Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
The consequences of games as a service

Imagine you were to make an animated porn movie using Barbie dolls and to post it on the internet. It is safe to say that Mattel wouldn't be happy, fearing for the image of their brand. But it would be rather difficult for them to stop you, and it would be impossible for them to take your Barbie dolls away. On the other side, if you misbehaved in a restaurant, it is relatively easy for the restaurant owner to kick you out and to deny you future service. As games move from being physical objects we buy to services we sign on for, this difference is starting to become apparent for games as well.

This week there were several news stories about the consequences of games as a service. There was a discussion of Riot Games banning some pro-gamers from League of Legends. And EA drove home the message on how they control your access to their games by threatening people who don't report bugs in the SimCity beta with being locked out from all EA games. You can get banned on Steam for misbehavior. And of course all MMORPGs have some sort of banning policy. There are many different scenarios possible where you bought a game and end up unable to play that game, because the company making or distributing the game decided to deny you service for some violation of their terms of service.

Now there are two sides to the problem. One is that games usually have many thousands if not millions of players, and bans can happen due to a "false positive", or due to a situation which wasn't crystal clear. The main problem with being banned for not reporting a bug in the SimCity beta is that it is so easy to imagine somebody not noticing a bug or otherwise stumbling into a ban with no malice on his part. People who argue against the right of companies to ban people from games usually cite a lot of examples like that.

But the more interesting question is whether if a player REALLY exploited bugs, or was proven to harass other players, or knowingly used a hacked code to unlock a game on Steam, should the game company or distributor be allowed to ban him? For example Riot Games has a very well set up player tribunal, and a player behaving badly repeatedly is obviously a problem for the other players in the game. So should Riot Games be able to ban players from playing League of Legends or not?

Once you establish that in certain situations games are a service where for the greater good it might well be necessary to sometimes ban players, the questions become less easy. How far should bans go, both in time and in scope? What relation should there be between the gravity of the crime and the severeness of the punishment? Who should be judge and jury? At which point, if at all, should the legal system be involved if a player wants to appeal a ban? In how far can game companies make up their own rules, and where would authorities need to step in, or some industry-wide standards become necessary? How about refunds?

I do think we will hear a lot more on this subject in the coming years. It is a natural consequence of games running online more and more, even for gameplay activities that we would consider more similar to offline, single-player games. The very possibility to keep somebody from playing a game means that there will be clashes over the cases where somebody is denied access to a game he bought. And I don't think that giving people unlimited freedom to behave as they want in games is the right answer.

Some services use the concept of a "hellban": The offending user is not prevented from using the service per se, but they are prevented from interacting with regular users. On forum sites like Fark, their posts will not be seen by other users. In Max Payne 3, they can only play against other cheaters.
I'm fairly pragmatic about this... in the end games as services are simply vastly more convenient than "true" ownership of a physical game for me (though DRM is trying to undermine that too). Just about every game I buy sits on the shelf, never played again! And this is the experience of many gamers, from what I've read. So if I lost my Steam account, really only the games I haven't got round to playing yet would be a loss. 9 times out of 10, once the game is finished, that's my money's worth. I think people just don't like the idea that they wouldn't be able to access their games - the reality is that even when they can, they probably won't want to with most of them.

That doesn't mean that I don't think it's very jammy that companies do this, and I'm not sure they should be allowed such levity and power over stuff that you've paid hard cash for, in an ideal world. But in reality, I think we're too far down the rabbit hole to turn back now. They write this into the legal stuff you have to agree to to play your games. It seems to me that we've already jumped the ledge!
Well if all the griefers get banned from mainstream games there's always Eve and Darkfall.
@ Mika Some services use the concept of a "hellban":

I must say I rather like the idea of a religion where if I'm good I go to Heaven and if I'm an unrepentant sinner I get to play video games without chat channels for eternity.

Where do I sign up?
Wasn't Paragon banned from PTR access because of continuously not reporting exploits, saving them to be abused on live? Could be just a rumor.

You can calculate microtransactions and virtual networth in the whole debate.

What is allowed depends on the EULA, but EULA itself can be overruled by local law.

Of interest would be for example what to do with any paid subscription fee? Should the customer be reimbursed?

The read-only suggestion above has some merit but there's also trolling by gameplay (so just being unable to use chat channel wouldn't work).
There isn't a solution that is appealing to both sides.

Since most of us are gamers, we'd like to OWN our game experience. The illusion held well while we were playing Ultima VII (I did own that cannon that I took to Despise to kill dragons with).

In an online world, however, the illusion quickly falls apart. Instagram uses your photos to make money, Facebook sells your interests to advertisers, so banning you for cheating in WoW is relatively minor.

If anything, game companies are slow learners and are definitely not being the worst offenders in this space.
I think it's pretty funny when I pay money for something and am then denied it.

You know what's even more funny?

When I don't pay money for something and can play it. I think companies should take "the joke" as far as possible. I have almost completely lost all sympathy for their whining about hackers.
Oh, and it's funny that "actual wrongdoing" or even "thought to have committed wrongdoing" is used as the "normal reason" for being denied service. I mean LOL.

Blizzard denies users the ability to play Starcraft 2 if they have lost the login for a battlenet account. And the email which was a throw-away that battlenet account. Sure I have the box I bought. And the CD. And the CD key. And the account with that CD key assigned to it has been inactive for more than a year. And sure, they COULD transfer the CD Key to the new account and make it revokable from the old account if anyone ever logs in again(which they won't, cause the account is mine and I lost it's information)... but that would involve not stealing from me, and they LIKE stealing.

I know, I know. Let us all pretend they are doing this to somehow protect "user rights". Or because there are no easy and immediately workable solutions available to them. Lies, and lies, and more lies.

There are dozens of workable solutions to this problem. They simply choose not to do them.

I know! We'll pretend I'm the only person to have every lost login information to an account I wasn't even clearly told "owned" my $70 dollar game! YES! Let's pretend that!
The last Sim City I really enjoyed was Sim City 2000. Probably nostalgia.

But I couldn't help but wonder, when someone complained asking why Sim City needed to be protected against cheaters or exploiters in what is one of the greater examples of a sandbox. It's your sandbox, you should be able to do anything you want in it, right?

Only, having read and watched plenty about the new Sim City, that's actually not the case. EA's going for the interconnected social media angle.

I can only assume that the meta reason is to provide justification for the always-online DRM/social-inclusion exploitation that caused D3's disappointing experience.
Interestingly, to me, this trend toward 'games as a service' and all the anti-modding/cheating it entails means that I suspect I'll be taking advantage of a new free service...

Youtube walkthroughs. Often cinematics-only, skipping past the grindy bits.

Catherine was a revelation in that regard. I'd been curious about the game - its narrative had been talked up a bit in the circles I'm in, but it's a puzzle-platformer, and I kinda hate those. I stumbled across a youtube video series that plays the whole thing through and cuts out the platforming sequences.

I had been curious, but not enough to make the sale... then here the benefits of having made the sale were all laid out for me, with none of the drawbacks (cost, physical media storage/handling, mandated playsession lengths, actual platforming to get to the bits I want to see).

I wonder how long before that gets banned...
I'd think that the common opinion is more accepting of bans in MMOs (permanently online) than in offline games with multiplayer capabilities.

I think MMOs are far easier to recognize and accept as a service/access.
I suppose we can leave banning policies to market forces.

If the game running company is too permissive and doesn't ban cheaters well enough, the game will be ruined, and customers will stop paying and leave.

If, on the other hand, the company is heavy on false positives, it will quickly get bad publicity and maybe even some lawsuits. Again, losing customers.
What if you get banned BUT keep playing with Steam in offline mode? You should be able to keep playing your games, right?

Of course "online only" stuff like MMO's are out of question, but they would be the same even if you had the original disk on the shelve.
Well, just because mistakes may happen, when judging if a player violated the rules, don't justify that the companies should not apply any punishments on cheaters or even ban them from the game.
The GMs have access to the log files and they (should) know if someone is doing something suspcious in game. What I've saw during these 11 years of playing F2P MMORPGs is that when cheaters get banned, they go cry in forums or in other social medias. In many cases they try to put the players against the company itself, saying that the company "banned him without any reason".

It's very common to see cheaters in game. It's very common to see banned cheaters crying in forums pretending to be the victims themselves.

I have saw cases where one single known hacker was able to put a big part of a game community against the company because he enjoyed the virtual anonimity for creating many fake profiles and used them to manipulate the internaut's opinions. Unfortunately, this has been working pretty well.

What the company should do is to expose the logs related to this specific judgement, such as IP, character actions, date, time, etc, to its community players, and not to keep the logs for themselves only. If players don't see proofs by the company they'll think "he is not a hax0r, he is speaking the truth, there is no proof that he is really a hax0r" and will just feed hatred against the company.

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