Tobold's Blog
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Is that still "single-player"?

This month a story was making the round of gaming blogs that Blizzard was banning players for cheating in the single-player part of Starcraft II. That turned out to be not totally true: Starcraft II has a built-in cheat mode, and using that is perfectly legit. What Blizzard does is banning people for using third-party cheat software, which could potentially be used both in single-player and multi-player mode. Furthermore third-party cheat software in single-player mode could be used to get achievements which are visible in multi-player. The people who launched the "Blizzard is banning players for cheating in single-player mode" story just happen to be the people selling the third-party cheating software, so the first versions of that story weren't quite as balanced as they could have been.

Cheating in multi-player is a problem, and nobody is more aware of that than Activision Blizzard. While Blizzard is doing quite a good job of keeping World of Warcraft free from cheaters, the Activision part of the company bungled that issue for Modern Warfare 2. MW2 is reported as having become nearly unplayable in multi-player due to widespread cheating.

On the other side is a huge number of players who think that cheating in single-player mode is perfectly okay, having spawned a huge industry of cheat codes and third-party cheat software. A Google search for "cheat" turns up 63 million hits, most of them about video games. Games like Civilization V even come with big toolboxes enabling players to "mod" the game in any way they want, which includes ways to make the game much easier. There is nothing that stops you from making a Civ5 scenario in which you start with a tank against the AI opponents' spear men.

So the question is whether a company has the right to ban players from using cheat software, even if that software isn't actually used in multiplayer mode. The Blizzard Warden anti-cheat software takes a "better safe than sorry" approach and reacts to players having cheat software installed, whether it is used or not. Probably the Starcraft II anti-cheat software is based on similar principles.

Ultimately we have to ask ourselves whether a game which requires you to be online to play it and which has lots of online functionality like achievements and such can truly still be "single-player". What use is an achievement system visible to other players if it is allowed to be manipulated?
By that logic, every XBOX360 and PS3 game are online because they've got achievements and trophies, as are a great many single-player steam games.
In the case of Starcraft, you could get achievements by cheating if you use 3rd party cheats. I see nothing controversial in banning from something like that. As you said, there's a cheat mode built int and nothing is stopping you from using that. People went to far, got burnt and now they complain.
The boring answer, I suppose, is that using third-party cheats is a violation of the EULA.

To make it slightly more interesting, one might ask the classic question whether such terms are enforceable.

However: if there are third-party cheats, surely there are ways to enable offline play? Obviously, you wouldn't be able to show the rest of the world your (ill-gotten) achievements, but surely that's not what the cheaters wanted? :)
Does it really matter what achievements people have? Once upon a time games didn't have built in achievements yet people still attempted different difficult tasks in them. If I do something in game I do it for my own fun, not for others to see - is anyone honestly expecting respect from others for posting a starcraft 2 achievement online?
Tobold, your ending question is like someone looking for the finger instead of looking at what the finger points....

"What use is an achievement system visible to other players if it is allowed to be manipulated?" is not the actual question that should be asked.
"What use is an achievement system?" is actually the real question.

Most games released these days come with some kind of achievement system and players are getting obese with them.
This is because of the "sugar rush" they procure, a well known and well documented addiction process used in video games (among other things) for some time (Diablo was the flood gate I think). MMOs today are almost entirely based on this "reward addiction" concept and nobody seems to be too concerned with that. Single player games are more and more like that as well.

Personally I believe it's going to become a HUGE problem as more and more generations are breast-fed on this, changing how we perceive time, personal achievements, etc...
If we go back in time a bit, everything us humans did was taking time, effort and was only sometimes rewarding. That led us to develop certain sense of time that has been characteristic to our specie for a long time.

Today, kids are raised with constant, non stop, ever-available, rewards. This is actually considered a good thing usually by parents because it not only helps keep kids busy but also keeps them in a constant state of "high". It's also considered a good thing overall because this promotes consumerism to renew novelty (and the highs).
What effect can this have when the kids get older? Focus on short term goals (gains), irrational addiction behaviors (do ANYTHING to get the next high, including screwing everything else, getting in insane debts, etc), refusal of the reality (failures, etc), rejection of responsibility, etc...

The funny part is that there is no stopping the process now and it feeds itself. Because people are becoming more addicted, they need more and more rewards, which amplifies the whole thing.
The bad part is that you simply cannot avoid becoming hooked unless you leave society altogether. EVERYTHING around is based on that, not just games.

The only thing one can do is:
a) Acknowledge it. As with all addictions, accepting that it's here helps.
b) Cold turkey. To each his own but my own cold turkey some time ago was 2 months totally isolated in the woods, no phone or cute tech stuff. I repeat this with shorter durations once in a while to regain some perspective on things.

I know I went a bit off topic here but the question seemed so..."off" that I had to comment on that.

So Tobold, I ask you this: What use is an achievement system?
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and players are getting obese with them

I only ever use low-fat, low-calory achievement systems. ;)

So Tobold, I ask you this: What use is an achievement system?

Achievement systems, like quest systems, can serve to guide players through a game. They can answer the question of "what should I do next?", which is helpful at least in non-linear games.

I don't think you can judge ANY system by its worst possible use. Rope can be used to hang yourself, but banning rope to reduce suicides is not a viable approach. A large number of players handles achievement systems quite sensibly, so a few players becoming obsessed or addicted to them isn't good enough reason to eliminate achievement systems.

I'm not even sure whether it is the achievement systems in games which shape this instant gratification generation, or whether it is the instant gratification generation that causes achievement systems to become prevalent. The purpose of games changes with time, and is subject to fads. It is quite likely that in a decade games will look very different and achievement systems will be considered completely outdated. If that wasn't the case, how would you explain the huge success of a game like Minecraft, which is completely sandbox with no achievements or goals at all?
Durnit, I thought the "obese" metaphor was quite clever! :)

Never saw (or thought about) an achievement system that helped in knowing what to do next. The concept is bit odd no? I mean this kind of system is usually a quest system.
If you simply meant that it sets new goals, then yes, but these goals are rarely related to the actual game (mine 30000 orilium is not a "new quest").

Also, unlike rope, I cannot see any actual advantages to achievement systems while a simple recap-stat system clearly has plenty of interesting things in it, without any downers.

Take the latest CIV game for example. It has an extensive achievement system which serves no purpose whatsoever yet they removed all the post game stats recaps. By just doing this, the devs removed an entire beneficial aspect in games (which is to analyse what you've done, which is good for the brain) and implemented a brain dead system instead (do this, don't ask why, just do it).

The Minecraft system is interesting for sure but it's related I believe. Of course creation and freedom are very strong factors but the "just another brick" system is also quite addictive in itself. When you combine the two, you end up with a VERY rewarding AND VERY addictive game.
As for achievements, the game is not finished yet I believe and I would not be surprises to see such system implemented in the future, though I might be wrong here.

Lastly, your ending comment was right on the money with my "the system feeds itself" part. Of course achievement systems are a derivative of the instant reward proliferation of modern days and yes, in some years this system will have evolved. Yet, I don't see it evolving in a more subtle thing but instead in an even more fast paced reward system.

I really don't see how kids growing up with their brain so high on adrenalin/dopamine for years would ever be able to cope with anything else than more and more extreme stuff.
A Google search for "cheat" turns up 63 million hits, most of them about video games.
Curious, how did you establish the latter half of this? I can see "most of the top hits are about video games," but was there an additional search strategy or something you used to establish something about 30+ million hits?
There is quite a difference between someone cheating in single player and getting meaningless achievements (they really do mean nothing) and someone cheating in multiplayer and ruining the fun for others, making it unbalanced and unfair. Huge difference between the two.

Banning single player cheaters is lame, plain and simple. If someone wants to ruin their single player experience, let them, they bought the game. Taking away the ability to play the game they purchased is just bad business. It will only lead to those people pirating the game in the future, as they were treated poorly as customers.

Blizzard suing though on copyright claims, once again, is pathetic, it's an abuse of the copyright system. They might of had some grounds when server emulation, as it stole code to make a profit, but the cheat trainers don't steal any code, it simply modifies the memory on the person computer, and no company owns the data in my computers memory, it is my memory data. This is a bogus lawsuit, simply trying to use scare tactics, and I hope Blizzard tries to go through with the lawsuit and get some proper justice tossed in their face.

Stop treating customers like crap, stop stealing from customers (their money), and stop abusing copyright law and filing bogus lawsuits.
Calling developer provided shortcuts "cheats" is a misgnomer because only the single player experience is affected, and as far as I can tell, the developer provided "shortcuts" do not award achievements that can be used in the online component.

Many single player games even incorporate "server side" versions of the same "shortcuts" for the online component, but the key here is that they are available to "everyone" who plays on that particular server.

True "cheats" give a player an unfair advantage over someone else in the "same game space" or "environment". These have existed in one form or another since the early days of online gaming. Most notably; the AimBot cheat(s) that plagued the online components of first person shooter games such as Quake and Unreal. Then we saw the rise of the "wallhack" cheat for Counterstrike which almost destroyed the competitive playerbase early on with its widespread use.

The difference between the above two cheats is that the Aimbot cheat was a 3rd party provided piece of "proxy" software that would run inbetween the game and the players internet connection. It would intercept the aiming/firing data and sync the two to where all a player had to do was hit the "shoot" button and get a guarenteed hit or kill.

The wallhack cheat was different - in that a player could actually change out certain map/texture files on their computer that would allow walls and other objects in the game to become "transparent" and allowed the player to track and shoot another player when they themselves could not be seen.

The important part of this is how much effort the developers of these games put into preventing these types of things. However, the sad truth - is that the legalities involved with server admins having access to server side logs and abilities puts developers and server renters/providers at legal odds with each other, resulting in server operators hands being tied and useless to address new or existing cheats/hacks. The sad part, is that due to the open nature of the PC environment, most of the developer anti-cheat effort is being concentrated on the console market, which leaves the PC-version communities to fend for themselves.

Since Blizzard operates and maintains the servers/codebase their MMO's run on, their is no 3rd party legal issues for them to worry about from an enforcement standpoint, and one has to give them copius credit for taking the time to protect the player experience like they have.

Now, the day that WoW/Starcraft..ect go to consoles is the day that we may see a change of ideology on their part, where "what is worth protecting" becomes an issue. Consoles may very well win out over the more costly and ever-difficult-to-protect, PC market.

I've been playing WoW(off and on) for almost 6 years now, and not once have I ever been banned, kicked or felt that my PC was compromised by the Warden software. That is a hell of a great record in my book. I just wish that PC users would wake up and be accepting and welcoming of any measure to prevent cheating in games, instead of wearing tin-foil hats and being overly suspicious about things.
Security in human relations (and everything derived from them) is impossible to accomplish.
Sure you can push for it but unless you go 100% totalitarian (making everyone and everything the same), the goal will never be reached.

In the long run, I rather not be totally safe but somewhat in control than be 100% safe but totally submitted.

And yes, I HATE consoles :)
Curious, how did you establish the latter half of this? I can see "most of the top hits are about video games," but was there an additional search strategy or something you used to establish something about 30+ million hits?

A Google search for "cheat -video -game -code" turns up only 15 million hits. A Google search for "cheat game" turns up 61 million hits. Thus I think it is safe to state that the majority of the Google hits for "cheat" are about cheat codes or video game cheats.
I don't think it is still single player if you are earning achievements. The game is single player but the earning of achievements it not. The built in codes disable achievements and let you do all sorts of silly things.

I don't think they should be handing out bans for using third party cheats in single player, they should be handing out warnings, as well as information about the built-in cheats that you can use if you want to play in god mode for a while, and explaining why they are against third party software.

@Muton: The instant gratification generation is a myth. It's basically just people saying "the kids these days!"

Videos games do not encourage instant gratification at all. I recognize that they employ a cycle of rewards that is quite addictive, but it is far from instant. Some achievements in WoW can't realistically be achieved in less than 100 hours of game play. Achievements can be maddeningly hard.
Their software is a little too unforgiving. I cannot count how many times players have told me about getting banned for transferring gold between characters and friends or from buying items enmasse on the auction house.

Also, I'm very much enjoying your blog since you took a step back and re-evaluated it.

Good job!
In single player mode... Does it really even matter?

It is about what the end user finds rewarding and satisfying.

As long as the cheats have no affect on other players when participating together.

Starcraft 2 is a bloated piece of over hyped nonsense anyway, and wishing I didn't purchase it.
I applaud Blizzard. It's way too easy to claim that the hacks you have installed that can be used in multiplayer were only used in single player.

The way I understand it, Blizzard doesn't mind if you cheat in single player, but if you cheat using hacks that also work in multiplayer, even if you're only playing against computers, they will ban you.

And as a FPS gamer first and foremost, I can tell you that if you give hackers an inch, they'll take you a mile.

It's pretty easy to not get banned: don't install hacks. Again, I love that Blizzard is taking a zero tolerance stance on cheating. It RUINS a game. Period.
I think it's as simple as: "If you want to use, don't mod your game AT ALL."

However if you do not care about online play I doubt they can lock you out of the single player game. Then again, maybe I am wrong about that.
Multiplayer cheats can of course not be tolerated.

Singleplayer? I'm fine with that.

But achievements? You shouldn't be able to change these and using cheats will change this.

Blizzards reaction is fair. They added a bunch of cheats themselves you can use in single player. Hacking the game is not allowed.
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