As long as there have been massively multiplayer online games, people have been wanting to hack them apart, rejigger their components and rebuild the whole thing as they see fit. In singleplayer games this isn’t much of a problem for the people who initially designed the game — and can actually extend a game’s lifespan significantly (see: Half-Life) — but in an MMO, where everyone you meet is a virtual representation of an actual paying human customer, it makes sense to rein in player creativity in the interest of ensuring that everyone has a fun, fair gaming experience.
This seems to be the line of thinking employed by Sony Online Entertainment in regards to its recently released massively multiplayer online first-person shooter Planetside 2. In a newly published forum post, psuedonymous SOE representative “Twist” outlines the firm’s stance on players modifying the game. In sum, the company will not stand for it.
It is vital that you not run software which modifies the Planetside 2 client in any way. If you do this, you are indistinguishable from various hacks that work in the same manner. The result of this is that you will be banned from gameplay and lose your characters/items.
We cannot make exceptions to this. We do understand there are relatively harmless apps that fall in this category, but if we allowed those they would simply be used as a shield excuse by players trying to cheat. This same rule applies to data that Planetside 2 uses for gameplay. Do not modify any of these files or attempt to modify them in memory.
There are some applications that modify the windows or directx environment without changing the client. These may also result in suspensions unless we specifically exempt them and declare them ok to use.
The most simple guidance here is do not use third party programs which change the Planetside 2 gameplay in any way unless it has been specifically cleared by SOE.
A second post was added a short while later to further clarify that widely-used voice communication and game management software (read: Steam, Teamspeak, Fraps, etc.) are not included in this ban, and players are free to use such tools as they please.
Getting back to the main point though: Sony’s outright ban of Planetside 2 modifications is unexpected in this era, but not out of character for the company. Long-time MMO players will remember the months-long debate that raged throughout the playerbase of the original Everquest regarding modifications. At the time the standard practices of the MMO industry hadn’t been as fully established as they are currently, and Sony Online Entertainment (being the publisher of the biggest MMO of the era) faced largely uncharted waters in deciding what to do with modifications to its game. Given that even relatively innocuous modifications to the game’s user interface could give certain players in-game advantages over others, SOE eventually ruled to outlaw modifications altogether, a stance it seems to have maintained to this very day.
It should be noted though, that SOE is largely alone in its thinking. Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft, for instance, has long featured a wealth of UI alterations created by other users (though Blizzard has been adamant that none of these actually offer in-game benefits), some of which have even been gradually adopted by the game’s official user interface. We won’t debate whether SOE or Blizzard is more correct with how they treat their players within their respective games, but we will point out that one of the key arguments behind Blizzard initially allowing modifications in World of Warcraft was that beyond a certain size, it becomes nearly impossible to track and police player-made modifications within an MMO community. SOE may have been able to maintain a tight grasp on the original Everquest, but that game never came close to a million players (it topped out at about 450,000 players in 2003); If Planetside 2 hopes to be taken seriously as a big-name MMO in 2012, it’s going to have to attract at least that many dedicated players — and likely twice that number. Making sure every one of those individuals is using a sanctioned user interface would undoubtedly be a daunting task, and we wonder if it might not just be easier to give the playerbase the freedom to create new UIs. It certainly didn’t cripple Blizzard’s game.