Thoughts on Blizzard's heavy-handed attacks on SP cheating

I posted this in response to the Kotaku article 'Starcraft 2 Developers Initiate Ban Rush' and thought it would be worth republishing on this blog:
I'm not sure if I'm more frustrated by Blizzard's heavy-handed response to SP cheating, or some of the selfish comments I'm seeing in these comments. Let us all remember that just because something doesn't benefit you, does not mean it doesn't benefit others (such as SP cheating via hacking). At the same time, let's remember that just because something doesn't hurt you, does not mean it doesn't hurt others (such as achievement cheating). Since I don't care about achievements beyond what I'll explain in a bit, the selfish part of me wants to say "who cares if people cheat to get achievements, they mean nothing anyways". But just because they mean little to me, does not mean the same for others. So it's an indefensible and selfish response and I force myself to reevaluate it. So when someone who is pro-SP cheating is lambasted by someone against it, try to get some perspective. You may not understand why they do it, but don't assume they do it because they are trying to cheat at achievements or because they "suck" or for any other reason. The reasons for it are extremely varied.

First off, standard disclaimer time: MP cheating is reprehensible and intolerable. That's that. Sorry, I cannot be flexible on that point even though my whole post here is about flexibility. I hope that my stance on that doesn't detract from the rest of my argument. I very much doubt it will.

Now back to SP cheating. Let's look at it from another perspective. SP hacking is, to me, absolutely no different from modding. I love modding. Rare is the game that allows modding that I don't mod like crazy. Modding is all about changing the game to be more fun for me. Sometimes that is making something easier. More often, it's about making something harder (since I love realism mods). SP hacking is for the same purpose. Sometimes, I do it to make a game easier because I'm bad at the genre (RTS), or because I've got a lot of work pressure and want to get through a good story game without a lot of stress or time expense, or sometimes because I want to play the game on the hardest difficulty to get the best enemy AI and realistic health levels but without some other arbitrary limitation the devs decided to put in place that damages the fun of it. There are lots of reasons for it. And, it's all modding.

Let's look at my third example. I made personal hacks for myself for the latter Hitman games so I could play on the hardest difficulty but still be able to save as much as I wanted. This was incredibly fun for me. Yes it's cheating, I don't argue that point at all, but it allowed me to enjoy the game more than either (a) playing on a low difficulty or (b) replaying missions over and over and over again or (c) reading/watching walkthroughs. Let's face it; all of those are a form of cheating too. In real life we don't get to try things like that over and over and over (N.B. I am speaking generally; I'm not a freelance assassin). We don't get to set our lives to easy difficulty. And aside from supposed self-help books, there's not really a walkthrough for life. But we all do those things in gaming to limited extent and we do it to enjoy the game best. The devs cannot tailor games to us individually, so modding and hacking allows us to do it for ourselves.

Also note that my third example is a fine example of something that could not be done with in-game cheats. So please stop with the arguments that people should just use in-game cheats. They are different for a number of reasons not the least of which is usually they are implemented in such a way that they are a hassle. But more importantly, they are usually simplistic and don't give the fine level of control that modding and hacking can.

So let's concede my point that SP cheating is not inherently bad. I know some will disagree but I need to move on to my next point. Where does one draw the line between SP and MP? It's becoming increasingly blurred. I know where I draw it. I draw it between achievements being SP (and therefore I don't really care about cheaters) and leaderboards being MP (and cheating is back to unacceptable). I'll give my reasons for my line in a minute. But I understand that some people draw the line on the other side of achievements and I respect that, even if I do not agree.

Why do I not care about achievements? Well, for me, achievements are either to be ignored or are for personal milestones. If I cheat to get an achievement, then I know I didn't get it legitimately and is therefore meaningless. I actually enjoy getting achievements legitimately so I avoid that. But I don't pretend that anyone outside of me actually cares about my achievements. And even if you and your friends like to compete for achievements, and therefore it's not only about you, if you cheat your friends you are a bastard. And, fortunately, they probably know. Both that you cheat and that you are a bastard. But the gaming community at large doesn't look at your achievements. One might argue that mega-gaming based on achievements (like Giant Bomb) change this. But, really, no one cares what your xps or achievement score is there either. And knowing that other people cheat at them doesn't affect me. I know I can get on a TF2 achievement server and get a bunch of them. But, really, what's the point? That just eliminates me getting that little kick of fun when I get it myself. This is, to me, different from cheating in the game. In the game there are lots of other rewards for playing so if you alter that experience you are not necessarily robbing yourself (although if you are foolish you certainly can). But with achievements, really, that's all there is to them. You have them or you don't. Still, I understand and respect that some people care about them so I absolutely am not trivializing them. They are a tricky issue and a primary point in this discussion.

Leaderboards, on the other hand, affect others more directly. Not because people care about you, but because wherever you are you influence their rank. So, to me, that's MP.

So given that MP cheating is bad, SP cheating is not, and achievements muddy the issue, then what do we do? Well I think the problem is primarily with Blizzard's decision to make SP achievements affect MP. I think that's just a plain poor decision. In this era of social gaming, I understand their goal, but I don't personally care for the cost. They have to take an anti-SP cheating stance because of it. I think we need to press devs to avoid this in the future. But what should be done about SC2 itself? Obviously, they aren't going to about-face. Well, Blizzard could still be handling this better. If they can detect SP cheating then they could just as easily disable achievements rather than banning accounts.