Friday, May 23, 2008

The Lamaa Defense

Kirk over at Priestly Endeavors has a really lively discussion going on that is related to the recent banwave. The interesting thing I found about that conversation is not about the bans themselves, but about our rights after we get banned. The whole thing was stirred up by Temerity Jane who has a guild mate named Lamaa she feels was wrongly banned in the most recent wave. Kestrel outright questions Blizzard’s right to ban players without an appeal process. Others simply question Blizzard’s poor customer service. For many, the central issue seems to be “how should Blizzard behave to someone who was banned?”

My take is that there really is no such thing as a false positive. Or more specifically, that the “lone wolf” who gets lumped in with the masses does not exist. First, you need to understand that what Blizzard looks for in these banwaves are unique patterns. Secondly, they NEVER act unless they feel they are certain that those patterns ONLY exist when there is a violation. In fact, I would argue that they exercise too much caution in this regard.

The odds of you alone having one of these patterns and NOT cheating are incredibly small. While it’s remotely plausible that you could be a false positive, it’s nearly impossible for you to be a false positive and the lone victim. In every case where there have been false positives, there have been significant numbers of people with “the same story.” Blizzard also reversed these bans reasonably quickly.

It’s not that Blizzard can’t make mistakes, it just when Blizzard makes mistakes with this type of detection they are mistakes of great magnitude. In other words, it wouldn’t be just Lamaa but anyone in Lamaa’s situation.

The reality is that Blizzard feels they have done their due diligence PRIOR to issuing the ban. They take the loss of a customer very seriously and they require a hefty burden of proof before they will act against an account. Once they do act however, they already feel there is enough evidence against the user to warrant account closure. The email they send that seems to provide little recourse to reverse the ban reflects this sentiment that they have done the due diligence. After all – you DO have little recourse. The chances you will be able to sweet talk your way into a reversal are virtually nonexistent since you have no real way to provide evidence that refutes their decision.

As I pointed out on BBB’s blog, if Blizzard banned Lamaa, they didn’t act unless they felt they had very compelling evidence. Lamaa has little to no chance of being able to provide any supporting evidence to the contrary. At the end of the day, a nice appeal process isn’t going to change the fact that Blizzard thinks a thing and Lamaa has no way to disprove it. The call to action to improve the appeal process can’t change that.

Kestrel, in particular, takes issue with the tone of the email and feels that it shows a lack of due diligence. Quite to the contrary, they are taking great care to ensure that the person deserves the ban before severing the relationship. The email just makes it feel like that way because it is appears abrupt and cold. I may just be skeptical here, but a more friendly email isn’t going to take away the sting of losing your account. Telling someone you are breaking up with them is going to hurt no matter how nicely you phrase it. However, Kestrel does raise a very valid issue: What are our rights?

Tobold had an interesting discussion about virtual property rights back in March. The topic at the time was whether or not “we own” our virtual property. Who “owns” my level 70 rogue?

My response at the time (and still is) was that Virtual Property is very similar to the leasing agreements we make when we lease real estate. If I lease you a piece of property and then you build a office park on that piece of property, who owns the office park when the lease expires? By US law, I would own both building and property. Any improvements made to my property during the term of our lease become my improvements when our lease expires.

Likewise, your Warcraft subscription entitles you to store a character on Blizzard servers as long as that agreement remains in place. The character is tied to the server and since you don’t own the server, you don’t own the character.

But what about tenant laws? The US also has tenant laws in place to protect tenants from abusive landlords. There are laws enforceable in court that governs your rights as a tenant. For example, a landlord can’t just evict you without cause. There is actually a very detailed and time consuming process that must be followed (by law) in every eviction.

In the virtual world, we have no such rights. And to TJ’s and Kestrel’s point – perhaps we should.

A better call to action…
It occurred to me that I have been extremely unfair to Temerity Jane. At the end of the day, she just wants to have her friend’s account back. She believes Lamaa and wants to DO SOMETHING to solve the problem. The unfortunate thing for Jane is that simply improving or speeding up the appeals process isn’t going to get Lamaa’s account back. Blizzard already has compelling evidence they felt warrants a ban and Lamaa has little to no way to refute that evidence.

What I should have done is offered Temerity Jane some advice based on the assumption that her friend really is innocent as she believes. As I pointed out above, if Lamaa really is a false positive – then Lamaa is not alone. The better course of action for Jane is to use that considerable blogging power to try to find others like Lamaa who were banned in the same manner. There was a REASON that Lamaa got the false positive, find others with the same reason and you will start building a case for a ban reversal.

And that’s what Jane really wants – a reversal, not an appeal. Anything less won’t get her friend back. If it were me, I would start by having Lamaa detail out all his critical details. Operating system, hardware, anti-virus, other loaded programs, and so on. If it really was a false positive, then the answer will lie within other people who have a similar setup.

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