Thursday, September 3, 2009

I'm a Moral-what?

This article was going to be about a lot of things. Some people suggested I write 'burst damage' next, others suggested I write about the D&D game I inadvertently 'ruined', and other suggestions were made to talk about this season's Survivor cast.

Then, Valve did something cool.

This is kind of a big deal, for a number of reasons. To understand what the significance of this is, you have to understand how their item system works. When playing TF2, you can unlock items either by killing players, getting achievements (some of which are really innovative), and also at the end of a round. Of these, the achievement method is the most guaranteed (you get a specific reward for getting a certain number of achievements) while the others are random.

The idle programs in question log you onto random servers, and you idle - until you're kicked, then the program finds a new server and logs you in. Since you have a chance at getting items at the end of a round, there's a chance you'll get items periodically while you do nothing.

This is obvious cheating. Valve took a stand, and removed all items from anyone who abused third-party programs to get items. They gave a bonus item to everyone else, as if to say "Thanks for not cheating!"

I have a complicated stance on this, though. Valve's response was roughly correct. They did not have an existing rule in place, but this behavior was not in line with what they thought was correct gameplay. They did a lot of data mining to identify patterns with these idle programs, and eventually found a way to use those patterns to find the majority of these 'idlers.' I have no problem with Valve's actions.

The issue I have is with the idlers. My personal code of ethics in competition states that you should do everything within your ability to win. This means exploiting bugs or rules loopholes, and in a way, idling qualifies. However, it also does not really qualify. Idlers aren't competing for anything, they just want more items. Still, they should be allowed to exploit any hole in the rules that may exist - it is up to the designer to make rules (or better yet, patches) that fix these loopholes.

The issue with idling is moral - if you join a server and idle, you are hurting whatever team you are on. Even if you eventually get kicked, the team you get stuck on is down a player, and the server gets full, when there is a player that isn't contributing when others are waiting to get in.

What about 'idle servers'? There are servers built for idlers (you don't even need a program), so they can farm items. Is this okay? I feel that it is okay. I'm not sure what Valve's stance on this is, but since these people are not hurting anyone, that it is okay for them to exploit a rules loophole to farm items.

Idlers who lost most of their stuff for using 3rd party programs are up in arms right now. They make up a tiny portion of the TF2 population (4.5% is still a lot, though - thousands of people) but they speak like they are the majority. They claim that since there was no rule, they could not be punished! Well, morally speaking, screwing over your team is pretty lame.

I think that the only thing Valve could have done is implement the rule sooner - it really wouldn't have stopped the idlers (take a look at duping in Diablo II for instance), and they could have done their mass item removal afterward.

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