Tobold's Blog
Friday, February 11, 2011
Blizzard bans 250,000 players for exploiting Whiptail spawn bug

If you just panicked, you are probably aware that patch 4.0.6 introduced a bug in the spawn rate of Whiptail in Uldum, making it possible for a large number of players to farm huge amounts of that herb in a short time. The headline isn't true. Yet. But I think it is a good opportunity to discuss exploits.

The spawn rate of Whiptail right now clearly is a bug. It would stretch credulity for anyone to claim that he wasn't aware that being able to gather 30 stacks of herbs in an hour in spite of heavy competition was working as intended. But everybody's reaction on hearing about the bug is to rush to Uldum and participate in exploiting it, before Blizzard hotfixes it.

This is clearly exploiting, and a bannable offense. If Blizzard actually *would* ban everybody involved, they would have every right to. They just probably won't ban, because it affects too many people, and the damage is limited to what will probably end up as a small crash in prices of that herb, inks, and Darkmoon cards. If Blizzard hotfixes the bug soon, there is no lasting damage done.

Nevertheless we have to ask ourselves why we are willing to exploit such bugs. Some commenters will probably come up with sophisticated justifications, but at the heart of the matter exploiting bugs is cheating. The rule that exploiting a bug is bannable is there because no game company can guarantee that they'll never have an exploitable bug. Now a fast spawn rate for one sort of herb isn't all that serious, but how eager people are to exploit this shows us that they'll probably also would exploit more serious bugs. Star Wars Galaxies once had a serious gold duping bug, which led to a mass banning of players and a huge rollback.

So, what do you do about bugs like these? Report them, or exploit them?
If what you said was true, Blizzard would of mentioned a blue post on it by now ...

So by using your own logic, clearly you are wrong.
That is your excuse? If there is no blue post, there is no bug?

I think there are a lot of good reasons to NOT mention exploitable bugs in blue posts, but working on a hotfix instead.
Flasks. Some of us play for one purpose alone, which is raiding. Considering the fact a winds flask is around 200-300g on most servers and we use 5-7 of them per evening, this is pretty much a godsend.
Report them, or exploit them?

I haven't been to farm them, but I would happily buy the far cheaper herbs from the AH. Am I a bad person now? :-(
"It would stretch credulity for anyone to claim that he wasn't aware that being able to gather 30 stacks of herbs in an hour in spite of heavy competition was working as intended"

Two points:
1. Behaving in a "normal" manner generally isn't banned by Blizz. You claim there's a "bug" to get lots of herbs, but it's by actually farming them, not by injecting code or going underground or anything. You're still flying from node to node.
2. Is this a "bug" by common sense standards? Dubious.
It's clear that a gold hack is a bug, going through walls or underground is a bug. Herbs spawning faster than normal? It's not unreasonable they thought 400g flasks were too expensive and decided to make them easier to farm. It would be unreasonable to think that they decided the ground was OP and they decided to let people go under it.
Depends: if bug is obviously a bug (saronite bomb BUILDS a platform), report and don't exploit.

If it's a numerical bug (more herb than "should"), report and exploit.

There is a problem with Blizzard: it's hard to tell if something is a bug or merely a "help" for "players with less time". There was a widespread abusing of the bug in WotLK, where ilvl 200 dungeons dropped ilvl 251 badges.
Usually I only report it if I do not want to use it. By reporting you officially declare it a bug. If you use a Bug reported by yourself you can get banned.

If yoou use a bug not being that obvious you can clearly use it as long as you do not officially accept it as a bug.

An obvious bug is the Occulus bag bug where you got points even if you only opened but not looted it. repeating this X times is clearly exploiting.
To be fair they have increased herb spawn rate. I remember forlornly galloping around Felwood hoping the farmers had missed a Dreamfoil or two in 2006.
I think Sir Nicholai made a good point. If by playing NORMALLY, you can exploit something ,then Blizzard can't do anything about it [without it being considered a "bad move"] .

It's a little unfair [or stupid] of a developer to expect players to "play the game as intended" and by some inner moral belief decide "doing this is not right" or "this is probably not what the devs intended" .

If the game functions on the principle of "you must find a node, gather with it using a specific skill and then craft an item from it or sell it" ...and you are doing exactly that, just faster....sorry Blizzard have no case, they have to fix it and might consider "rolling back" things, but they can NOT punish players for "playing the game" .
If I discovered the bug/exploit myself:

1. Document everything
2. Find a way to reliably reproduce the bug
3. Set aside any and all gains (if possible)
4. Report the bug with as much detail as possible, including on how to reproduce it and what you gained from it
5. Wait for the ticket to be answered

If I just witnessed the bug being exploited, I just skip steps 2 and 3.
From Merriam-Webster:
Rationalization - the provision of plausible reasons to explain to oneself or others behavior for which one's real motives are different and unknown or unconscious

For examples, read most of the comments above this one.
Is it a bug? Probably. Anything that isn't working "as intended" from Blizzard is a bug. I can also see why it would be adventageous for them to not plaster messages about it all over their forums.

The question here is if it is working as intended or not. Somehow, even if they wanted to ease up on the cost of flasks and other items a bit, I doubt they want you farming 30 stacks of Whiptail in an hour, that's a bit excessive if that is indeed the speed at which it can be gathered.

Now, can they ban people for it? Absolutely not, for the reasons already mentioned above. The simple fact of it is that people are not exploiting if they are using the game mechanics as intended - flying from one node to the next picking herbs.

I should rephrase the comment I just made, I suppose. They CAN ban anyone for any reason, I guess. It's in the EULA somewhere, I'm sure. Will they? Absolutely not. They aren't that stupid.

Plus, people who farm those herbs every day, with or without the bug, can't be punished for going about their daily routine within the confines of "as intended" game mechanics. It's ridiculous to think otherwise.
Fake News:
Blizzard bans 8 millions players for exploiting flying mount bug.

The application of the latest patch created an error that made flying mounts accidentally move at 600% (instead of the 410% 'as intended') of normal speed. Everybody exploiting this bug has been banned for three days.


As pointed out before, there is a major difference between exploiting a bug that lets you circumvent game mechanics and bugs that merely cause a minor annoyance/imbalance. Furthermore, there is a great difference between actively exploiting any bug or just benefiting from it without knowing.

Tobold, I wish you more often would use terms like "i think/in my opinion" and less "it is clear/everybody must notice this" etc. You kind of bury any discussion by stating false facts in your opening posts.

"The rule that exploiting a bug is bannable is there because no game company can guarantee that they'll never have an exploitable bug."
Weird statement.
The rule that crossing a red traffic light is ther because traffic lights exist.

Lastly a question on ethics: You definitely don't support bug using in any way, you understand that talking about them spreads the news... why did I learn about that bug on your blog then? Your blogpost could have been about thorium ores spawning in burning steppes with a hint to commenters to not reveal the real bug.
The determining factor here is that "exploiting the bug" in this case is indistinguishable from normal game behavior. Consider a naive player, completely unaware of the bug, who decides to go farm some Whiptail. He'd be "exploiting the bug" by doing the exact same thing he did for the past three weeks.

Blizzard could ban him for doing it -- they reserve the right to call anything an exploit if they want. But in the larger moral context, he'd feel rather hard done by -- and he'd be right. Which is why Bliz won't consider this a bannable (or even suspendable) exploit.
Lastly a question on ethics: You definitely don't support bug using in any way, you understand that talking about them spreads the news... why did I learn about that bug on your blog then?

I do believe that writing about a bug on my blog constitutes reporting that bug, with actually a higher chance of the bug getting fixed faster than if I used the in-game bug reporting tool.
"Some commenters will probably come up with sophisticated justifications"

It seems like you're prejudging all discussion or objections people might have by claiming they are just rationalizing.
Disclaimer: I have not farmed said whiptail, (because I hate farming) but I have bought hundreds of stacks off the AH. The price hasn't gone down, but availability has gone up, so perhaps I am profiting by this bug.

"but at the heart of the matter exploiting bugs is cheating."
MMOs are computer games with sets of rules. For many people who play, the object is the find the best way within those rules to accomplish their goal.
Some of these rules are stated. (anything with a tooltip)
Some of these rules are not stated. (wallhacking)
Some of these rules are unknown. (spawning rules)

Given an unknown rule that has changed before several times, and has never been called "cheating" or "hacking", I don't think you can reasonably declare it is a bug, unless you know what the rule is supposed to be, and that it's not functioning as intended.
If you know the rules of herb spawning or rare mob spawning, please share with us, wowhead readers and commenters are very anxious to know and have spent hours cooking up half-baked theories of how these work. If you don't know, and you are calling people cheaters and hackers because things aren't working the way you subjectively expect them to, that seems uncalled for.

P.S. Thank you for the excellent blog, it's been a welcome addition to my daily reading for the past couple years. :) I highly enjoyed a month of ATitD, and am sorry some of my recent comments are more disagreeable. I suppose you expected that with this post though. ;)
A week or two after Cata's release, Blizzard greatly reduced the spawn rate of elementium nodes in Deepholme. Before that you couldn't travel 200m without finding two or three nodes.

Do you think the spawn rate at release was also a bug and Blizz should ban all the miners who leveled there ?
I think the hardcore raiders taught us a lesson that if you exploit a broken raid encounter you are temp banned and your achievment removed. In the Cataclysm rush to "first," potential exploits were reported this time rather than exploited (because raid firsts are serious business).

So learn your lessons casuals! And, as Ghostcrawler said "Learn to play."
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You argue in favour of, for want of a better expression: 'a path of least resistance' in your post - A fundamental shift towards variable difficulty.

Where in essence a player should not be frowned up on for taking this route in dungeons with the added buff in the patch.

A legitimate buff. But a 'path of least resistance' all the same.

And then you ask: 'Nevertheless we have to ask ourselves why we are willing to exploit such bugs.'

Is this not a 'path of least resistance' too?

Where a player may reap rewards for an activity via gold or pots in order to reach some other goal faster or more efficiently?

Why are we willing to exploit such bugs? Human nature.

It's a virtual world where repercussions have no tangible effect.

If this were a real world bug... where perhaps a cash machine was gifting users an extra 50 units of currency 'x' per transaction... there would be repercussions and clear moral dilemmas.

In WoW I see no moral conflict in the example you gave personally.
I think this is close for me to consider it not an exploit.

Blizzard has its own opinions but I see a continuum.

On one hand, the exploit hand, there was the iirc repeatedly get Kara rep rewards and d/e them.

Close behind is the "jump here and catch cata fish/volatiles prior to the shattering."

The other hand was the cheap maelstrom crystals if your toon was both alchemist and disenchanter or had points for PvP gear. Not an exploit; just poor design.

Clearly not an exploit is playing a 4.0.3 survival hunter because they are top DPS and do twice a Beastmaster. Not good design, but not exploit.

The shifts closer to the "poor design" since IMHO there is some bump coming to herbs. Elementium ore is near bottom. I.e. a year from now, no matter the ore glut, jewel crafters can prospect and cut gems that vendor for 54g a stack independent of player demand. Ore is close to that support level now. herbs, due to DMF (I'll probably mill nearly 1000 stacks this Faire, or would if the herb prices were cheaper) and the lottery tickets (Fortune cards) Should one herb sell for 300% of one ore? Does Blizzard want a stack of flasks to cost more than the 4000g of 310% flying? Are alchemist happy about current herb prices or flask sales? Progression raiders? Bliz reduced the cauldron achievement by a factor of ten because players were generating fewer flasks than they expected.

The world is full of conspiracists. There were people who posted that the Maelstrom/alchemist combo was not bad design but deliberately seeding cheap crystals. So if the issue/exploit is fixed after this Faire is over, then I am sure some will say this was not a bug but just a quick way to provide demand during the Faire.

I tend to consider "numerical" things as bug not exploits. If my pyroblast starts doing frost damage, thats an exploit. If it starts hitting twice as hard, it could be because some internal number was changed. And it could be working as intended or not. I am expecting a herb bump.

Blizzard shipped the latest Holiday event with reference to no longer there Park and King. Really obviously wrong; easily caught with a modicum of testing. Should I not use a spell attribute because Blizzard couldn't be bothered to correct the tooltip for several weeks? Avoiding Blizzard bugs is not a viable way to play WoW.
How do you avoid abusing this bug? It's easy not to pick any herbs until Blizz mentions spawn rates are fixed. But what about buying them on AH? Clearly buying herbs obtained by bug abuse is also an offense, but even if you don't buy any herbs for a month, you have no way to tell if the ones you buy don't come from someone abusing the bug to make a stash for selling later.
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So players are now expected to be unpaid Quality Assurance for Blizzard now?

I know you are putting a hyperbole clown act on right now to get a reaction. But still your premise is faulty and your logical conclusion is ridiculous.

I am one of these "exploiters" because I did pick some whiptail post 4.0.6. And yes I did notice that it was spawning more often. But I also noticed that Elementium spawned differently too (a little less often it seemed).

Am I somehow supposed to divine the "right" spawn time for minerals and herbs? Or maybe check official spawn rates daily like fish and weather reports? Then when I spot some anomaly I am supposed to "report" this pronto or risk ban?

So where does this stop? Perhaps we should just fire the police and expect every citizen to report all crimes or face a ban on citizenship. That would be goblin logic I believe.

Of course I am more old school so I will call it by it's proper name. It's Orwellian.
Some commenters will probably come up with sophisticated justifications, but...
I thought that noone would post any justification because of the prediction itself. Well I was wrong...

Report them, or exploit them?
Exploit them: I don't think that exploiting this kind of bug is a bannable decision...
(However, I don't have any herbalist)
Is it an exploit of a bug yes. Should they be banned? No.
Simply, because the buyers of the herbs should be banned as well. Its not legit herbs.
I do agree that the spawnrate of whiptail is currently so ridiculously high that it must be a bug.

BUT... can you actually expect anyone not to exploit it? Just look who uses it: every physical dps and every non-alchy-healer.

I have rogue, hunter, enhancer, warrior and paladin. I only raid with the rogue, but I'd have to get whiptail with every char to raid as dps.

So as long as the respawn rate is that high do you actually expect half the players to raid unflasked?

And btw 4.0.6a is live now, still whiptail galore.
It would be imposisble to ban as the chain of profit is too so incredibly vast. The farmer made money selling herbs, the buyer got cheaper herbs to, for example, make flasks, which become cheaper and benefit the raider at the end of it all. Half the WoW community has likely profited in some greater or lesser way without even realising it
I think that in this case people should clearly "exploit" this "bug".

This isn't a bug that requires players to alter their normal activity in order to take advantage of it. People aren't typing in some strange sequence of keystrokes to create duplicates of an item. People are just doing what they do normally (farming and buying herbs from the AH).

Anyone who farms or buys herbs from the AH is going to be affected by this bug. The only way to not "exploit" this bug would be to not buy or farm Whiptail right now. I see no reason why people should have to alter their normal routine just so that they don't "exploit" a bug they didn't create.
Bugs can be a gray area and blizzard can be quite arbitrary about it. Remember the mind control trick in MC someone ago where people could get a fire protection buff? That was creative use of game mechanics. But sometimes, blizzard hands out the banhammer.

I believe Blizzard is pretty clever in banning because it makes players think twice before doing certain exploits. But if the bug is widespread then it'll be pretty hard for them to launch a widespread ban.

Thus, in this case exploit before they hotfix!
It's all about the letter of the law versus the spirit of the law. Do you break the first in this case ? No. Do you break the second ? Yes.

The main question is which one do you choose to follow.

And most, if not all, of rationalisation comes from people who are breaking the spirit of the law and don't want to admit (maybe even to themselves) it.
I gathered 30 stacks of Whiptail in an hour before 4.0.6, so it would be hypocritical of me to deny this opportunity to others.

(Granted, it was in the first hour after Cataclysm's release, so I had the entire zone to myself)
Post 4.06, I went to uldum picked up a rep upgrade and decided to herb a bit while I waited for my hearth to come off cooldow. I picked a single spawn, realized their was 6 herbalists visible on my screen ie a waste of time(ours is a very busy server) and went afk until it came up. It was not till the day after i read it was bugged. Exploiter or not?

Of course 3-4 days later when blizzard still had not fixed it I went back and grabbed a dozen stacks.

I did not exploit the za pet bug, nothing happened. I did not exploit the easy arena weapons, nothing happened, I did not exploit the free teir, most lost it but not all...
I suspect that most players would consider anything that the game allows to be within the "rules" of the game. They do not understand software development (certainly not on a scale as massive as WoW), and probably feel that any action is permissible.

Many people assume that any change to the game is intended and obvious to the developers, so why would a thing like herb spawn rates be any different?
Ridiculously high spawn rates in Uldum? Obviously, people have not been herbing in the revamped Vanilla zones. Many are stupidly high - higher than Uldum with the supposed "bug". Given that, is it really so unreasonable for someone to treat the "bugged" rate as obviously incorrect?
Blizzard sets the tone for what is permissible and what is not, as do other MMO developers in their respective games. For example, scamming other players is "part" of EVE, but can bring suspensions or bans in WoW.

So, if Blizzard is banning people for Whiptail farming, I'd consider it cheating. If they aren't, I wouldn't. And there's no way Blizzard would ban people for ordinary herbing, even if it's terribly broken. So it's not a cheat.
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