Pretty much every MMO has something in its Terms of Service (ToS) banning third-party add-ons. Modifying the game code is a big no-no, especially when it’s used for malicious purposes or to gain an advantage in the game. Whether or not the developer enforces the ToS or permits innocuous things, like DPS meters, is another matter.
TERA was one game that let things slide for years. All that ended last Wednesday, April 26, when players were informed that users of third-party tools and apps would be banned — permanently. The brief post with a clickbait-esque title was shortly followed up with a longer post on the 27th explaining En Masse Entertainment’s reasoning behind the sudden shift in policy. That post included a Fight Club-style warning that players shouldn’t discuss the topic of third-party tools on the forums.
On the 28th, players were told they could discuss the topic of third-party tools on the forums. That post and its comments have currently reached 27 pages in length. Many of the responses cite TERA’s lack of options (like FOV) and poor optimization as their reasoning for creating and using third-party programs.
As usual, both sides have some ground to stand on. Malicious third-party programs might be able to piggyback on seemingly innocuous ones, so it makes sense that EME should seek to take a stand. That’s something EME has every right to enforce as it sees fit. And some players undoubtedly were using such tools to cheat.
However, the hamfisted approach, while expedient, probably hit many players who weren’t doing anything “wrong,” at least in the casual sense, even if they were technically violating the ToS. The method of communication also did EME no favors. While the company is legally “in the right” in banning players who are violating the ToS, it should have been obvious that a serious backlash would result from doing so with zero warning. The flippant nature of the post informing players of this didn’t help.
In fact, the communication policy in general can be summed up like this:
Before April 25: Everything is fine. Do whatever you want.
April 26: We have banned a lot of you. Deal with it.
April 27: You’re not just dealing with it? OK, here’s why we banned a lot of you. Don’t talk about it.
April 28: OK, fine, let’s talk about it.
It wasn’t going to be a popular move in any case, but taking the time to fully explain the new — or the “always in place but we didn’t do anything about it” — policy and listen to players’ concerns, or at least give them some time to expunge third-party programs from their systems, would have been a better approach. Instead, what was probably a decision from a distant executive and a note that a community manager scribbled out over a lunch break has turned into a far bigger mess than it would have been if the people in charge would have treated their customers like people rather than criminals.
UPDATE (5/4): En Masse Entertainment has responded to the questions we sent over yesterday. We’re still determining exactly who it was at En Masse who responded; in the meantime, here’s the Q&A:
MMOBomb: After five years in North America, why was the decision made now to restrict third-party applications?
MMOBomb: While some players undoubtedly use these programs to exploit the game, several use them for innocuous purposes, such as for DPS meters. Was there any consideration given to the response these bannings would have on these players?
MMOBomb: Is there any recourse for players to appeal their bans?
EME: Any player who is banned for any reason is always able to submit a support ticket requesting a review, or send a note to email@example.com looking to plead their case. We haven’t received any requests to date for the players that were banned, and if they were to provide evidence that we were mistaken in our analysis of their behavior, we would of course be willing to look at reversing their bans.
MMOBomb: Can you tell us roughly how many players were impacted by this wave of bans?
EME: Less than a dozen individuals overall were directly hit with this ban.
MMOBomb: Do you have plans to implement any of the functionality in the official game that players were using the third-party programs for? If not, could there be a way to have “approved” apps created by third parties that wouldn’t result in a ban?