Devai Feels The (Auto)Ban Hammer

The tier 15 race is still very much alive. While Method once again beat out Blood Legion for World First 25 HC Lei Shen, the heroic mode only boss Ra Den remains alive. Over in the 10 person bracket, it’s no surprise to anyone that DREAM Paragon smashed the competition, and are currently still the only guild in the bracket to have taken down Lei Shen. But again, the race is still alive, in the sense that Ra Den remains undefeated. Will the 10 or 25 version fall first, and who will claim it?

Technically, someone already did. On the Asian servers 七 煌 took down Ra Den hours after their Lei Shen kill, with the obvious aid of a huge bug. The general consensus seems to be that “by not killing the first two adds and not allowing Ra-Den to get to them he doesn’t get any of his abilities (which clearly isn’t intended) and is therefore very easy to kill” (Manaflask), a theory backed up by the fact that a hotfix was made to the fight which seems to address the exact issue.

So now we know that the fight is buggy, and potentially exploitable, and the question people no doubt ask is, “Do other guilds now about the bug, or other bugs? Have they tried to exploit it?” A question which sends the rumor mills flying when Devai, a player in Paragon, had his account permabanned live on stream this morning. Skip to 2:33:00 to see the action and reaction. Now, Paragon have been banned before for exploiting during the t13 race (something I hope to talk about a bit more in the future), and so are understandably concerned when fresh allegations emerge. So what really happened and why was he banned?

About a month ago I was sat in the pub with friends celebrating having just turned in some term papers. I’d been working pretty much solidly the week before and hadn’t logged on WoW for a while. It came as quite a surprise then, when out of nowhere I receive an email on my phone from Blizzard support, telling me my account has been banned for three hours and my password reset for “In-Game Chat Policy Violation – Advertisement and Spamming”. I thought I must have been hacked, and blizzard locked the account to protect it; rather that than have my characters stripped of everything. So when I got back to my computer, I reset my password, logged on and expected the worse. Thankfully, everything seemed as it should be. Strange though, for this to be the  case if my account was actually hacked. I asked my guild mates, who have me as a contact on Realid which enables them to see if any of my characters have come online, and my last activity was a few days before. My account hadn’t even been online. So why was I banned?

Blizzard utilizes an auto-banning program. It searches our behaviors and actions in game and flags them if it deems them suspicious. A certain number of flags, and the account gets banned. At least, that’s a theory as to how it might work. No one outside the company really knows, and no one will tell the player base. An interesting thread on the official forums opens with another player asking why he was banned for simply, as far as they could tell, using the mobile auction house. Concluding that it must be some auto-banning feature, they make the following statement; “My point is I have no clue what causes the ban.  I don’t want to know it’s an automatic service.  I want to know what perfectly legit thing I am doing to cause the bans.  Then I want blizzard to fix it for everyone.  Don’t let gold sellers and players that bot ruin the game for those that don’t.” This prompted an official response:

And because if we told you that – we’d also be telling the ‘bad guys’, that’s the reason we can’t.

While this was given to the team in charge of this for review, I cannot promise it may not happen again.  What I can say is that with the number of legitimate ‘bad guys’ this system catches, our false positive rate is VERY low.  Granted, that’s small comfort if it seems much higher for you in particular, and I am very sorry for any inconvenience that has caused.

This would be why we have review procedures in place and try to get to those just as quickly as possible if a false positive does occur.

So this raises two issues. First of all, Blizzard are really rolling out the Big Brother service here, with automated processes monitoring all our in game actions. Secondly, even if we accept that this is for our own good, to try and clamp down on the gold selling and exploiting, we’re not actually allowed to know what types of behaviour flag our accounts as suspicious. We just have to play our normal game and hope we’re ok. The justification being that the number of ‘bad’ accounts that are caught, far outweigh the number of false positives. This type of stance is pretty typical of game companies, prominently in MMO’s, where the terms of service can usually be paraphrased to, “this is our game and we reserve the right to do whatever we want.”

Clearly a lot can be said about a Big Brother state in online gaming, far too much to go into in this post (something for another day), but what gets me is that as players we don’t even know what actions it is we’re performing that are deemed questionable. Further, that this state of affairs is argued to be a good thing. This can’t be a good thing. Players need to be aware of which of their actions are deemed acceptable and which are deemed suspicious. A perfect example of this (and I will be going into this in a lot of detail as I was in Nihilum during the time) was how ArenaNet handled ‘exploiting’ in the very early days of GW2, where thousands of players were banned for simply buying items from a vendor, or converting one in-game currency to another through the cooking profession. Literally less than a week after the launch of the game, the vast majority of those permabanned for ‘exploiting’ would have had no idea that what they were doing was even wrong. They were simply playing the game.

As it turns out, Devai was banned for “Exploiting the Economy”, but as he explains in this follow up video, it seems quite clear that he was actually banned for no reason at all. In talking to customer support, no notes were contained on his account. It stated that he was banned, but no reason was given. He was in fact, promptly unbanned as soon as he made inquiries. It seems to me as though for Devai, and for myself, these were examples of false positives from the auto banning system. As Devai had already had a three day suspension on his account, the next step was a permaban, as mine was a first ban, it was for three hours.

It’s easy to be lured into the reasoning behind Blizzard’s opaque stance on this matter; if they revealed what the system looked for it would lose all its effectiveness. But are they so committed to this that they are happy their players a suffering unjustified bans? How low is “VERY low”, or rather, how high do the number of false positives need to become before they see the need for greater transparency? These are questions we don’t have answers to, but I think it’s an issue Blizzard should acknowledge and engage in with the community.

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3 responses to “Devai Feels The (Auto)Ban Hammer

  1. Pingback: On Cheating and Exploiting | MMEthics·

  2. Pingback: Company Ethics – Always On DRM | MMEthics·

  3. Pingback: On Cheating and Exploiting – Exploitarrian | MMEthics·

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