TIME AND PLACE
Imagine you are a gaming company running a successful MMOG. While readying your servers for not only a patch that adds new content and software, you are also upgrading the hardware of those servers. The day before the patch, one of your customers decides that immediate action must be taken against a laundry list of bugs and exploits he finds distasteful.
Please note that this customer had knowledge of these bugs and exploits well before the day he chose to reveal them to the general public, yet he chose that day, the worst day possible, to practice Twisterian Philosophy.
The question I put forth is this: Is this player a hero or an inconsiderate, selfish prick?
I found myself pondering this after reading a thread on our own boards and one on AC Vault. A player who goes by the handle Iluvatar recently entered an area of Asheron’s Call called the Subway. The Subway is a dungeon-like place where many players on non-PK servers gather to trade. It is not unusual to count over one hundred merchants and buyers in this tiny area during peak playing time.
After Iluvatar made the announcement that he would reveal every scrap of knowledge he had about bugs and exploits, over 200 players crammed in to listen to what he had to say. He publicly disclosed how to perform the following bugs:
BDing stack of arrows (the way that works)
No Drop anything
Reduced comp burn rate
1/2 of dupeing without being caught/banned (Didn’t give the whole thing away, that would cause a rollback or worse)
He is a principled man, to be certain, in lieu of his consideration for rollbacks. Excuse me for a moment while I scramble around the floor, looking for my eyes. They seem to have rolled right out of my skull.
Would he have revealed more bugs and exploits? It’s hard to say. An admin showed up and whisked him away, whereupon the player told the admin the rest of his bug secrets.
I recommend reading the AC Vault thread and Iluvatar’s responses. I find an interesting current running through them:
“Yes I’ve heard of “Word of mouth” and I was counting on that exact phenomenon. I told 200 people, and by tommorow 10,000 will know. That’s why the devs contacted me As soon as they found out. I hadn’t let the really bad ones out of the bag (the ones that would have caused rollbacks, and server downtimes while they fixed). I only let a couple loose, but it was enough to convince them to take me seriously.”
“The no drop and BD on stack were enough to show the devs that I meant buisiness. . .”
“Again, please do not message me asking for this info. I’ve had more than 100 PM’s in the last hour offering various things for this info. I will not give it out. I only gave a couple out in order to make sure the devs listened to me.”
While Iluvatar does sound as if he has good intentions (all inward routes to Hell aside), through all of his comments, one word repeatedly surfaces in my mind: blackmail.
“Pay attention to me, or else.”
“Fix these bugs now, or else.”
Not only that, but he could not have picked a worse time to do it. The day before a major patch and during hardware upgrades? What does he honestly expect the devs to do? Take the servers down longer? Delay the patch immediately?
In reality, the devs will not halt the hardware upgrades or the new patch. In fact, they are going in right now as I write this. They have a schedule to keep. While the player claims to be nobly revealing this information so nefarious exploiters cannot trade their knowledge for items and favors in game, I must criticize and question the timing of Iluvatar’s actions.
Not only has he blackmailed the devs into diverting resources, but also he has given players the maximum amount of time possible to abuse those bugs. Anyone knowledgeable about Asheron’s Call knows that patches are made on a regular, monthly basis. Hot fixes do not get performed unless there is a dire, server-threatening emergency. Instead of giving fair warning to the devs, he chooses to play hero when his actions will cause the most damage over the longest possible period of time.
I’m not here to debate Twisterian philosophy. I do not wish to engage in an argument over whether or not releasing bug knowledge to the general public is an appropriate avenue of communication with the devs.
I am, however, here to debate time and place. There is a time and a place for everything. Releasing bugs to the public the day before a major patch and during hardware upgrades is not the time nor the place.
I’d like the devs to fix bugs as quickly as possible. Granted, they have much to do in maintaining their game, but I’m as dogged as anyone in ranting against companies who allow too many bugs in their game and are too slow to fix them. However, I believe the devs should be afforded some level of consideration from the players. Iluvatar’s actions showed zero consideration to the devs, the development cycle of the game, and the schedule under which the devs are working.
There was a better time for this bug battle. August 12th was not it.
THE DARK SIDE OF ETHICS
Now I get to a much more serious discussion. I am loath to write this, much less post it. However, I believe the events and their implications must be expressed in a public forum in order for the true weight of their importance and seriousness to be felt.
While reading through the AC Vault thread in which Iluvatar’s actions are posted, I came across this post from him:
I’m a computer programmer and Lead Producer for an upcoming MMORPG, these types of things are all based on code exploits… if you understand /WHY/ things work as they do, finding the holes is rather easy.
Furthermore, he reveals in the thread that he is a former volunteer admin for Asheron’s Call.
Upon reading that, I quite literally stopped what I was doing. My gut reaction was “Is he for real?” However, given the earnestness and honesty with which Iluvatar has posted in the forum, I have no reason to disbelieve what he says.
If this is true, then we have a Lead Producer from a company in direct competition with Turbine entering their game and knowingly causing damage by publicly releasing a laundry list of bugs.
After consulting with people much more knowledgeable on the subject than I, the full significance of what occurred made itself known.
I have no doubt in my mind that what Iluvatar is done is unethical on a scale of massive proportions. However:
What he has done here might very well be considered illegal.
Industrial sabotage is the phrase. One competitor directly interfering with and knowingly damaging another competitor’s product is not only unethical, but may be illegal.
No matter what Iluvatar’s justifications may have been for publicly announcing bugs, he now falls under a cloud of suspicion. While his intentions may have been innocent, his actions may now be not.
Certainly, I leave it to Turbine’s legal department to determine whether they are willing and/or justified to take legal action against Iluvatar or his company. I am not an attorney, and the finer points of such laws are beyond my understanding.
However, if what happened here is all it seems to be, we may be in for a frag fest the MMORPG world has yet to see.