27 July 2010

VAC a palarva!

So, there was this whole malarky with Valve and mass bannings via VAC, the automated cheat detection software, of supposed Modern Warfare 2 cheaters. They all complained and they got beat on by the community because 'Valve is never wrong'..... then today, Valve admitted that the bans had been handed out in error, apologised, restored the banned accounts, gifted away a free game and it seems everyone has moved on. All hail our Valve overlords, those gracious, beneficent godsons!

Or not quite... at least for me. I've been long-term unhappy with the way that Valve's support system works. They appear to be understaffed, resulting in long wait times for simple queries or issues which are also often written in the form of copy/pasted FAQ standardised responses.... Hey, Valve, if the answer was in the FAQ then don't you think i would have looked there first as when you go to submit a ticket it tells you about 10 times about the FAQ...?

Then there's the whole golden egg in which VAC bans are definitive, 100% correct and are unable to be queried, petitioned or appealed. The logic behind this is that VAC is never wrong. Only that, as seen this week (and in previous instances), it can be.... Since right-minded people know that software is never 100% all the time and that humans themselves can also make mistakes and you end up with a system which is almost, in effect, the gaming death penalty for your Steam account.

I say almost because VAC bans result in the loss of the online portion of your game and all other games utilising the same engine under your account for VAC-enabled servers.... What you will also find is that the account itself it labelled as being VAC banned which can and will result in third parties banning you from their servers if they look at your profile. It's also the case that the ban is permanent. I feel that, for such an infraction (and while i never cheat myself and hate cheaters with a passion) banning more than just the game that you were caught banning on is wildly unfair though many with a scorched-earth, shoot now, ask questions later mentality see these issues as collateral damage in a war in which it is acceptable to have that collateral damage. (These are words from discussions i've had with people in various places like RockPapgerShotgun!)


What gets me the most riled up about this instance is that before, the unquestioning Valve-lovers stated emphatically that VAC was never wrong and if you complained in the forums for being banned these people demonised you, basically spitting on your virtual body with Valve's moderators (and at other places too) doing nothing to stop this.... there's no question of innocence because VAC and Valve are never wrong.

So now we have an instance where Valve has widely and publically stated that the system had picked up a false positive due to "a combination of conditions" (though there have been other times in the past whereby innocent use of mods has resulted in a ban). What this results in is not questioning of the system as it stands but instead people who rally to Valve's banner will now confidently state that if you're banned you're either a cheat OR Valve will rescind the ban and apologise for it. There's no admission that Valve simply will not catch all times that their software and their personnel fail (which will happen) and it means that they can just continue steamrolling away without any real thought towards the consequences to any innocent person crushed by a ban - both through financial/game and also social means.


The support/deterrent sytem needs improving and there are several things i'd have in mind to improve it:

1. Make bans an escalation offense. There's a reason why the death penalty (or any other piece of legislation that effectively destroys that aspect of a person's life) is not approved by the majority of people. Most systems have a graduated response.... after all, you don't lose your car and your driving licence because you went 2MPH over the speed limit once.
  1. First instance of cheating - warn the user that they have been caught cheating via a PM or email and then ban them from online activities across the whole of steam for a week or two. - This gives them time to appeal and also sort out any problems with their account. i.e. if they've been hacked or whatever (imagine if Blizzard or your Bank closed your account every time there was suspicious activity going on in it with no way to appeal or try and sort it out!)
  2. You then get a probationary period after this of, say, 8 weeks in which time, if you are caught cheating again you go straight to number 5 on this list.
  3. Second instance of cheating you get a 6-12 month online ban in the game you cheated in and get a temporary label on your account detailing which game you cheated in.
  4. Once they have served this sentence they get the label removed and are on probation for 6 months. If they break their probation they go onto numer 7.
  5. Third instance of cheating you get a 12-24 month ban in both the singleplayer and online portion of that game and the label is again added to the account.
  6. Probationary period after this is again 6 months.
  7. Fourth instance, you get a permanent ban in the game you were cheating in - both online and offline and people will be able to see that you are banned from the game in your steam account - though there won't be a label on the account next to the name.

So, say, if you are banned initially you would get a ban of two weeks. If your appeal fails you will be playing with extra scrutiny on you in the eight weeks following that. If you don't cheat in that period then you go back to being 'threat level 1' though if you are banned a second time you will be banned for 6-12 months. If you are caught within that first probationary period then you could be banned for 12-24 months. etc. etc.

The bans would also not be stacked across different games. So if you were banned in Half Life 2 then your copy of TF2 or L4D would not be affected. Plus, there would be a time-out clause in the system as well whereby, if you were banned once... if you weren't caught at all again on any game within another 12 months then you would only receive a two week ban if you were banned a second time after that 12 month period.

It's not perfect but it stops people from being unduly punished in the case they are innocent... It also helps people who were tempted to cheat to mend their ways. You could even cut out the appeals process and i'd be happy with this system... but having no appeals and no graduated response is just a double whammy that is bound to impact many legitimate players.

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