to move through 30+ screens to access all of privacy setup.

Predictably, many players skipped this by accepting the defaults. This left them open to spamming, phishing, unwanted messages, and generally negative social encounters on the platform. We did not want players' online experiences to start out this way.
In addition, we burden good players with reporting activity from bad actors, thereby increasing our own customer support operating costs.
My Contributions
I was Design Lead for the PS5 social safety product team. Though this project focused on privacy settings, our team's main goal was to allow players to feel safe playing online and socializing via our platform.

Previous to this project, I did an in-depth investigation into how we handle Player Identity on PlayStation, so I came in with a strong background in considering how reflecting player identity in the UI can impact behavior and safety.

In this project, I combined our product goals of increasing player safety through accurate privacy setup with my broader goal of using player identity to impact experience and behavior.

The result? Players have been able to set all privacy settings during PS5 onboarding within seconds with high confidence while knowing nothing about the platform.

Watch this person review all options and make a selection in <25 seconds.

Player Identity and Social Safety

Due to my work on the Change Online ID project, I spent a lot of time thinking and reading about concepts related to individual and social identity. Many of the reasons people wanted an ID change were stemmed in feeling a dissonance with how an old ID represented them in a social setting, and at times certain IDs impacted how they were treated in a social setting.

Though an ID or screen name seems almost atomic in its ubiquity online, the need for uniqueness in an ID actually stems from the more technical role that IDs play in differentiating one player from another, and there are choices that we make in product and UI implementation (various differentiation tasks) that increase or decrease the weight of that need.

I wanted to explore similar areas where decisions we have made on the product and UX side impact social behavior on the platform. I shared my work with the Social team at PlayStation, and they invited me to come work on social initiatives for PS5. In my time on the social team, I worked on communities, profile, friend requests, and privacy settings, but ultimately, these were all deeply connected in my mind through one main guiding question:

How do we design experiences that allow players to feel safe enough to express themselves on our platform?

Please ask me about communities or profile another time--I love talking about them! But in this post, I'll share how I answered this question for Privacy Settings.

The case for Privacy as Enablement

For all we might fault Facebook for, one thing is certain--people share a lot there. As a social platform, they succeeded in convincing many people that it is safe and natural to share their thoughts online. I would go so far as to say that most other social platforms from gaming to enterprise collaboration are benefitting from the norms that Facebook has established in the online space rather than creating new norms--as evidenced by phrases like "Facebook for enterprise" or "social gaming".

I would also hazard a guess that almost none of their success has anything to do with their privacy settings.

Privacy is a frequent topic in software these days, but it seems to me that when people say "my privacy is important to me," all businesses hear is "give us more settings".

But just as we create the conditions under which it is important to have a unique ID, we create the conditions under which it is necessary to have privacy settings. The average player does not want to struggle to find a unique ID, nor do they want to flip access switches for the various features of our products.

And yet, this is the de-facto privacy settings experience.

Privacy settings is almost always an afterthought--band-aids to alter the default experience--as if choosing to be more private is not the norm.

This also sets Privacy up as a limiting experience--we are almost always reducing something from the "norm" in an effort to control what we share.

But if we take the view that social safety is actually an enabler of social interaction on a platform (rather than always technically limiting potential interaction), then feeling that your privacy needs are met can unlock *more* content generation and engagement--look at Snapchat, or Slack!

So the question becomes:

How can I position Privacy on PlayStation as something that enables positive and desired gaming interactions?

Product and Business Goals

At the highest level, the goal of the PS5 was to be the best place to play.

Breaking it down, the business value of the social team is mostly in creating features that support volume of people playing together. The role of more centric features like profile and friends list is to support main play flows, while the role of privacy is about mitigating risk.

The risk posed by the existing privacy settings came from a few different places:

  1. Improper setup led to unwanted contact and bad social encounters, reducing overall feeling of safety.
  2. Our reactive moderation model meant that the burden fell on players to report bad behavior through a complex reporting flow.
  3. Moderation team was frequently overloaded and this reduced response time, therefore causing players to view moderation as an unlikely avenue to get support.
  4. After an issue has occurred, our settings hierarchy made it difficult to find a problematic setting that could be altered to prevent future instances. Players may give up looking for a solution, knowing that the issue will likely recur.

Stated overly dramatically, the result is that you are not prepared at all going in, and if anything happens, you lose your feeling of safety, have no support, and have no recourse.

For this project, our goals were:
  1. Players must be set up with accurate privacy settings going in. This reduces the total pool of issues happening.
  2. When a reportable issue happens, response time for moderation should decrease with the reduction of total issues.
  3. When a resolvable issue happens, Players must be able to navigate the settings hierarchy to find the relevant setting.

Initial Concept

The original request from the product team cited Xbox's bulk privacy setting pattern as something we wanted to explore for quick setup.

Xbox Bulk Privacy:
Though these options allow for quick setup and may work well for a younger audience (easy to age bucket), our metrics tell us that PlayStation's audience tends to be older. Using age-based categories doesn't serve the broadest category for us--adults--and we know that not all adults want a more social/less private gaming experience.

Our research team had spent years gathering data and building five different personas that represented the majority of our players. Each includes play style, examples of games they play, social behaviors, who they're typically friends with and how many friends the have, what features they frequently use, etc.

Now, I could narrow our question down again:

How do we enable positive and desired gaming interactions for our five personas?

I went for a fairly literal approach, loosely basing five privacy profiles directly off of those personas and choosing privacy settings that seemed to best fit their communication patterns and gaming needs.
Choosing based on play style makes it so that even those who are new to the PlayStation family can easily identify their gaming needs--rather than make permissions choices for features that they haven't yet seen.
Instead of suggesting a single set of norms for everyone, I believed this design would be more inclusive--all of our known gaming personas/styles would have representation from the get-go, as this is shown very early in PS5 setup.

Though one may argue that this design does not do enough to push players to be more open (I'm happy to report that no one actually argued this!), I felt strongly that it is more important for players to see their gaming style both represented and enabled via thoughtful settings than it is for us to push any company social goals that may not align with what players actually want.

Copy Collaboration

Any zoomer-inners amongst you may have noticed the overly colloquial tone in the screens above. At the time, we had not yet established the voice and tone for PS5, but we knew based off of overall history that we would need to go for a more neutral tone that would be easily translatable to all of the 30 system languages we support.

I worked closely with our copy team to try to capture the intent shown in my draft--easy language that speaks directly to the player in terms and scenarios familiar to that player type.

For the selection screen, this meant referencing a lot of my background work on Identity. The short name needed to be something the player can identify with ("Open Book" vs something like "Most Public"). The short description departed from the usual second-person perspective that most of our system language was written in so that players can read a statement about themselves (e.g. "I'm fabulous, I'll share anything") to easily feel what resonates.

For the detailed descriptions, I know players will skim more than read these, so I wanted the speech style to convey openness or closedness so they can feel what is right for them even before they read the exact settings contained within.

It was difficult to do all this while keeping tones neutral and translatable, but our copy team was up for the challenge and after a few rounds back and forth, we were ready to take our work into testing.

User Testing

Working on the PS5 was super exciting! Unfortunately, it also meant really tight controls on user research and user testing. Fortunately, privacy settings isn't exactly core functionality or exciting to leak to the masses, so we were allowed to test our work with minimal tweaks to remove any terms that could identify the screens as from PlayStation.

Click to launch the prototype in a new tab

As I mentioned before, these profiles followed a large body of existing research on players, so I was fairly certain on the concept as well as the major groups. For this test, I wanted to understand the following:

  1. On the initial page, is enough information provided for players to differentiate and choose an option?
  2. After selection, does the detailed description match their expectation?
  3. After reading the detailed description, do the actual settings and preset values match their expectations?
  4. At each stage, how confident are players that they will end up with the right settings for them?

Due to limited research resources at this time (always in high demand!), we enlisted the help of to run an unmoderated qualitative study with 20 participants (15 adults, 5 minors) that self-identified as PlayStation owners. Since I wanted to check how well the statements resonated with each type of gamer persona, we recruited a mix of single player gamers, multiplayer gamers, and mixed (plays both types)--not perfect, but it was difficult to refine beyond that without introducing too much bias.

I collaborated heavily with our internal research team as well as the team that was running the study for us, producing the prototype (shown above: simple click prototype using Sketch Cloud) as well as guiding the study script to ensure we got what we needed.

The prototype tested extremely well overall. Although this wasn't unexpected since it was based off of past research, it was very valuable for me to watch the recordings and see the positive reactions since it was all very theoretical for me up to this point. I was particularly happy about one quote from a participant:

Top level findings were as follows:

  1. Overall, participants understood that there was a gradient of privacy levels available and were able to find an option that suited their needs.
  2. Participants reported high confidence that the default settings were correct, even if they chose to make adjustments.
  3. The short descriptions for "Team Player" and "Off the Record" needed some clarification, some participants had trouble differentiating.
  4. The detailed descriptions reinforced what participants believed after reading the short description and added value in making them feel their choice was a good fit. Minor language tweaks needed as well.
  5. Participants valued the ability to customize settings but many were happy with the pre-set. A few participants indicated they would go directly to customize without selecting a profile, but were still able to identify a profile that matched their needs and agreed with the presets.


The team was very happy with the testing results which indicated higher confidence than we had expected with only minor changes necessary, and I was personally ecstatic that even within the 20 people tested, some actually picked up on the inclusivity message I was going for!

Earlier during the requirements gathering process, I worked with my product manager to pull together a list of the privacy settings needed for PS5. Because many of the features were under concurrent design and development, most teams at the time did not have their settings needs straightened out. We kept other teams informed of our plans, and at this point in time, circled back to revisit the list.

It turned out that many settings were actually combining or disappearing entirely! 

This allowed us to further simplify, and we came to the realization that the minor differences between "Friend Focused" and "Off the Record" had all but vanished. For the time being, we struck "Off the Record" off the record (haha sorry I had to) and went with 4 profiles to choose from. In follow-up iterations with the copy team, we also shortened the detailed descriptions.
The final design also included the following subtleties, though we were unable to test these due to the deidentification necessary for the user study:
  1. Players with existing accounts had a "Review your current settings" option in addition to the 4 profiles which would open up customize with PS4 settings carried over and new settings highlighted
  2. When new settings are introduced (later down the line), players will see the setting pre-filled based on the profile they chose last (if any), or defaulted to the value for most common expected profile (friend focused)
  3. Players who change gaming styles down the line (e.g. bought PS+ and some multiplayer games) can reset to a different profile rather than modifying settings one at a time.
  4. Customizing a profile during setup would allow users to review all settings before submission, but customizing in the regular settings menu would follow our standard settings pattern and submit the new value immediately

After all of our changes were made, we had one more opportunity to test--a test was arranged with internal participants (under heavy NDA) that would cover the entire onboarding and setup flow. The purpose was to test the full flow so I didn't get a chance to squeeze in any more questions specific to privacy, but all participants sped through and reported no issues.


I left PlayStation by the time the PS5 launched, but watched unboxing and setup videos religiously for days after launch (despite having plenty of assurance from our user tests).

Everyone moved through privacy setup very quickly and naturally (likely a bit biased by youtubers just trying to get to the good stuff), but as a designer, what I would really like to understand is how well this holds up long term.

Revisiting my framing question,

How can I position Privacy on PlayStation as something that enables positive and desired gaming interactions?

We know from testing that players had high confidence and felt represented by the available profiles, so what I'd  like to find out is if this actually results in higher average quality of interaction and fewer unexpected/negative social encounters on PS5.

Even given all the resources in the world, I know this would be difficult to measure since the social features on PS5 are inherently different from PS4. Still, perhaps there is some way through categorizing support tickets to understand if there are reductions in things like the percentage of spammers and attackers taking advantage of more open defaults.

Revisiting our project goals,

  1. Players must be set up with accurate privacy settings going in. Yes!
  2. When a reportable issue happens, response time for moderation should decrease with the reduction of total issues. To be measured.
  3. When a resolvable issue happens, Players must be able to navigate the settings hierarchy to find the relevant setting. I worked on the privacy settings menu hierarchy though it is not covered in this doc. This is also to be measured, since testing was not possible prior to release.

Despite not having many measurements to go by, I am very satisfied that we ultimately succeeded in reducing a 3-35 page flow to 2-3 pages while significantly increasing player confidence and representation.

Future Hopes

If you'll recall many sections and paragraphs ago, I talked about player Identity, and how decisions we make in the product impact social behavior.

Revisiting my original question there,

How do we design experiences that allow players to feel safe enough to express themselves on our platform?

In this project, I used privacy setup to communicate to new PS5 owners about the environment they were about to embark into. I told them about the four major categories of players they'll encounter on our platform, and framed privacy as playing a supportive rather than limiting role in their upcoming adventures.

This small experience alone does not answer the question, but it starts to set the player's story. It is completely un-theatrical as our neutral tones dictate, but it recognizes that the PS5 is not only a new console, but a new environment that reacts to as well as influences players' needs.

At the very least, I hope that this will open up exploration into how else we might use play style to predict player needs (commerce, anyone?). Beyond that, I hope we will get to see many ways in which the PS5 and future gaming consoles create a living, breathing environment that reflects and affirms positive identity development.