25 January, 2009

48 hours later

Well, the good news about getting suspended from FFXI is that all of a sudden, I find myself with a lot of freed up time- part of which can be used to at least write about FFXI. At least for now, I can hop on the bandwagon and contribute my 2 gil towards the whole ban-hammer issue. I'll do so by briefly summarizing the events thus far before offering up my own thoughts. I've gone through a lot of other people's thoughts regarding the issue, and have borrowed a few quotes here and there, though unfortunately, I seem to have lost my notes on who said what, so apologies in advance if I left you uncredited.

To those who don't know what the whole fiasco was about, there was a glitch that allowed you to duplicate drops from any instanced area (i.e: Nyzul, Assault, Salvage, Sandworm) by first forming an alliance, then breaking it before killing the mob. Once the drops were in the treasure pool, you could then change the party leader and have an additional copy of the items for each party in the alliance, or something along those lines- I myself am not too aware of the technical details, and have only seen the glitch in action just once (which was enough to warrant me a suspension, but that's for later.)

As can be expected, the initial reaction involved a lot of posts that took on a "I am holier than thou" or "serves you right" stance, as if to say that sweet justice has been served. (I also find it amusing that people immediately look to Allakhazam for this kind of response.) Personally, I find myself in great distaste of this point of view simply because it's too absolute. Not all players who used the glitch were aware of it, and to be labeled as cheaters just because they were simply there to help out their friends (who did know) with Salvage is unfair to say the least.

"Another rather sad story involves a player who PM'd me saying he clearly knew what he was doing and accepts his punishment. He received LM-17 and called the "SE call center" and was told he would be ok 72 hours (a temp ban). He did this exploit very often. During one of these runs, his JP friend tagged along and participated and apparently was truly as oblivious as you can possibly be about this glitch. The confusion of party allies and disbands coupled with a severe language barrier was the reason for this. This JP friend participates, truly without knowing, and he received the LM-17. He then called the call center and was told he had received the full ban by the call center representative.

Looking around other people's blogs, there are quite a few people who share that similar fate, people who are invited or tag along with a Salvage run, during which they were left scratching their heads as to why the alliance kept breaking and reforming. In the end, they are deemed guilty by association (or is that participation?) and are subsequently banned from the game.

If anything, I do feel that the blame lies squarely on the developer's shoulders, though bear in mind that this is my personal stance (maybe because I got suspended). A development team will not be able to smooth out every single bug and exploit in the game, especially when competing against the hive mentality of the player base, but SE has shown that they are able to react to things quickly if they want to (for example, AV patching). The fact that this exploit was known to the player base for over a year and a half with no action taken by SE does not bode well for the development team (they claim to only know about it from November 2008 onwards.)

Yes, the player base is somewhat responsible for helping SE out with maintaining the integrity of their product and informing them of any bugs and glitches. Yet, as Lordwafik put it,

"Someone in my salvage group actually *did* report the glitch to a GM, and their response was they know about it but aren't doing anything for it since they’re too busy on their newer MMO."

Furthermore, the glitch was a result of the game's own coding. No bots, no hacks, no third-party programs. All it took was a few alliance invites here and there and some leader switching. For the players involved, they saw an opportunity and took it.

Now that the suspensions and bannings have been handed out, attention has been drawn towards SE's consistency, or lack thereof, in handing out their sentences. Quoting Lordwafik again,

"My salvage set had about 9 people total, 3 of us got perma banned, 3 of us got letters, and the other 3 got nothing at all. We all did the same thing but all got different punishments which is just absurd, I too am curious what is it exactly that caused them to get bans? For more information, 1 of the people who got perma banned got absolutely nothing from it, 2 of the people who got the letters got a 35 each from it, and the people who got no letters or anything also received nothing, much like the person who got permanently banned."

In summary, the players suspended/banned as a result fall in one of several categories:

1) Knowingly used the exploit to dupe items and was banned/suspended.
2) Knowingly used the exploit to dupe items and was not banned/suspended.
3) Participated in a dupe alliance without knowing about the exploit and was banned/suspended.
4) Participated in a dupe alliance without knowing about the exploit and was not banned/suspended.

The third category are the aforementioned unfortunate bunch, since they probably tagged along with the run to help their friends, not knowing of the glitch, scratching their heads as to why the alliance kept breaking and reforming, why party leaders kept changing, only to get swept up in the bannings as a result.

Not only that, but the fact that there are still quite a significant number of people who fall into the "knowingly-duped-but-got-scott-free" category makes the bannings feel like a smack on the head. One argument is that you have to get a few innocent people in order to catch the guilty parties, but how do you think they feel?

This lack of consistency also plays into a rather embarrassing comparison against other in-game "crimes"

"People have gotten a suspension for racism, harassment, threatening someone in game, grievance to a linkshell or individual, fish botting, mine botting, and bot claiming monsters on their first offense. So how do those actions warrant a suspension to the game, but individuals dissolving an alliance are getting banned."

In any case, the sentences have been passed out, but assuming that Square Enix’s handling of the whole situation could've been better (and it most certainly can), what can be done now to rectify things?

The general consensus is that handing out permanent bans to players over this was overkill. To permanently ban players, loyal customers who have subscribed for years over taking advantage of something that ultimately was the developer's responsibility is over the top.

Square Enix can downplay things and just announce that everyone be awarded a 72-hour suspension instead and still have gotten the message across. With regards to managing the aftereffects of the glitch, Maiev suggests that Square Enix can also take away any gear that the players involved might've obtained illegally from the glitch instead of/in addition to suspending them, which is to say Square Enix could delete all their Salvage gear. Admittedly, this is a little narrow since the glitch also worked for Nyzul Isle and Sandworm, but is a start.

In terms of event mechanics, I do feel that Salvage drop rates need to be addressed. Part of the pressure originates from trying to shorten one's time spent in Salvage with good reason. Honestly, if the zone can be beaten, you know the strategy, you know what to do, and your group executes things correctly, then it just becomes a matter of grinding time in the zone. At some point, it just gets plain frustrating if nothing comes from your efforts, and I do feel that SE is rather poor at figuring out when "fun" turns to "frustrating" and coveted items simply become a symbol of "I endured more crap than you."

A rather strange analogy I was thinking about involves the escape of a high-profile terrorist from one of Singapore's detention centers in February 2008. Essentially, the prisoner, Mas Selamat, managed to escape by excusing himself to the toilet and escaped through an unsecured bathroom window.

The prisoner saw an opportunity to escape, and took it. In this case, he got off free. Additional measures have since been taken and key personnel have been fired. On the Vana’diel front, this would be akin to placing the responsibility on the developers, firing them, fixing the code and leaving it at that.

In our case however, the players were caught. The code was patched and the players banned. Going back to Mas Selamat, that would be as if he tried to escape, got caught, after which additional measures would be implemented and Mas Selamat receive the death sentence. Now, I understand there are maximum security facilities with armed guards ready to shoot to kill any prisoner that tries to escape, but is that really the atmosphere we want in a game?

Coming from someone who was suspended, yes, in retrospect we broke the ToS, and should have some penalty imposed upon us. I say "in retrospect" because in my case, the fact that we were flaunting the ToS didn't immediately come to mind. For me, there was a chance to see something new, and I took it. My first reaction to seeing the exploit in action was "Hey, this is kinda cool" and admittedly "Holy shittaru, I'd better keep this secret from the GMs!" was not the top of my list.

Personally, the experience was well worth it, since although nothing got duplicated (except Alexandrites, I think) there were fun times involved with trying to get used to the new, unique playing conditions. (Other than tripling drops, it also allows players to share AoE buffs across the entire alliance. As a result, I can also Haste other alliance members, but the side effect is that I cannot see people's HP without specifically tabbing over that player, so there was quite a lot of {death}. ^^;)

I do feel that a person's intent should be taken into account before deciding on what kind of sentence to mete out, although on SE's part, that is something very difficult to do on a case-by-case basis. For me, as I said above, my encounter with the glitch was more for exploration rather than exploitation, although honestly, I don't know what my stance would be if the glitch were to continue unfixed. I can say that I reacted to the patch that fixed the exploit with indifference, although that may be due to the fact that I don't Salvage.

Yes, I know that last point may not settle well with some people, but my personal opinion is that it's very easy to go all high and mighty and say you will be clean without having actually done it. Right now, I don't know if I will walk the talk, so I'll err on the side that I don't. My bet is that of the players who preach about "playing clean," a significant portion of the people would've used the glitch had they known about it.

I'm personally going to go with the idea that I don't think it was a mistake to address the player base with regards to the exploit. To people like myself who were caught up in the net despite minimal participation, we did technically cross the line, so I do think that some sentence is in order, it's just the nature I'm unhappy with.

For now, I'm going along with the assumption that my suspension is for 72-hours. Given that the Lunar New Year's coming up, I'll be away for the next few days, so the whole suspension thing doesn't really affect me all that much. I'm more saddened to see some of the people I know being forced to leave the game because of this. There were some big names caught up in the net, and while not all of them were likable, they each had their own contributions towards the community in some way.

As some people have pointed out, banning people over this, or more specifically, banning people's friends is probably more harmful to the game in the long term, for really, my friends in game are one of the reasons I still play. Take them away, and you remove the main reason why we continue to play after all these years.

If I am unable to log back in when I return, then I'll just assume that I've since been upgraded to permanent-ban status. I've come to terms with that, and while I've harbored thoughts of maybe starting up again, losing five years of work just like that is not really worth coming back for. I've had my share of {fun}, {adventure} and {excitement} in this game, and as much as I like the game, I think I've reached the point where I can walk away with no real regrets (other than maybe leaving Campsitarus unfinished, which is something I really ought to work on, too. -_-)

That's all from me for now. To all who will be celebrating the incoming year of the Ox, 新年快乐, 恭喜发财!


Jynx said...

Wow thats some real harsh stuff, I really don't see any merit to them Permabaning people, the suspension should be enough.

How can you punish people for exploiting something that they developers screwed up?

I sure hope they take another look at the situation and lift these permabans.

I hope to see you ingame soon T-T.

Jordan / Oshikorosu. said...


I agree with Jynx on this, as well as the other part of the player-base that is supportive of this effort. In the logic that the government keeps people from the death sentence;

"Killing people is counter-productive."

I find empathy in your post, my friend. I wish I could've been on the same boat as you, for the same ride -- even if the consequences were the same.

Best of luck, enjoy the Lunar Year, and hopefully things work out. Take it easy, friend. I'll talk to you next I see you online.


tacrozar said...

I wasn't banned. However I was going to join an LS on Valefor who had many core members bannned. The replies by everyone in BG pretty much cements BG's status as a pure elitist website for me. I personally think, the majority of players with common sense would realize that this is just much SE's fault as it is the players fault.

I also personally believe that SE bans are way too severe. Whether or not they knew about this exploit 1.5 years before is questionable and will probably never be answered. My issue is that SE did not specifically mention that "this exploit is illegal." As it is, gamers do MANY things that skirt legality of the TOS. As Kaeko puts it, there's just alot of gray area.

SE does not say what is "legal" and what isn't. And yet, people are being punished for SE's inability to code well or at the very least warn people about the exploit. If SE did warn people, then I doubt 90% of the people would be banned.

As an anology, this is akin to a law being passed on January 01, 2009 but the enforcement of the law is being performed in December 2008. Its just wrong.

Similarly, I wonder if MS or any other software maker has "kept quiet" about some exploit/backdoor for X lenght of time and at the same time not take any measure to close the exploit/backdoor.

Anonymous said...

Mistakes were made by both SE and the players who chose to abuse this. It is not right to place complete blame on either side. The issue of who is to blame or blame more really is moot though. SE and players are not equal. Only player mistakes are punishable. When SE makes a mistake, the player is supposed to immediately inform SE until it is fix, as per ToS.

As to this 'gray area' you mentioned, breaking ToS is extremely commonplace, especially due to Windower usage. SE only selectively punishes certain aspects of ToS breach, which is why some players, including myself, were probably feeling safe even using this bug. Not only are ToS breachers only selectively punished, the severity of the punishment is completely their choice with no written or established standard of which breaches are worse.

This goes back to my original post a few days back. If you break the ToS in any form or fashion, which for many of us is every instant we're online via Windower, you are beyond the point of online morality as you have breached the "law" or the ToS. Talking about oh this breach is not that bad and acceptable but this one is not and should result in bans is simple opinion as SE has no written standard of what is worse. Personally I think anything involving 3rd party is automatically worse than anything that can be done on a PS2. Obviously SE didn't feel that way.

It's all about calculated risk for ToS abusers like Windower users. Making a "windower is moral even though it breaks ToS" argument is absurd. What isn't absurd is to say the chances of being punished for Windower is so minimal since it would kill the NA population that you can pretty safely say you won't be punished.

That being said, I'm almost 100% sure you have a temp ban Tuuf. 1 run, no items, and not even full knowledge of the bug shouldn't result in a ban. Then again, there are crazy stories out there that say otherwise =/

Anonymous said...

The above was Kae btw =P

Tuufless said...

Heh, I tried to keep the Windower out of this whole post, since it does make things a bit more complicated.

I'm not looking to place blame on either side, although from the post, you can definitely tell that I'm biased towards developer responsibility. As with many things, I feel it is a shared responsibility between both parties, and I was just looking to present both cases.

That being said, I have no regrets over what I did. I went for the experience, and that's what I got, this included. It was interesting for me to see the bug in action firsthand and what its ramifications were, and that's all I went to see for myself.

Anonymous said...

SE's basic approach to players who break the rules has always been determination of 'guilt' based on what it can prove from the logs. (Which is why client side bots have always given its staff headaches, since bots don't have to leave obvious evidence in the server side logs.)

Given that SE's staff members had to go though a year worth of logs with some combination of manual and automated techniques, it's hardly surprising they'd miss some stuff and overreact to some infractions. Moreover, it's unlikely just one 'judge' handing out the sentences, so variation in standards applied should be expected as well.

It'd be weird if the sentences handed out are consistent in the way folks here say it should be. That's just not how reality works.

SE probably wants "equal justice for all," but it's not easy, and not as high of a priority as "get rid of we can know to be guilty first." *shrug*

p.s. Did any GM really say SE won't do anything about it upon receiving report? I'm a bit skeptical a GM wouldn't at least reply with "It will be investigated." This falls under "Screenshot it or it didn't happen" category for me.

Tuufless said...

The GM said that they know of the glitch, but the team's focus was apparently on Rapture.