Friday, 27 January 2012

Diablo 3: achievers beware!

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all his gold and then makes up detailed and workable strats for all sorts of market niches (for example farming for out of date enchanting mats from obsolete instances).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 19,850 gold. 
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.


  1. So he's in the beta, he's found a (probably legal) way to possibly break the game's economy and they asked him to let them know what it was (presumably so they could change it before the game goes live) and ... he throws a fit.

    No, actually beta is supposed to be so that you can report stuff they need to know. Not so you can hone your super-secret methods to do stuff. I'm not unsympathetic but you don't refuse to tell the devs stuff you have done during beta if they ask. You just don't.

  2. It's pretty stupid of Blizzard though.

    Even in the worst case, he found some technique that is clearly considered an exploit, and doesn't share it with Blizzard. That's kind of against the spirit of a beta then, because your end of the bargain is to report obvious errors in the workings of the system.

    On the other hand, he sure seems to hold up the other end of the bargain, that is, provide interesting data by playing "out of the box". Blizzard should have a good idea of how to track what he's doing and fix the perceived problems regardless. Chances are, if they let him do his thing, he'll find more problems that they can fix before the game goes live, just by monitoring him now that they have an idea of what he's up to. Someone like him is probably worth at least 500 people that log on every now and then to play for 15 minutes and never report any problems. Those are pretty much just dead bodies creating server load.

    It's not about whether you like that guy or not. He might be the nicest guy in the world, or the most revolting scumbag you've ever met. As long there's a good chance he can provide meaningful data for testing during the beta, and doesn't negatively influence how well other testers work on the system, they should just put someone to shadow him and work with what they can get out of him.

  3. First time i ever heard of this happening. Been aware of Marcko for years knowing he writes gold guides from back when I played WoW much. Aware he writes a Diablo gold guide though can't say i read any of it as not playing Diablo for it to be relevant either. However i guess i agree with Spinks and Flosch both.

    Beta for MMO's have lost its meaning for last several years, Beta's everywhere nowadays is almost seemingly about the Companies promoting the game or players promoting the game in all kind of ways. I thought Beta's was about testing the game to report bugs and stuff thats not quite working properly to be checked before release.

    So if Marcko found a bug or exploit or several he should report it in the Beta for it to be looked at. At the same time I know Marcko runs a blog he sold some time ago for real dollars and heavily promote how to make gold in Diablo like no tomorrow.

    But Marcko is good at what he does and been doing so for along time by many and able to find weird ways that most people not think of to farm or milk gold out the game.

    Now if you want someone that can really test to find such things just like Flosch said above a guy like Marcko is such a person you want playing the game to test it to find such buggy things before the game goes live. Yes he'll probably write about it as he usually do. But agree all they would have to do is flag his somehow in game and monitor what he does to help identify where the problems are or exploits before the game goes live. Such as person is really worth several beta testers just playing the game as normal otherwise.

    I often think the best way for government to fight hacking is hire the best hackers to work for you vs just locking them up behind bars. Get them working on your side.

  4. @ Spinks I don't think he refused to tell them anything. I think they just banned him. Possibly I'm misreading his account.

    @ Flosch Well quite, beta players should break the system if it's there to be broken. If he refused to tell them something when asked then they have some justification but not much. They should record enough data to see what he did especially if it's just wearing lots of gold find and disenchanting vendor greens.

    @ Argent can I nip this "he had a secret exploit he directly refused to tell Blizzard staff about" angle in the bud please?

    It's not what Marcko described, it's not in the email from Blizzard he's published and Marcko uses the phrase "secret strategy" as a way to spin tactics that aren't secret and which are probably used by a number of players. It's "secret" as in the "secret of my success" not secret as in CIA.

  5. I never thought about it, but maybe I was banned because I didn't tell blizzard about the strategies I found. Honestly, I didnt think they were bugs! I thought the vendor items were there so we could salvage them, why else would they be there?! Also, I though stacking gold find was meat to get more gold.

    I never thought of it as an exploit, but I marketed it as a "secret" because they were ideas which most players wouldn't try.

    I did make them public on my site, and maybe that's the reason for the ban. It seemed very automatic and robotic with the emails, except the one I shared which was from a real person. Who knows, I just hope that I do some good revealing this to the public. Also, if I get back in, I'll tell blizzard everything I come up with.

  6. It's not the first time stacking something has lead to imbalance verging on the exploitative. Originally in Age of Conan you could stack +% damage gems and get so many because each item had several sockets you put out 3 times the damage of a character with empty sockets. The game wasn't built for it and several moves one-shotted opponents. They didn't ban people, they just reduced the numerical value of the buff.

    Historically the Diablo series has been full of semi-broken builds. Fire sorcs with an inventory full of +Fire skill charms, Necros with similar, the ubiquitous Enigma pvp builds and the use of % physical damage reduction in pvp. All more game-changing and more broken than +145% gold find.

    I think I even got crafted safety gear nerfed. I stacked crafted safety gear in 1.07, wrote up my experiences for the Lurker Lounge, got featured on the front page and the recipes were nerfed into the ground next patch. But I didn't get banned and I don't think I should have been. It's fun to push the limits and it's daft for Blizzard to tell us we've no right to have fun in their game.

  7. Banning a player from a Beta? That just seems odd to me.

    Blizzard had to be concerned that Markco had the potential to damage the brand with his blog. Better for Blizzard to take the heat for banning him, rather than D3 and risk derailing the freight train of hype over the RMTAH.

  8. this is no more than a business decision by activision/blizzard, almost certainly, as you pointed out, made by the marketing department, not the devs.

    remember this: blizzard is no longer gamers' white knight. those days are done. they sold their souls to bobby kotick a long time ago. now they're just another big corporation, with all the moral rectitude that implies. they're in it for the money, and they're betting that banning marcko, whether fair or not, will hurt their bottom line less than letting him play. here's why:

    1) though marcko is a prolific and widely read blogger, he doesn't have enough influence (or rather, blizz is hoping he doesn't) to cause a significant disruption in sales for diablo 3. blogger readers might be among the most well-informed players, but they are a vast minority.

    2) the RMT AH is expected to be the real money maker for blizz here, not box sales. read syncaine's 'preying on the weak' post here:

    blizz is marketing this game toward people who will drop $100 in the RMT AH to powergear their barbarian in month one. whether they stay or not is immaterial to blizzard's purposes. they already spent $160 on a $60 game.

    marcko's gold find trick may well be perfectly legal, but it removes most of the incentive for future players to RMT. why would anyone spend $5 for 1Kg if they can farm 10Kg in an hour? their best bet is to ban the fuck out of marcko, weather the few lost boxes that the outrage will generate, and hope that word doesn't get out about how to bypass the RMT AH by stacking gold find items.

    oh, and they're betting that people aren't about to boycott D3 and forgo hours of 'fun' grinding more skeletons on marcko's behalf. you tell me, are they right?

  9. "marcko's gold find trick may well be perfectly legal, but it removes most of the incentive for future players to RMT. why would anyone spend $5 for 1Kg if they can farm 10Kg in an hour? their best bet is to ban the fuck out of marcko, weather the few lost boxes that the outrage will generate, and hope that word doesn't get out about how to bypass the RMT AH by stacking gold find items."

    Really? Wouldn't it be much simpler to just nerf or get rid of gold find gear? Then they don't have to worry about the 'strategy' being discovered and published by anyone else.

  10. From what it sounds, (albiet I have little information to go on), either gold drop rates need to be nerfed or vendor items need to rise in price. If i'm not mistaken, the issue here is that blizzard wanted vendor items to be cheap enough to buy for player use?, but made them too cheap where it was now worth it to buy and salvage them.

    As far as gold find modifiers, they might find that their modifiers are too high. I wouldn't call any of these things an exploit. It sounds more like taking advantage of a balancing failure. The ban I can only assume came from the fact that they felt such "exploits" had compromising effects on their ability to test the RMAH. Which I would say did justify the ban in a beta setting. A warning probably would have been the nice thing to do though.

  11. I was banned from D3 forum after creating a thread about my dislikes. several guys got on and heckled me about this and that but a big theme was wait till end game...I posted "people say jesus was the son of a god, but they cant prove that" and was banned permanetly but not one guy who called me names like retard, dumb, troll, among many other things was disciplined..
    To see if my theory was correct I went to a buds house who also games and had him make a similar thread about dislikes.....guys 19 pages of guys bashing making comments then he makes a post about them being " a bunch of hired blizzard lame asses that are over hyping a trash game" bam 30 days suspension... the other guys who bashed him in the name of blizzard...go ask them they are still trolling people .

    point is they are systematically removing negative game posts, and have out right lied about game holdups.

    They are promoting this game to kids ..the next generation of online spenders while real Diablo fans have been shoved under the carpet. Believe me when i tell you beta was a ghost town at times because people couldnt handle it.....all been shhhh quietly handled till all you have on the forum are trolling zombies.

  12. Heh, I do have some sympathy but "Jesus was the Son of God but they can't prove it" was pretty lame. It's practically a Godwin.

    I think it's better to argue without getting into controversial real life issues that have nothing to do with the point you're discussing.