About a month ago I signed up for the Neverwinter closed beta, the Dungeons and Dragons free to play MMO from Perfect World. Much like my Age of Wushu beta experience, I played for about an hour, decided it was terrible and logged off. This was (inevitably) premature, as the general opinion from the now open beta is that the game is pretty fun and the combat (I played melee, and it was terrible) is apparently quite good. In fact, one champion of the dungeon content and group combat is our old friend Kripparrian, who certainly knows what makes an enjoyable raid.
Unfortunately for Kripp, he was enjoying the game slightly too much, as yesterday he found out that he’d received a 72 hour ban. What for? He doesn’t know. As I pointed out in the article looking at Devai’s ban from WoW, communication from the developers to their player base is extremely important, particularly in the sensitive case of bans and exploits. In his video, Kripp addresses this point. There are several actions within Neverwinter that utilise player abilities, like punting mobs off cliffs to kill them, that the player has no way of knowing if it is an exploit or not. Am I allowed to kill this boss by using the ability that I have? Even if you are unsure, should you ever be concerned that you might be banned for trying? This is exactly the dilemma that MMO players face on a fairly regular basis, and to an extreme extent in a new game (hello GW2).
It seems likely that Kripp was in fact banned for abusing a bug that allowed multiple kills of a final boss from an instance during the same run, essentially farming the final boss while skipping all the other content. This seems like a fairly obvious case of exploiting a bug, but this has nothing on the bug that recently destroyed the game’s economy and resulted in server rollbacks. It turns out that if one entered a bid on the auction house worth a negative amount of astral diamonds (an in game currency used on the auction house), that amount would be returned to your character. Bid -30,000 AD’s, find 30,000 in your bags. Needless to say, this crippled the game and all those exploiting have been banned. It seems auction house exploits are a common trend recently, as Diablo 3 had its own economy crippling bug.
A thing to bear in mind though is that Neverwinter is still in open beta. Developers seem very keen to transform Beta from meaning “this game is not finished and is still in testing”, to “here’s a way to make money off our game that isn’t finished yet; Beta.”
Just look at the case of Orion: Dino Horde. This game appeared on steam out of nowhere, bearing an uncanny resemblance to an old, awful awful game, Orion: Dino Beatdown. Beatdown received the terrible reviews it deserved and as is common practice, the initial reviews of a game stay with it as it is patched and updated. This didn’t sit well with the developers of Beatdown, who instead decided to release their latest update, not as a patch, but an entire new game. Why this was ever allowed to happen on a platform as big as Steam is something of a controversy, and one which was covered well by TotalBiscuit, who is very good at exposing what essentially boil down to scams by a fair few games developers.
Not only was a fairly poor update to an already terrible game re-released as a brand new game, upon launching Orion: Dino Horde the player is greeted with the words “Multiplayer Beta”. What? Nowhere is this advertised when buying the game. Not once does it say, “you are purchasing a game that is still in development.” ‘Beta’ in this context is simply a tagline to hide behind for the bad production and bugs that litter the game.
My concern here is where this relationship is heading between Betas, games developers and gamers. If there is hype for a game, people want to play the beta. Blizzard knew this, and made guaranteed participation in the Mists of Pandaria Beta a perk of signing up to a year long WoW subscription. A plan which was very successful. But Blizzard have so far understood and stuck to the real meaning of Beta; it’s about testing the game.
Blizzard utilise Public Test Realms (PTR’s) for their beta tests of new patches and expansions. The idea is to push the content in any way possible, to allow players to find any potential bugs and try out the new mechanics to see where and in what conditions they do not work so they can be fixed. The idea of banning a player from playing the game for finding and exploiting a bug on Beta completely defeats their intended purpose.
It seems obvious that using a bug in the auction house to generate unlimited currency is an exploit. It might even seem obvious that being able to skip to the final boss of an instance is an exploit. But Neverwinter is in open Beta. The game is being tested, the players are there to find these bugs. So why should they expect or even fear banning?
Does Beta still mean, “this game is being tested” or does it already mean, “here’s a way to make money from our unfinished game”? The latter seems to be encroaching on us more and more. As gamers, we should be stopping this in every way possible.