'World of Warcraft' bans raise players' ire

Some players of the popular online game think the publisher is banning first and asking questions second when it comes to alleged terms of service violations.

To hear Zak tell it, the e-mail he received earlier this month was a total shock--it summarily informed him that he'd been banned from World of Warcraft.

"This is a notification regarding your account," the e-mail began. "Access to this account has been permanently disabled for exploitation of the World of Warcraft economy or for being associated to accounts which have been closed for intended exploitation." Zak, a 14-year-old WoW player from Georgia, asked that his last name not be used.

According to several players, Zak isn't the only WoW participant who recently has received a ban with what they believed to be little or no justification. Critics claim WoW publisher Blizzard Entertainment has been snaring innocent players in a dragnet for banned activities like account sharing and gold farming--a system in which players either directly or indirectly acquire large amounts of in-game currency or goods through repetitious actions, often achieved by operating automatic "bots" or macros that kill monsters or discover treasure.

"I think Blizzard is being too tough on their issues with exploitation and like many others, I have fallen (victim) to their harsh system of banning people like me."
--WoW player Shoot201

Indeed, a look at any of the many public WoW forums reveals no shortage of postings from players complaining that they had been banned and asking for help. Usually, the players complain, they have had no luck getting through to Blizzard despite repeated e-mails and customer service phone calls.

To Zak, the notice didn't make any sense. He believed he hadn't done anything to break the game's rules against an illegal process known as "power leveling," in which players gain points and levels in online games through banned exploits, such as those that take advantage of WoW software bugs to award gold or expedited advancement to new levels, or which use disallowed third-party software for the same purpose.

And that was the activity for which he believed he had been kicked out of Wow. A week later, after writing to Blizzard, his account was reactivated.

"They thought I (had been) power leveling," said Zak, "because I was leveling excessively and very fast, which is what power levelers do. (But I had just been playing) late at night to catch up with a friend and just played all day."

Blizzard: "too tough"
"My account for WoW has been closed down," on the gamers' community site, Gamers Reunion. "Not with a warning. Not even temporarily banned. It's ! I think Blizzard is being too tough on their issues with exploitation and like many others, I have fallen (victim) to their harsh system of banning people like me. And when I say 'like me,' I mean people who play lots and level up very fast."

Others are posting to the various forums reporting an ongoing trend, and asking anyone targeted by Blizzard to report the company's actions. A series of forum posts "have been showing that a great number of innocent players are being banned in a whirlwind purge of Blizzard's," earlier this month. "For any players caught in this wave of bans by accident, please file a report with" the Better Business Bureau.

Many online game publishers routinely conduct purges of players suspected of terms-of-service violations as a way of convincing their customers that everyone is on a level playing field. But the theory in some circles is that Blizzard has intensified an effort to cleanse WoW of players suspected of gold farming, power leveling or otherwise violating terms of service, and that the company is banning first and asking questions later.

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