Is Blizzard unfairly banning Diablo players on Linux?

Several players have been banned from playing Diablo, permanently, whilst running Linux. Blizzard claims it’s 100% sure that they were cheating, but the players in question are increasingly adamantly claiming that they were doing nothing wrong – and there’s even talk of lawsuits. What’s going on?

Many of you may be aware that last week, a story came out that several Linux users had been banned from Diablo, allegedly for botting. A forum storm broke out, until Blizzard’s Bashiok spoke up on the forums, confirming that the players had definitely been banned, not for using Linux, but for cheating. And that seemed to be the end of it.

Except that this new week has seen some pretty startling developments, as the banned users, rather than going silent (as botters tend to) are becoming both more vocal and more open about the history of the case, in an effort to seek some kind of resolution to their ban. And now, large Internet news sites are starting to pick up on their story, with The Verge wading in firmly on the side of the Linux users

“The players Polygon spoke to were adamant that they had not used any programs to help them cheat in the game. They all reported that the game had run flawlessly on their Linux computers for weeks before they suddenly received bans and were accused of using unauthorized third party software to give themselves an unfair advantage in the game.

Meng says Bashiok’s post in the Blizzard forums is frustrating and insulting to players who didn’t do anything wrong.

“”Simply applying a blanket label that we are both liars and cheaters is indescribably irritating.””

“To be honest, I find it very condescending, ill-informed, and insulting,” he says. “Any software engineer knows that claiming any such imprecise detection system to be infallible is the height of hubris. After all, the problem could be the result of an odd conjunction of factors that nobody would have thought to test for – after all, WINE is not officially supported by Blizzard, since it isn’t, in fact, Windows! To claim that such issues are impossible is simply ridiculous.

“The insulting part was fairly simple – while I can understand that people may use excuses like this to attempt to hide their actual cheating, simply applying a blanket label that we are both liars and cheaters is, well, indescribably irritating.””

Cinemablend is even more outspoken in its coverage of the situation

“This still doesn’t justify the banning of the individuals involved. Many level-headed users have been asking Blizzard for full disclosure regarding the bans and what “cheats” these individuals actually used to game the system, assuming they were even cheating in the first place.

Keep in mind that while Bashiok publicly stated that personal account information or cases involving a player’s account are never disclosed publicly, Blizzard has never shied away from making examples of hackers or liars on the forums. Bashiok’s recent comments about account disclosure is completely contradictory to past practices. For example, on the Diablo III forums Bashiok states…

” It’s company policy not to discuss account actions with anyone but the account holder, or their legal guardian if applicable. It’s an issue between us and them. Trust me, it’d be much easier on me to just post exactly what they did, but we feel it’s important to honor the privacy of our customers, and that’s a policy I personally agree with. “

That’s the complete opposite of what happened when someone claimed that they had an authenticator attached to their account before they were hacked, in which Bashiok readily stumbles into the Diablo III forum and lets loose this little tidbit before closing the thread…

” Hi Turtle. According to your account records an authenticator was not attached to the account until after the compromise. If you’d like to discuss further, or have any questions, please contact our customer service department:

So why the policy change? And which is it, Blizzard? I thought account actions weren’t to be discussed publicly with anyone else but the account holder? Why is it okay to disclose that someone’s account has an authenticator or not but it’s not okay to say how they were cheating? I’d like to imagine that the former is a bit more of a mockery of the account privacy policy than the latter. ”

So what is going on here? Well, it’s still impossible to say, of course, but Blizzard’s case is looking shakier by the minute, at least whilst they stick to their “there’s no way this could be a mistake” line without further evidence. And whilst it’s still true that Blizzard doesn’t officially support Linux, this situation is increasingly less about alternative operating systems, and more about Blizzard outright alleging cheating and imposing sanctions with economic value, without giving any evidence in support of their situation. If Blizzard were willing to admit the possibility that something had gone wrong, this entire situation would have died down by now – but they’re absolutely refusing to entertain the possibility that could be the case, even under mounting media pressure.

More and more, this situation is reminding me of Battle Chicken’s recent fight against an unfair ban in SWTOR. Time will tell whether Blizzard come clean – either with evidence or an apology – as Bioware did. But the entire situation raises a lot of questions.

Just what is going on, for starters? Cheaters rarely make this much of a public fuss when caught – I can’t recall another example in the recent past. If Marcus Meng really was cheating, why’s he exposing himself to such a massive potential backlash? And is it actually reasonable for Blizzard to cut off access to their games with this little explanation – or to tar players with the “cheater” accusation without any kind of proof?

Are Blizzard really claiming their detection systems are infallible? If so, that’s a foolish claim, as any first-year computer science student can tell you. And Warden has made mistakes with Linux in the past – mistakes which Blizzard eventually admitted and apologised for.

Or is there something else going on – something that Blizzard are reasonably reluctant to reveal? For example, is there some kind of potential exploit for the Diablo Real-Money Auction House accessible through the specific Linux configuration Meng was using, which he may have knowingly or unknowingly stumbled upon? Are Blizzard actually protecting their other players with their hard-line attitude here?

What do you think is going on?