Tobold's Blog
Friday, March 11, 2011
Fighting the G.I.F.T.

It is widely accepted that communication on the internet is often subject to John Gabriel's G.I.F.T., the Greater Internet F-wad Theory, stating a normal person given anonymity and an audience will say things he wouldn't tell you to your face. Basically, if there are no consequences, people feel free to say whatever they want, however offensive that is. Worst thing that can happen is an offensive post being moderated, so why hold back?

Well, EA and Bioware decided to fight that G.I.F.T.: You can only post on their forums with your EA account, so you are known to them. And if you say anything offensive, you can be banned FROM ALL YOUR EA GAMES. Even single-player games like Dragon Age 2 are affected, because these days such games have an online account check as copy protection. So EA / Bioware can hand out temporary and permanent bans that will prevent you from playing any EA game with an online activation. You can be sure that the SWTOR forums will be a *lot* more pleasant than the WoW forums due to this. Until, of course, Blizzard follows suit, locking you out of WoW, Starcraft 2, and Diablo 3, whenever you post a rant on the WoW forums.

In related news, I'm in negotiations with Steam to make them hand out 72-hour bans to everybody posting troll comments on this blog. You have been warned! Big Brother is watching you!
Hehe,that doesnt seem to be the smartest PR move:) Certainly considering the extremely bad vide the name EA seems to incite with gamers all over the globe..

They cannot do anything right and right now DA2 is being completely TRASHED by non syndicated reviewers. Just check out metacritic. This could tell you that a)EA owns the "official" media or b)the independent writers are all too happy to jump on the 'burn ea at the stake' bandwagon...
afaik, you have to sign up to post on the wow forums, but being banned from them doesnt ban you from any blizzard game. As the GIFT express itself in fullest on the forums, i think it's adequate.

In the game, you can just /leave general.
That seems a bit over the top. At least I know I won't be buying anymore EA or Bio-Ware games while this is the policy. Not a forum troll myself, but I can't support a company with a policy that bad.
this is a new feature and trust me, no one is happy about it, so it might not go through yet. that said bioware forums at least are not nearly as bad as WoW forums, because mods are more active and less belligerent.

as for bad reviews of DA2, why do i get the feeling that they are organized by the same people who's been crashing bioware social network for the last couple of weeks?
the game is not nearly as bad as all these reviews are claiming, I mean just try the demo for cripes sakes to make your own judgement - the protest is mostly due to drm and online activation/dlc crap - something btw that was pioneered by starcraft (the having to be online to play part) but it didn't get nearly as much flack for it.
damn no edit button... "feature might not stay yet - the forum one, just think back to the fallout from real ID.

oh and those metacritic negative reviews. 5-6 from the same person who just registered their account? yeah, trustworthy, I'm sure.
Go fuck yourself you biased piece of shit your just mad that people didn't like your fanboy love of whatever we were talking about.
More pleasant, probably. Nearly devoid of activity, also probably. If there's even the remote possibility that some child's mother can throw a hissy fit because you dared tell her offspring it was wrong and have your license to play games you paid for revoked, people will prefer to use unofficial forums.
"In related news, I'm in negotiations with Steam to make them hand out 72-hour bans to everybody posting troll comments on this blog. You have been warned! Big Brother is watching you!"

Considering how often you remove posts that disagree with you intelligently, reducing the poster to just telling you to FUCK OFF for being spineless, I'll take that challenge.
@jeff: Apparently we disagree how about how "intelligent" your swear words and personal attacks are. I have never deleted a single comment that had not either profanity or ad hominem attacks or both.

That is by the way very easy to verify, as my blog is full with thousands of comments that *do* disagree with me intelligently, and which in consequence have not been removed.

Maybe you should try some sort of training course "Disagreeing without name-calling 101" or something like that if you find your comments removed.

Oh, and by the way, as the removed comments are still visible as "removed", you can also verify that the "how many" is less than 1 percent. And that without me having to ban you from your favorite game for 72 hours!
This is once again a company who doesn't get it. You don't devalue your product by banning people from playing it. Once again, like DRM, this is a move that simply promotes piracy. Companies need to start getting it, because they are only screwing themselves.
It's ironic that a post about the G.I.F.T provoked several responses which show it to be alive and well.

I wonder what the tipping point is that moves a community from "This is a place where I can engage in intelligent debate about games" to "This is where I can go to argue and insult"...
"You don't devalue your product by banning people from playing it."

On the contrary...businesses have those signs up saying "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone" to improve their service and maintain value. Sure, a bar might lose the business of the one drunken jerk picking fights, but more people will stay if he's thrown out on his ear.
@grinderrobot, But when you buy a game, do you feel you are purchasing a product or a service? The forums are a service, and banning unruly people from forums seems perfectly reasonable. A single player game is, in my opinion, a product. If I've purchased Dragon Age 2, EA should never have the ability to lock out my ability to play that game simply because I make a forum post about how much the company sucks.

I don't think anyone would argue that it would be ok for Toyota to permanently disable your car because you accused them of putting profits ahead of safety and quality, yet this is exactly what EA could do to your EA games.
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If I'm not mistaken don't we all agree to an End User License Agreement everytime we install a new game? We don't own the actual software just a license to use the software. Ban away I say!

If you get your license to drive a car and you're running people off the road and having bouts of road rage they revoke your license. Just because you have a license doesn't mean you can do whatever you want with it.
And you feel that not being able to own the products that you buy is acceptable? I personally would just like to know that when I pay $60 to receive a DVD from a store, that at some time in the future, said DVD won't just shut down on me because some guy in an office somewhere pressed a button to turn it off without giving me a refund.

@Original article:

That's a terrible concept. That means that if you go over the top with some criticism for a game on their forums, or even if you just post a rant on their game and they don't like you, they can just shut your account down and take away the game from you entirely. Without some sort of refund or compensation, there's no reason this should even be legal.

Sure, this may not happen under reasonable circumstances, but there are easily documented cases where other companies have forcibly shut down software remotely. (Amazon Kindles anyone?)

What I paid with my money is money. Certainly it doesn't entitle me to be a dickwad on EA forums, but that's where the line should be: if I'm a dick on their forums, I should only be banned from the forums, not shut off from their games permanently.

Remote cutoff software should never be allowed to be used except in the cases of malware.
"@jeff: Apparently we disagree how about how "intelligent" your swear words and personal attacks are. I have never deleted a single comment that had not either profanity or ad hominem attacks or both."

And you adhere to a very broad definition of 'ad hominem attacks'.
On a more serious note, this goes right to something that has been bothering me for a long time: When everything is privatized, we will own nothing.

Businesses do not want you to own anything. If you own it, you can do whatever you want with it. They want rentals and licenses. Those give the faintest illusion of ownership, but allows them to retain control. And to the extent that we value their products, we are held hostage to them, controlled by the businesses.

It's a government of its own sort. A kind that sneaks in when you aren't watching, tells you there's nothing to see here, but it controls you all the same. Regulation can help to protect against this, consumer protection, consumer rights, but we're told that those are "government overreach" or "nanny states", and so we're left trying to vote with our wallets. Our much much smaller wallets. The result is less like a free market and more like Qaddafi saying he can't step down because he doesn't run Libya.
And you adhere to a very broad definition of 'ad hominem attacks'.

Seems we are making progress here, jeff. At least you don't disagree that writing FUCK OFF in capital letters in a comment would be considered "profanity".
I just stumbled on a a thread about this on the DA2 forums, and it doesn't seem to be like it was at first thought to be. I will not repeat it but if you're interested here's the link to the thread but just the dev posts shown.
Not surprisingly, the EA action has been confirmed as a "mistake".

I'm sure lots of businesses would absolutely love to be able to sell customers goods and services that they could then take back and sell again/not support. It's been tried often enough in the past, after all.

It generally hasn't proved to be a sustainable business model, however. Word goes around and customers become harder to find. Law enforcement entities and legislators tend to take a dim view of it. OVerall, it seems that actually letting people keep the products they've bought and/or continuing to give them the service they are paying you for makes you more money in the long run, and has the added attraction fo keeping you out of jail.
Apparently it was just all due to "human error". Really, it's just a terrible excuse.

1) The fact that this happened in the first place is stupid. I understand the need for moderators to have the ability to do bans, but their powers should only affect his ability to post on community sites.

The fact that they allow "fast tracking" of suspension levels without oversight is clearly a bigger oversight on EA's part.

(I won't comment on the fact that the criticism didn't even warrant a suspension, since that's a subjective matter.)

2) EA shouldn't be able to lock down an account in the first place to the point that it is no longer allowed to even activate a purchased game. There's no excuse for this at all.

In any case, no amount of backtracking and apologies will save EA from this incident. The damage is done. Even if the guy was only locked out of the game for 24 hours, that's an eternity to gamers and the internet in general.

Gamers look down on this type of oppressive action, and it will only serve to hurt them if they continue down that path.
For me, it depends on the details: where in the continuum of inappropriate does the ban hammer strike.

plain criticism
over-the-top emotional criticism
unproductive, ad hominem
spam, profane, bigoted, phish
advertising competitors

I would prefer to keep the first and a good bit of the second (passion is good.) Is this policy to promote more civil discourse or to prevent bad reviews and comments?

I think Blizzard missed the point on RealId. I think every one of your posts should have had a public *HASH* of your battlenet email. So there is no way a reader could reverse engineer your email from the post, but there is a way to see if post#17 from alt5 and post 136 from alt9 are from the same person. And perhaps even a "hide all from people on my idiot list." There needs to be authenticated reputation.
Upon reflection, I am not sure if banning is quite right for the problem of cesspool fora. I.e. banning may be ok to get maximum penalty and coverage if someone posts some phish or bigoted screed.

If I look at EJ -> Here -> Gevlon -> WoWForums.

Then I consider EJ a little anal (but mostly they *DESPERATELY* need an editor to summarize 150 page threads from pre-Beta until the present with current consensus)

I find here about right.

Gevlon gets to much towards censorship for my taste. But perhaps that is a better model for a corporation. Sad but perhaps true.

WoW: ugh.

I think the solution is just to have unpaid forum moderators (work for ego and the occasional tshirt can get a lot of effort from nerds) to just "downrate/hide" the rude posts. I am not sure it deserves a ban, but I know that reading all the "l2p u f*** noob I pull X dps with my W in the last raid" does not make me feel better about the game (or mankind for that matter)
Just a FYI digression: was Microsoft's AI UI solution in search of a problem.

One of the things Microsoft quoted during the launch hype, if I recall correctly, was that they found that when a program surveyed the users about "itself", there were higher reviews than when another program surveyed them about the first. I just remembered it as an interesting point as the real and virtual worlds become more intertwined.
@Pzychotix so you've never ever made an error in your life? you've never executed an option and then realized that it was not what you intended? back when I was in my late teens, I found one of those minimum wage jobs, manning the counter. I was shown how to use the register couple of times and then left on my own. I ended up locking down the whole thing, by accidentally pushing the wrong sequence of buttons and it had to be completely reset before it could work again. didn't even occur to my trainer that something like that could happen.

mistakes happen. software errors happen. Not only that, it seems like you haven't read the entirety of the posted link because they specifically said that locking people out of the game they purchased at the store shouldn't lock them out from registering that game and playing it, the ultimate "you really messed up lock" should only prevent you from getting future online content. and that you really need to mess up badly.

the person who got locked out, wasn't locked out for displaying negative option, there are plenty of those on bioware social network and unless you are spamming the same topic 20 times - the threads that stay within the rules (no profanity, no name calling, no political discussion), stay open for a while. they got banned for using profanity past the warning. they are not nearly as "thread lock - cannot ever criticize us ever" happy as blizzard is.
Nice move from the company. I wish in the future they create an international law that obligates every Internet user to use his real and verified information, when commenting on any forum, blogs and on other places.

There is no more respect between people on the Internet, because users use the freedom of speech as an excuse for saying bad things to others.

Just watch Youtube comments and you will notice the shit vrtual World we are living today.
I would rather read tons of offensive and troll comments. Freedom trumps all and is non-negotiable.
@Phantasmagoria: Considering DA2 currently has a rating of 81 on Metacritic, I would not considering that to be getting a complete thrashing.

A good game is a good game, regardless of the idiocy of the publisher.
Mocinha, freedom isn't something to hand out to one group or another, arbitrarily. If you want to speak, so will the trolls and spammers and flamers. We can, of course, try to reduce them, but even I do not want to see the government power needed to enforce your law.

Sure, I've made mistakes in my life. But I take responsibility for my mistakes, and I try to ensure that I never put myself in a position where those mistakes can happen.

The fact that a moderator for a community site has the ability to shut down a player from accessing his online account completely is a mistake waiting to happen. I can understand moderators being allowed to ban players from the community site, but from his online account altogether? That's not right.

Then there's the fact that they allowed people with this power to do it without any sort of oversight, when doing so could end up in a PR disaster. You don't allow kids to play with guns, and you don't let low-level grunts fuck with your image.

And apparently you didn't read the post either. Locking your online account "shouldn't" prevent you from registering a game you just bought from the store and playing it. But in reality, it did.
I haven't viewed the new Blizz/WoW forums. I like to think that when they opened the new ones, they assumed they could start with a clean slate would help them keep a lid on it.

Accountability is good. Banning folks from forums who act like ass-hats is good. Banning them from the games is only good if they ban the online component. Let them play with themselves... (You can fill in the joke from that.)

To this end, a centralized handle used for posting so that posters can't use alts or dummy accounts is a good idea for maintaining accountability. Can't fault it.

Except when you do it wrong.

So many games companies fall into one of the most annoying data traps there is: using an email address for an account name.

I see this everywhere.
This is a stupid practice and it needs to stop. My Steam account had to be my email address. Now I have to put in an old ISP email that I used when I was with a shitty ISP that I haven't used for eight or nine years, because that's when I set up Steam. People change email addresses. In a world since gmail, it's hard to fathom, but there it is.

Especially if you use free email sites that shut down for being too small, or who do not have robust spam filters, forcing you to eventually discard it as your daily inbox reaches 1000 spam per day. The techilliterate fall into all these traps. Hell, it's not unreasonable to ask oneself, "OK, so this username I haven't used in a while has to be an email address... now, lessee. Was I using my old domain name address, my ISP mail address, my real gmail, my spam/special offers gmail, my ancient hotmail or my business/receipts/subscriptions gmail? And was my password my LifePassword or a variant of it when I changed it because of that bad breakup? Was it before or after The Great Identity Theft of 2009?"

Secondly, if you go about trying to make the email address the account name, then you want to use the one centralized account for forums, you have to get the user to pick a unique account name handle (another detail to remember), or have them splash their email address all over forums. Which, given the population in those forums, is something akin to cutting yourself then jumping into a shark tank. Using a real name, as Blizzard wanted us to do, is even worse.

It boggles the mind how they could have reached the conclusion that RealID was a Good Idea(tm).

They were probably blinded by visions of FaceBook money.
Actually, my accusation above might not be entirely fair... It is possible for reputedly intelligent people to make very, very stupid mistakes by not being cynical enough about human nature.

Take the May 2008 Australian Alco-pop tax, for example.

The government commissioned a study by a professor on how to stop binge drinking. The professor identified that a key factor (in young girls in particular) was the availability of 'alco-pops'. Fruity/fun pre-mixed beverages with high alcohol content disguised by soft-drink, fruit or milkshake flavourings.

The solution was to tax the everloving hell out of those pre-mixed drinks to make them non-viable for getting plastered.

The tax raked in millions (209 million). Sales of alco-pops dropped, but binge-drinking did not show a noticable decrease. (Similar to constructive posts on RealID forums would decrease, but trolling/QQ'ing not.)

In response, the major alcohol distributors had fits and kittens. They screamed bloody murder... and then proceeded to directly target their lost demographic with straight spirits and deals to make soft-drinks cheaper if purchased with the spirits. Make your own! Cheaper!

Balance was restored. The youth went about getting hammered far more cost-effectively than before and alcohol companies averted financial crisis.

Here's the punchline: The professor who engineered the tax was SURPRISED. He went on TV doing interviews accusing the alcohol companies of deliberately subverting the intent of the tax so that they wouldn't lose money.

...I'm not sure today if he realized just how stupid that sounds. If you put a multi-million dollar hole in someone's pocket, why would you expect them to sit idly by and not do something about it? For the good of the nation's youth? Cue uproarious laughter. (The tax was later blocked by the opposition and the government had to pay back the $209 million.)

RealID, if it was REALLY about cleaning out the wading pool of chimp-bukkake and santorum (see: urban-dictionary) run-off that is their forums, is a similar example of well-meaning folks attempting to affect change, not realizing just how badly their actions could be perverted by a world whose cruelty and depravity they had underestimated. (See: Bashiok.)

Another comparison can be made behind the motives. Both the alcopop tax and RealID's supporters may have had altruistic motives, but it can be safely assumed that there were more avaricious backers providing the support that made it happen. Be it a government looking for tax revenue or a company looking for facebook integration to gobble up casual game market share.
@ Psychotix. yes, it shouldn't have and they said as such. they are working on fixing that error as well as the error that allowed mod to accelerate the account ban like that. blocking the person from registering the new game was NEVER an intention. blocking the person from playing offline was never an intention. it was an error. they didn't realize that that would even happen and they probably wouldn't have discover it until later date, if this hasn't happened now.

I'm all for freedom. freedom of speech, freedom of choice. and when you chose to post on private forums (which is what BSN essentially is) you CHOOSE to abide by their rules. as a private company they have a right and a privilege to set those up. you don't like it? no one NO ONE is stopping you from setting up your very own, completely unmoderated forum. and isn't it what 4chan is anyways?
The cynics amongst us (or is it just me) would say it's nothing to do with GIFT or moderation, it's simply a marketing exercise; by forcing you to sign up in order to post, they glean valuable information (email addresses, names, other data) about the people who have an interest in their products, this kind of data is like gold dust to companies as it allows them to tailor their marketing towards the market segments most likely to part with cash.
Problem is the GIFTS are the only ones keeping forums from becoming echo chambers. A good example is Techcrunch, who went to Facebook Comments as a commenting system to get rid of the trolls. They did, but the amount and quality of comments fell off a cliff.

There's a lot of talk about how the lack of consequences leads to trollery, but people should beware of the opposite, of toadyism.
Why would it have to be either troll or toady? What happened to respectfully disagreeing?

There is absolutely no value to be had from the kind of people who can't disagree with you without telling you what a fucking retard you are.
That's the way it works out though. Respectfully disagreeing just vanishes with a strong moderation system, because the moderator risks viewing the act of disagreement as trolling and applies anti-trolling measures selectively.

Without the trolls, people simply aren't passionate enough to disagree in the face of a unified culture, and so they leave. Politics sites are a good example.

There's another aspect to it when you consider comment systems that either encourage liking, or tie your real identity to your comments. Goal for those is to stop trolling, but too often they also act to stop disagreement.

It's just the way people are.
Maybe it is the way *you* work, but it certainly isn't the way it works everywhere. Just think of your workplace: There is probably a lot of disagreeing going on there, and that without people calling each other names all the time.

People who can't disagree without trolling are simply unskilled in human communication and have no place on any public forum unless they learn to discuss in a civil manner.
Truth be told, the GIFT theory is dated. Once upon a time I was a rage-aholic and would channel my rage into anonymous cruelty over the internet. With maturity and character however, this sort of thing is simply a waste of time and damaging to the self as well as the target of all that misguided vitriol.

Don't deny it. A person of true character wouldn't harass someone else.
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