Online Gaming Services – Moderation

The moderation of gameplay experience is nothing new–griefing, cheating, hacking are often regarded with general negativity by the gaming populace. Prior to the advent of online services like PSN and XBox Live, very little was actually done to curb or discourage a playing style which seeks to break a multiplayer game’s rules and/or ruin other players’ online experiences. Under these circumstances, the best that could be done to punish an offending player was to temporarily (or permanently) ban them from a particular server or room. This, of course, does not necessarily teach the player anything–they would simply move on to the next server, and continue griefing there.

One could argue, however, that this level of discipline is the very limit–and that more severe punishments, such as the moderation on XBox Live and PSN takes discipline over the edge, as indicated in these two particular stories–in the former, a player is banned temporarily from all of XBox Live; and in the latter, a disruptive player was banned indefinitely from access to PSN.

This sort of discipline, from one perspective, seems reasonable–these players are deliberately bullying, disrupting the gaming experiences of other players for their own personal amusement; in short, detracting from the gaming atmosphere in multiplayer gaming. Furthermore, legal documentation (i.e. user agreement) still justifies a company’s right to discipline a player they deem disruptive:

3. COMMUNITY CODE OF CONDUCT

You must adhere to the following rules of conduct, and also follow a reasonable, common-sense code of conduct. Users are required to take into consideration community standards and refrain from abusive or deceptive conduct, cheating, hacking, or other misuse of PSN. Rights of other players should be respected.

The violations that are prohibited include but are not limited to the following:

* You may not engage in deceptive or misleading practices.
* You may not abuse or harass others, including but not limited to stalking behavior.
* You may not take any action, or upload, post, stream, or otherwise transmit any content, language, images or sounds in any forum, communication, public profile, or other publicly viewable areas or in the creation of any Online ID that SCEA, in its sole discretion, finds offensive, hateful, or vulgar. This includes but is not limited to, any content or communication that SCEA in its sole discretion deems racially, ethnically, religiously, or sexually offensive, libelous, defaming, threatening, bullying or stalking.
* You may not organize hate groups.
* You may not upload, post, stream, or otherwise transmit any content that contains any viruses, worms, spyware, time bombs, or other computer programs that may damage, interfere with, or disrupt PSN.
* You may not use, make, or distribute unauthorized software or hardware in conjunction with PSN, or take or use any data from PSN to design, develop or update unauthorized software or hardware, including but not limited to cheat code software or devices that circumvent any security features or limitations included on any software or devices.
* You may not modify or attempt to modify the online client, disc, save file, server, client-server communication, or other parts of any game title, or content.
* You may not cause disruption to any account, system, hardware, software, or network connected to PSN for any reason, including to gain an unfair advantage in a game.
* You may not bypass or attempt to bypass any user authentication systems or security feature.
* You may not attempt to hack or reverse engineer any code or equipment in connection with PSN.
* You may not provide anyone with your name or any other personally identifying information, or the name, password or personally identifying information of any other person or business through any means, including messaging, chat or any other form of PSN communication.
* You may not take any action that we consider to be disruptive to the normal flow of chat or gameplay, including without limitation uploading, posting, streaming, or otherwise transmitting any unsolicited or unauthorized material, including junk mails, spams, excessive mails, or chain letters.
* You may not introduce content that is commercial in nature such as advertisements, solicitations, promotions and links to web sites.
* You may not introduce content that could be harmful to SCEA, its licensor, or players such as any code or virus that may damage any property or interfere with the use of the property or PSN.
* You may not take any upload, post, stream, access, or otherwise transmit any content that you know or should have known to be infringing or that violates any third party rights, any law or regulation, or contractual or fiduciary obligations.
* You may not impersonate any person, including an SCEA or third party employee.
* You may not provide SCEA or any third party company with false or inaccurate information, including reporting false complaints to SCEA Consumer Services or providing false or inaccurate information during account registration.
* You may not sell, buy, trade, or otherwise transfer your Online ID or any personal access to PSN through any means or method, including by use of web auction sites.
* You may not conduct any activities that violate any local, state or federal laws, including but not limited to, copyright or trademark infringement, defamation, invasion of privacy, identity theft, hacking, stalking, fraud, and the distribution of counterfeit software.

Unless otherwise required by applicable law, there is no requirement or expectation that SCEA will monitor or record any online activity on PSN, including communications. However, SCEA reserves the right to monitor and record any online activity on PSN, and you give SCEA your express consent to monitor and record your activities. SCEA reserves the right to remove any content from anywhere on PSN at SCEA’s sole discretion. SCEA has no liability for any violation of this Agreement by you or by any other player.

But on the other hand, being barred access to a gaming service can also be unreasonable, especially since mainstream games as a whole are completely reliant on online services for a multitude of features–ranging from online gaming to achievements, to access to premium downloadable content. Effectively, the confiscation of these features inhibits the general value of a user’s gaming system and their respective games as a whole–arguably, disciplinary action of this level is unacceptable towards players who are barred from access to such services, despite having invested at least thousands of dollars in XBox 360/PS3 videogames, online subscriptions and DLC.

I am not arguing for either side, however. Arguably, while the consumer owns the games and the gaming console, the company still owns the service, and has the right to moderate and maintain the sanctity of such a service–even if it is at the expense of specific archetypes of customers. I would argue that there is a limit before an offensive customer is no longer a potential source of income. On top of that, there is no genuine way of policing misbehaviour and poor conduct in videogames. One would have to find a way to police such behaviour on the internet as a whole, before they can even think about applying such tactics in a videogame.

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