The following editorial contains views that are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the views of Allakhazam.com
It is remarkably difficult to open a discussion about the very subjective subject (heh) that is cheating and exploiting, so I decided that I would utilize the greatest essay introduction ever. If you are enrolled in university at the moment and you ever write an essay, I’d suggest you take the following thesis, change the words to fit your needs, and thusly reap the rewards of creating pure, undistilled academia. No need to thank me. Donations, however...
Ahem. To continue:
For millions (maybe billions) of years, man has pondered the meaning of cheating. But what is cheating? Webster’s dictionary defines cheating as “to practice fraud or trickery” and “to violate rules dishonestly”. An online dictionary further defines cheating as “an annual European species of brome grass widely naturalized in temperate regions”. Taking the above definitions, therefore, we may define cheating as a method of dishonestly violating rules to practice fraud or trickery involving a European species of grass.
European grass aside, this article was written mostly out of wedlock; born from the marriage of Square Enix’s recent bannings and my awkward desire to be ‘hip’ and ‘with it’ in my writing. For those who don’t know, on January 22nd, 2009, SE finally decided to bring divine punishment down upon hundreds of FFXI players who had exploited an in-game glitch to get 3x the loot in specific zones. While this wouldn’t have been so bad if all of the items in question were RA/EX (bind on pickup), a number of the dupable items could be sold (and were) for extravagant amounts of gil, mostly due to their rarity. Thus, not only did this duping trick allow players to get excessive amounts of RA/EX gear quicker than SE intended, but they profited an incredible amount in the process.
What was truly remarkable about this exploit, however, was the fact that it had not been fixed for at least two years after its discovery . That means that people who knew of this were able to keep it ‘on the down low’ for at least a quarter of FFXI’s life. That’s some pretty good ‘down low’ keeping; almost, if one considers it, too good. Nobody, not even SE, could be that blind.
The fact is, if there is anyone an MMO team needs to keep an eye on to prevent unforeseen exploitation, it’s the hardcore endgame community. Say what you will about the resourcefulness of more casual players, the fact is, nobody is more willing to devote their time, money and experience points to learn how to beat something, and then learn how to make it easier by any means necessary. Feel free to argue that it’s up to the player base to remain morally correct in the face of programming errors, but last time I checked, trusting your most ambitious demographic to ignore the opportunity to get ahead is like asking our banks to not crash the stock market.
Players may go ahead and believe that heavy moderation on key forums (not Allakhazam, obviously) was what kept this knowledge from the ears of developers, but if this was truly the case, then the FFXI playerbase has larger things to worry about than who’s getting how much gear. I cannot help but wonder if this is truly indicative of SE’s connection to the FFXI playing community. How can you allow hundreds of endgame guilds to exploit what was clearly a very significant glitch; but only begin to act after two years of exploitation? Perhaps SE is subscribing to a very laissez faire type of management, but that sort of approach will rapidly alienate your community. A video game may be the vision of the developers to create, but it is ultimately the players who play the game and participate in its creation.
This is ultimately what bothers me about the nature of these bannings; while I really don’t agree with how they were implemented, I’m still truly puzzled at why SE felt that permanent bans were necessary. In World of Warcraft, when several teams were caught exploiting the arena system to gain large numbers of arena points (and ridiculous amounts of gold from selling points), they stripped those characters of all arena gear and arena points. Prior to these bannings, there were very few, if any at all, documented permanent bans that resulted from careless exploitation of in-game glitches; even if you were caught utilizing third party programs (so you basically created an exploit), players were often slapped with a temporary ban and then left to ‘think about what they did.’ Now we have a case where players took advantage of a glitch they found, and permanent bans are issued. It just feels disproportionate.
In reality, there are only a few reasons why SE would implement such extreme measures:
1.) To compensate for their relative inaction over the course of two years, they decided that the perpetrators had ‘built up punishment,’ so to speak (so if I don’t punch you today, five years from now, I can break your leg).
2.) SE feels that being lied to is the ultimate offence, and this specific kind of dishonesty merits much more punishment than when individuals create custom tailored programs to take advantage of game mechanics.
3.) SE felt that the repercussions of triple drops have severely affected all of FFXI in such drastic ways that permanent bans were a necessary bandage. They will then implement a Mog Bonanza when they feel drop rates are too low.
4.) SE didn’t really know to what extent these individuals benefited, so they lazily banned them to ‘cover all the bases.’
5.) According to some, SE is actually a giant corporate Samurai, and therefore could not stand the dishonour, so they theoretically killed those who dishonoured them.
Or, finally, perhaps it’s this:
6.) Immediately after fixing this problem (and this was a problem they were well aware of, prior to fixing), the community backlash was so massive that SE felt that heavy-handed punishments were key to placating the witch burning community. Never mind that the company took two years to mete out these punishments (and stayed relatively silent on the matter during the time), and never mind that taking such actions were unprecedented; people wanted sacrifices, and so they got them.
I’d say temporarily ban everyone, strip them of all items that pertain to the glitch, reduce them down to 100k gil and then carefully monitor their logs over the next few months to ensure that they don’t suddenly ‘inherit’ 10,000 Alexandrites from a suspiciously named “LSMule” character. That’s just me.
Either way, SE, you need to take this as a wakeup call if you ever needed one; establish some contacts in top endgame LSes, consult with the player community and show us that you’re not dozing at the wheel when it comes to listening to our needs. A company cannot blithely continue to develop expansions without understanding and working with its player base; otherwise situations like this happen. Part of what makes World of Warcraft so successful is its ability to listen to the needs of its largest player demographic. I’m certainly not saying that you need to spoon feed our players, but I would be much less critical if there was any demonstration of community outreach and if there were any attempts to understand (and alleviate) the problems of the average FFXI player. Otherwise controversial bans like these just feel like you’re panicking when you open the door to your cave and you discover a lynch mob waiting.
Christopher "Pwyff" Tom