The consequences of games as a service
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 22 January 2013, 7:57 am
Imagine you were to make an animated porn movie using Barbie dolls and to post it on the internet. It is safe to say that Mattel wouldn't be happy, fearing for the image of their brand. But it would be rather difficult for them to stop you, and it would be impossible for them to take your Barbie dolls away. On the other side, if you misbehaved in a restaurant, it is relatively easy for the restaurant owner to kick you out and to deny you future service. As games move from being physical objects we buy to services we sign on for, this difference is starting to become apparent for games as well.

This week there were several news stories about the consequences of games as a service. There was a discussion of Riot Games banning some pro-gamers from League of Legends. And EA drove home the message on how they control your access to their games by threatening people who don't report bugs in the SimCity beta with being locked out from all EA games. You can get banned on Steam for misbehavior. And of course all MMORPGs have some sort of banning policy. There are many different scenarios possible where you bought a game and end up unable to play that game, because the company making or distributing the game decided to deny you service for some violation of their terms of service.

Now there are two sides to the problem. One is that games usually have many thousands if not millions of players, and bans can happen due to a "false positive", or due to a situation which wasn't crystal clear. The main problem with being banned for not reporting a bug in the SimCity beta is that it is so easy to imagine somebody not noticing a bug or otherwise stumbling into a ban with no malice on his part. People who argue against the right of companies to ban people from games usually cite a lot of examples like that.

But the more interesting question is whether if a player REALLY exploited bugs, or was proven to harass other players, or knowingly used a hacked code to unlock a game on Steam, should the game company or distributor be allowed to ban him? For example Riot Games has a very well set up player tribunal, and a player behaving badly repeatedly is obviously a problem for the other players in the game. So should Riot Games be able to ban players from playing League of Legends or not?

Once you establish that in certain situations games are a service where for the greater good it might well be necessary to sometimes ban players, the questions become less easy. How far should bans go, both in time and in scope? What relation should there be between the gravity of the crime and the severeness of the punishment? Who should be judge and jury? At which point, if at all, should the legal system be involved if a player wants to appeal a ban? In how far can game companies make up their own rules, and where would authorities need to step in, or some industry-wide standards become necessary? How about refunds?

I do think we will hear a lot more on this subject in the coming years. It is a natural consequence of games running online more and more, even for gameplay activities that we would consider more similar to offline, single-player games. The very possibility to keep somebody from playing a game means that there will be clashes over the cases where somebody is denied access to a game he bought. And I don't think that giving people unlimited freedom to behave as they want in games is the right answer.
Tobold's Blog

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