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In defense of care packages and mandatory authenticators

If you read WoW.com with any regularity, you probably saw and read our pieces on Friday discussing some rather curious policies Blizzard has recently instituted. There are two in particular that I'd like to discuss further: The care package for hacked accounts and the possibility of mandatory authenticators.

First, how many of you have had your accounts stolen, or know someone that had theirs stolen? Chances are good every single person that reads this post will raise their hand to that question. The problem is not a small one. I'm in a rather large guild, and every few weeks someone has their account stolen and the little bits of our guild bank they have access to go with them. My large guild is also just one guild in a larger guild alliance which suffers the same problems. Every two weeks or so, someone I see online on a regular basis gets their account stolen.

This is only a small set of guilds on one server, and the problem is not unique to us. It's a problem you will find anywhere you go in WoW, so you can guarantee that every single day, hundreds of accounts are stolen. Each of these stolen accounts needs to be investigated, retrieved, and if everything turns out right, restored. Much like anything else in the world, this takes time. When you rush these things, you end up with the Martin Fury situation. As hilarious and intriguing as that was, it's not healthy for the game.

Plus, if that person you just restored is especially lacking in computer know-how, there is no guarantee they won't get their account stolen again the very next day after their restoration. Score one for the bad guys. Two stolen accounts for the price of one.

The Care Package

In many cases, after the care package policy was first implemented, Game Masters were offering players the care package and only informing them of the ability to do a full restore after they turned the original offer down. Since we've reported on this situation, the policy has been reiterated and it's been made clear that the intent is to offer both simultaneously, and let the player make their choice. With that clarified and reinforced, the policy is surprising, but not a wretched sleazy thing.

Remember that not all WoW players are people decked out in phat epic loot. WoW has a significant number of players still running around in greens, or even just leveling up for the very first time. Do these people really need full gear restores for their character(s)? This care package, for those players, could potentially be above and beyond what they had to begin with. For a player leveling for the first time, 2500g could easily purchase them a new set of gear on the auction house, pay their various mount/flight costs pre-epic flying, and then some. Not a bad deal for a couple days' worth of inconvenience, is it?

A full restoration for those characters with very little of value likely takes just as long as restoring an Icecrown Citadel geared raid tank that was nearing the gold cap. If those players in greens will accept the care package, that's a smaller number of characters in the restoration queue. With fewer players in the restoration queue, your raid's main tank will be restored faster and you can get back to grinding your face against Professor Putricide.

This care package policy is, overall, a good thing for the game. The problem only came in when it was being pitched incorrectly, making players believe they had to settle for a few badges and some gold instead of getting back the character that they (or their raid/guild) worked so hard on. How your message is communicated is everything.

Mandatory Authenticators

I admit, I am baffled at how divided the community is over this issue. Authenticators are wonderful things, and if Blizzard can get one into the hands of every single player of the game, a lot of the most frequently mentioned problems with WoW's customer service would be repaired. I would be most pleased if every copy of Cataclysm shipped with an authenticator.

It is difficult (if not totally impossible) for Blizzard to completely protect a player from being hacked, phished or scammed. There is very little that they can do with the client itself to protect someone from their own mistakes, and that is the root of almost all hacked accounts. Blizzard keeps things secure on their end, and the players need to do the same on theirs. Most do not. In fact, I cannot even count the number of times I've heard someone say, "I don't need an authenticator, I think I know how to keep my computer secure" and then they get hacked not even weeks after. There are a lot of ways to get nailed with a keylogger, and they can be as simple as missing out on a Flash update by a matter of hours.

Accounts are rarely, if ever, hacked via brute force. Any limit Blizzard places on login attempts or any password blacklists they introduce would make people feel more safe, but it wouldn't actually make them safe. The authenticator, being a third party item that does not actually communicate with your computer, is the best possible way to keep your account secure. There's no threat of getting a keylogger in Vasco's authenticator.

I know that many people are concerned about losing their authenticator, and here is my tip to you: If you only use your authenticator in your own home, find a small strip of double sided tape and stick it to the outside edge of your monitor. It will be there forever. If you do use it in multiple places, use a strip of velcro instead of tape. You can put it there when you're at home, and when you're taking it to a friend's house or wherever you might be going, put it on your keychain or a necklace.

As soon as Blizzard can stop worrying about hacked accounts, they can focus on the myriad of other issues players face every day.

Final Thoughts

It's no secret that Blizzard's support department is worked to the bone, and the solution to that problem is not to hire dozens of people and throw more manpower at it. No matter how many game masters they hire to fix players' hacked accounts, those people cannot stop the accounts from being hacked. The game experience won't improve, players will just be inconvenienced for a slightly smaller amount of time. When one problem is dominating your entire staff, you don't simply hire more staff. You find a way to solve the problem.

The care package offer is a band-aid on a gushing wound when what you actually need is stitches. Yes, the band-aid will help a little, but it's not going to make the problem go away. You're still bleeding out. The path to healing is through shaking things up, and getting those authenticators in player hands. If incentives like the Corehound Pup aren't working, a more drastic decision needs to be made. I sincerely hope that the day I open my Cataclysm box, there is an authenticator inside waiting for me. I don't need it personally, being one of the earliest adopters, but it will be good to know Blizzard's support department will be on the road to healing and players won't need to worry about their guild bank disappearing like clockwork.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Blizzard, Account Security

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