Cheats and chiselers and lines not to be crossed

Blizzard just announced that they had “taken action” against some players who were accepting real world currency for in-game assistance, such as carrying players for raid clears. You can read the Blue Post here, courtesy of MMO-C.

This is absolutely reasonable action from Blizz. The activities were clear violations of the Terms of Service agreement, and some forum posters claimed it was getting out of hand — blatant advertisements abounded. I wouldn’t know about that, I tend to be quite naive about these matters. Still, there is a line between the in-game economy and the real world one, at least as far as players are concerned. Blizz went to some pains to point out that raid carries for gold, for example, are perfectly legitimate. It is just when actual rent-spendable money enters in that it becomes illegitimate.

In-game gold versus real-world money is a line most of us can understand, but I wonder if Blizz itself has not blurred that distinction a bit with their introduction of the token. By becoming their own gold seller, they have legitimized a direct connection between real world money and in-game gold. If you have the money, you can pretty much amass as much gold as you want in the game. Yes, you have limits placed on you in terms of how many tokens you can buy over a period of time, but if someone is patient and well-off, they can easily max out gold on every character on every account.

Not that having millions and millions of gold gets you much in the game nowadays, beyond a certain Scrooge McDuck feeling of wallowing in wealth. The reason Blizz’s gold selling has not become pay-for-play is that they have severely curtailed the number of game-enhancing buyable items available. In WoD, for example, you could buy competitive high-level crafted gear, but you were limited to equipping just three such items, thereby ensuring players with a lot of gold could not immediately outfit themselves with raid-level gear. In Legion, Blizz allows unlimited pieces of crafted gear to be equipped, but they prohibit selling (thus, buying) such gear above level 815. It can only be upgraded if it is soulbound — again, prohibiting wealthy players from easily (if expensively) outfitting themselves with high level gear.

Another thing the token has done is give everyone a quantitative way to value in-game items and activities. In the U.S., one token currently buys you approximately 90k gold, and it costs $20. Thus, if for example a guild is selling Nighthold clears for 200k gold (I have no clue if this is the going rate or not), a player contemplating buying the service can know that this means the true cost to them is $30-$40. (If the player is an in-game buyer of tokens as a way to pay for their subscription, then the cost is approximately $30, or two months’ play time. If the player is an in-game seller of tokens for gold, then the cost is $40, or about two game store token purchases.)

Similarly, if a piece of BoE gear is priced at 100k gold, a player can evaluate whether or not it is worth one month’s play time ($15), or $20 of their hard-earned cash from the other perspective.

Still, even if the real world versus game world line has become a bit blurrier, it is still there, and it certainly does not justify crossing it.

Which leads me to the other aspect of Blizz’s announcement that gave me pause. Of note, they indicated some of the presumably-banned players were members of world-first guilds. This is troubling, for basically the same reason I discussed in a previous post: that is, it indicates a lack of high standards of integrity in these guilds. Let’s be honest — there is no way guild management could have been unaware of the money-grubbing actions of the members engaging in this illicit business. But for whatever reason, the guilds these players belong to chose to do nothing about it — the best you can say is they gave tacit approval, and the worst is that they may have shared in the profits.

I know I will get hate mail for this, but given the apparent high profile of some of the guilty ones, I think in this case a bit of naming and shaming might have been in order. If not the actual players involved, then maybe the guilds they belonged to. “Don’t do the crime, if you can’t do the time.” Maybe a little guild embarrassment would be good incentive to police their own members in future.

How much better it would have been if, when the guilds suspected some of their members were doing it, they issued explicit instructions to knock that shit off or face expulsion. At the very least, they might have taken a page from professional sports and benched the offending players for some amount of time or levied a fine of some sort. Any guild sanction would have demonstrated these professional guilds are serious about policing their own, serious about upholding high standards of behavior. Sadly, insofar as any of us knows, they did not.

I am certain I could play this game forever and not give a flying fig about world first achievements or the inner workings of the professional guilds. I do not care about the pseudo-celebrity players in them. But I do care that some of the players and guilds I encounter in the game seek to emulate those semi-pro players and their guilds. If their role models are cheats and chiselers, then that attitude may well spread down through the game, and it will take away from my enjoyment of it.

In a perfect world — or even an above-average one — guilds would be incensed if their members cheated, and they would take drastic and public action to ensure everyone knew such behavior was unacceptable, to uphold the rules of the game they play, indeed the game they are leaders in. But sadly this is not the case, and we are left with some guilds that get while the getting is good, knowing they need take no responsibility because Blizz will step in and police their players for them. Well, good for you, Blizz. And shame on you, all you who know who you are.

About Fiannor
I have a day job but escape by playing WoW. I love playing a hunter, and my Lake Wobegonian goal is to become "above average" at it.

7 Responses to Cheats and chiselers and lines not to be crossed

  1. Marathal says:

    I agree completely. Those high level people should most certainly know better. I think they have felt they had exemption from stretching the rules because of their ranking. I believe I saw the number for runs at something close to $1500. So that would be about 6.9 million gold. I cannot imagine paying that kind of money for a run, even if it was Mythic Nighthold.

    When you look at the report of what Blizzard was anticipating for an Overwatch League franchise, $15 million I believe for a major city like LA or New York, and it shows me as a player, there are people that are involved in gaming at a level the majority of us will never see.

    • Fiannor says:

      Holy moly! $1500? That is beyond insane — bad enough someone would charge that much, and even worse (and pathetic) that people were apparently willing to pay it.

      But to the main point, Blizz is engaged in a rather delicate balancing act here. On the one hand, they absolutely do allow some of these top level guilds to get away with questionable behavior, and they do give them some perks (such as guaranteed access to beta and alpha tests). They look the other way on pseudo-exploits using extreme addon programming (friendly name plates in the latest win) and pushing the limits of the API, preferring to change the rules post facto rather than sanction the top guilds. It is to Blizz’s advantage to be able to build interest in things like world first races, as that presumably builds interest in their brand. To cast doubt on the methods some of these guilds may use is counter-productive to this end, so Blizz does tend to give them a certain amount of latitude I think.

      On the other hand, it is also counter-productive to the Blizz brand if people perceive that the top guilds are crooked cheaters, whereas all others get their noses rubbed in the smallest infractions. I am not saying I think this is the case — it emphatically is not — but there is always the chance that failure to take action in egregious cases could lead down that path.

      So Blizz is walking a tightrope here, and the top guilds could do both themselves and Blizz a favor by adopting their own code of ethics, and enforcing it on themselves, individually or as part of a larger gaming organization. I believe from time to time there are some noises made about doing that, but as far as I know nothing has yet come of it. And clearly even if there are some nascent stirrings, they were ineffective with this recent activity.

      • Marathal says:

        You or I were to sell mount runs etc for real money would see a much harsher penalty. The problem the face now it the level of punishment has been set.

      • Fiannor says:

        Yeah, definitely. And Blizz was vague about the nature of the punishments, saying only they have “taken action against”. They did not, as far as I know, even state they had banned the violators, either temporarily or permanently. (Unlike their typical announcements when they uncover significant cheating with bots, for example, which they usually characterize as a “wave of bans”.) This most certainly leads me, at least, to a suspicion that some top players will get their little hands slapped and sternly warned to not do that again. As you say, if you or I had been found to do something like this, we would be looking for another game to play because WoW would likely be off limits to us permanently.

      • Snowtracker says:

        minor punishment really. 8 day ban? What a joke. The bot ban in May 2015 got something like 100k players for 6 months a piece.

  2. Grumsta says:

    Given enough gold it’s pretty easy to buy a full set of armour for your character or alts: buy each piece at 815 and then upgrade with Obliterum from the AH. The only bits you can’t buy are the artefact weapon and the BoS to apply the upgrades.

    Not defending them, but I believe players in top guilds want to see some return on their investment of time and a tangible reward for their undoubted skill at the game. The amount of gold some players and guilds earned at the end of WoD showed how lucrative it could be. If you don’t have the charisma (*cough*) for a Twitch channel then selling runs is a good alternative.

    There were a couple of threads on Reddit yesterday saying that first time offenders got an 8 day ban and that some had received permanent bans because they’d had warnings or bans about account sharing before. I guess it needs to be treated as hearsay because there’s no way to verify the information, but it fits with previous ban cycles.

    If Blizz can keep on top of the illegal gold sellers and enforce only paying for raid / M+ runs with in-game gold then more people should buy the tokens and that should keep the token price down and therefore more people playing.

    It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out: if late-comers feel the only way they can catch up with all the time-gating and grinding that Legion requires is by handing over a lot of real money to convert to gold to pay for carries then it won’t help the game in the long run.

    • Fiannor says:

      Well, of course it is just my experience, but I have found it nearly impossible — not to mention futile — to upgrade 815 gear on an alt. First, to max out the upgrade you need 20 BoS for just one piece. For a full set of crafted gear, this means 14×20 or 280 BoS. Even assuming you only equip armor slots (not necks, rings, trinkets), you still need 180 BoS. By the time you have gathered that many (assuming you have a gathering profession and have finished the quest line for it), or by the time you have run enough world quests to get — what? 3-4 BoS a day? — chances are you will have replaced the crafted gear while chasing the means to upgrade it. (!)

      I agree with you that top level players probably want to “see some return on their investment”. I certainly cannot fault them for that. However, I can — and absolutely do, as I suspect you do too — fault them for using illicit means to do so. There are these things we call “integrity” and “honesty” and “standards”, and to trash them at the first opportunity to line one’s pockets is despicable. I would like to believe it is also bad for business in the long run, but sadly we have many real world counter examples (FIFA comes to mind).

      Still, I am someone who thinks those at the top need to set an example. (Yeah, yeah, I know, don’t say it, believe me I know what you are thinking.) If top level players don’t care if others think they are money grubbing cheats and they can still get lucrative endorsements, if the guilds don’t care that they have a reputation for being dishonest, and if Blizz and other game sponsors believe all this is just fine for the bottom line, there is certainly not much I can do about it. I just think it is early enough in the lifespan of esports that game leaders can still choose to be professional wrestling as a model or something a tad more high-minded.