EA Forum Bans Can Lock You Out Of Games

By John Walker on March 11th, 2011 at 12:50 pm.

The very definition of quick and dirty

UPDATE: EA are now saying this was a mistake, and Arno has access to his games during the ban.

Original story: Be careful what you say. That’s the lesson BioWare forum user Arno has learned in the last 24 hours, after an ill-advised comment on the BioWare forums has led to his EA account being locked, such that he cannot play his purchased copy of Dragon Age 2 for 72 hours.

It reveals a clause in the terms of service that accompany buying an EA game that will surprise the vast majority who do not read the microprint. Misbehave in the forum (as Arno fully admits he did), and you can have your right to play a legitimately purchased game taken away from you. Forever, if they want to.

Arno made a mistake. He posted a comment in which he said,

“Have you sold your souls to the EA devil?”

In the world of forums, it’s a relatively innocuous remark. But if you’re EA, and someone’s come into your front room, you may not want to put up with such insults. Sure, go say them somewhere else, but not in our house. Constructive criticism it was not.

A response we might expect would be – well, here we’d just mock you in our comment thread, or edit your comment. Keep doing things we’ve asked you not to and we’d block your account. Which is essentially what happened. Arno received a 72 hour ban. But not only from the forum, but it seems his entire EA account.

A scene in the BioWare forums, yesterday.

In the last few years EA have tied an increasing number of their games to one universal user account. The same login is used for Burnout Paradise as for Mass Effect 2. It’s pretty convenient as a gamer. But it turns out it offers them a greater power than you might think. Because now Arno, despite wanting a copy of Dragon Age II that unlocked at midnight last night, is unable to authenticate the game with the account it’s tied to (by pre-release DLC), and thus cannot play.

He’s also locked out of an enormous amount of other gaming content. For instance, Arno tells us, if he wanted to play Dragon Age: Origins, he’d now have to start a new game since all his save positions are tied to DLC. Try to play those without being logged in an EA assumes it’s pirated DLC and refuses to run. And his second forum account has been locked because he suggested that bans like this could lead people to piracy – something he’s stated he does not intend to do.

We’ve seen Arno’s correspondence with BioWare, and it’s fair to say that he’s not been as controlled as he could have been. While there’s been no abuse or inappropriate language, he’s certainly cocky. BioWare’s response so far has been to repeatedly state the rules to Arno, with a moderator explaining to him,

“It’s not like you get to pick and choose your own punishment when you break the rules. The various punishments, up to and including permanent bans, EA account termination, and loss of access to entitlements, is very clearly laid out and is part of the rules you agreed to follow and be governed by.”

They’ve also locked threads discussing the matter.

During Arno’s attempt to find out what he’d done wrong, the EA live chat told him,

“You have been banned due to some inappropriate content posting on forums and we can not reveal it due to some security polices.”

Perhaps most confusingly is the moderator comment in the locked thread, in which he attempts to explain the crossover between BioWare and EA rules:

“1. BioWare community bans are forum-only and can be for as little as 24 hours. These bans should have no effect on your game, only your ability to use all the features of this website/community. these bans are handed out by BioWare Moderators as the result of our travels around the forum and/or issues reported by fellow community members.

2. EA Community bans come down from a different department and are the result of someone hitting the REPORT POST button. These bans can affect access to your game and/or DLC.

Because the BioWare community now operates under the same umbrella as all EA Communities, community members here have all explicitly agreed to abide by and be governed by both sets of rules. Consider it an added incentive to follow the rules you say you’re going to follow.”

And there’s no doubt that they can do this. It certainly does state this in the EA terms. They, without question, reserve the right to take away your access to games you’ve bought at their discretion, and no refund will be offered. It says so here:

EA may also terminate your Account(s) (and access to all related Entitlements) for violation of this Terms of Service, illegal or improper use of your Account, or illegal or improper use of EA Services, Content, Entitlement, products, or EA’s Intellectual Property as determined by EA in its sole discretion. You may lose your user name and persona as a result of Account termination. If you have more than one (1) Account, EA may terminate all of your Accounts and all related Entitlements. In response to a violation of these Terms of Service or any other agreement applicable to EA Services accessed by you, EA may issue you a warning, suspend your Account, selectively remove, revoke or garnish Entitlements associated with your Account or immediately terminate any and all Accounts that you have established. You acknowledge that EA is not required to provide you notice before suspending or terminating your Account or selectively removing, revoking or garnishing Entitlements associated with your Account. If EA terminates your Account, you may not participate in an EA Service again without EA’s express permission. EA reserves the right to refuse to keep Accounts for, and provide EA Services to, any individual. You may not allow individuals whose Accounts have been terminated by EA to use your Account.

If your Account, or a particular subscription for an EA Service associated with your Account, is terminated, suspended and/or if any Entitlements are selectively removed, revoked or garnished from your Account, no refund will be granted, no Entitlements will be credited to you or converted to cash or other forms of reimbursement, and you will have no further access to your Account or Entitlements associated with your Account or the particular EA Service. If you believe that any action has been taken against your Account in error, please contact Customer Support at support.ea.com.

To summarise, EA can take away your access to your purchased games at their sole discretion, and not offer any refund. That’s what you agree to when you buy an EA game. And of course this is not unique to EA. We are very aware of other services with similarly draconian bans, and are actively investigating them.

So be warned. There’s no legal recourse here. The EA terms are clearly laid out, and you are required to agree to them before you can install a game they provide. And their rules are ambiguous enough that they can choose to ban you at their own discretion. Oh, and of course it can all be avoided by just not posting on their forums. Or at least not being rude if you do.

EDIT: All this makes it a bit strange that three years ago EA told Shack News that they’d certainly not allow forum bans to affect game playing.

“Posting in EA Forums is enabled by an EA Nucleus account — but access to the forums and access to the games are separate. Players who have been banned from EA Forums are not automatically banned from online access to their other EA games. Players can be banned if they breach the Terms of Service or Code of Conduct in a forum, game or service. Each forum, game and service is managed independently by customer support representatives responsible for that specific forum, game or service.”

So, er. Thanks to kyrieee for the tip.

EDIT EDIT: The moderator responsible for dealing with this incident has got back to us. I asked him to explain why this happens, and for how long a ban could potentially last. His reply, quite bizarrely, was:

“Sorry, but I have no comment for you.”

So there you go.

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309 Comments »

  1. Real Horrorshow says:

    Wait, what did Valve do? Is it the currency thing? I’m missing something because I thought Valve was an honorable company.

  2. Deano2099 says:

    The piracy argument is actually kind of interesting. It almost does justify piracy. Not morally but… well:

    What it basically boils down to is that when you buy a digital download, or an account-restricted game from a shop, you’re basically buying thin air. You’re paying for nothing.

    Because you’re not buying a product, says the publisher, you’re buying a service. Which is perfectly reasonable. It requires a change in thinking, but basically the box I buy is just a service agreement.

    The problem lies in that the same EULA will then tell you that the publishers offers no guarantee of the service, it can be shut down any time, the product is sold as is, bugs and all, and they can remove your access whenever they want.

    So on the one hand, they’re selling a service. On the other hand, they make no guarantee that this service will work or even exists. They are literally selling thin air. They’re selling nothing. They’re not selling a product, and they’re not selling a service.

    And if they’re selling nothing, then the thing they’re selling is inherently worthless, and so why would you pay for it? Well obviously you do so to reward and feed the people that made something you enjoy. But that’s practically voluntary at this point.

    • GenBanks says:

      Interesting, well said.

    • Khymus says:

      Buy the game, crack the game, own the game. Especially for something like this, a strictly offline single-player affair. I’m one of those weirdos that doesn’t care much for achievements, gamer scores, or what have you, so this option works well for me.

    • Memph says:

      @ Deano2099
      Brilliantly put. If they can’t even specify what it is, how long it will last or even if it will work, how can they set a price for it at all?
      Makes the sheer obnoxious cheek of having the buyers then ‘agree’ to all these terms and rules for the whatever it may be, a total bloody joke.

  3. Memph says:

    Originally responding to some of the steam haters, but as ‘reply’ keeps eating my posts then telling me i can’t post again it’s now all here in a big sloppy mess, bare with me if it seems i rail off on tangents a bit…. :)

    Steam and it’s ilk are as dodgy a ground as any other license agreement for those who think they own every title bought on there forever, regardless of anything and i do very strongly feel it’s something gamers as consumers should openly identify as a massive concern, regarding where we will in fact stand when or if a service eventually goes down or is taken away and we instantly lose a grand’s worth of our collected games, just because said service’s tie-in launcher UI has them ‘locked’ and no longer works with them.

    It’s a very uncomfortable thought for those who deem games today to be the same value as those purchased on media like cartridges and discs. I can still plug in a NES and play the Megaman & Final Fantasy games i bought, or even get 16bit PC games going with a bit of technical fiddlery, but can i really say the same for playing Mass Effect or Portal, 10 – 15 years down the line?

    I think too many folk see Steam and such merely as platforms to buy games on, whereas we’re actually only being sold unspecified, limited access to play the games on that specific platform, yet still at full price (and often even more) of a physical product, so when the ban hammer does come down on our entire games collection for any number of arbitrary or even legit reasons, it’s a sodding great backhanded blow to take. All those games, more to the point all of that money….. just gone.

    I admittedly do like what Steam does aside from this, in fact thanks to Steam sales i own, sorry, have bought, uh…. am renting…i think…. many games that I wouldn’t have otherwise even bothered to sniff at. However being a long-time gamer i like having MY games collection. I have sought out and collected these games to purchase, to play and to stand proud in my catalogue of games aquired over the years involved in the pastime. Like a music buff loves, collects and shelves all their favourite band’s albums, LPs and singles for future enjoyment and I remain very wary of the garnered fruits of my hobby being threatened with an undisclosed expiration date.
    They may compare games to music with regard to a user not ‘owning’ it, but i can still put a knackered old Beatles LP on my stereo and it won’t spit out 3 pages of legalese gibberish, explaining in nonsensical made-up terms why i can’t listen to it anymore.

    My blabber aside though; In this article’s particular instance, without clear citation Valve can’t be directly linked to this truely draconian brand of banning users willy-nilly merely for the posting of disparaging remarks on their forums, of which there are squillions (blimey, just look at the L4D forums when more L4D2 DLC is announced).

    • Kadayi says:

      Dragon Age 2 score was ‘kind of a rush job’
      So because the music guy was under pressure, we assume everyone else was?
      “We should emphasise that Zur is referring to the game’s musical score only – he didn’t have any involvement in other development.”

      Disinformation FTW

  4. Lifebleeder says:

    Let me preface this by saying, I make enough money that I can keep myself reasonably well stocked up on video games, as my Steam Collection can attest. I’m also pretty unsympathetic to just about every reason a pirate has given me so far as to why they do what they do, but this? You want to ban me for life from a forum because you don’t like what I have to say? Hey, it’s you’re forum, I don’t pay for the upkeep. Banning me from a Singe Player game because I said “Omigosh u r suxx0r!11!”. From a Single Player game that I paid $60 + Whatever DLC I decided to buy? Not only would I not think twice about pirating said game, I would barely think about it at all, and not feel a tiny bit of remorse. I’m not sure I’d even consider it pirating at all, after all, I paid for the game, I’m just getting back what I paid for.

    The EULA’s for games are getting out of control, could you imagine if other business’s acted this way? You didn’t like some product so the Wal-Mart Police, or the Amazon.com Gestappo come knocking on your door, dropkick your wife in the face and take her new breadmaker. You went on rottentomatoes.com and posted a bad review for “IronSpider Hulkman 17″, and lament that the MPAA sucks so Paramount Pictures bans you from every movie theatre in the country. Ridiculous.

  5. Bilbo Fraggins says:

    “we can not reveal it due to some security polices.”
    That seems like utter rubbish to me.

  6. Anyxxi says:

    I can’t help but notice the giant Dragon Age II advertisement you guys have all over the site.

  7. geldonyetich says:

    Even though “Freedom Of Speech” isn’t exactly the issue of being thrown out of an establishment after you’ve been mouthing off, it is nonetheless a concept that reverberates very strongly through Americans and consequently, I expect EA’s going to get a lot of negative backlash.

    Outside of that, there’s a clear violation of customer trust when they entertain the idea they can shut down your ability to play an offline game, that you paid for, in the privacy of your own home, just because you mouthed off to them. Any merchant who pretends to be the least bit professional would at least give you back your $60 instead of pickpocketing you because they don’t like you anymore.

    I imagine interested lawyers are already knocking on this EA forumite’s door.

  8. Premium User Badge

    Scandalon says:

    Thanks EA, for helping clarify that I won’t be buying any of your games in the foreseeable future.

  9. Hoaxfish says:

    “Sorry, but I have no comment for you.”

    That kinda seems their whole attitude (often without the “sorry” part)

  10. Veracity says:

    Thanks for flagging this. I admit I’m pessimistic about the chances of EA (or Valve, or whoever) acknowledging that their right to revoke your licence because they feel like it is maybe not ok, or (more importantly?) enough consumers ever deciding it isn’t really to have an impact But I think a newsy site treating it as newsworthy at least elevates it a bit out of the permanent background buzz of angry internet people.

  11. joshualwilliams1981 says:

    The only good troll is a dead troll.

    This kid votes with his dollar and buys all of the Bioware products he can, talks smack, then whines about the consequences?

    He deserves everything he gets. Maybe if EA/Bioware would have had the balls to see it through, they could set a standard for the rest of the forums out there.

  12. arfaboulius2 says:

    EA DEVIL STATUS:

    NOT TOLD[ ]
    TOLD [ ]
    KNIGHTS OF THE TOLD REPUBLIC [X]

  13. instant0 says:

    Guess I should have played the Reloaded version instead after all… combined with the effin console camera on the PC version and this they can go stuff themselves. At least I wont make that mistake next time.

  14. Kadayi says:

    “They’ve also locked threads discussing the matter.”

    Sensationalise much John? I only see the one thread that you’ve linked to twice.

  15. rocketman71 says:

    Aaaaaaaaaaand that’s why you don’t buy games from EA anymore.

    The “it was an accident” damage control bullshit took a bit longer this time. Probably because of the weekend.

    BTW, Kadayi must have REALLY liked Dragon Age 2.

    • Kadayi says:

      Nothing to do with DA2, but everything to do with misrepresenting the facts (ironic given john’s tirades against ‘fair and balanced’ Fox News tbh). Truth of that matter is, the guy never contacted account support itself (they have a ticket system) instead he went bleating to live chat, which is from what I can determine is for installer/technical issues (there’s not even a button at ea.support.com to take you to it). Perhaps if the guy had gone to the right site and followed the account support procedure it would of been sorted out quicker (the ToS refers you to that site)

      Sure I’m all for rallying against the ‘man’ (and the idea that your account can be suspended in such a manner is abhorrent and needs to be addressed), however I think it’s important that the presentation is correct. For example the banner reads Bioware antisocial network. All very droll tapping into the Zeitgeist of the recent David Fincher film, but the reality is the ban was an EA account ban administered by someone EA accounts, not a Bioware forum administered ban. Still that’s not stopped loads of people getting up in arms at Bioware (such as Anduin1 below) when really they have nothing to do with it. See I think it’s fundamentally important if you are going to point the finger at someone publicly, you point it at the right people, and you do so without embellishing the truth. Anything else is disinformation and spreading that does no one any favours.

  16. anduin1 says:

    Thats it, Im never buying a Bioware game again….unless its some crazy sale on Steam.

  17. Darcangelo says:

    tui xach thoi trang
    I don’t want to see anybody get into trouble over something that “could” get reported as supporting piracy, or the use of illegal methods with the game, so PLEASE exercise caution when posting. I know that this is a subject that is really going to get us riled up. But please post with caution. Why didn’t they do that for people caught cheating online? But maybe this will teach people to stop being a overly rude in their MP game forums, I can see trash talk but lude, constant swear, and racial remarks about people that whooped their butt or those that whooped.