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Hyperspace Beacon: Handling SWTOR exploits

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On this week's Hyperspace Beacon, I'd like to discuss the exploit issues that have popped up in Star Wars: The Old Republic as of late. Admittedly, the widespread exploit that SWTOR recently experienced wasn't gamebreaking, and it certainly didn't fracture the economy as exploits in other games have. In fact, I don't even think that a rollback or anything severe was even considered for this particular exploit. However, the community team mentioned some things in its handling of the situation that made me wonder about exploits and cheats that violate the intent of the game designers.

I don't know that I will have all the answers in regard to how to handle specific situations, but I really intend for this to be a conversation starter. I want to read your thoughts in the comments.



Profound policy
I recently did a show that centered on the exploit that cropped up in SWTOR. I talked to Redna from OotiniCast and Heather from Corellian Run Radio; I have also spoken with people who have and who have not taken advantage of the widespread exploit that community manager Eric Musco mentioned in a post last week. I would like to go on record saying that I have never participated in that exploit and never intended to. By the time you're reading this, the exploit should have been taken care of, and it doesn't matter whether you want to participate in it or not because you can't. However, on the off chance it's not fixed, I'm not going to go into the details of how it's done.

Let's consider BioWare's handling of the situation. I cannot pinpoint when the exploit was discovered by the community, but as of right now, I've personally known of its existence for three weeks. Likely, the exploit existed when the expansion launched, and even more likely, it existed during beta for the expansion. That is at least a month of the exploit existing and players being aware of it. However, we didn't hear anything from the community team until last week:

"Normally when an exploit exists, it is our policy to remain quiet until the issue is fixed. The reasoning behind that policy is that if we talk about or acknowledge an exploit, it can create a situation where we draw more attention to it. This can include people who didn't previously know about it and can unintentionally make the issue more widespread. Without being specific, there is an exploit which has been present for a couple of weeks, that unfortunately has become more widespread than we typically see. It is being openly discussed in-game as well as other channels. We have been receiving quite a few questions about it and due to the wide nature which it is being discussed, we thought it best to address it."
Beyond protocol
I do commend Musco for stepping outside protocol to address a real community issue. Far too often, the community team is just a mouthpiece for marketing instead of what I believe it's supposed to be: a communication conduit between the players and the developers. In fact, as of this year, the community team does appear to have changed its stance slightly. I believe I've seen more activity from the community team on the forums in the last month than I've seen in the months previous, comparatively.

However, I'm concerned about this overall policy regarding exploits. Unfortunately, I don't know if I have all the answers, and of course, there will always be exceptions to the rule, as is the case with the latest SWTOR exploit and the existing rules. But I believe the existing rules are wrong. According to Musco's statement, it's against policy to discuss exploits with the community. And maybe they're right; not every exploit needs to be mentioned, and the community team might not even be aware of every exploit that exists. However, particularly tempting ones, especially ones that don't require third-party software, should be made public.

A better suggestion
Let me explain what I mean by exploit. An exploit is taking advantage of a programming bug or utilizing an unaccepted third-party program to gain an advantage over other players. On the extreme end, you'll find those who use speed hacks, and on the mild end, someone using evasion mechanics to steal a world boss.

The last "exploit" I mentioned is the exact reason that I think the community team should announce more exploits. From my perspective, it's clear that the developers didn't intend players to kill-steal by causing a boss to evade so that they can get first hit on it. However, it's become so common that most players don't even consider it an exploit. However, it would be nice to know whether BioWare actually considers that an exploit.

If that's not a good enough example, how about this one: When conquests first launched, players would have to jump into enemy territory to defeat the conquest commanders, which would flag them. However, the defending faction players would not be flagged unless they attacked an enemy player, healed a flagged player, or flagged themselves. That meant that healers could heal the friendly NPC without fear of being attacked or being flagged, thus preventing the attackers from killing the commander. Is that an exploit? Some would say yes, but what does BioWare think? We don't know because the devs won't talk about exploits.

You might argue that if BioWare mentioned the exploits, then as Musco said, more people would be apt to do them. You might be right -- if BioWare gave the details on how to reproduce the exploit. However, if the community team said something like, "We aware of a possible exploit in the area of conquest commanders. If you are cause exploiting a bug in that area, then you risk being suspended or banned." Done. Nothing more has to be said. That means, in theory, everyone will follow the developer intent in that area. Then we also know that if the community team says nothing, the action it's acceptable.

As I said, I don't have all the answers. And there are highly varying opinions on the subject. What are your thoughts?

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 larry@massively.com. Now strap yourself in, kid -- we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!

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