Date: Saturday, December 05 @ 21:00:26 UTC Topic: Xbox Live
Microsoft has begun issuing temporary bans to players taking advantage of an exploit in Modern Warfare 2, while Infinity Ward works on a patch to fix the issue. While the servers may be kept slightly cleaner for the efforts, the amount of control Microsoft holds over owners of their consoles, and the arbitrary way they are able to wield it, is troubling.
Stephen Toulouse is the Director of Policy and Enforcement of Xbox Live. When gamers need to be banned, his job is to find them and cut off Xbox Live access to their machines. The latest group to get his attention? Gamers using an exploit in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 to increase their kill counts.
First it was piracy leading to mass bannings, and now Microsoft is tasked with keeping the Modern Warfare 2 servers clean while Infinity Ward works on a patch. We're going to explore what gamers are doing, and why this is a somewhat unsettling precedent for consoles.
What's going on?
The issue in question is called the Javelin Exploit, and it allows players to detonate a grenade instantly upon death. Here's a video detailing the glitch, if you'd like to know exactly what's happening on the servers and what it looks like.
"While IW works on getting the MW2 glitch fixed, people we catch using it will recieve suspensions from LIVE. Play fair everyone," Toulouse said via Twitter. He also noted that this policy isn't anything new, and that it's in place for more games than just Modern Warfare 2. If you get caught taking advantage of the exploit, you'll be banned for 24 hours. If you're a particularly bad case, the banning could last up to two weeks.
The ban isn't for Modern Warfare 2, it's for the entirety of Xbox Live. If you're banned, no new content for you. No playing online... in anything. Major Nelson posted the details on his blog: "Keep in mind, this isn't just a ban on a particular game. This is a ban on the Xbox Live service as a whole, so you won't be able to go online at all during your ban. Initially, you may be banned for a day, a week, or depending on severity, permanently! Kiss that $50 goodbye," he wrote.
The troubling aspect about the case of Modern Warfare 2 is that no one is changing the code in the game and no rules are being broken. They're simply taking advantage of the behavior of two particular weapons when used in a certain way. From Microsoft's side of things, that's cutting the hair too fine: if you find a glitch and use it in the game, that's cheating.
Toulouse responded to criticism with a slightly tortured metaphor. "Wow, some of you think cheating a glitch is OK. Um. If I install my car stereo wrong and it disables my door locks, its not ok to STEAL MY CAR," he posted. Somehow I doubt cops are out there comparing car theft to grenade kills to Modern Warfare 2, but we'll let it slide. Using a glitch or a bug to gain advantage is against the Terms of Service, and defining glitches, bugs, and that advantage is solely up to Microsoft.
You're playing on their playground
In many ways, the Xbox 360 is Xbox Live. It's nearly impossible to separate the hardware from the service. Without Xbox Live there are no game patches, you can't grab demos of upcoming games, you can't play online. Banned consoles have begun to show up on sites like eBay and Craigslist, and there is a risk of unexpectedly picking one up when you buy used from retailers like GameStop. One pirate I spoke to told me he simply kept two systems: one for Xbox Live, and one for downloaded games. I told him that's an expensive set up, and he shrugged. It's cheaper than buying new games, he replied. When a system is banned, the hardware itself carries the stigma; you can't buy a new subscription, you can't swap out the hard drive. For most users, the system is basically dead.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote about these bans, noting the power that Microsoft holds over gamers. If you break the Terms of Service, Microsoft can render your hardware unable to use its online service, which it has made nearly necessary for playing Xbox 360 games and taking advantage of the system's features. Bannings are the sole discretion of Microsoft, and there isn't much you can do about it once it has happened to you, short of buying a new piece of hardware.
"Of course, these 'absolute power to terminate' clauses are in no way unique to the Xbox Live TOS. While the mass ban provides a useful illustration of their danger, these terms can be found in nearly all TOS agreement for all kinds of services," EFF Adjunct Attorney Ed Bayley wrote. "There have been virtually no legal challenges to these kinds of arbitrary termination clauses, but we imagine this will be a growth area for lawyers."
Where does this leave us?
Sony stated that it won't be banning anyone over cheating in Modern Warfare 2, but with Infinity Ward controlling all the servers for the game on the PC side of things, bans have been handed down for cheating there, as well. With dedicated servers there was no way for a company to stop you from playing the game, but the closed nature of IWNet means the developer and publisher control your ability to play the game online.
No one is going to defend cheating, but glitches, exploits, and bugs have long found their way into strategy and helped to move gaming forward. Would rocket jumpers have been banned from Xbox Live? If Valve shut down dedicated servers and sought to control every aspect of their games, would there have been Counter Strike? The control Microsoft exerts over Xbox Live, and its ability to block your access to online play remotely, and without appeal, means that you'll be playing the games how they want.
In the meantime, Toulouse has some advice in his Twitter profile: "Be pure. Be vigilant. Behave!"