Hacks vs. Exploits: When Should Devs Ban Bad Gamers?
Last week, a ban-wave issued by ArenaNet saw 3000 Guild Wars 2 players lose access to a game they paid upwards of $60 for. Banning players who abuse exploits is not an uncommon activity in multiplayer games — Blizzard banned WoW players for abusing the Looking for Raid exploit, Rocket and Tonic banned DayZ players who exploited the Debug Forest, and XBL banned Modern Warfare 2 players who exploited the Javelin glitch.
While none can argue that the intent behind these bans is to protect the legitimacy of the multiplayer gaming environment, does the punishment fit the crime?
First, a definition: an exploit is the advantageous use of some element within a game that was not intended by the developers. Exploiting does not involve third-party-software, “hacking” of game files, or anything at all that cannot be accomplished in-game. It is entirely possible for a player to unknowingly make use of an exploit.
In the case of Guild Wars 2, the exploit took the form of a powerful weapon available for purchase from a vendor. The weapon was incorrectly priced at a fraction of its intended value. Given vendors have infinite supplies of items, some savvy players took advantage of this pricing mistake and purchased inordinate quantities of the weapon, an action that could have widespread effects on the game’s fledgling economy.
But while some players clearly knew they were exploiting the game, the same cannot be said for everyone. Imagine yourself an innocent MMO novice, strapped for in-game cash, who happens upon this fantastic deal. “Why is this weapon priced so low?” you wonder, as you try to compare it to the other items for sale. “It doesn’t seem much worse than these other weapons… I guess I really don’t understand this game. Unless… Maybe it’s meant to be used to help us level up our crafting skills. I guess I’ll buy a dozen or so and get to work.”
Exploits exist as a result of a failure on the part of the developer’s quality assurance. Is it reasonable to expect a developer to find every single little error in a game before release? Perhaps not. But is it reasonable for a developer to ban paying customers because the developer failed to find a mistake it created?