The free-to-play MMO Guild Wars 2 just arrived at retail, but thousands of players have already been suspended. We thought the game was pretty great, but were unable to get the full Guild Wars experience thanks to a foolish reluctance to karma-farm, hack other players, or deny the existence of the Holocaust. Lots of other players don’t share our restraint, and developer ArenaNet is banning them for it. After facing lots of forum outrage for actually enforcing their conduct policy, ArenaNet has gone to Reddit to explain exactly why a screenname like “Adolf Chitler” isn’t welcome in Tyria.
Reddit was quickly swarmed by players cheekily inventing hypothetical names to see if those would be permitted, some of which were so funny that the ArenaNet admins conceded that it’d probably give them a pass for laugh value. ArenaNet also took the opportunity to clarify some aspects of its forbidden names policy, noting, for example, that while the prohibition on names for religious figures prevents you from calling your avatar “JesusOfCool,” common Biblical names like David, Saul, or Nimrod are fine.
Much funnier is the publisher’s willingness to publicly inform players exactly what got them banned. Many visitors to the thread threw out their chests and complained about why their ordinary screennames got banned, only to have their self-righteousness ground into the dirt when the ArenaNet representative replied with “Name: OK. Chat: Not OK” — followed by a published chat transcript that got the whiner banned. Devotees of name-and-shame websites like FatUglyOrSlutty (which, despite the confrontational title, exists to expose players who indulge in sexist behavior on Xbox Live) will find plenty of horror stories here to stroke their outrage. One particular player was so moved by the shaming to whimper, “I feel so stupid,” fulfilling the fantasies of many MMO players who’ve wished that some little troll would someday realize how awful he was.
There’s much less comedy in the many innocent players who are asking why they’ve been suspended despite perfect behavior, only to get the chilling reply that “Your account seems to have been hacked.” After only a few weeks of beta testing, Guild Wars 2 already harbors a substantial population of account hackers, gold farmers, bot-runners, and exploit-wielders — and although ArenaNet deserves commendation for reacting swiftly to those who’d break the game, a lot of players are becoming collateral damage.
ArenaNet has also been admirably focused on putting the same level of attention into its community as it puts into the game. “We’re not a video game company, we’re a community building company. We just happen to have one of the coolest ways to build a community, which is through a video game,” said Martin Kerstein, ArenaNet’s community manager. This is a fascinating perspective on what it means to make MMO’s. Even more admirable is ArenaNet’s willingness to engage with the community through personal communications via its website and Web forums, rather than just handing down dictates.
However, the enthusiastic swinging of the ban hammer has many players venting their outrage on every soapbox they can find, and many players may decide that if their supposedly funny racist friends can’t play, they don’t want to play either. It remains to be seen whether ArenaNet can build a business on the venn diagram intersection between people who want to play a fantasy MMO and people who don’t enjoy racism, sexism, and homophobia. But it deserves credit for trying to find out.