Rule four of the rules of conduct, forbids players to use any glitches or bugs in the game software to gain an unfair advantage, is a rule that pretty much any MMORPG has. It's a necessary part of running an online game to make sure that players do not gain an unfair advantage just because they happened to be at the right place at the right time.
In RuneScape's relatively long (for MMO standards) history, there have been a few incidents of bug abuse that are remembered for their enormous impact on the game. I witnessed in first person the absolute chaos that was caused when a player found a way to duplicate items through the trade window and passed that secret on to a few friends. Within hours RuneScape was flooded with thousands of duplicated party hats, christmas crackers, dragon square shields and dragon medium helmets. Another famous incident was the Falador Massacre, where an innocent house party ended in a slaughter. Anyone wearing anything worth more than a pair of leather gloves was cut to shreds. Other incidents include a brief period of time where players could get infinite amulets of glory by taking down the mounted amulet in a friend's house, and, most recently, the glitched penguin that allowed players to rack up hundreds of penguin points.
Obviously bug abuse needs to be dealt with swiftly. The solution is two part: Fix the broken code and deal with the players who exploited it. The first part is simple. Isolate the broken code, rewrite it and roll it out across the servers. Jagex has done this dozens of times over the last few years. The complicated part is what to do with the players who broke the rules.
The problem with rule 4 is that it's rarely violated by just one person. One person finds a way to quickly wring out a few points of XP or some valuables out of a piece of poorly tested code, tells a friend, who tells their friends, who post it on their clan forum... you get the point. This means that there are potentially hundreds, if not thousands, of rule breakers that will have to be punished.
To do this, Jagex has several options. First of all they can sit back and do nothing. This however, is never the right solution, because it sends a negative message to both the rule breakers by letting them know they can get away with it, and to the regular players who will cheated about the fact that they are essentially being punished for following the rules, losing out on experience and money because they accept the terms dictated to them by Jagex.
Then, on the other end of the spectrum there's the nuclear option: The rollback. What this means is that the state of the game gets reverted to the latest backup made before the exploited bug entered the game. This can be anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. Of course, this should be used only in the very worst case scenario. This option is unique because it affects all players equally. Both the player that just gained 99 in their favourite skill and the player that got a Visage drop after camping at the Skeletal Wyverns for the past two weeks will lose all their hard work. For this reason, Jagex has never used a rollback to fight bug abuse, no matter how absolutely massive the impact was.
Then there's the third option. Banning the offenders. Like I said before, the problem with violations of rule 4 is that it's often done en masse. This means that the good people at Jagex will either have to pick through the game logs to manually identify the offenders or just ban everyone that was anywhere near the location where the offense was taking place. Contrary to popular belief, the customer support staff at Jagex is not made up of a pack of chimpanzees that they abducted from a medical lab, shaved and stuck in front of a desk (they have been released to the care of professionals, except for the ones that handle the non-member cases). This has been shown in the excellent handling of the recent penguin bug abusers.
Of course, even as the Jagex moderation team was racing to take a look at each individual banned account, RuneScape players did what they do best: They whined and cried. This was their fearful reflex to the fact that they could no longer access their account after breaking the rules, something which is not entirely uncommon in any MMO game. Frightened they huddled on the various forums, spouting off endless tirades of how unfair it was that they got banned for for breaking the rules just a little bit. While they were complaining, Jagex went to work, producing results within two to three hours.
These are the facts as given out by Jagex:
- 159 players have been banned permanently. These players all have spotted the glitched penguin at least 250 times.
- A larger group of players has been temporarily banned. Although numbers suggest that they clearly knew that they were repeatedly exploiting a bug, their gains were not, in the words of Jagex, 'obscene'.
- The rest of the players that were temporarily banned have had their bans lifted.
All the people that were part of the mass banning but were found to be innocent upon closer inspection not only had their accounts unbanned within two or three hours, but actually received a month of membership credit to make up for the missed playtime. So after the initial mass banning and the panic that it caused, it all turned out to be wasted energy. While players were running around like headless chickens Jagex calmly assessed the situation, set the standards by which the banned players would be judged, and sorted out all the cases individually within three hours. After Jagex announced the results of their efforts, people whined some more.
This is of course to be expected, as for a significant portion of the RuneScape community complaining is the natural response to anything Jagex does. This is why it sucks to be Jagex: No matter what you do, there will always be people who know better. A quest is too easy or too hard. A new weapon is too powerful or not powerful enough. And, in this case, a punishment is too harsh or not harsh enough.
Maybe, just maybe, after over seven years of experience running this game, it is time we start to trust Jagex. Obviously they have made their mistakes in the past. But the fact remains that they are still running the second most popular MMORPG out there. This achievement wouldn't have been reached if the good people at Jagex HQ didn't know what they were doing at least most of the time. The problem is, they often find themselves in no-win situations, like mass violations of the fourth rule. Still, I think that Jagex has done more than enough in the past week to show us that they do know how to deal with bug abuse problems, should they arise. They handled swiftly and openly, while being as open as they could realistically be towards the players. Maybe it's time for those players that still found time to complain that Jagex will never be able to please everyone, and is not in the business of pleasing everyone. They run their MMO to the best of their ability, and judging from the membership numbers their ability to run an MMO is pretty damn impressive.