Hyperspace Beacon: Exploits and SWTOR_Miner

Hyperspace Beacon: Exploits and SWTOR_Miner

Over the last couple of years, the Star Wars: The Old Republic community has changed. I believe it's matured. We changed from a community that wants everything yesterday to one that understands timetables but is still very interested in what's coming next. When we hear about the next storyline, we want to see how that's going to fit with everything that came before. Originally, I wanted to talk to the king of predicting the future of the game, SWTOR_Miner, about where the game is headed and what hidden secrets are in the client files.

However, last week something happened that redirected my thinking. Late last Monday night, Miner posted on Twitter, "Just got word that @SWTOR is cutting ties with fan sites that have dealings with me. Guess I won't be coming in from the cold." Of course, the whole community went bug-eyed, wondering what exactly had happened. So when I sat down to talk to SWTOR_Miner, the only thing I wanted to talk about was what's going on?

To be clear: I don't want to implicate any fansite in something that it might or might not have done. Although Miner and I talked about a specific fansite, the lesson overall can be applied to any fansite.

About last week

I've always known Miner to be a tremendous fan of the game, and although he's had his criticisms, he's always been a cheerleader for both SWTOR and the people who run it. His statements that followed the initial tweet surprised me, too. "OK, guys, try to be reasonable in your response to the @SWTOR team. I love the game they've made, but couldn't stand how they were dealing with one or more of their community sites, especially after not dealing with them at all for so long." What exactly had happened?

On a recent podcast, Miner had revealed possible future planets that were flagged in the client files, the possible launch date for the next expansion, and some recent exploits that have reared up with some of SWTOR's new systems. This is where the trouble started.

One of these exploits now has a workaround, so it's safe to talk about, but there is still debate on whether it's a true exploit or not. One of the flashpoints would grant about 2,000 conquest points for each person who ran the flashpoint. The points were accumulated when the last boss was killed. So players A, B, C, and D would run the flashpoint (or in some cases four stealthers would run to the end of the flashpoint), and just before the last boss, all but A would log out of the flashpoint. Then three new characters would log in, A would invite them to the group, and they'd all kill the boss, granting 8,000 points to the guild. Then B would log in and three other characters would log into to kill the last boss -- 8,000 more points. Then C would do the same, followed by D. All told this would grant the guild involved 32,000 points per time they did this.

Many players, including SWTOR_miner, did not consider this a true exploit because it's not a bug; it's completely within the game's mechanics. It's just creative use of mechanics but outside the bounds of what the game designers intended. Miner felt there was no issue talking about this issue on the podcast.

I think I've made it clear in the past where I stand on the issue. Terms of Service should not excuse poor design, and that's exactly what this is. BioWare recognized this and changed the design.

Breaking the TOS

SWTOR_Miner freely admits that most everything else that he does is against the terms of service and breaks the end-user license agreement. Unfortunately, not many fansites consider all the implications of breaking these two agreements, especially when breaking these agreements has advantages.

Prior to the launch of SWTOR, there was one particular site that broke the NDA and gobbled up all the traffic that any site could hope for. I remember the team from Darth Hater complaining about how this site was taking its traffic. It even presented screenshots and game mechanics that never made it into the final game. However, this site never received any help or support from the BioWare. But why would it need BioWare's help when it was getting the most traffic of any "fan site" out there?

Many fans feel that SWTOR_Miner has the same kind of appeal. There's a bit of the feeling that they aren't supposed to know the things that Miner knows, like it's a mystery the players are supposed to discover. But players also like to know what BioWare is up to because the developers tend to be extremely quiet about what they are working on.

Despite the positive side of getting players excited about the things coming to the game, BioWare can in no way endorse what SWTOR_Miner is doing because that would weaken the stance of the TOS, wouldn't it? I remember another MMORPG that had its beta patch notes leaked, and instead of clamping down on the sites that promoted the leak, that MMO -- WildStar -- released the notes publicly.

Other games have embraced the community and made it an integral part of the creative process. You have only to look to Landmark to see how well that works. Still, you could argue that Landmark is a completely different type of game. I'd grant you that, but I'm curious if there isn't something to giving the creative process more transparency.

What are we to do?

But then, neither Landmark nor WildStar public endorsed players who revealed "exploits" of the game. Where does that leave us?

I can see both sides: I understand that BioWare doesn't like it information given out too early because it could lead to misunderstandings in the future. But players want to know that the future of an MMO holds something interesting.

The solution to this fan site debacle is largely out of the players' hands at this point. If BioWare wants its players -- more specifically, its fansites -- to stop relying on individuals like SWTOR_Miner to drum up something interesting, then it needs to drum up the interest itself or allow fan sites more freedom in their content. Until a fansite starts focusing on exploits, then I see no issue in allowing it to mention one that might be causing a particular issue in the game.

The Hyperspace Beacon by Larry Everett is your biweekly guide to the vast galaxy of BioWare's Star Wars: The Old Republic. If you have comments or suggestions for the column, send a transmission to Now strap yourself in, kid -- we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!