In our last post in this series we took a look at trying to define cheating in online games and see if we could make sense of when exploiting in MMO’s should be considered cheating and be punishable. However, we ran into difficulty with two candidate definitions, and noted that the intersting grey areas cause a whole heap of problems. In this post, we take a look at Buzzkill’s opinion on some of the origins of these problems and his view on how they should or could be dealt with. From here on, all content is taken directly from Buzzkill’s blog:
Don’t hate the player, hate the game
The World of Warcraft PvE race is a pretty unique and fascinating event from both the gaming and spectating point of view. Teams of players prepare for months to start »racing« to world/continent/server first kills, to beat their competition and claim rewards in material, in-game and most importantly e-peen sense. And yet during every instance, there are accusations of cheating, exploiting and the use of non-savory gray area methods in order to claim the biggest reward of them all, an end boss World first kill – or in all truth, that damned item you can’t wait to boast around with. Most of these accusations are, among other things, usually about unfair class stacking and outside the instance buffing. This was going on 6 years ago in vanilla and it still goes on now.
First, let me state my opinion on it. Anything that the game allows, common sense doesn’t dictate as an exploit and developers innately allow, is fair game to use. If a guild uses an outside buff – be it from a plant, event or spellsteal – and upon entering the instance or the encounter the buff itself does not get removed, we can assume developers thought of it and let it happen with a reason. Back in the day this was a normal practice that everyone serious was doing, so I don’t know why it became problematic in the last years. Class stacking is also usually a 100% legit method of beating an encounter. Just because your guild/team doesn’t have the logistics of pulling off 15 mages or 10 druids, doesn’t mean other guilds shouldn’t be allowed to do so. Furthermore, that’s just proof of dedication and in this game we all know dedication and focus can get you far, often way further than raider skill itself. Similarly, class stacking used to be a totally normal and even expected way of killing bosses, you couldn’t even dream of beating some original Naxx bosses without some crazy stacking. So was buffing with fire resistance from outside the instance for Vaelastrasz and original Ragnaros, everyone and their mother used it and it never posed a problem. If developers allow it, and they evidently do, it’s again all fair game, at least until changed. And both methods can be eliminated by a Blizzard coder [extremely quickly]. In a way soulstoning beyond the amount of warlocks in the raid was eliminated in a very simple manner.
If you do avoid the buff prevention mechanic though, that is indeed exploiting and should be punished. But until such a system is in place, why wouldn’t one bring a buff from outside the room to help him kill the boss, how is that different than flasks, food, potions and world buffs? The real problem occurs when class stacking or buffing leads to avoiding certain mechanics or trivializing a part of an encounter. There’s a difference between a guild using a healthy amount of one class or spec because they are superior to the rest and it helps them cope better, and the situation where their inflated amount of a certain class actually benefits them greatly, because they noticed a gap in the system and are using that specific setup to exploit it. It all changes from situation to situation, but often you don’t need anything more than a dose of common sense and a short chat with the developers to see if this was indeed intended or not. Nothing wrong with using a throng of druids because circumstance, class mechanics and encounter type make them better, but if that same class has an ability that lets them unleash a gazillion of damage due to a developer mistake or oversight, it’s obviously not ok and in my eyes shouldn’t be used.
And to be honest, every guild knows –or at least they should know- when they are treading this line. It happened to every single team in pretty much every single instance. It is a very rare occasion where “we didn’t know” can fly, and we felt that exact one on our own skins in Ensidia during Lich King progress. People that don’t raid on such a high level don’t even realize how many times one would be in a situation where exploiting was possible, and yet it’s so seldom that someone actually does it.
But when you do find a hole in an encounter, and it’s not really an obvious exploit, how to tackle this moral dilemma. Do you not do it, potentially letting someone else kill it first and that way you lose the rewards, or do you take a chance and do it yourself? Or do you maybe take the most risky path of them all and report it to Blizzard (again) hoping they will fix it in time and prevent anyone else doing it? Even though you know they are familiar with the problem for months in advance and failed to fix it until now, what are the chances they will do it after you reported it once again. It obviously all boils down to the individual case and how the encounter is made in the first place, but mostly you just have to use common sense. We all know rapid bug fixing, filling obvious holes in encounters and preventing exploits is not Blizzard’s strongest suit, and the last guys you want to trust about not exploiting it themselves is your filthy cheating competition, so what’s a guild to do? Whatever that may be, be it they decide to proceed with the deed or not, they are not really the ones to blame. Circumstance creates the criminal, and in a race like that where you’ve prepared for months and put a healthy portion of your RL into it, you don’t want to lose just because you had the extreme moral sense and your “enemies” didn’t and the developer didn’t find it worthy of fixing, even after all the PTR’s, reports and complaints.
I have been in this situation many times while playing in both Nihilum and Ensidia, perhaps in every instance, especially on end bosses which tend to have more bugs and holes than any other encounter. Every time it caused a discussion between raiders, some just wanted the kill no matter the consequence and method, and some that actually cared about the perception of the community and wanted to stay as far as possible from any accusations of exploiting. I was usually among the latter, though on Hodir, due to circumstance and my philosophy about outside buffs, I was all for killing it with mages spell stealing. My concern wasn’t as much the method we used, as much as the perception of the community, who wouldn’t and consequently didn’t take it very well – they obviously didn’t share our reasoning for it either. We ended up doing it because Blizzard failed on so many other levels in that instance we “had” to use it to remain in the race and not just for the kill. If the situation was different, who knows what we would have done. It was simply one of those moral issues I’ve been talking about earlier. Ultimately, if I had known how painful and boring those endless attempts at Hodir would end up being, I would rather have spent that time stabbing myself in the eyeball than doing that s**t.
Another example of the dilemma was while progressing on Lich King. We found this nice little way of avoiding the defile using the stairs which would obviously make the encounter much easier. At first sight it was an evil and obvious exploit that could get us banned, but still there were a few raiders that thought for one reason or another it’s totally legit and that we should do it like that. I think we did contact the developers about it anyway, but that wasn’t the reason we didn’t do it, it was simply an evident gap in a fight and it would make no sense to use it, because it would surely lead to a similar banhammer of doom we got during Lich King for honestly not having a clue about what rebuilds the platform in normal mode. So it all boiled down to what’s obviously an exploit versus “F**k it, this is not such a big deal”. I can guarantee you most top guilds are in a similar bind more than once during every progress phase and such moral dilemmas are not really few and far between as some might think.
Another example where we thought this might be illegal but it was a gray area to say the least was using invulnerability potions on Gruul. A simple example of how something is not always very obviously an exploit, especially since those same pots were probably the best thing a raider could ever have in his bags at that time, so it’s not like Blizzard never knew people were massively using them. I never thought of it as exploiting, nor did anyone else in the guild or anyone of note in the community, but could it be debated it trivialized the fight? Sure, up to an extent, but then again we can debate pretty much everything in that realm of things.
Still, there were instances where a guild would claim a kill with obviously going too far and passing that thin line between innovation and exploiting. We all know examples when someone bypasses important boss mechanics; some guilds were punished for doing it yet some went unpunished because either the community didn’t know or didn’t care. The biggest example of my time was Anub’Arak kill by our Finnish friends Paragon, which through the chain stunning of the adds avoided massive amounts of incoming damage to the tank making it way easier to kill. This was not only overlooked by Blizzard for who knows what reason, but also by the community. Furthermore, anyone that would mention it would be deemed a »sore loser« and dismissed by default. In the end it doesn’t matter, Paragon would most probably have gotten the kill first anyway, but it raises the question of why did people not go berserk on that issue, but they love to rage about so many things guilds tend to do all the time, just not on such a scale – Anub being the end boss and the method they used trivializing the hardest phase so much.
I don’t want to talk much about tier 11 progress because I’ve not experienced it for myself, so who knows if my info is objective enough. But if what I’ve heard and seen is even close to the whole truth, it was catastrophic. We can’t really expect Blizzard to deliver totally working content every time, that’s true. And players will use certain methods and sometimes go too far because they can, especially if no one does anything about it. During the last expansion, there have been only two instances of guilds being banned for exploiting, one of them obviously being a total bulls**t move. But there have been way more situations where people exploited and just two bans in 2 years?
Try to solve the problem or let it go?
So how can we expect a race to be “fair”? What will prevent a guild from hopping realms or factions to jump ahead in progress if someone won’t punish it? What will prevent a guild to stack 15 of a certain class to use an ability that went overlooked and they use it to gain advantage and kill a boss, or a guild to use a buff that was by default not intended. There’s no basic guidelines, no list of proper ways of doing stuff, just the opinion of the masses about “how it should be done” and everything is left to developers’ whim to take action every so often – usually years between cases. One of the progress sites proclaimed a year or so ago, that they will ban from their charts anyone that uses the faction changing in order to reach the heroic modes faster. And to be honest, that was a step in the right direction, sadly the only one of the kind. I’ve lost hope that Blizzard will ever start regulating the race, they don’t care about it one bit and never have, so it’s all left to the players and people involved on a community level. If they said that, lets say changing factions is not permitted and that guilds that do it will not be counted as the “first”, I don’t think many would be left doing it. Same deal with class stacking, outside buffs etc. It’s all simple regulation by the people that are racing themselves, so if they all agree, and with the broken content out there… is there really any other solution? Certain big community sites have massive influence on their readers, not advertising a kill because it was done in an obviously exploitative manner and ranking sites not publishing the kills and awarding points if the same was proven is just a way to move things in the right direction. What’s a kill, if no one but your site talks about it and everyone publically scorns it and mocks you on forums? But if these sites and the community approved the kill with the data (logs and fraps) given, not every race would have to leave a bitter aftertaste.
In a world where releasing fraps and unaltered combat logs would be the only legitimate method of proving a kill was righteous, fair and as originally intended, there wouldn’t be any problems that I used to run into in previous expansions and you guys are running into today. But it would perhaps eliminate all the juicy drama and guild bashing that comes with progress, would we ultimately want that gone too?!