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?

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Smart Kids and MMO Graveyards

And finally, some great posts unconnected to the big controversies of the day…

  • JD Kenada at Amateur Azerothian is getting into the Olympic spirit by organising… the Transmogolympics!
  • Anne Stickney at WoW Insider argues that Cataclysm failed because it bored the smart kids“Quests like Welcome to the Machine and The Day Deathwing Came were instantly loved because they presented something so completely different than anything we’d seen before that they were immediately far more interesting than any other quest presented in the expansion.”
  • Ocho at Casual Aggro is now 100% convinced – Diablo 3 is an MMO. And he’s got some very interesting arguments“Cheating in single player games allows players to explore the game on multiple levels and fairness never even comes up in the equation. However, you cheat in Diablo 3, which does not claim to be an MMO and what happens? You get BANNED. “
  • And finally, Melmoth at Killed In A Smiling Accident writes a lovely piece on his equivalent of the Elephant’s Graveyard – the Disk of Abandoned MMORPGs“Rarely do I attempt to resurrect a game from its magnetised mausoleum, but often I wish myself a Frankenstein of files, able to take a perfect piece from this crypt, some small segment from this other, and thence hammer and hew, stretch sinew and stitch, until my meisterwerk takes form. Would it be a monster? Would it be misunderstood?”

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Resumes, Bots and The Diablo Legacy – Thursday Links

It’s obvious that the WoW world is starting to hot up again, with 5.0 headed to the PTR, as we’re seeing a lot more comment, consideration and, yes, complaint about Blizzard’s giant MMO in the blogosphere these days compared with even a month ago. But other games are still hanging in there too – today we’ve got a fascinating look into the world of EVE botters, as well as a dissection of Diablo 3 compared to its predecessor:

  • Frinka at Warcraft Street asks whether sucessful AH players in WoW could use that skill on their real-world resumes“If you are persistent and participate in many conversations with “random people” over a long period you will likely learn how to steer a nibble PST conversation into a sale. “
  • The Nosy Gamer brings us a report from the shadow world of EVE botters, as he quotes botting forums to show that CCP are successfully keeping cheaters quite unhappy“maybe what i writing not will be popular, but … MINING AT BOT ISIN’T SAFE ANYMORE !!! that was , 2 – 6 years ago, right now – after that many years CCP got toys to catching botters”
  • Clockwork at Out Of Beta asks if Diablo 3 really stands up as a worthy successor to the “Diablo” title“D2’s dungeons were random halls that no reasonable architect would have ever designed and yet they FELT right. Each one was different, each was unique…aside from boss rooms, you almost never had the same place twice. “

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Belated Weekend Links

Yes, my finger’s now up to bending and hitting keys again (remember, everyone, keep your finger OUTSIDE the trigger guard when running if you don’t want it to end up with extra axes of motion), so here’s a belated look at some of the best posts of this weekend.

  • The Pugnacious Priest issues a challenge – if we want more women to play MMOs, maybe we need more women to lead in them?“So in trying to find a different angle to the ongoing experiences and debate I realize, that the places I have felt the safest. The guilds I have not felt threatened in, the guilds I have felt most at home, and happy in have been led by a female.”
  • Syp at Bio Break writes an excellent, thoughtful consideration of the new game SMITE’s treatment of Hindu deities“But it just doesn’t seem that hard to avoid potentially offending people by thinking these issues through, and I really don’t get why Harris is being antagonistic in his reply instead of showing a modicum of sympathy. “
  • Keen of Keen and Graev goes back to some older MMOs, and discovers they’ve still got both playability and teeth“By today’s standards their graphics are ugly, their polish that of rust, and their mechanics simple and cruel. Yet I find myself immersed.”
  • And Tangedyn of The Inconspicuous Bear writes a really excellent summary of the facts and possibilities around the reports that Blizzard has incorrectly banned Linux players of Diablo 3“it’s really Blizzard’s word against the players, and it could go either way. If the first one is true, then the players got what they deserve, and I wish all the worst for them for stirring up all these crap in the first place. Unfortunately, if the second is true, there is probably nothing that can be done to save these players.”

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Four Intelligent Critiques Of Blizzard

It’s a valuable role for the blogosphere surrounding any subject, from politics to MMOs – to speak truth to power. And today, some of the best-known thinkers in the MMOsphere are giving intelligent, constructive, and accurate critique to Blizzard.

Of course, Blizzard get a lot of things right – as WoW and Diablo 3’s massive popularity show. But that’s not to say there aren’t some things they could be doing better:

  • Anne Stickney at WoW Insider tackles the problem of female characters in WoW, and doesn’t pull her punches as she demonstrates how few independent, interesting characters are currently active in WoW lore“it’s not that women don’t exist in the Warcraft universe — they’re all over the place, honestly. It’s that there is only a handful worth of them that have enough character development and story to warrant dedicating a column to them.”
  • Bravetank didn’t intend her post to be a critique, I think, but her description of the ennui she’s feeling at max level is both interesting and telling“So what should I do then? Just grit my teeth & get on with it? But I can’t!!! (I’m saying this in the whiniest tone imaginable by the way.) Surely gritting my teeth is not what this game is about? Surely that’s not what I pay good money for?”
  • Chris at Game By Night writes in passionate opposition to Blizzard’s (since repealed) 72-hour quarantine for new Diablo players“It is morally dubious for a company to take your money for a full product — as the $60 price point would imply — and then give you something less and limited. “
  • And Kurn writes a really interesting, thoughtful post looking at the ways in which the WoW playerbase is not given access to good information on how to play their game“Our poor mage friend, whose sad, sad armory started this two-thousand word post, might not be such a tragic, ignorant soul, if only Blizzard had bothered to tell him that he doesn’t need spirit. Yet, they don’t tell him that. They don’t even tell him he needs hit rating (although the hit chance/miss chance table is certainly a step in the right direction).”

AS a guide writer, I couldn’t agree more with Kurn. The fact that our guides are so popular is a testament to just how much of WoW’s basic system of mechanics isn’t clearly explained. Indeed, the commentary on our paladin tank caps article alone – where many, many players thank us profusely for explaining how a vital part of the game works – makes me wonder why Blizzard want WoW’s basic mechanics to be so obfuscated.

Do you think these criticisms of Blizzard are fair?

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Initial Reactions to the Diablo 3 Real Money Auction House

It’s here! Rather later than expected, but the potentially game-changing Real Money-based Auction House in Diablo 3 has gone live.

So, what have everyone’s initial reactions been? Are they rich? Are they planning on buying all their weapons from now on with dollars rather than gold?

  • Azuriel at In An Age describes his briefly renewed interest in Diablo 3 when he sold an item for real money, interest which diminished when he realised he’d have to play D3 to make more“Could I have augmented my talent loadout to better combat their abilities? Yes. Could I have simply avoided them? Sure. Could I be bothered to do any of that when I have a perfectly fun Battlefield 3 as an alternative? Hell-to-the-no.”
  • Marcko at Diablo 3 Gold Guide provides a rundown of the first couple of days of Diablo 3 RMAH from his (financially interested) position“As of right now, you need to assign a dollar value to one hundred thousand gold. You will compare all other strategies to this dollar value. If they can’t compete then you shouldn’t be wasting your time on them.”
  • Bolbor at Reddit recounts his experience buying items on the RMAH, and the subsequent buyer’s remorse“$50 had bought me nothing. The pixels were there, but gone was the pixelated high I used to get seeing items drop on the floor. The yellow items remained slot-machines of disappointment. I could kill the Butcher now, but I still wasn’t getting that high I so longed for from rares.”
  • And Edward at Terra Nova discusses the experience of outfitting his Diablo 3 character from the RMAH, and his concerns about erasing the line between gold and dollars“The RMAH wipes these differences away. If the state were to extend its regulatory scheme from dollars to gold pieces, what could Blizzard say in opposition?”

So, sold any Diablo items for real money yet?

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AH Views, Server Transfers, Rock Guys and more

And finally, some excellent posts from today – it would appear that whilst the MMO community’s news-light at the moment, there’s still plenty of thinking going around:

  • Tobold’s always strong talking about virtual economics, and his discussion of the impact of the Diablo AH on different MMO player types is a very interesting read“Another important difference is that some players play Diablo 3 “for the challenge”. While the AH can postpone the point at which you feel challenged, you will get there sooner or later. Other players play Diablo 3 “for fun”, and it has been showed by psychologists that random loot drops are most fun on a neuro-chemical level.”
  • Altaclysmic discovers that Blizzard seem to have a crack in their anti-profanity wall when it comes to British swearwords“This got me thinking, Knobhead of Kilrogg, is likely to be a character name, so next stop was the Armory. Below are my random findings from the armory.”
  • Big Bear Butt’s Cub is back for another fascinating insight into WoW through a child gamer’s eyes – in this case, talking about grinding, pets, and player cynicism““If I get Pebble, will he fight with me?” Sigh. Oh, do you mean will there be more of a reward for your time and effort other than a standard pet? No, no there won’t. But of course I won’t say that. He just has an honest question. he knows what it takes to get normal pets, and he knows there are pets he has gotten from quest chains, and even pets from the Darkmoon faire dailies. So, if he has to go to what seem unusual lengths, it seems fair to him that there be unusual rewards.”
  • And in SWTOR, free character transfers are starting – from low-population servers to high-pop ones. Shintar is dismayed by this decision, and explains the significant potential downsides of the decision“Even with transfers being free, it’s inevitable that a lot of people won’t use them, whether that’s because they don’t even know that the feature exists because they don’t follow the news, they are only moderately active, or they like(d) their server to begin with. However, many people will transfer, and removing some of the most active players from an already low population realm is going to have dire consequences for those that remain. “

What’s got your attention in MMOs at the moment?

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Reality and MMOs Collide

Most of us play MMOs to escape from reality into another universe for a few hours. But sometimes, reality and MMOs get far too close for comfort.

From the reality of the impact of developer layoffs to psychological blunders, MMORPGs and RL appear to be uncomfortably close today…

  • Steve Danuser at Mobhunter, former Creative Director at recently-closed MMO developer 38 Studios, speaks of the personal impact of the demise of the studio“Work was tough and the pressure relentless, but so, so joyous as well. I got to work hands-on with R. A. Salvatore, taking the framework of a world he created and building it into something huge, ambitious, and wonderful. I watched amazing artists undertake the most startling transformation of concept paintings into game assets that I’ve ever seen. “
  • Tobold examines the impact of the AH on Diablo 3’s fun potential, and makes a case that Blizzard have managed exactly the opposite of the much-balyhooed “gamification” – workification“Blizzard’s Diablo 3 AH basically removes these game reward elements from Diablo 3, or at least makes them much rarer. They are replaced with an activity that functions more like work: A constant and steady farming and collecting gold activity in the game, with minor highlights of selling items on the auction house.”
  • And The Ancient Gaming Noob looks at the way crafting materials work in MMOs, and begs for something a little more plausible“leaving aside the rarity factor and the technology required to fashion rhenium (a furnace, hammer, and anvil aren’t going to cut it), when it comes down to it, some sort of steel alloy is going to make for a better weapon or base for a suit of armor nine times out of ten.”

Had any close encounters of the RL kind in your MMOing lately?

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What should other MMOs learn from Diablo 3?

The Diablo 3 furore’s dying down now, and the MMO world is returning, by and large, to talk of Guild Wars 2 and Mists of Pandaria – but, nonetheless, the massive popularity Diablo 3 has managed to garner in the last few weeks shouldn’t be underestimated.

Today, two different bloggers are considering Diablo 3 in comparison to current MMORPGs, and asking a really fascinating question – what should MMORPG developers be learning from the massive success of the semi-MMO Diablo?

Doone at T.R. Redskies starts off, praising many things about Diablo 3’s design style, including health globes (more on them in a moment) and the “backstory through item drops” narrative system

“I know this has gotten some mixed feelings in the community. I can definitely appreciate that some feel it either drills the story too much down the players throat or that it’s hard to pay attention to in the middle of the action. For my part, I feel like it really does do a good job of telling me bits and pieces of various stories going on in Sanctuary without me having to read the text. It’s really nice. Plus, if you didn’t hear it before you can look into your journal and play it back.”

I heartily agree on the item drops, actually. Whilst in general I’d say Diablo’s storytelling was sub-optimal, the dropped lore pieces are a thoroughly novel idea, and a good way to make backstory visible without being unskippable.

Whilst Doone writes a series of short posts, Matthew Rossi at WoW Insider writes on less points, but goes into detail on each point

“I don’t expect WoW to ever go back to the days when you could use potions in chain. In a world with healing classes and no healing globes dropping from mobs, chugging healing potions isn’t feasible. However, for scenarios, the healing globe is definitely an idea worth stealing.

Right now, most scenarios seem to be using the “stand in this healing circle” idea for how to get players healed up, and it works fine, but there’s no reason not to expand the mechanics for scenarios to keep players invested. Having to look around and run over a healing globe is just another variation, a tool to change up how scenarios work and keep people from getting complacent.”

Matthew’s points are interesting, and I’d expect them to spark some debate. Personally, I was less than convinced by the suggestion of removing soulbinding in WoW (rampant deflation ahoy!), but did find the suggestion that blacksmiths should be able to melt weapons down decidedly interesting!

What do you think modern MMOs could learn from Diablo 3’s May rampage?

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Pawns, Micropayments, and Not Heroes

I’m looking to get an early night tonight before appearing on the Twisted Nether podcast at 8am my time tomorrow, so here are a few links for the weekend to keep you going!

  • Jester continues looking at MMO business models by examining “Free to play” games, and the ways in which developers are working to make them less free“”If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer,” says the famous little graphic before adding “You’re the product being sold.” “
  • Tobold examines new game Dragon’s Dogma and its NPCs / fellow players as “Pawns” concept“Using your friends as pawns in your game is a very shallow and indirect social interaction. But it avoids players considering each other as obstacles on their way to advancement.”
  • And Straw Fellow applauds Diablo 3 for casting none of its characters as selfless heroes“Their motivations are fairly selfish, and I’m sure if the demons weren’t threatening the world none of these characters would care about them.”

Have a great weekend, and hope to see some of you online tonight/tomorrow morning.

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