On January 22nd, Vana'diel adventurers were delivered shocking news when a set of bans for item duplication were administered. Immediately after, the various communities exploded with heated arguments on both sides of the issue. Some cried out against the severity and inconsistency of the punishments while the rest deemed it an appropriate and fair recourse for what transpired. A week has passed, yet the still raging fire has only been fueled by the recent publishing of "Unrest in the Garden of Square Enix," inspiring the writing of this counterpiece.
The following editorial contains views that are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the views of Allakhazam.com.
Square Enix Knew
Allakhazam staff writer Pwyff posed the opinion that Square Enix knew about the exploit for at least two years before taking action against the offenders. The source of this information is mysteriously unknown, but this perspective used the logic that the community outcry was the sole reason that any punishment was handed out at all. A week after the patch fixing the exploit, Allakhazam.com inquired about punishment at Fan Festival 2008 and the development team explained that an investigation was under way. Was this investigation launched solely based upon community response to the emergency patch? Possible, yet unlikely.
As for whether Square Enix knew about the bug yet took no action for "over two years", let's look back at developer interviews over the years conducted by Allakhazam.com and other Premier Sites.
From July 2007, E3 Developer Interview:
Pikko: [...] [Players] would like to know why they should keep killing themselves over [Einherjar] just to get nothing. Is that something that's going to be fixed or will it be the battle itself you adjust?
Ogawa-san & Tanaka-san: First of all, about not having the drop rate be as good as people want it to be it's because we want people to go back and play Einherjar many times, so that they get a continuous type of challenge. And if it's too easy the world will be filled with the abjurations and everyone will have that and it won't be something that has that mystic feel to it like, "I have it, look at me." Rather, everyone is wearing it. [...]
From November 2007, Fan Festival Developer Interview:
Pikko: [...] I had asked about Einherjar [at E3] and back then it was still a new battle system and you had said you were going to watch the trends and how participation runs. How has that been going and do you see any adjustments coming to the existing system?
Square Enix: Right now, the overall difficulty we're pretty much pleased with that so we don't really have any plans on changing the overall difficulty.
From July 2008, Premier Site Summit:
The Nyzul bosses are easier than the normal versions, but after a while if you get no drop, again and again, it's getting annoying. Do you have plans to maybe add some other items and bosses? This doesn't mean "add Ridill to the Nyzul Fafnir version", but at least some crafting materials.
Matt Hilton: [...] If we were to add even more rewards than there are now, the balance of the strength of the rewards would be destroyed. Also, the values of synthesis items and materials would also be destroyed so we will probably not be adding those. [...]
Let's not forget that Square Enix is the same company that casually stated that camping Fafnir in its current state is something players "enjoy." This is the company that prior to extreme negative press, had a boss in game that could not be beaten after 18 hours. That same company has a mob still unbeaten after more than 4 years. Community members have often joked about the FFXI developer team's odd fascination with MMORPG sadism.
So with those things in mind, can someone please explain why Square Enix, a company dead set on keeping the bar raised extremely high for its playerbase, one that rarely budges on its drop rates, would let a bug in its code that enables the duplication of rare items in triplicate run rampant for two years?
An XI podcast host recently wrote an article that posed the theory that the tripling of items was intentional . G4 took this speculation and termed it "part of the plot." Nevermind that said podcast author was on the ban list.
"That means that people who knew of this were able to keep it 'on the down low' for at least a quarter of FFXI's life. That's some pretty good 'down low' keeping; almost, if one considers it, too good. Nobody, not even SE, could be that blind." - Pwyff, Unrest in the Garden of Square Enix
Having no experience as a game tester means that I can't attest to the difficulty of finding every existing bug in a game as vast as XI, but it doesn't take an experienced tester to know that occasionally some things are missed. People fall into the ocean. Monsters path the wrong way. As is the case with most MMOs, some bugs aren't found until they're live and reported by the playerbase. The fact is that this was a major flaw and it was the responsibility of Square Enix to ensure it did not exist. It slipped through, though, and players who are now playing coy and crying innocence are using this fact to say whatever they please in order to justify their actions.
It's the End of the World as We Know It
Some people would have you believe that the banished were the hope and redemption for the dying game of Final Fantasy XI; that without them endgame will cease to exist and the beloved cities we grew up in will burn to the ground as Altana sheds tears for the most cherished of her elite warriors.
Give me a break.
The last Vana'diel Census, posted in May 2008, stated that approximately 500,000 players subscribe to Final Fantasy XI. Roughly 10,000 accounts are banned by the Special Task Force every few months. Approximately 550 accounts were permanently banned last week. 440 are breathing sighs of relief, happy to be able to walk around Aht Urhgan Whitegate again and merrily going about their business. For some, their brief brush with death is likely to be forgotten as soon as they pull Nidhogg with a level 5 mule.
Those 550 accounts represent 0.11% of the Final Fantasy XI population. Claims that Square Enix is "alienating the playerbase" are more than likely those of players placing more value on their person than they have a right to. Leaders of some of the "best" endgame linkshells now find themselves with nothing to show for years of work. What constitutes "best," though? The ones with the best bots? The one with the most relics? Relics which we can now speculate to have been funded by the very exploit we are so ferverently debating now?
Back when I was the leader of an endgame guild in EverQuest, we had a motto: Greed kills. Play any MMORPG out there and you'll find this to be true. It's a natural thing for players to gauge their character's personal worth by the material goods they wear, but some players take this to another level. Square Enix's strenuous "work ethic" doesn't help this feverish drive to wear the best items. Yet the greed of a portion of the community doesn't have to represent the entire playerbase.
The general population tends to play by the rules. However, upon entering endgame, they discover a world of lust and greed that they might not have imagined existed. While on their journey to greatness they may have been surrounded by fun-loving adventurers looking for experience and a great group of friends, but then they find themselves in a world requiring them to leave behind real world relationships for the sake of their "loyalty" to the linkshell. If you want the good stuff, you have to be willing to sacrifice.
These players were presented with a choice. Do you sacrifice your ethics for that item you've wanted, but may never get legitimately? It's only illegal if you get caught, right? In the end, was it the right choice? Given the chance to go back, would these players make the same decision? Only they know the answer to that.
RMT vs. Duping
So what is it about these bannings, something what would normally be collectively received by the XI community as just desserts, that is so different? Every few months we receive word on thousands of banned RMT accounts. We laugh, we cheer, we imagine giving Square Enix high fives as we breathe a sigh of relief that at least something is being done about those damned cheaters ruining the game.
The difference is that these were high profile characters that meant a lot to their linkshells and have a voice. They have a place to be heard. But what sets them apart from the evil RMT besides access to this mode of communication and the ability to speak English? One of several reasons for combating RMT is the fact that RMT farm items to sell for profit, which they then turn around and sell to players. There isn't much of a difference. They both hide their methods in order to sustain a money-making scheme, being motivated by personal gain rather than abiding by the rules of the game. To treat them any different than RMT would be hypocritical at best.
An Unprecendented Move
One thing we can all agree on is that this move was unprecedented, which by and large was a huge problem for Vana'diel. Camp after camp, people watched their competition steal claims right from under their noses using automated bots. Square Enix themselves admit to having no way to detect this, so no retribution comes to these players, meaning that eventually the victims begin to realize that they can do the same and not get caught. So, why not? Lack of enforcement has led us to a larger pool of offenders.
These bannings sent a message to the community. Square Enix isn't afraid to topple even the mightiest of its players. But who were these mighty players and what did they really represent? Their willingness to use this exploit gave them an unfair advantage over the rest of the population. How can you say that they would only cheat this way? Why not another way? Why not in all ways? A player willing to do this will logically be willing to risk character assassination again should the reward be good enough.
These players were undoubtedly skilled at their jobs and no doubt many of them had exceptional event leadership skills. But is this efficiency, which affects at maximum 64 individuals at a time, really worth the overall effect on the game's environment? People cannot simply be excused for cheating because they're good at what they do or are a popular figure in a community. They should be held to the same standards as the RMT who ravage the game's economy for personal gain. As far as I know, the RMT aren't given warnings for their illegal activities.
People have the right to their opinions, but don't insult the people who play this game fairly by justifying the actions of the cheaters. While a lot of people feel strongly about the harshness of Square Enix, there are a whole lot more who are simply glad to see justice done.
This Tarutaru certainly is.