Should developers be allowed to issue bans on Steam?

Gta5 2015 04 16 17 26 12 375

face off

Tyler Wilde

Evan Lahti wants Big Steam to stay out of his jurisdiction.

Tyler Wilde doesn’t want anyone taking away his discs.

In Face Off, PC Gamer writers go head to head over an issue affecting PC gaming. Today, Evan and Tyler argue over Valve’s decision to allow developers to tell it who to ban.

Evan Lahti: YES. Someone needs the authority to deal with cheaters, and Valve can’t police every game.

Tyler Wilde: NO. Giving developers the power to essentially revoke ownership of their games goes too far. If they can detect cheats, then make it impossible to play until they’re turned off, but permanently removing access is take-backsies. No take-backsies, Evan.

Evan: Steam isn’t a uniform service, so there shouldn’t be a uniform solution for dealing with hackers, cheaters, and jerks. We’ve seen Valve gradually give up ownership over more and more aspects of Steam—Workshop, Greenlight, broadcasting, curators… Why should this be surprising? It’s equivalent to getting local sheriffs to police their communities, and I’d much rather have that be the solution than having Valve try to manage thousands of different games.

Tyler: But where’s the state and federal oversight? Every developer being its own police force is going to cause serious problems when one of them turns out to be woefully incompetent. What about false positives? It sounds like that’s been happening with GTA 5 and Dark Souls 2, and those are big time games, not indie deals where there’s only one developer trying to handle all the customer support requests.

Evan: A a one-size-fits-all approach couldn’t possibly work. There needs to be room for different philosophies on cheating. Griefing, and even hacking, have different meanings in Garry’s Mod, Counter-Strike, Evolve, DayZ, and GTA 5, and there needs to be different “laws” to reflect that. Is modding of any kind prohibited, or only certain kinds? False positives will be a problem with any system… there’s always going to be bumps in the road. But what’s the alternative? Would you rather have games full of cheaters?

Tyler: Of course not! In a perfect world, no one would cheat. In a less-perfect world, people would cheat but developers would responsibly and judiciously prevent them from doing so. We live in the least-perfect world, though. People will cheat, and at the same time, innocent people will be banned by mistake (be it theirs or the developer’s), and who knows if customer service will have the bandwidth to help them. It’s true that each game should be handled differently, and I don’t trust Valve to handle all of them either. I don’t actually know who to trust, because I’m honestly not comfortable with even one innocent player being banned with no recourse.

Perhaps it really needs to be a third-party that dedicates all its time to cheat prevention and has an active and well-structured appeal system. At the very least, I think the reason for a ban must be published and verifiable. You’ve got to be open about what will get players banned (Rockstar recently took its sweet time clarifying this for GTA 5) and if you’re going to take someone’s purchase away, they should be able to see the evidence against them and be given a chance to tell their side. Otherwise, no one has any way of arguing with the developers, and consumer advocates are left to shrug when players are banned. So, at the very least, if developers are going to be allowed to issue bans, there should be strict rules about how they do it.

Evan: I agree that publishing bans would be cool—that’s exactly the context that a uniform system attached to distributed enforcement could help. More transparency would be great—Valve only publishes the number of VAC bans a user has and when they were last issued.

Tyler: We’ve sort of avoided the bigger question, haven’t we? Are we OK with games being sold as licenses in the first place? Back when games came on discs and people could make their own dedicated servers for most any multiplayer game, we all got to make our own rules. If you got kicked out of every server for cheating, you could make your own. Those days are mostly gone, and is it a shame?

Evan: Player owned and operated servers are awesome, but without some a profile-level banning system, back in the day, hackers and abusers could just float from one server to another until they found one without an admin on it. As for licenses… I think we have to accept that, generally speaking, games are ever-evolving ecosystems now, and especially in free-to-play games, players provide content for one another. We have to allow developers reasonable control over that content, it’s in our interest.

There’s always a chance that a developer will get particularly aggressive or abusive with how it bans users, but I don’t trust Valve to do a better job on Steam’s 3000-plus games.

Tyler: We can both agree that cheaters suck, at least.

Evan: And they’re still a problem! It’s a constant, time-consuming battle for developers to stay a step ahead of new cheat tech. The way I see it, we’re giving more control and ownership to a group that cares most: the folks running the game. Managing cheaters is, on a very individualized scale, an extension of game updating. It’s a way of manicuring the player experience and discouraging certain behaviors. Their house, their rules. When they buy a game they agree to the EULA, and if the EULA says cheaters can be banned from playing online, they’re just getting what’s coming to them.

Tyler: That's all good and well, but let's see some clear rules for developers, and let's see them report exactly why every ban has occurred.


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