Biowares first contact with the exploit problem
About one or two days ago, Bioware has been confronted with a problem in SWTOR that Blizzard and consorts had to discover as well: The massive exploit of a poorly implemented new mechanic. In this case we speak of the Cartel Market’s new feature: the Collection. The Collection allows players to duplicate Cartel-Market-Items as well as to unlock those items for their whole legacy for some sort of discount-price. Those duplicated items you get into your inventory are –of course- bound to the character you got them with. But as it is with every item modification, you can simply put them into a legacy-bound piece of armor and send it around within the circle of your alts. That was one thing players did as they discovered it.
The second most probably unintended thing players did was to slot those crystals –which are not even accepted from vendors for sale- into regular weapons and sell those weapons instead. The worth of a slotted item is not determined by the combined worth of the modifications it bears, but by the level of that modification. So the weapon’s price would go up with this cartel-crystal in it. If you did the latter extensively, you would earn many many credits without any efforts.
Bioware reacted in exactly the same way, all other studios did react to a widely spread exploit as well: they swung the ban-hammer. But they did it wrong!
Exploit or not exploit – that’s the very question
I think that there is a distinct line between an exploit (extensively and knowing use of a bug), the unknowing use of an exploit and making use of something the developers did obviously not think of.
The first is the case if you for example discover a wall you can glitch through in a boss fight where all players can get through and the boss kills his own adds instead of a player, once he has no targets. It is pretty obvious that it was not the intended boss tactics that players should run through a solid object into the skybox (This is a made-up scenario).
The second thing is when you get a cloned crystal, put it into a weapon, realize that you do not like the weapon and sell it, maybe with the thought that you do not want to pay credits to remove the crystal first, because you can easily have a new one for free.
The latter is when you put a crystal into a legacy weapon and send it to an alt. You could have done that with any other item as well, so one could assume that BW would have added some restriction to that.
So you are not exactly using a mechanic that because of some weird software-failure does not do what it should do. The software is fine but the developers simply did not think of that possibility.
Obvious exploits as explained above do not require any explanation from the devs. Everyone with the IQ of a rat knows that this is not the way one should play the game.
The Second scenario does not justify a ban at all. The player has done nothing wrong (persuming he did this once, or twice, not extensively). You can’t expect a player to foresee every possible exploits when he just wants to get rid of an Item and takes it to a vendor.
The latter case CAN be considered wrong. But in the first place, it is not the player’s fault but the developer’s one. The Devs can of course put bans for that into effect but only AFTER they told the gamers that this behavior is considered to be exploiting. You can’t punish a child if it did cross the street while the traffic lights were red when you never told it that it was only allowed to walk on green lights. In this case, you would have to stay calm, tell the kid that it was wrong and just let it be.
BW could even have those crystals removed. That would have been an appropriate measure. Banning is not, at least not until they told the community they were going to do that. And again: that clarification had to come out before they took any measures, AND: any measures may only affect future actions, not past ones.
A blurry case is the extensive sale of weapons with Market-Crystals in them. It is something between an exploit and the use of a forgotten countermeasure. And because it is that blurry, the rules from above would have applied here as well, not for the cause of justice (the credits gained through that should have been removed of course!) but for the cause of customer care and PR.
What went so terribly wrong
The failure part of Bioware is that it seems as they implemented a rule to their anti-exploit-bots that banned everyone who made too excessive use of the collection’s duplicate feature regarding crystals (at least in the eyes of BW). The first thing they missed was that some players made those crystals for their own use. Be it for trillions of weapons or just to fill a cargo bay with them because it looked so cool. There is no rule that says you may not do that. If there was one, BW should have implemented a visible cap for the collection. They didn’t, so everyone must assume that he may get as many crystals for himself as he wants.
Second thing is that those employees of Bioware who implemented the rule seemed to take this action as something strictly classified. They did obviously not even tell the community managers so they are just as helpless and unprepared as the gamers and can not provide anything of help at all.
That goes hand in hand with the third and biggest failure: No news. No clarification. Nothing. Blizzard had that situation many times now, but in most cases there was one difference: They told the community what they were going to do. And they told them long before they actually did it.
What this case sows, dear readers, is not (only) that the anti-exploit-programmers chose the wrong aspect of the exploit to detect it, but that the intern communications of Bioware are sh*t and that SWTOR needs more community managing personnel to handle things like that and prevent escalations. This whole „sit it out“-stuff that Bioware most probably learned from EA is not productive and will lead to a long-lasting escalation.
Special thanks to Eric Musco who tries to get that situation under control. Keep it up, bro!