Anyone who's been part of any video game community knows that every once in a while people get banned and immediately protest that they were just playing the game normally. Sometimes they're lying, sometimes they're just lying to themselves ("I was banned because I was good, so good I went off the charts"). Many times it's simply a grey area as in the recent case of the graveyard campers in SWTOR's Ilum battlefield planet. A patch switch reward to kills, the population between sides is fubar, so Empire camped and chain killed all the Republic players non-stop at the graveyards. This resulted in several players getting banned after farming helpless respawners for hours.
I'd now like to draw your attention to the strange case of Marcko, the blogger behind Just My Two Copper and the Diablo 3 Gold Guide Blog, who has just got banned for, in his opinion, being too good at (legally) farming gold.
Of course we haven't heard Blizzard's side and it's useful to have a degree of scepticism but let's look at the points Marcko raises.
1) he was farming a LOT of gold. 6-10k gold per hour, peaking at 11.25k is extraordinary for a level 13 character. He managed to get gear with 145% gold find on and was playing a Wizard which may well be the fastest killing class at 13.
2) I don't think he's a cheat. He's a well-established blogger who writes openly about his gameplay and has done for years. It beggars belief to imagine he just dupes all his gold and then makes up detailed and workable strats for all sorts of market niches (for example farming for out of date enchanting mats from obsolete instances). The only way you could know about all those market niches really is if that's how you play.
3) If you look at the email he received from Blizzard it warns him to give customer service a call or put in a ticket BEFORE he does anything that might be construed as exploitative. That implies he was banned for something that has been contrued as exploitative. If he'd been banned for using 3rd party software the rep wouldn't have mentioned that.
This then calls into question something quite fundamental to online games. Online games have always been to some extent achiever driven. Sure pre-Trammel UO had lots of killers but they were also achievers, no one would have minded them if they hadn't been both bloodthirsty and unbeatable. In EQ achievers were the top players - they got to kill the dragon and no one else did because the raid bosses spawned in the world and were gone for quite a while when killed. In WoW world first kills have always fascinated a large part of the player base and have drawn in sponsorships and fan sites despite quite commonly being based on borderline or overt exploits. Ensidia's world first Algalon kill has over 2 million views on Youtube. Even many normal WoW boss kills rely on arguably exploitative techniques. The standard way to kill Drakkisath in UBRS in Vanilla WoW was for a Hunter to kite the boss away while the other players killed his 2 bodyguards. Surely that's not how the encounter was intended.
So with Marcko's ban, the ban of some of the Ilum exploiters and earlier similar bans for over-achievers we may be moving into an area of uncertainty that will undermine our hobby, at least for achiever types. There are two things that are very bad about this.
1) Players should be able to just play, make progress, optimise and play more. Without worrying about whether they're so good that they risk getting banned. Success shouldn't be punishable.
2) It's lazy development. "Hey dudes, some guy's making 10k an hour" "Jeez dude, it's five o'clock on a Friday, just ban him and let's get a beer." Lazy.
So could Blizzard have reasonably expected it? Absolutely. This was a playstyle even in Diablo 2 where gold was worthless.
The most gold find possible, in v1.10+, is 3890%. (Only reachable by
using D2C magical and rare items with GF amounts that can't be found in
later patches.) That's almost 40x the gold you would get with 0% gold
find. At that level a monster that usually dropped 500 gold would drop
Source. the most popular Diablo wiki. This has existed there for over 10 years without anyone thinking it's cheating.
What will happen when D3 goes Live? Well, if you read this blog or Marcko's you'll have been warned not to stack gold find in the first couple of weeks. It does look like they may ban people for, in the words of their customer service rep, "anything that might be construed as exploitative." You're probably ok with magic find as the drops are rare. Did you find 4 legendaries this evening because of your exploitative 145% magic find or because you just got lucky? It's too small a sample size.
One of the aspects of this I find most disappointing is what it says about the modern video game beta. A beta should be about finding problems. A beta team should be DELIGHTED if someone says "if I jump in a weird hopscotch way on the roof of this building it crashes the server" because the point is to fix that shit before you go live. Instead one can't help feeling that the Diablo 3 devs have all been re-assigned to new projects and beta is being run by the marketing team. Because if there are any genuine developers still working on the game they were asleep at the wheel on this one.