A player of Star Wars: The Old Republic who went to Ilum at a low level to take advantage of easy access to high-tier items got banned from the servers. Now, he didn’t abuse any bugs, exploit overseen loopholes, or use hacks. He simply took advantage of an unbalanced part of the game, which is common practice and to be expected. Community Manager Stephen Reid made it clear that he was not banned for going there at a low level, but for going there repeatedly to loot the chests. The heinous crime he committed? The fact that he could have been “Imbalancing the economy”.
Every online game with trading has some form of economy. If an item is somehow very easy to get, like the Vivienne in Phantasy Star Online, then it’s going to be next to worthless despite being extremely effective. If it’s hard to get, you might fork over a massive supply of the currency of the realm that might need multiple trades to get.
It is expected of server admins to dish out bans to dirty gold farmers and real money traders for obvious reasons (most of them being that it’s actually illegal to sell goods you don’t own). However, if someone is taking advantage of a design flaw in the game, the proper response is to address it. I myself am a firm believer in the philosophy of “It’s part of the game, if you don’t like it, don’t play”. I also believe with equal firmness that the economy of a game is purely a case of barter, and supply and demand. If someone does something to disrupt it, well tough. Nobody would arrest Bill Gates for mailing a $5000 check to everyone in the United States and doing something crazy to the economy. I can name a large amount of easy money and easy item tricks in Phantasy Star Online where I could potentially outright destroy the economy within two months by giving out high-★ items like candy myself.
To ban a player for taking advantage of a game mechanic is just not cool. Yes, camping mobs or drops is taboo in the MMO universe, but there are multiple ways to prevent it, like full PvP, drops having high-level mobs to go with it, or a physical limit to how often you can open that particular crate on your account.
One thing Stephen cites to justify himself is that it was not “normal gameplay”.
Okay let’s turn this around. Is maxing out your character to have 15,000 DPS when most players have 2,000 “normal play”? Is getting your craft skills up to where unique one-of-a-kind items look like a joke “normal play”? Is killing the final boss of a notoriously hard game with one (very underleveled) character “normal play”? If an MMO started handing out bans to people for being too powerful or going too far on optimization, there would be a war. You can define Normal Play all you wish, but you will always get one guy who takes it to extremes.
It’s perfectly acceptable to patch balance issues and such in games to keep a single issue from spiraling out of control, but for a company to actively moderate the metagame through punishments is flat-out wrong.
I would love to hear other people’s opinions on this, I’m certain mine are quite controversial.