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DIGITAL DEBATE WEDNESDAYS: Should Exploiters Be Punished?

Welcome back to Digital Debate Wednesdays! Every Wednesday, the staff of The Ace of Geeks will get our keyboards ready for a good, old fashioned nerd argument, and you get to hang out with us! Feel free to email us any ideas you might have for future debates, or let us know in the comments! Until then, here’s this weeks topic:

Let’s talk exploits in video games. Specifically, two approaches to them. Recently, the Division has been plagued by player-found exploits to their newest and best content and their first “raid.” These approaches allow players to hack what should be a giant task into a repeatable bite sized chunk that allows them to get the best gear insanely quickly.

The Division’s development team was quoted as saying that they would find ways to retroactively punish players who took advantage of these exploits. In contrast, the game that the Division is most compared to, Destiny, has had game and raid breaking exploits from day one. The developers have always worked quickly to fix them, but never punished a player for taking advantage.

So which approach is better? Should players be punished for taking advantage of bad code?

Katrina Smith: I think it really depends on the exploit and the game. Years ago, when I was a GM at Mythic for Dark Age of Camelot, we did sometimes punish players for repeatedly taking advantage of gamebreaking hacks (I’m thinking specifically of an environment bug where a player could get onto a roof and nuke people below without being able to be targeted.) Generally that happened on PvP servers and it was severely irritating for anyone trying to just play the game. It was a common exploit and it was well known that it was illegal. But I can also think of other situations where players found a way to clip into off-limits areas where they only got reprimanded and told not to come back.

So I suppose my answer is that if a player is deliberately taking advantage of a hack in a way that breaks or severely impacts the enjoyment of others or damages the world economy, then yes, they should be punished. But I think it should be fairly case by case, rather than a flat policy.

Malkontent Blizzard: If the player’s actions aren’t disadvantaging other players then I like the “Thanks for pointing this out now please move along while we fix it” approach.

Katrina Smith: Lots of games have a “you promise to report hacks, exploits or cheating” clause built into the TOS now, by the by. Which means actively taking advantage of a bug or failing to report one is in breach of the TOS, too.

Joe Hadsall: Should players be punished? Yes, but only if the cheating happens by altering the game’s code deliberately. And I don’t think a glitch in software qualifies.

Bungie DID punish a group of people in Destiny known as lag-switchers, who used a network exploit to basically slow their connection down and ensure a sort of immortality, granting them access to the rewards in the Lighthouse. However, lag-switching involved manipulation of the Internet. Massive’s problem is that the exploits can be found within the game.

Massive’s other problem is that much more of The Division features a sort of high-stakes PVP. There is no way a player can steal gear from another player in Destiny, but that’s one of the major rewards of The Division’s Dark Zone. Bungie has been remarkably chill about the ill-gotten gains from its own glitches, I think, because those rewards can’t really be stolen from each other.

Teresa Loesch: I don’t really think it’s possible to punish people into playing the game “right”. Is doing it a kind of scummy thing to do? I mean, sure, especially in PvP games where you can basically win all the tournaments/matches/leader boards/whatever with a hack. But you can’t stop people from doing it, and the prospect of punishment won’t stop people because people are always going to be assholes on the Internet.

I just don’t see it as a valuable application of the team’s time and energy. I think it would be simpler and more effective to just find a way to flag people who do take advantage of that, and have that flag visible to other players. “Hey, losing to that guy with awesome gear? Don’t worry, he’s just a hacker who’s probably never even beaten the game.”

The sweetest part is if these players then go back and beat it, it won’t matter. No one will believe them. Their social currency will be rendered null (or at least lessened) and the incentive not to do it is higher than a punishment like banning would be.

  • Katrina Smith: Generally the “play how you will” approach doesn’t work for MMOs or games dependent on a world economy, because exploitation breaks the game for others, and if no one’s playing the game, no one’s getting paid at the studio. It’s not about public shaming– it’s about maintaining balance and a player base.

    If you walk into a convenience store and take money from an open, untended cash register, you’re still breaking the law… even though you only took advantage of the circumstances and the cashier should have been more careful. This is kind of the same thing.

Ben Worley: Players should not be punished for exploits, but they should be subject to having their account’s progress rolled back to what it was before they engaged in the exploit.

  • Katrina Smith: I would consider that punishment (appropriate punishment, even.).
  • Ben Worley: I’ve been working in Game Master/Customer Support positions in the video game industry for almost a decade now. This specific subject is something I know back, forth, center, and in Non-Euclidean aspect. All that to say, thank you. I’m glad you think that’s a an appropriate response. Means I learned something from all this. It flatters me.
  • Katrina Smith: Heh, I did that myself for several years! So it’s unsurprising we have the same attitude on this one.

Scott Woodbury: Punishing someone for bad code is like punishing people for hording beanie babies. It’s a shame that a company liked this had screwed up something so royally.

You are seeing the beginning of the end of rushed AAA titles.

  • Joe Hadsall: ^^^This. I can get the principle of rolling back a player’s progress from an exploit, but I’m not sure there’s a fair way to do that. If something can be done in a game, and there’s nothing WITHIN THE GAME WORLD that says it’s a no-no, the fault of the exploit rests with the programmers.

Mark Foo: I say punish repeat offenders and fix your bugs quickly. If someone’s repeatedly using an exploit over and over again, do what you can to remove the incentive by removing the gains, especially if they’ve not reported the bug.

BUT: understand that players doing this is also telling you something about the way you’ve built your game and what matters to them when playing it. If they’d rather cheat around something, maybe that says something about the game you’ve built?

  • Mike Fatum: I definitely agree with your last point. A lot of times, when you see an exploit get a LOT of play, it’s because players don’t enjoy the content itself but want the rewards.

Melissa Devlin: I think deliberately gaining from an exploit in WoW gets your account suspended but I’m not sure for how long and that might have changed. I think that’s fair. And if you don’t have an authenticator (and you should it’s a free app) you get your stuff back if your account is hacked. All around my only complaint is I just came back to the game after months, need to relearn everything tgen the pre expansion patch will nullify half that knowledge. But I digress. I have technically used a bug they couldn’t fix for a long time and had a lot of fun, but it was time wasting fun and it was clear no one cared.

I used to be an explorer before flight on azeroth. With my like minded friends, we would use invisible foot holds to climb into places. Some were built up, some were obviously where they stopped texturising the terrain. And once I fell through stormwind and couldn’t remember the way out so one of my friends came to show me the door, though he laughed that only I could fall underneath a city. We would also sneak into areas that were being built, I fell through the world and died that way. We also climbed up to a supposedly inaccessible mountain and jumped off using levitate to see where we ended up. After flying over several zones we ended up moving through gray murk but we were able to use our hearthstones despite floating. It was a lot of fun and I never got us in trouble. As a result I got to see some of the secret memorials and things before they smoothed out the rendering and then put flight on the main world so everything was accessible. Were we exploiting the way graphics worked back then? (Jumping onto pixels) yes. Did anyone comment once? No. Because all we gained was fun and screen shots. But blizzard is pretty quick to hotfix exploits that you can gain gear from. They are big on giving everyone an equal chance.

  • Nick Bailey Jr: They are taking advantage of someone else’s mistake. They shouldn’t be punished.
  • Mark Foo: If you forget to lock your car and I take advantage of that mistake, should I be punished? What if you use a digital password on your computer, but there’s a mistake in the code that I take advantage of to get your financial records?
  • Nick Bailey Jr: It is something that they paid money for, that was legally purchased. They are playing how they want.
  • Mark Foo: “They are playing how they want” excuses griefing, hacking, and all manner of poor behaviour, dude.
  • Nick Bailey Jr: But all of those things are not the same as playing the game in a douchey manner.
  • Mark Foo: If this was a single player game, I’d agree. Exploits can be as harmful as griefing.
  • Nick Bailey Jr: I’d be curious to see feedback from players and hear how/if it is impacting their game.
  • Ben Worley: “They are playing it how they want” doesn’t hold.

    When you join a game like this, you agree to a lengthy terms of service that includes the promise that you won’t play the game outside of its intended style. That you won’t exploit, grief, use mods, or any other method of damaging the game experience.

    I don’t even have to look at the Division’s ToS and EULA to say with 100% confidence that it’s there. I’ve worked on, at this point, probably a dozen games, and it’s there for every one of them.

    Legally speaking, they don’t “own” the game”. They have purchased a license to play the game if they uphold their side of the contract. In the context of who has what rights, it is 100% fact that anyone using this exploit has broken the end of their contract that they had to uphold in order to play the game. In that sense, it is a mercy of the game developer that they don’t just ban everyone that exploited the game.

    That being said, I absolutely support that mercy, as enforcing this as heavily as players gave them the right to do would only antagonize the player base, hurt their brand, and cause all kinds of other damage. And exploits absolutely harm the player experience in the long run. Games are built on challenge and accomplishment. Exploits that make the game easier lessen the challenge and meaning behind the accomplishment which, in turn, understandably harms how long it could hold a player’s interest.

    How long have people played Diablo trying to get the next sweet gear? How long do you think they’d stay if they were born into the game able to one-shot every enemy and boss?

    Even if the individual player is having fun in the short time, they’re diminishing the experience in the long run.

    This doesn’t even delve into how the social aspect of the game is heavily damaged by this. Socially driven games have a hidden mechanic where enjoying it with your friends drives retention and replay value. If your friend has exploited their way into an experience that is nothing like your own, you no longer have that hidden mechanic at work. Which means that, in the long run, it can have a rippling effect on future sales (DLC, Microtransactions, sequels, etc.).

Scott Woodbury: This wouldn’t be an issue if they utilized beta testers more thoroughly. TEST YOUR DAMN CODE.

Mike Fatum
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Referred to as a God Among Men, the Greatest Man that Ever Lived, and That Dude Over There…No, The Dude with the Long Hair and the Goatee…Yes, That Guy, Mike has grown up being known and loved around his apartment. In addition to being a successful film director and editor, he loves video games, movies, comic books, board games, and his wife and cat. He’s been friends with Jarys for over a decade now, and they started hosting a radio show together on college that became the genesis for the Ace of Geeks Podcast. When he realized he had so many talented friends who could write, the Podcast became an entertainment website, and here we are.

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