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In Defense of Exploiting

December 7, 2011

This blog is a collaboration between Perculia and Hamlet. It does not represent the views of FTL or any other communities at-large.

Edit: There was a blue post that explained the specifics of LFR, which adds to the evidence that Blizzard handled this situation better than other occurrences in the past.

Also again to clarify–LFR and similar extreme exploits are not the focus of the post–it’s about more general issues and the wider definition of an exploit. 

Introduction

Few events are more irritating to the experience of a competitive or semi-competitive raider than the discovery of a potential exploit in the raid game. It immediately sparks debates within guilds and across the community over the most efficient and ethical way to proceed. We want to make the case, in short, that Blizzard should be disinclined to punish all but the most stark cases of abuse, and that guilds should have fewer qualms about taking advantage of unintended techniques that arise.

While this post was prompted by the recent LFR-related ban, it’s meant to be a general comment on how to approach these irregularities. We are not looking to rehash what many other bloggers have covered already about the recent situation. Instead, we are curious to analyze how raiding culture encourages creative problem-solving, leading to ambiguity over what truly counts as an exploit, and not just at a world-first progression level. In raiding, putative exploits create a tension between a competitive instinct to do anything necessary to succeed (cf. endless farming/wiping/class-stacking with alts) and a nebulous discomfort about whether this or that particular technique violates ill-defined community expectations.

When a debate over whether some technique is an “exploit” flares up, there is always one party that has clearly made a significant mistake: Blizzard. They’ve presented their players with a situation where the rules are unclear, anathema to any gaming endeavor. Setting the limits of what’s allowed and not allowed is Blizzard’s job (in fact, conceptually as creators of the game, it’s their entire job). The players are paying for the privilege of exploring a game space where the limits are thoughtfully crafted so as to create fun challenges. Whenever players start having to make their own decisions about what techniques are valid, they are doing Blizzard’s job. In this situation, Blizzard’s only duty is to rectify the deficiency in their product as painlessly as possible for their customers. We don’t expect Blizzard’s QA to always be perfect (or even close really)–this is merely about how to handle things when it’s not.

Suspending players from WoW in some unpredictable subset of cases is not a solution; at best, it’s a short-term action that does not free Blizzard from the onus of ensuring the rules and raiding parameters are clear and bug-free. The group of players who derive enjoyment from putting in great effort and doing what it takes to conquer new content have already been denied a clean and error-free experience for a tier.  (And by new content, we again aren’t thinking of LFR–if you follow our twitters, you know we have qualms about LFR existing in the first place. New content for raiders refers to appropriately challenging content for their skill level.) There are faulty player choices, but also errors on the part of Blizzard from failing to address well-publicized bugs to greyer areas that less-progressed raiders are relieved never got fixed.

Cheating

By far the largest confusing point we see in all discussion of these issues is the nearly universal assumption that making use of a debated exploit is an action that carries some kind of moral gravity. They cheated. They deserve punishment. They should have known better. We say: why? What exactly is the ethical transgression here?

People who play games have encountered the word “cheating” in two contexts. Cheating in a competitive endeavor, which we’re taught not to do since childhood, denies an opponent their sought-after experience of entering into a fair contest. This is universally condemned for good reason. Cheating in single-player computer games (the ubiquitous God mode) on the other hand, is a  matter of personal preference. People with a well-curated understanding of video games tend not to, because it undermines aspects of the game they appreciate, but nobody would consider it some sort of misdemeanor if they did. It seems clear to us that gaining marginal advantages in raid progression is much more akin to the latter.

“But,” you interject, “it affects the other groups trying to compete.” Somewhat. The only way a team is materially affected by the rankings is that higher placement can give increased exposure for recruitment. First of all, have some perspective: if you are (to use the parlance of our times) in the 99%, you are unlikely to have any measurable effect from this. But more importantly, raid progression ladders are a creation of the community, not a product provided and supported by Blizzard. As we discuss soon, proper resolution of these situations is best done by the community. If the only actual benefit and harm related to an exploit takes place in third-party ranking sites, not even in the actual game, then those sites are best equipped to respond.

To use an well-known example from a recent tier, since the current scenario isn’t finished playing out: Atramedes was subject to variety of unintended strategies before falling into his final form. Indeed (despite the protestations of our friends in various high-end guilds), there was no evidence of a “legit” kill until he was nerfed heavily after many weeks, while hundreds of teams with no other measurable accomplishments mysteriously logged kills on the ranking sites before then. Let’s compare multiple ways this could have played out:

1) The “Punishment” model: Knowing there was a threat of punishment, but unsure whether it would be used here, top guilds would have heated internal debates over whether to kill him and risk sanction, or fall behind. Everyone watches the charade on rankings sites as some groups claim the extra kill and others don’t. Blizzard figures out how to detect who killed him by using extra gongs, or tanking him outside the room, or any of the other various tricks discovered (assume this is possible for purposes of discussion), and gives them a suspension. Ranking sites try to figure out which kills to remove. Guilds who are suspended are angry, for all the reasons described here. Guilds who aren’t now move up the rankings while some of their competition is offline–hard to say this is a fulfilling “victory.” In short: nobody is happy.

2) What actually happened: Nothing particularly dramatic. Many guilds came out of nowhere with a fake “top x” rank that meant nothing meaningful, as Atramedes in turn was counted as a legitimate encounter on all ranking sites. Guilds that put off the encounter were hurt by rankings, while guilds that got a false rankings boost soon saw their enterprising guild-hopping recruits leave when the numbers settled down.

As there were multiple tier 11 encounters that had unintended strategies (atonement in its original state on Halfus, tanks kiting constructs across BWD on Magmaw, players RP-walking on Nefarian), the raiding community was not particularly worried that killing Atramedes in various unintended forms would lead to severe consequences. But in general, adding the threat of punishment to the mix only heightens the uncomfortable tension when deciding to take advantage of a bugged encounter or not. You’re choosing between passing up an opportunity, and being suspended. At least without the punishment, it is up to individual teams what course of action they feel best comports with their goals in this game.

3) What we propose (the community handles it): Those who feel like killing Atramedes do so. Soon knowledge of the fight’s problems is well-known, and it’s accepted that killing him represents no accomplishment. Ranking sites choose a solution reflecting the common understanding (for example, by simply making him worth 0 points to everyone). Super-competitive guilds can kill him for their 3 pieces of loot, those who wish to “save” the fight for when it’s fixed are free to do so at no detriment. The result reflects the reality of the situation: 1 of the 13 encounters is wasted for progression purposes because Blizzard put it live in broken form.

We believe the latter is better for everyone involved. It’s not perfect, but given that the mistake was already made by Blizzard (putting faulty content live), the situation is mostly salvaged.

But in order to make the second option work, the raiding community would need to become more openly analytical of their progression. Currently, the raiding community tries to find unintended efficient ways to progress–but on the sly, disguised as “cleverness.” Time and time again, someone will post a recruitment add referencing top kills, later revealed to be the product of an unintended encounter. And even when encounters are not specifically cheesed–the community likes to cut corners and obfuscate the facts. A 13/13 Tier 11 guild could be farming all encounters every week, skipping boss, never repeating anything, or achieving Al’akir hardmode on 10. And all that–on a personal level–is fine. Raiding is a business and there’s a dwindling number of interested and qualified players able to put in the time commitment. You need to do what it takes to keep your guild afloat–whether it’s taking a week off to skip an encounter or downsize to 10s to secure a realm first Heroic Rag. You’re simply trying to operate within the constraints and unintended challenges Blizzard has set up.

When interacting in the general community, people like to feel that they are operating under the punishment/prestige binary–that they’re not in a top-world guild, so the temptation to exploit or find clever ways of completing encounters doesn’t apply to their realm of raiding. That’s not true. By constantly gloating over mid-level ranks on encounters like Atramedes, no progress will be achieved. A rank is what the community makes of it. If the community would critically view the progression system they’ve invented in the first place, then accomplishments would be weighed accurately. And if it turns out a rank is particularly hollow, then it would be stripped of meaning instead of falsely praised.

Fun

We want to just flag one other reason, which you may not have thought of, to go and do things that are arguable exploits: it’s fun. You may remember a theme in our last essay about how the little chinks in a game’s smooth perfection that can give it a lot of added life. People who play games a lot know the feeling of reading about a hilarious bug in their favorite game and simply wanting to go check it out (Skyrim players: don’t you dare try to deny it). Players in vanilla liked wall-jumping into Old Hyjal, the dancing troll village, and the Ironforge airport, even though they were technically off-limits, because the scenery was quirky and completely different from anything else in game (down to the cute “under construction” signs in Hyjal). There were safe spots from which to dps Heigen and Prince Malchezzar, as well as unintended bizarre strats like mindcontrolling UBRS trash to provide entire raids with fire resist debuffs on Ragnaros, or enslaving an imp from the Edge of Madness to nuke Jindo’s adds in old Zul’Gurub. While these additions trivialized the encounter, they were also novel, weird, and amusing to discover. For each of the above bosses, killing them once or twice the unintended way is a memory of WoW that adds some spice to our memory of killing them 50 times each the normal way.

To be clear, no part of this essay is arguing that Blizzard shouldn’t fix errors. The sole issue is whether players should get punishments (e.g. suspensions) that go beyond merely rectifying bugs. Everyone has been talking about last week’s heirloom transmogrification bug–you could send heirlooms to your main, transmogrify them into elite tier, and mail them to another character. Transmogrification has strict requirements–players can only transmogrify gear they currently own on a specific toon, but for one week, transmog fans got to run around with their low-level alts decked like level 85 raiders. Blizzard fixed this, but people got to have unintended fun in the interim–and nobody suggested they should be punished for it.

Conclusion

All of this said, we’re not proposing some kind of anarchy where players have free rein to whatever they want. When Overrated was banned for hacking the AQ environment models, we were right on-board with that. And we don’t purport to give a clear rule in this one article on what should be punished as an exploit and what shouldn’t–just to encourage far more leeway in situations where Blizzard has failed to provide clear guidance. The ambiguity in the boundary of what’s okay and what’s not is the whole point, in fact. People hardly ever agree on whether a particular irregular behavior was an exploit or not. And for that reason, selectively applied post-hoc punishments are very unlikely to produce satisfying results.

One simple guideline would be that anything Blizzard has publicly commented on is fair game. Back at Chromaggus, they were clear that meleeing a mob which can’t melee you back due to geometry is never correct. At Yogg-Saron, they were clear that evading adds so they attacked nobody during an encounter was also incorrect. All players now have a clear warning going forward that these activities will never be acceptable, and there’s no ambiguity as to whether they will be punished. It’s unclear why Blizzard couldn’t do this more often. [Edit: In the case of LFR, they publicly "ruled against" the exploit as soon as it became well-known, and those who continued to ignore it faced consequences. Statements like this leave no justifiable reason for people to continue doing it, and no grounds for complaint when they get suspended. But there are many other situations, both large and small, that have gone unchecked.]

There’s a very wide sliding scale between acceptable and abusive behavior, and the exploits people argue about always fall in that grey middle. Players will have quite different preferences as to how far along the scale to go, to maximize their enjoyment of the game. Even we don’t propose any particular boundary line that we feel is more correct than any other. We merely say that everyone shouldn’t be so quick to condemn players for how they handle situations that are by their nature unideal. The community at large is free to choose how impressed or nonplussed to be with anyone’s raiding accomplishments. So analyze the full situation, play how you want, and let others do the same. There’s a whole world of game mechanics awaiting our creative use.

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26 Comments leave one →
  1. December 7, 2011 9:46 am

    Maybe Blizzard could have posted earlier about the LFR exploit but, to a large degree, they already had.

    First, the raid lockout system and why it exists has been a part of this game for many years.

    Second, the loot mechanics and their intentions for LFR were openly discussed since shortly after announcing the feature before it appeared in beta.

    No one who’s raiding in a world 100 (even 1000) environment would be unaware of these previous statements from Blizzard. The grenade/platform exploit on the Lich King fight is a trivial creative use of game mechanics in comparison.

  2. December 7, 2011 9:50 am

    It’s a good question why Blizzard doesn’t come out and issue rulings. As soon as they heard about the LFR exploit happening, what would it have harmed to issue a statement saying “don’t do this?” Did they want to catch more people doing it? Were they unsure that it was happening?

    I think that there’s an institutional bias against setting boundaries within Blizzard. When they do, the boundaries that get set are often overly restrictive and unenforcable. Terrain exploits in PvP are a good example of this kind of rule setting – they write a rule that applies to some situations, and then apply it to others where it makes very little sense in context. The rules can go against the intent of the designers, and players are left more confused than before. So Blizzard, by in large, adopts a policy of silence.

    And then there’s this:

    The community at large is free choose how impressed or nonplussed to be with anyone’s raiding accomplishments. So analyze the full situation, play how you want, and let others do the same. There’s a whole world of game mechanics awaiting our creative use.

    And I couldn’t agree more.

    Nice post, you two.

  3. Esoth permalink
    December 7, 2011 10:56 am

    I think you have to take a look at each individual case and trying to generalize it is a misstep. In this latest incarnation, I’m seeing a lot of people defend the top end guilds LFR exploit by clamoring about how the lines aren’t clear in these cases. I just flat out disagree with that premise. In this LFR one, Blizzard says you can’t get loot off of a boss you killed earlier that week. Armory streams showed people getting the Siege achievement (kill each boss) and then later getting loot from those bosses. There’s no gray line there, that’s just blatant exploitation.

    I find the Skyrim comparisons inappropriate as well (ok this is more on Hamlet’s #ejb post). That’s a single player game so it is very much up to the individual to decide how to proceed. In WoW the guidelines are very much defined by the culture of the community, and to some extent by the actions of Blizzard. This illusion that we can all play as we want with regards to the rules, with little consequence on the community as a whole, is something I find frankly unrealistic.

    I realize your solution is to have the community be the ones to handle the cheats here because of what I said in the previous paragraph. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree here; I think Blizzard has a reasonable interest in making sure their product is good by not allowing exploits. In the Atramedes example, they failed pretty hard because they did not make it clear whether that strat was valid or whether it would be punished. We agree on that, I think. But my solution is to have Blizzard make it clear quickly if it’s acceptable or not, not for the community to play a guessing game or devolve into saying anything goes.

    Finally, I think it is important to make a distinction between recreating known bugs that do silly, meaningless things that are fun and recreating known bugs that give you more concrete rewards. I don’t really care if you wall climb something you weren’t supposed to get over so that you see a bit of undeveloped terrain. I do care if you go over there to get some loot you clearly weren’t supposed to get or you get some pvp advantage.

    But I do agree, as I think we all do, that Blizzard can make it more clear where the boundaries are. I think they took a step in the right direction this time.

  4. December 7, 2011 11:10 am

    wall-jumping into Old Hyjal
    I’m offending my method wasn’t listed.

    Good post for the most part. I don’t understand the disconnect that many claim is ‘obvious’. How is it ‘obvious’ that I’m abusing a mechanic? How do I not know that it’s the gimmick that I’m supposed to uncover? It’s a subjective definition, even by common consensus.
    Lastly, people who ‘abuse’ the mechanics (arbitrarily defined) have done nothing more than provide feedback to the programmers where a bug exists. In a free market society, this is met with a bonus, not a ban.

  5. December 7, 2011 11:42 am

    I’m glad someone wrote up a defense to exploiting, though I think it loses speed in light of the LFR bans. The LFR exploit was not an easy, gray exploit. It involved a series of actions that had to be followed by all 25 people, and these actions aren’t necessarily something that could be accidentally fallen upon (unless there were multiple ways of performing the exploit; the way my guild did it was not easy). There are no “oops, did that just happen? is that allowed?” moments with the LFR exploit, and I think that’s what removes it from the gray area of game morality. My guild’s progress was ravaged by this exploit, our hopes of US top 10 dashed, and I still support the punishment. This was breaking some obvious, hard-set rules.

    However, there are many instances of gray exploiting that fall under your argument. I don’t agree with it in many cases, but I can see where the community could take control of how it handles exploits, especially when the exploit is not obviously cheating.

  6. Theck permalink
    December 7, 2011 12:24 pm

    I think there are some good points in this post, but the primary conclusion seems faulty. Quoting you:

    “If they wanted, they could have publicly “ruled against” the recent LFR exploit as soon as it became well-known. Such a statement would have left no justifiable reason for people to continue doing it, and no grounds for complaint when they got suspended.”

    As others have pointed out already, anybody whose been raiding for any reasonable length of time already knows that looting a boss more than once a week is off-limits. It’s implicit in the loot system, explicit in blue comments, and was a bannable offense as early as MC (back when guilds would “cascade” instances to clear MC every night of the week).

    In other words, Blizzard has been “ruling against” this particular exploit since the beginning of WoW. There was no question that it was unacceptable behavior. The only question was whether Blizzard would actually do something about it, because they’ve been relatively lax on punishing guilds this expansion. In that sense, Blizzard is definitely at fault; not for failing to communicate, but for failing to act and be more vocal about potential exploits as they occur.

    That said, it’s not fair to compare encounter-based exploits (the ones that straddle the line of “creative use of game mechanics”) to something that’s clearly unintended based on the rules of the system (this exploit). The error that many guilds made was that they equated the two as similar degrees of severity, which is simply not the case.

  7. Lani permalink*
    December 7, 2011 12:27 pm

    MOD NOTE: The authors of the post have edited it clarifying that they now realize there was a blue post about the LFR exploit as well as restating (yet again) that the LFR issue is not the central thesis of the post in general. Discussion of the LFR issue is relevant, but please keep that discussion within the context of the post. Any other comments that exist solely to say to complain about LFR without acknowledging how it represents an extreme example of the topic will be deleted.

  8. December 7, 2011 1:04 pm

    Great post. I love, love, love this blog. The community needs more like this- detailed looks at interesting & potentially divisive topics.

    That said, while I totally agree with your premise, I could not disagree more with several of your conclusions.

    There is no universe or grey area in which getting unlimited amounts of loot from a single raid lockout has ever been acceptable in WOW. It’s not like these rules weren’t clear — they have always been crystal, crystal clear. Do the developers really need to post to tell us this? To lay down the law about loot? Of course they don’t; they already have told us.

    I absolutely agree that Blizz was at fault.

    The mistake that Blizzard made here, however, was never about the rules. The rules were clear. The mistake they’ve made for quite some time, and it’s a big one, was consistant enforcement.

    Basically, those people and guilds that considered the exploit did a bit of risk assessment. The exploit was a risk, but not taking advantage of it was a risk, too. And I absolutely, positively sympathize with the people who had to make that decision. What those top guilds are arguing is that they took this risk, they HAD to take it, and they judged the risk acceptable.

    That’s fine- I agree that I wish they’d never had to make that decision in the first place; it must have sucked. I would not have wanted to be someone who made either one of those calls, to exploit or not to exploit, when it was unclear what was going to result. There was no good answer to that question, just a crappy solution and a morally wrong one, and frankly everyone in the raiding community lost with this bug.

    But I certainly don’t accept an argument that puts this in the grey area or blames Blizzard for not telling us that we’re not supposed to get loot more than once off a boss. I certainly didn’t need a public service announcement to tell me how loot works.

    Frankly I think it undermines what we should take from all this mess to argue that the problem was in “ambiguity”. It’s absolutely not; the problem was always enforcement. The rules are completely and entirely unambiguous on this point. The question was whether or not the risk of exploiting was worth the punishment– and whether there would be punishment at all. THAT is where Blizz failed, and hopefully it’s where they will succeed in the future.

    edit: To be fair, I don’t mention in here that I actually agree with quite a bit of what you say! I think that had you written this post after the Atramedes debacle (or the Nef druid thing, as well) I would have agreed completely. There are a lot of situations where Blizz could afford to be more clear with the rules.

    I just disagree with its relevance to the loot exploit; the rules weren’t ever ambiguous in this case.

  9. Hamlet permalink
    December 7, 2011 3:13 pm

    Especially in light of our later correction that a Blizzard poster did comment on the LFR issue 5 days ago, we’re more inclined to agree that suspensions were fine here. This post would probably have been better timed in the wake of a more typical boss exploit situation. We were mainly inspired to write it as a reaction to all the sweeping commentary on exploits that was flying around. People are quite quick to judge whenever there’s a notorious incident resulting in raid bans, and I always think “let he who is without sin . . .”

    That said, I just want to note how much of this still applies even in this case. It is obvious, as people say, that looting a boss multiple times in a week was unintended. “Unintended” is, however, an almost uselessly weak standard (if you want to avoid ever doing anything unintended, you can barely play this game at all). As far as exploits that come along allowing multiple clears in a week, there have been many (most prominent were in in MC, AQ, and ToC). There’s been no consistent treatment. So putting myself in the shoes of these raid leaders, even if I think it’s clear this is an exploit–I don’t know if other raid leaders will think so, if they’ll choose to do it, if they’ll be punished, or more importantly if I’ll be punished if I do it. And that painful ambiguity, resting the success of your raid tier on a high-stakes game of chicken, remains regardless of whether you think an exploit is in the grey area or not.

    So here Blizzard did something good by posting. Before that, in no way was this issue some kind of foregone conclusion based on past practice. In general, punishments are inconsistent and clear public warnings are rare. And even in this case, few people seemed to know about that short blue post (nobody mentioned it in the twitter discussion over the past few days or in early replies to this post). So while is the behavior we want to see more of, our underlying conclusions are unchanged.

  10. deja permalink
    December 7, 2011 3:36 pm

    The rules were clear They did not stop being “the rules” because of inconsistency of enforcement. Go ahead and try using that excuse next time you get a parking ticket. “Your honor, I’ve been parking there for the last three months and I’ve never gotten a ticket. Yes, I saw the sign but nothing ever happened before…” Permanent bans and guild dissolutions should have been handed down. They sure as hell would have been if it had been any “normal” players or guilds.

  11. Simca permalink
    December 8, 2011 10:38 am

    “Permanent bans and guild dissolutions should have been handed down. They sure as hell would have been if it had been any “normal” players or guilds.”

    I always find these comments funny. When was the last time “normal” players or guilds got a guild dissolution (hint: never) or a permanent ban for exploiting in-game (never that I know of).

  12. troutrooper permalink
    December 8, 2011 3:06 pm

    The saddest aspect of this whole debate is that so many players feel Blizzard’s mistake absolves them of all responsibility. It’s still grand theft auto if someone drives off with my car if I accidentally leave my keys in it. So why do players believe themselves blameless when they exploit bugs? If you dont get caught, congratulations. If you do, suck it up and accept your punishment.

    “Whenever players start having to make their own decisions about what techniques are valid, they are doing Blizzard’s job.” Rather insulting. Are players so ethically deficient and mentally impaired that we need Blizzard to make all our moral decisions for us? Whatever happened to restraint? Discretion? Erring on the side of caution? Perhaps Blizzard does need to make our moral decisions for us since we seem incapable to being anything other than amoral assholes when presented with situations such as this.

  13. anon permalink
    December 9, 2011 11:27 am

    wow shucking the blame on blizz? The rules are very clear and have been spelled out repeatedly for YEARS. These guilds used a convoluted method to circumvent those rules. They broke the terms of service which they agreed to.

    I for one will be sending steelseries a letter condemning them for sponsoring guild that break game rules

  14. Hamlet permalink
    December 9, 2011 12:06 pm

    Let me be a little more specific in response to many comments I’m seeing. We want to challenge the implicit baked-in analogy everyone has whereby the intended game rules are the criminal law, exploiters are felons, and Blizzard is the police. To me, most of what I’m seeing is argument purely by metaphor: “is it okay to [crime] if you won’t get caught?”, etc. That’s part of what inspired this piece.

    I’m not going to get into a whole thing on the social contract here, but to me, rules of ethics are generally related to the extent to which certain behavior can harm others. People often try to propagate moral guidelines based on other things entirely (e.g. religion). Suffice it to say, I don’t feel some kind of ethical obligation to play any game in a way that someone over at Blizzard expected me to. Not only are they not fellow players, but they’re people I’m paying for the privilege of playing. I can enjoy the game how I want, up to the point where I might interfere with someone else’s ability to do the same. Killing an extra boss in WoW doesn’t interfere with any reasonable expectation that fellow players might have.

    The only colorable complaint anyone ever cites is that, if I kill a boss using an unintended method and someone else doesn’t, third-party website like wowprogress might not evaluate our relative accomplishments in a way that pleases everybody. I don’t see why that’s my responsibility, or Blizzard’s.

  15. Fel permalink
    December 9, 2011 12:47 pm

    I agree that Blizzard has failed on policing their policy at points, which makes some “creative use of game mechanics” possible – and not really an issue. However, I agree completely with troutrooper and others here in that the lfr incident had no question of cheating at all. Just because the code is there doesn’t make it right. Suck it up and play right. They know how raiding works.

  16. Eric M permalink
    December 10, 2011 8:12 pm

    I’d like to bring up one aspect to this that you’re shamefully overlooking: That Blizzard is at fault for not finding these exploits prior to the content going live. Speaking as someone who does QA for multiplayer games, I think I can provide some unique insight into this.

    Essentially, that argument is based on the assumption that it is possible for Blizzard, if they put enough effort into it, to catch any and all systemic exploits. And, well, that assumption is a load of Nagrand Cherries. There’s two major problems with that assumption.

    1: That a test environment is the same as a live environment. While I can’t say for certain what Blizz’s test environment is like, I can make some educated guesses: Its vastly smaller in scale, it rests on weaker hardware than what’s on Live, and supports considerably fewer players.

    It may be that Blizzard’s QA did try to get it to break in the manner you’re describing, but it didn’t break like that on their computers. Likely not in this specific case, but this DOES apply to other exploits that have been found in the past, not to mention a large number of bugs.

    2: Here’s the big one: QA Testing does not, and cannot, find every single issue that will plague a game. It can’t find a lot of them, and it certainly won’t find most exploits that come about.

    There’s a couple reasons for this. For one, even if a QA team has 100 members on it, a very large group and probably more than Blizzard uses for WoW, and tests the game for 60 hours a week for 20 weeks straight? That’s, oh, 120,000 man-hours of testing. Sounds like a lot, but if only 1.2 million of WoW’s 9 million subscribers log on on the first day the content is open, play the game for 1 hour? They’ve poked the game by an order of magnitude longer than the QA team.

    Also, testers approach games different than players do. Sometimes you have to check it for exploitable functionality, true, but usually you’re looking for map holes, see if monsters are pathing right, making sure spell functionality is still working, ensure that all the options in the menu works…

    In short, if you think QA can even catch half of the exploits, especially in a massive game like WoW? You’re out of your mind. Doubly true when there’s new functionality, because that means that there’s no testing plan, no set list of things to look for breaking.

    Keep that in mind when you find an exploitable flaw. As the saying goes “Just because I left a hammer lying around does not give you the right to smash people’s faces in with it.”

  17. Lani permalink*
    December 10, 2011 10:40 pm

    Eric I’m letting your comment through because you clearly spent some time writing it out, but next time you do that, you might want to make sure that you’re actually responding to something the authors didn’t, in fact, address. In this case, you seemed to have missed the final sentence of the third paragraph, which is:

    “We don’t expect Blizzard’s QA to always be perfect (or even close really)–this is merely about how to handle things when it’s not.”

    They clearly state they realize that catching every bug is, essentially, impossible. That being said, finding bugs is still the job of those in QA. Missing a few doesn’t mean QA isn’t doing their jobs, but it does mean that a flawed product was released to the public, regardless.

  18. Eric M permalink
    December 11, 2011 12:09 am

    @Lani: Oof. My bad. I missed that in my first read of it (…it is a fairly long piece). That said, if I might respond to that aspect of it:

    It really does need to be stressed how monumental a task QA has in ensuring a product is bug-free, or at least exploit-free, and the worst part is you can never be sure. All you can say is “Well, we haven’t found any and we’ve checked here and here and here and we’re out of ideas.”

    The problem is that so few people realize that. The assumption being made is that “If it exists in the game then it must be intended”, even when it makes no sense (see the arguments revolving around the LFR bug), and then being outraged when they are punished for something that, frankly speaking, was clearly not intended.

    Actually, what Blizzard should do is look to the NHL. This year, when a player gets suspended, the NHL describes, in excruciating detail, what the player did wrong, why they were suspended, how long they were suspended for and what factored into the decision, citing precedent and specific rules of the game.

    It’d at least weather a bit of the return fire and set clear precedents going forward.

  19. December 13, 2011 3:08 pm

    This is an interesting post but with the proximity of the issue being brought up with the LFR exploit, its hard not to concentrate on that topic.

    I might remember this wrong, but I do think that blizzard is partially responsible for leaving the carrot for people there. I don’t think it was a QA issue because the bug was brought up when the build was on the PTR. I think a good technical solutions was not implemented. In the end, everyone that plays WoW knows that 1 boss should only give you loot once per lockout. I was excited to see Blizzard maybe reducing the time span between lookouts for raids, now I am not so sure they will at least here in the US.

    I personally see most exploits as cheating. Like having a fishing bot that would save people time and make it easier to have fish for your raid. It is just not something that I am willing to do with my account. Like I never used an aimbot playing FPS. Like your article illustrated It is a personal choice.

    I think the whole argument centers around what is intended by the developer and what is behavior that they did not intend. I lean more towards the konami code side of things than the game genie or “god” mode. They put it there to be used. Ranking aside in the MMO world, getting loot more than once a week or using an Aim bot is not an intended feature.

    Playing contra with 30 lives is all for my personal enjoyment and the “fun” aspect. Finding a bug in a game is fun, like finding the lost levels in super mario or getting 100 lives. Resetting a raid and getting everyone a 4 piece set bonus does not sound like a “fun” exploit to discover, it is simply a way to get geared on the race to number 1. It has nothing to do with fun and everything to do with cheating. The way it affects me is that it makes the top 1% raider seem like a group of people that will do whatever it takes to win (even if it includes cheating.) 20 boomkins in a raid is creative thinking and fun, even funny… getting everyone in their guild 4 set bonus is plain cheating. They knew it was wrong, they knew it was cheating but since others did it too, then they “went the whatever it takes” route. Spending weeks with no sleep raiding to get to number 1 made me respect that 1%… cheating makes them seem less talented and more worried about the title (or ranking) than actually earning it.

  20. Ben Sanders permalink
    December 17, 2011 2:30 pm

    “There is no universe or grey area in which getting unlimited amounts of loot from a single raid lockout has ever been acceptable in WOW.”

    Except, the dungeon finder lets you get loot from dungeons you are allready saved to. And so did the raid finder. Maybe the automated finder systems are different to the normal systems…

  21. Lani permalink*
    December 20, 2011 3:54 pm

    @Eric M “It really does need to be stressed how monumental a task QA has in ensuring a product is bug-free, or at least exploit-free, and the worst part is you can never be sure. All you can say is “Well, we haven’t found any and we’ve checked here and here and here and we’re out of ideas.”

    Oh, absolutely, I agree! My brother is a computer programmer, and my training is in a field that demands extreme attention to detail as well (research science) so I do appreciate the huge amount of effort required from QA and other quality control professionals. Especially with a code base as large as WoW’s it is pretty much impossible to ensure a flawless product. But I do think that feeds into the whole discussion stated in the post–knowing that flaws exist, players are going to exploit those flaws. Do I personally enjoy exploits? No; but then again I have never raided (or been interested in raiding) at the level where these exploits make a difference.

    In that sense, I will admit to a certain fascination that the player base in general sets such store by exploits and rankings. I am more understanding of a top world-ranked guild being up in arms over exploits; those things can legitimately affect their standing and potentially things like sponsorships–for some truly hardcore players, their livelihoods may be at stake. For the rest of us? Not so much. I personally really resonated with the point in Perculia and Hamlet’s article that rankings and reputations are aspects of the game that are completely driven by the community–therefore how much responsibility does Blizzard really have with regards to enforcing those community boundaries? The idea that Blizzard is obligated to police a system that we, as players, invented does strike me as somewhat odd, now that it’s been pointed out to me. Just something that makes me think, really.

  22. Owledge permalink
    February 24, 2012 5:33 pm

    Immaturity is fear

    I tend to follow the example of a great psychological idea and look at companies like you would look at a person. And I just realized that so-called immaturity (being not the same as childishness), the kind that is so abundant in the WoW player community, could directly translate into a fearful psyche.

    Blizzard often acts immature, and one recurring theme that I see a lot in WoW players and Blizzard alike is the unwillingness to take responsibility for your own actions – something considered to be a mature thing. (Please bear with me.) Blizzard (in this case meaning gamemasters enacting policies) has no problem helping players who messed up in some way. Then they are the noble knight in the shiny armor helping the poor fellas. But whenever there’s a problem which origin lies with Blizzard’s actions, expect an immature response. And that’s why this happens: Blizzard is a company in a competitive market, where there’s constant fear that if you are not the best, you might be devastated by a competitor. It’s like a race, fighting for survival. This creates scarcity (as fear so often does) which causes quality to be sub-optimum. Thus, exploitable gameplay features might occur. And then Blizzard is afraid that the basis for their game – a ruleset that applies for everybody in the same way – is threatened. The mature way to deal with that would be to stay cool and clarify things and maybe even congratulate the players for their creativity – which is something that should be cherished. Instead, threats are put up, because players were doing things that often definitely aren’t obviously an exploit, or at least they might not cause any harm to the game experience. Threats are the course of action of a fearful entity. Blizzard will tend to reject responsibility for the existence of exploits because the competitive market can always conveniently be blamed for resource constraints leading to those quality issues. Of course there is a tendency to blame external factors when they are perceived as a threat. But it’s really a free choice, or at least it is unless you are ignorant of how things like ‘the market’ works, which would be naive for a company.

    So that’s it: People, groups, companies, all kinds of entities, go crazy because they are afraid. They haven’t conquered their fears, they are immature. And you cannot expect Blizzard to act a lot more mature when they are ‘playing a game’ that is immature at its core, because it is about competition and not cooperation. That translates into game design, and as you wrote in an earlier essay, Blizzard is emphasizing and encouraging negative character attributes instead of positive ones. That, too, is the forseeable course of action of a fearful market competitor.

    Best example of mentioned tendencies: the blame-game that so often ensues in LFD groups because players are immature: they are given a hero-illusion by Blizzard, massively boosting the ego of great numbers of adolescents (or older immature people). Those then confuse skill with item level, and then they play on an alt and think it’s their skill, so they don’t need better gear, they can just rush through the dungeon like a wild horde, so when they wipe, OF COURSE it can’t be them, someone else is to blame.

    And to go all the way here: That is why life can be considered a spiritual journey: It is about conquering your fears. That profound duality in Christian religion that is often summed up with ‘God vs. Satan’, that is a metaphor for love vs. fear. Observe the results of loving and of fearful actions and this becomes obvious.
    But it’s also immature to be in denial, and there’s a lot of that in the WoW community, and that’s why it’s often futile to point out even the most obvious things to players. People growing up in an immature social environment will equal self-reflection, pondering on own faults, to an admission of failure, which is broadly stigmatized in society.

    And I don’t make myself llusions about Blizzard gradually maturing, growing up, because every day their very existence depends on becoming more skillful in a game that is profoundly immature.

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