Ban-hammers and other facts of life
There’s a call for action going on – see TJ’s site for the details. And many respected and well-known bloggers are jumping on the bandwagon. I joined – heck, helped start – one some time ago. This one… I cannot, in good conscience, join the call to action. In fact, I think it’s cause regrettable, but have to speak against the call.
We the community constantly complain of bots and hacks. Yes, we do, I hear it frequently. We don’t like cheaters who snag all the nodes before we can get there. We despise the hacks who get a little faster or hit a little harder or go places we’re unable to go. We hate the flood of a server with false gold or counterfeit blues in mass that shatter our economy. All this makes the game less fun. And a less fun game is one we don’t play as much – maybe even quitting. And that means Blizzard doesn’t make money. So when we complain of something on a consistent basis, Blizzard listens.
But catching these folk is not easy. Nobody – well, most folk – don’t openly announce, “I’m turning on my farmbot now.” Nobody openly admits to setting their log-and-move bot to farm AV rep. Instead, it takes monitoring and detective work.
And any such work, regardless of how well done, gets false positives. And those inevitable events are where all the friction develops. In the case of WoW and things like it, the friction is worse because it’s not law but policy. And I need to digress…
In law (at least in the US for US citizens – a separate rant that does not belong here), a false positive leads to an arrest, and (hopefully) a dismissal or verdict of innocent. Or successful appeal. Notice that there are multiple chances to identify and reverse a false positive in this situation. The reason is that the penalty is loss of freedom, with several other restrictions commensurate. But a WoW account ban isn’t an arrest.
It’s a denial of service. It’s the company saying, “you can’t play here any more.” It’s hurtful and potentially shameful, but it’s not restrictive in any legal sense.
And Blizzard, listening to our complaints, wants to ban the abusers. But they’ll inevitably pick up a few strays – some false positives. It’s time for the pondering question:
Which is better. Should Blizzard warn the accounts identified, then wait to see who says, “not me”, then evaluate those, and remove those not found “innocent”? Or should they block everyone, listen to the appeals, and then allow back those who are found innocent? Consider this in light of both the penalty to the innocent AND the effect the guilty pending justice can have upon the game.
Returning to outside the game, this is the reason people arrested go to jail. Some can be released for a while, but basically they’re all constrained till the evaluation can be completed.
If you are going to protest – to join the call for action – I highly recommend you move further than, “this is wrong.” I recommend you suggest fixes – things that allow the main issue to continue being resolved, while reducing the pain for false positives. Remember that Blizzard does not want to lose most of its customers – and it’ll sacrifice a dozen to keep a million. (There is an old but relevant cliche in the philosophy of law. How many guilty will you allow to go free to avoid convicting one innocent? What ratio of guilty to innocent banned from the game is acceptable?)
Personally, I think Blizzard could do some PR work – not changing the system, but changing the wording of the ban – to improve the situation. They could call it a freeze, saying that if there is no appeal in 30 days the account will be banned, and then acting based upon the appeal. They’d get more appeals than they do under the current system, which in turn would probably need more staff to process, but they’d irritate and frustrate a much smaller number of innocents.
That said, I need to move a bit further, because what I’ve written above would imply I could support the call for action. And I said instead I lean to opposing it. See, there are some details that we cannot know.
For example, one of the big groups of this ban was purchasers of Glider. Blizzard apparently got (through court order) the list of people who’ve purchased it over a period of time — to include their credit card numbers. I know people who purchase things like this, look it over, and delete it — never use it in the game itself, just curious as to what all the fuss is about. They want to speak knowledgeably of the issue when they speak against it, or maybe it’s just simple curiousity. Whatever the cause, they’ve left a credit card number. And Blizzard has it. And Blizzard now has a reason to ban.
We have, in my library, a number of petty rules. Rules such as “you can only have these videos for a week.” Almost all our rules are here because while MOST people would return things in a timely fashion so others can use it, some won’t. Some won’t because they’re forgetful. Some won’t because they’d really like that item in their own personal library. Regardless of the reason, we have some rules that exist because there are a FEW who HAVE TO BE TOLD. And we enforce the rule – if the video is late, you get charged a fine. Late enough, and you’re banned. You cannot check out anything else until the situation is cleared.
We inevitably get people who tell us they turned the item in already. Sometimes they’re right. We inevitably get people who tell us something happened – they were robbed, or they had a fire, or they had to be out of town for a month or two, or… Sometimes they’re right. And sometimes…
We have – had – a patron who kept telling us her car was broken into. As in, once a month (give or take). We started requiring she bring a police report for us to accept such a claim. Her car quit being the target of burglars.
I used to work in a prison. I am really, really aware that there are a number of people who can convincingly state that they did not do… whatever. Despite the witnesses, fingerprints, DNA, and videotape, it WAS NOT THEM. And if it weren’t for the rest, it’d be convincing. It has made me somewhat cynical.
The banhammer is doing what we the community want it to do. And there will be collected, along with the guilty and those who are truly innocent, those who are unknowingly guilty and those who are smooth talkers. There is no perfect system. And I accept this problem.
Oh, one more point. There will also be those who simply didn’t pay attention. Say, for example, you downloaded and started using the absolutely gorgeous druid forms Andrige created, you’re violating the user agreement. Heck, he even warns you about it in the opening discussion. Yet I’ve seen the forms posted on several of the blogs now involved in the call to action with a ‘wink wink’ comment about using maybe subjecting you to a ban, (but nobody ever gets banned, really, over this.) (Yes, I saw that on one blog. I’ll refrain from posting which not least because it’s a paraphrase. Those that did, who read this, will recognize the remark.)
If you violate the contract, the other party to the contract is allowed to end its contribution. In other words, banhammer. And the real, honest answer is that we don’t know if the people we’re defending are truly innocent, innocent of intent, or just sweet talkers. And I’m afraid I have to oppose a call to action that may be wrong itself. An appeals process exists, which doesn’t HAVE to exist. So, sorry, but no. Good luck, and if you’re innocent I hope you prevail.