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The tainted race to world first

Pop law abounds in The Lawbringer, your weekly dose of WoW, the law, video games and the MMO genre. Mathew McCurley takes you through the world running parallel to the games we love and enjoy, full of rules, regulations, pitfalls and traps.

Possibly the hottest story over the last few days has been the suspensions and bans Blizzard handed down after the rampant cheating through the Raid Finder, introduced with patch 4.3. Using a loot exploit, guilds were heading in to the Raid Finder in a premade group, killing bosses 20 to 30 times, and distributing the loot amongst raiders well in excess of what the game had hoped to allow for in both mechanics and spirit of the system.

Cheating and MMOs go together as well as peanut butter and chocolate. The top MMO players have been cheating, exploiting, and creatively using game mechanics since the dawn of the modern massively multiplayer, always butting heads up against developers. When, most notably, DREAM Paragon was caught using this Raid Finder loot exploit and apologized publicly, I didn't understand the shock and awe. Back in the EverQuest days, guilds exploited like crazy to get bosses down and gear up for encounters that had so many gates you'd think you were attending a Microsoft cosplay event.

I know, I totally promised a Lawbringer about licensing and Star Wars: The Old Republic and the WoW Law Enforcement Guide this week. Wait another week. I've banned you all from these topics for seven days.

Much like the universe we live in, the world we inhabit, and the reality we hopelessly cling to, it all started with an email:
Hey Mat, love the wowinsider podcast.

I really don't know if you'd be willing to do answer on this but I got a question of sorts

The race for world first in 4.3 has been tainted with the allegations of cheating by several of the top guilds across the world. Reading into the code of conduct of the ToU, you find that they possibly did violate Section C.

Now, several of these top guilds have been posting on their own websites several rationalizations regarding on why they did what they did regarding the exploit, but at the same time they also made comments regarding blizzard and their enforcement of their rules and also sounding somewhat unrepentant about their actions.

Do you believe that Blizz has been looking at these guilds' statements out there and will consider them when deciding what action they will ultimately take on people that exploited a bug?

Thanks.

Klaudandus of Feathermoon
As I said before, cheating and MMOs have gone hand-in-hand for years, as players have been finding, testing, and skirting the rules of online worlds in ways that rule skirting would get you in big trouble in everyday life. That's half the fun, right? Escape your world into a new one where the rules are more fluid. To Blizzard, the rules need to be a tenable bastion of conduct, complete with vague language to protect against the unknown.

A competitive atmosphere

The problem with an apology from a top world-first guild about cheating is that it is ultimately meaningless. The ramifications exist within a virtual world owned and operated by a company, not the governing body of men who believe in many rights that fundamentally exist for people. You cheat in a game, you get to deal with the ramifications of that cheating. It has become apparent over the years that top guild status in MMOs has many benefits, but there is never a true immunity to bans for breaking the rules.

So we all know that cheating is wrong and breaking the rules is wrong. The Raid Finder, from day one, was built to mimic the loot drops of the 10- and 25-man normal- and heroic-mode dungeons that they were emulating. Blizzard never intended or insinuated that loot was supposed to drop multiple times on multiple runs of the Dragon Soul raid through the Raid Finder. Never. When the bug was discovered and players took advantage of it, they were in direct conflict with the stated purposes of the Raid Finder's essence. One of the fundamental tenets of the Raid Finder was being broken.

World-first guilds live in a competitive world where tons of other people are vying for the top spot, taking down heroic bosses faster than others, fighting for gaming sponsorships, and proving to the world that they are the best of the best. Some world-first guilds even appear at BlizzCon and participate in the live raids during the convention. These guilds understand the game to such a high degree, you wonder why the cheating in Raid Finder was so widespread. Wouldn't a rational human, with the necessary understanding of gear tracking, punishment, and the essence of the rules, move away from cheating?

Here's what Blizzard had to say about the bans:

Bashiok discusses Raid Finder exploit bans/suspensions
Shortly after patch 4.3 was released, we became aware that some players were abusing an exploit to obtain loot from the same Raid Finder bosses multiple times in a single raid lockout period (one week). The Raid Finder loot mechanic is of course intended to only allow a person to roll on boss loot drops once per raid lockout period. The raid lockout mechanic has been a mainstay of the World of Warcraft rules since Onyxia and Molten Core, ensuring that no one can obtain loot from a boss more than once per lockout. Due to the nature of the exploit and the clear intent of those who abused it, they've been issued notices and given temporary suspensions from the game. We're also working to remove all Raid Finder items from those who used the exploit.


A justification for cheating?

A popular train of thought that has percolated through the community is that the competitive nature of the world-first paradigm justified the rampant Raid Finder cheating. The logic works thusly: If one raid team exploits the Raid Finder to such a gross degree, every other raid team is at a huge disadvantage. Therefore, if the Raid Finder nonsense is done by all guilds competing for the top spot, everyone is back on a level playing field.

What this notion fails to account for is the fact that while it would be nice to make the race for world first a level playing field, breaking rules for the supposed notion of fairness across the board is still breaking rules. It's not as if DREAM Paragon and Blood Legion both were using some boss strategy that they weren't telling anyone about that was fine by the rules, and the other guilds were crying foul because they weren't on the same page with the prevailing strategy. This was a deep abuse of an exploit clearly not intended to be a part of the game.

Justifications for cheating come about in every competitive sport and activity we do as humans. We're always looking to get ahead and create opportunities to use the cunning, planning, and deviousness we all can possess to get ahead. You can see why a raid team would want to abuse the Raid Finder -- it worked and it provided some pretty deep benefits, especially with the two- and four-piece bonuses from the new gear.

Promoting the competition

The rebuttal to "cheating is cheating" has been varied, but one specific line of reasoning caught my eye. Some say that because Blizzard fosters the competitive environment for a race to world first, they should be aware and be more lenient of those guilds who exploit and fight for the top spots. Besides inviting top guilds to BlizzCon, Blizzard itself does not sponsor any world-first top guilds or create competitions for world-first events.

I can't disagree more. Shouldn't those at the top vying for their just rewards be the excuse, the pun, paragons of us all? We deride baseball players for steroid usage, point fingers at the e-sports players who swap teams after their original team is ousted from competition, and scream imbalance in even the slightest PvP matchups. We should expect more from the champions, not less. It is also quite ironic that many players who are not playing at the top game derided the Raid Finder as "not real raiding" or as the easy mode, when the top guilds themselves saw and still see value in learning fights, gearing up, and experiencing the Raid Finder.

Why are the rules so vague?

Here's the relevant text from the Terms of Use:
C. Rules Related to Game Play. Game play is what World of Warcraft is all about, and Blizzard strictly enforces the rules that govern game play. Blizzard considers most conduct to be part of the Game, and not harassment, so player-killing the enemies of your race and/or alliance, including gravestone and/or corpse camping, is considered a part of the Game. Because the Game is a "player vs. player" game, you should always remember to protect yourself in areas where the members of hostile races can attack you, rather than contacting Blizzard's in-game customer service representatives for help when you have been killed by an enemy of your race. Nonetheless, certain acts go beyond what is "fair" and are considered serious violations of these Terms of Use. Those acts include, but are not necessarily limited to, the following:

(i) Using or exploiting errors in design, features which have not been documented, and/or "program bugs" to gain access that is otherwise not available, or to obtain a competitive advantage over other players;

(ii) Conduct prohibited by the EULA or elsewhere in these Terms of Use; and

(iii) Anything that Blizzard considers contrary to the "essence" of the Game.
The rules in any given MMO have to be vague because of the nature of an expansive and unknown world that has been created. While Blizzard may have created the World of Warcraft, it certainly cannot account for everything and anything that happens within the virtual walls of Warcraft time and space. Computers are computers. Coding is coding. People find ways around everything. Unintended mistakes happen. Without a comprehensive rule set and some room to grow, virtual worlds would crumble under the weight of insane specificity or lawless, godforsaken lands like Shadowbane. Don't get me wrong, I love a lawless, godforsaken land more than anyone -- but it isn't World of Warcraft.

This column is for entertainment only; if you need legal advice, contact a lawyer. For comments or general questions about law or for The Lawbringer, contact Mat at mat@wowinsider.com.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, The Lawbringer

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