Cheating in online games has been a problem since the internet has been able to host such events, and if there's one thing that gamers love it's hearing about how a gang of exploiters has been punished.
From massive game events which ban MMO farmers, to sweeping account freezes generally followed by press stories highlighting thousands of players banned, there's always been a certain level of creativity in dealing with these video game 'criminals'. But with Blizzard Entertainment recently deciding to press charges against three exploit-creating gamers, an interesting question is raised. To what extent should cheaters actually be punished, in game or in the real world?
Blizzard's lawsuit, for those who may not be aware, specifically targets players who willingly and knowingly distributed a hack which violates the terms of service. It also claims that said players also distributed such a program for financial gain, which would obviously give Blizzard the right to request reparations as they would be profiting from both the creation of a program that fuels enjoyment at the cost of other player's experience and at the same time making money from violating said terms of service.
While asking for money unlawfully gained to be returned isn't too out of the question, whether or not companies should be able to go after players legally for breaking terms of service (for any reason) is an extremely tricky subject. Many hackers in games like Modern Warfare 2 or Halo Reach saw their accounts given suspensions within weeks of the games release, and cheaters illegally boosting in Valve's Team Fortress 2 will find their items removed. Experience resets, account bans, and even character deletion isn't out of the question for a lot of these companies, but most of the time the damage is already done.
Any player ranging from casual to professional can have their experience ruined by someone cheating, and it often takes a few days (if not weeks) for the punishment to be doled out. Though the money may already be in the bag for those developers who are producing multiplayer console games, that sort of exploiting definitely has an effect on any future game sales; and subscription games will definitely suffer immediate consequences.
Pressing charges against anyone that is actually caught cheating (or distributing any cheat) could be a fantastic way to finally put an end, or at least minimize, the amount of exploiters in online games.
That being said it also sets a nasty precedent with what fans can do in a game, particularly a for a PC game. As many fans love to create mods for games, suing over 'infringing the terms of service' could mean that any and all game mods could be called into question simply for the company's profits. After all, who would be in a position to claim whether or not a game is ruining any developers envisioned experience if a mod becomes wildly successful? It's not like game mods haven't taken off in the past before, DotA is a fantastic example of a mod that's gone on to become something far larger than it was on inception.
It should go without saying that any cheater, large or small, doesn't deserve to profit from their exploits. Multiplayer cheating takes it a step further, typically by earning something at the cost of a fair players time and entertainment. There's no question that these cheaters should definitely be punished, and perhaps banning them is a good enough deterrent for future misbehaviour, but has any company actively attempted a preventative to this behaviour? Perhaps not, and maybe Blizzard is breaking some ground here by showing that there are some real-world consequences to the actions one may take over the internet. One way or another, this sort of lawsuit will set precedent how far someone should be held accountable for their actions behind a monitor. Hell, it's about time.