Worst Year Ever: Videogaming’s 11 Worst for 2007 (part 2)

Originally posted on GGL Wire 12/19/07.

Be sure to read part one!

5. Cheating in EVE Online

Within the world of EVE Online, it’s perfectly acceptable to lie, cheat and steal. So why cheat in the game itself?

Without going into the tedious details, it seems that at least one EVE Online developer was cheating, using his “powers” as a developer to provide serious advantages for his friends in-game. This, and other alleged misconduct, was discovered by a player who operated as a spy in-game, finding ways to get into private “corporate” and “alliance” message boards, and then selling the information he found to competing corporations.

When publisher CCP learned the cheating was going on, the punishment was swift – for the “spy” who discovered it. The developer got off scot-free.

You can read in my original post my opinion, that it’s impossible for a developer to “cheat.” But he did violate company policy, and whether it’s justified or not, the EVE Online community felt betrayed.

But the real shanda here is that CCP killed the messenger. The spy who reported the dev’s misdeeds lost all five of his accounts.

4. China’s Civil War disrupts the World Cyber Games

You-chen Liu at the WCG Finals.

At the World Cyber Games Finals in Seattle, Taiwanese cyberathlete You-Chen “D2C-BURBERRYqq” Liu took third in the Project Gotham Racing 3 tourney. On the dais, he held aloft a Taiwanese flag. This spurred ten of the Chinese players to rush Liu and verbally assault him. The altercation was the low point of an event that already had its problems.

For those of you who were educated in American public schools, and therefore know nothing about world history; in the middle of the last century China had a civil war between the Communists and the Nationalists. The Communists won, and the Nationalists fled to the island of Formosa, aka Taiwan.

Each side considers itself to be the legitimate government of China, and accuses the other of being a rogue state. But because the People’s Republic of China is so influential, Taiwanese who attend international events usually do not show their national flag.

In their defense, the Chinese gamers who assaulted Liu were not necessarily supporting the Communist government. The PRC has declared that if a Taiwanese flag is shown at an event, the Chinese players will no longer be permitted to travel. Yes, the PRC will punish its own people, just because a Taiwanese person is proud of their own country.

So should Liu have made his political statement at an international gaming event? That is certainly open to debate; my own opinion skews towards Liu’s freedom of speech under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the U.S. Constitution. But a sixty-year old civil conflict that has divided one of the world’s greatest nations managed to bring shame upon its people, and soured what should have been an event to bring the world together. And that sucks.

3. Microtransactions

Coins of the world.

Why are microtransactions one of the worst things in this particular year? Two reasons. First, they are one of the worst things in any year. And second, this is the year this pernicious practice began to creep from Korea and Europe into the American gaming market.

What is a microtransaction? Basically it refers to a system for purchasing in-game virtual items with real-life cash money. Many of these items will be very cheap, even less than a dollar. A microtransaction system allows the game publisher to collect the gamers’ money via credit card, even though the purchases are too small for ordinary credit card systems to profitably process.

Right now gamers buy a block of points, or in-game money, to spend on collecting things like costumes, weapons and armor. But soon, games will charge your card individually for each item. Why is this evil? Because most people are very, very bad at tracking expenses, especially for very low cost items. A gamer, especially a kid, will say “hey, that cool costume is only 75 cents, I can afford that,” not realizing this is their hundredth purchase in a month.

World of Warcraft costs me $15 a month. I know exactly what I’m getting for my money — and people who buy items with real-life money are cheating scumbags. A Korean game, like Maple Story, is advertised as a “free” game. But there’s all kinds of in-game stuff you can’t get without paying – how is this “free?”

Publishers of “free” microtransaction-based games claim you don’t really need any of the cash items, and that they don’t throw off game balance. But how long will that last?

2. Nintendo Seizure Boy

Gaye Herford, who doesn’t know how to read a seizure warning.

Earlier this year, the 10-year-old son of Briton Gaye Herford suffered a photosensitive epileptic fit while playing Rayman: Raving Rabbids on the Wii. Since then, Herford has pushed for legislation to ban games that may cause seizures in a tiny percentage of the population. She has also called for warnings on existing games, apparently unaware that most videogames already contain a seizure warning.

Herford:

Most people don’t know if they’re susceptible to epilepsy caused by flashing lights. We need a change in the law to force all game manufacturers to remove the scenes that can provoke epileptic fits.

Unfortunately, legislators in Britain are listening. Conservative MP John Penrose has submitted a motion in Parliament that would require video game publishers to ensure that their products will not trigger photosensitive epileptic seizures in players. It’s hard to see how this would even be possible.

Penrose:

We don’t allow toy-makers to sell products that could poison or injure our children. This shouldn’t be any different. We need government action, now, to change the law so no more young lives are affected by seizures triggered by electronic video games.

I would suggest to the British government that they also look into game boxes that may produce paper cuts, reflective DVD surfaces that may shine glare into the eyes, gaming consoles against which susceptible persons may stub their toes, and console controller cables that may accidentally become wrapped around the base of the male genital region, cutting off blood supply and leading to impotence. It could happen.

1. Jack Thompson and Virginia Tech

Look at me! Look at me!

On April 16th, an emotionally disturbed Virginia Tech student named Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people and wounded 23 others, then committed suicide. It was the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.

That same day, censorship advocate Jack Thompson went on Fox News to blame the killings on violent content in videogames. This was before any information about the perpetrator was known. Later, a complete investigation blamed the killings on Cho’s various mental problems, not videogames. Cho played some Counter-Strike in high school, but had no other connection to videogames.

Fortunately, commentators noticed that Thompson jumped the lightgun, and the Florida lawyer’s stock fell in the media. A few days after the shootings, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews laid into Thompson for making premature statements and for blaming videogames without any evidence. Thompson kept insisting that Cho played violent videogames, despite direct evidence that Cho only used his computer for schoolwork. Thompson’s logic was that, since all school shooters “train” on violent videogames in Thompson’s view, then Cho must have been playing violent videogames.

Thompson’s reprehensible behavior in taking advantage of this tragedy to promote his cause just helped highlight the man’s irresponsible behavior over the years. Hopefully, this distasteful incident has permanently damaged Thompson’s reputation, and news producers will stop turning to him for sound bites. Perhaps the tiniest smidgen of good can come out of this horrific tragedy.

Special Jury Prize for Worst Fuckup of 2007: The Red Rings of Death

I’m afraid I can’t let you play that, Dave.

In February it came to light that the Xbox 360 was scratching game disks, due to a design defect with the optical lens; and in July, a class-action lawsuit was initiated against Microsoft over this flaw.

Then the press discovered what gamers had known for a while – that heat problems can brick your 360, resulting in the infamous Red Ring of Death. Initially, Redmond denied both problems. But once the mainstream media got on Microsoft’s case, the company had to take the situation seriously.

In December 2006, Microsoft had extended the warranty of all 360 consoles from 90 days to one year. This July, due to “an unacceptable number of repairs to Xbox 360 consoles,” Redmond extended all 360 warranties to three years, at an estimated cost of $1.15 billion-with-a-“b.” Note that if your console gets repaired or replaced, your new warranty is only 90 days.

This isn’t the kind of disaster for Microsoft that it would be for a company like Sony, which is already in dire fiscal straits. Microsoft has more money than God. But it certainly represents a serious failure on the part of the Xbox 360 team.

Be sure to read part 1!

Washington Post: What’s So Bad About Cheating?

Originally posted 4/4/07 at Avataritoria.

Mike Musgrove, Washington Post Technology Columnist, does not understand why cheating is bad. I hope his golfing buddies know that.

Mr. Musgrove doesn’t get why we enjoy MMORPGs. Some people would say that disqualifies him from writing about MMOs. I disagree. Musgrove admits his ignorance. Then he thinks that maybe MMOs are only boring in the low levels, so maybe he should try a power leveling service.

He pays $24 to a Hong Kong gold farm to get his World of Warcraft character leveled to 20. Unfortunately, he finds the game just as dull. There’s just no pleasing some people.

But even after asking around, he just can’t see why power leveling would be bad. (He calls power-leveling meatbots “proxy fighters.” Isn’t that adorable?) He quotes the absurd self-justification of his HK gold pirate:

“The practice is analogous to someone who maintains a beautiful garden but doesn’t always have enough time to perform all the yard work himself, and therefore hires a gardener,” [HK/Singapore gold farming firm IGE’s chief operating officer, James Clarke] wrote in an e-mailed response to questions about the company. “Some purists might call hiring a gardener ‘cheating,’ but we believe most people are quite comfortable with it.”

Uh huh. I guess some purists might think hiring a gardener is “cheating,” but most people are quite comfortable with gardeners. What does that have to do with cheating in a game? Does this guy really think most WoW players are comfortable with the idea that the lvl 14 rogue in their PUG is an underpaid Chinese sweat shop laborer? Should I not care that someone paid money to “accomplish” in a moment what I worked (well, played) hard to accomplish?

I’ve made a big deal of the fact that MMOs are not competitive games. I’ve suggested that MMO players are meant to share strategies and resources, and not hoard them. But this raises the question, so what if someone buys levels? Or gold? Or items? Isn’t that just “sharing?”

The only way to answer a question like this is to ask, “How does it affect the game?” The kinds of sharing I’m talking about take place in the game, between characters. It’s part of the game itself. Power leveling and gold farming involve transactions outside the game, between players, made for out-of-game benefit (money). That’s what makes it cheating.

When playing Monopoly, I can state in front of everyone that another player and I are ganging up on a third player. That’s not cheating. But if I steal money from the bank and pass it surreptitiously to the second player, in exchange for non-game-related favor later, that’s just plain old cheating.

Of course, Monopoly is a competitive game with one winner. WoW is a cooperative game with no winners. But they are still both GAMES. And if you don’t play by the rules, you’re not playing. You’re just taking up bandwidth that could be used by people who actually want to play.

I’m not surprised that a Washington Post columnist lacks the internal ethical compass to recognize cheating. He’s probably one of those people who thinks that because Alberto Gonzalez didn’t break the law, he didn’t do anything wrong. Power leveling isn’t illegal, therefore it must not be wrong.

Link. Via MMO Gaming.

More from the Cheat-o-sphere — Blizzard Sues WoW Glider

Originally 2/19/07 posted on Avataritoria.

Blizzard Entertainment is taking legal action against the site that sells WoW Glider, a bot program that basically plays WoW for you. I learned about this from a rambling post over on Markee Dragon, a site that links to various bots, cheatware and gold famers.

I didn’t know about the WoW Glider situation because, of course, I don’t cheat. Hell, I feel guilty when I use the “World of Warcraft Atlas.”

Again a games developer is using? abusing? copyright law to control how its game is used. And again, I am torn. I don’t like publishers bullying gamers into using a product a specific way.

But I really, really don’t like cheaters.

WoW Glider sits and plays WoW while you are not at your computer, following a complex set of instructions. Some people think this isn’t cheating, since the user is not manufacturing illicit items or making walls invisible. After all, it’s just a more advanced example of the macros Blizzard lets you create, right? Right?

I’m not a lawyer. Avataritoria’s Paul Ang, who went to law school, always tells me there are no good or bad lawsuits — you either win or you don’t. This is a very lawyerly thing to think. He also reminds me often that the law has nothing to do with what’s right and what’s wrong. Also very lawyerly.

I have no doubt Blizzard will prevail in this legal action, since the current climate in law and politics is slavishly servile to corporate interests over fair use. But should Blizzard win? Do they have a point?

1.) Blizzard accuses WoW Glider of violating its intellectual property rights. This may be valid under the law, but it’s bogus in reality. Intellectual property law was invented to protect the right of artists to make money off their creative labor. It was not intended to prevent anybody else on Earth from ever making money off your labor ever, or to keep your ideas from being used in ways that annoy you or make your life harder. Intellectual property law has been amended to include these things, but it should not have been — fair use, a vital part of cultural development, has been hobbled and nearly eliminated as a result.

2.) Blizzard says that WoW Glider encourages users to violate the WoW Terms of Service. This is undeniably true, but I have two problems with it. First, I have no interest in non-negotiable boilerplate contracts that strip all of my rights as a consumer, and permit a corporation to change any provision they wish at any time. I’m not aware of any particular instance of Blizzard abusing their EULA, but cell phone companies do it all the time. The potential for abuse is enormous.

My other problem is, “yeah, so what?” WoW Glider permits users to break the rules. That makes the cheater the problem, not the cheat bot. WoW Glider has no legitimate use, to my knowledge — but the EULA isn’t violated until you log in and use it. Lots of people want to make bongs, lock picking kits and hack programs illegal, but I don’t. It’s not wrong to have the tool, it’s wrong to use it, and the distinction is important. (I’m well aware this goes against my long-held views on gun control; but guns kill people, and serve no other purpose at all, ever. I resent the idea of a device someone can point at me, press a button, and I’m dead.)

3.) Blizzard has pointed out that going after WoW Glider users and banning them costs Blizzard money. Yeah, well, boo hoo. As a paying, non-cheating WoW player, that’s why I pay you guys. Going after bot creators will never stop the creation of bots, any more than napalming cocaine farms cures drug addiction.

This all makes it sound like I support WoW Glider and oppose Blizzard. This is absolutely not true. I’d love to see cheatbots eradicated from the Earth, or at least from Azeroth. Players who cheat are scumbags. (I have respect for the people who break something like WoW apart, figure out how it works, and find all the hacks. But again, there’s a sharp clear line between hacking the game out of curiosity, and using that knowledge to ruin the game for everyone.)

But using the law to eliminate cheating makes me very nervous, not because Blizzard is doing harm, but because they may set precedents that will allow others to do harm. I’d really rather Blizzard stuck to finding cheaters and banning them.

That said, you won’t find me donating any money to WoW Glider’s legal defense.

The ‘EVE Online’ ‘Jumpgate’ Scandal: Can a Developer Really ‘Cheat?’

Originally posted 2/12/07 on Avataritoria.

I’m often amazed by the strange, unexpected ways in which MMO virtual worlds mirror the real world, and incite people to exaggerated forms of the behavior we see IRL.

The ongoing(?) “Jumpgate” scandal in EVE Online illustrates the most common lesson of modern politics — the cover up is always worse than the crime.

Without going into the tedious details, it seems that at least one EVE Online developer was cheating, using his “powers” as a developer to provide serious advantages for his friends in-game. This, and other alleged misconduct, was discovered by a player who operated as a spy in-game, finding ways to get into private “corporate” and “alliance” message boards, and then selling the information he found to competing corporations.

From what I understand (I am still an EVE n00b), the spy player, who calls himself Kugutsumen after a villain from the tentacle-porn anime La Blue Girl, performed his espionage activities without cheating, through bribery and social engineering. But all of his accounts were permanently banned when he brought his evidence of cheating to the EVE community.

CCP, the Icelandic company that runs EVE, was reticent to take any action, but their hand was forced by outrage in the community. One core developer called t20 fell on his sword, and admitted to wrongdoing. Now some community members are calling for his firing.

I have a couple of thoughts on this situation.

1.) I don’t believe for a second that everyone at CCP didn’t know what everyone else was doing. When they got caught, the response should have been honest, straightforward, and immediate. Trying to cover up a scandal never, ever works; and people can be very forgiving when you step up and admit “my bad.”

Also, never shoot the messenger. CCP is mad at Kugutsumen because he went straight to the community, instead of privately reporting his suspicions to CCP. Kugutsumen got this email from lead GM Grimmi:

It can be said with some fairness that the posts you made have caused quite the uproar and created an atmosphere that makes all our lives that much more harder. CCP does not condone cheating, for sure, but dealing with matters such as this one is not made any easier with all the ruckus.

Yet it seems clear that without the “ruckus,” CCP would not have responded. Besides, Kugutsumen is not a CCP employee. He is a community member, and his loyalty is to the community. He pays (paid) for five different accounts — CCP works for him, not the other way around.

Banning Kugutsumen is based on two violations of the Terms of Service. He made CCP’s lives harder (seriously, that’s their claim); and he posted the IRL names of the game devs. On the first count, it’s not a player’s job to make the game creators’ lives easier. Clearly, players should not be allowed to interfere with the operation of the game; but this is to keep players from suffering, not devs. And Kugutsumen was trying to protect players, not inconvenience them. He seems to have correctly believed that inconveniencing the devs was not an issue.

On the second count, players should not try to access or disseminate the IRL info of other players. This is a serious issue. But Kugutsumen did not do this. He posted proof that certain characters were being played by devs. Devs are not private citizens — they are accountable to the community. Kugutsumen did not post their home addresses or anything like that, just their names. I fail to see the harm in this, except insofar as CCP devs prefer to play EVE anonymously.

2.) Did t20 and/or other CCP devs in fact do anything wrong? It seems that by the specific rules laid down by CCP, they did. EVE devs are supposed to play according to the same rules as everyone else.

But a dev is, for all intents and purposes, a game master. They design and run the game. It seems to me that anything a dev does is just “the game.” A dev may do something foolish that decreases the fun of the players, but I don’t see how it’s “cheating.” Maybe t20 actually improved game play through his activities, not just for his friends, but for everybody. I don’t know.

But I think if someone pointed out some egregious “injustice,” and I discovered that the offender was a dev or a GM, I would just say, “oh, it’s a GM,” and forget about it.

Maybe this just comes from decades of running tabletop role-playing games. But when I was a game master, I certainly didn’t like to be second-guessed.

Even if t20 broke company policy, I don’t think he should necessarily lose his job. That’s a very serious punishment. I certainly think that decision is up to CCP, and not a mob of angry community members.

MMO players spend a lot of time and money on their hobby, and they need to know that the game company is honest and responsive. CCP’s problem here was not the “crime,” but how they dealt with it. Players must never be treated like an annoyance (even if they are annoying).