So what is the latest word on EA and BioWare banning users from games? You may remember that on Friday, the now-famous Arno found he was unable to access his copy of Dragon Age II because he made a rude-ish comment on the BioWare forums. This saw a 72 hour forum ban, which, it seemed, also froze his EA account, which meant he could not authenticate his copy of DA2, and nor could he play other EA games tied into the account. It was highlighted on a few sites, and we spoke to Arno himself to get his side of the story. Later that day Arno received a personal email from the Senior Director of Customer Services himself, Boyd Beasley, explaining that this had been an error, with accompanying profuse apologies. Since we wrote the story we've heard about the same happening to other gamers, as long ago as a year back, and indeed it happened again to someone else over the weekend. Asking EA about this, they've given us a statement explaining that this continues to be a fault, and they're working on fixing it by the end of the week. But we're left with some questions.
Clearly mistakes happen all the time, and if we went on a crusade for everyone who'd been on the receiving end of a glitch in a system, we'd be a busy and ridiculous site. But Arno's plight represents something more significant: that if EA chose to, they could, without needing to say why, lock you out of all your EA account games. However, we've now been told that this is something they will never do to single player games.
We wrote to Boyd Beasley to follow up on his apology to Arno, asking for more details about whether such bans were ever considered appropriate by EA, and if not, why EA staff were actively enforcing them. We received a reply from Andrew Wong (who did not make his position within EA known) saying,
Which leaves us with some questions.
This isn't a recent phenomenon, nor a new mistake. Over the weekend we were contacted by James (cipher86) to whom the very same thing happened a year ago. He was reported for an inappropriate poll on the forums which he accepted had upset someone. But found, for a few hours, he was still able to post on the forums, but not access any of his games. An attempt to play Dragon Age saw a message pop up telling him he couldn't log in because his account was suspended. And when he went to customer support he was send a cut and paste of the Terms Of Service, certainly giving the impression that his gaming ban was deliberate.
On Saturday, after the Arno Incident, user 'Armatyr' logged into his PS3 copy of Dragon Age II to see that same message: "Unable to log in. This account has been banned." Reading through Amatyr's comments, he doesn't seem the most endearing of forum users. References to setting things on fire and raping sheep appear to have gotten him into trouble. But rather than a forum ban he was locked out of his games eight hours ahead of being told why, and indeed before being prevented from posting under that account. Then when he created a second account to attempt to discuss this, he was IP banned, and the thread was locked.
Both Arno and James were told by EA's customer support, and by moderators, that their bans were valid. It seems, from our perspective, that EA staff were actively enforcing these rulings. So we've asked EA whether their staff have been incorrectly enforcing these bans, and whether they will be given the correct information from now on.
Secondly, one particular aspect of the statement from Wong is very interesting.
"it is not our policy to prevent customers from playing a single-player game"
According to EA's Terms of Service, it very much is their policy to do this. Literally. It states,
"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 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."
This means that, with an increasing number of EA single player games bought with a specific account requiring online authentication, DLC tied to specific accounts, and in turn, save games tied into specific accounts, customers are absolutely restricted from playing their single player games. As has been demonstrated by both Arno and Armatyr, when their EA Account is banned, their access to single player games is restricted. And so while EA may be stating that forum violations should not be leading to in-game account bans, while their ToS makes it clear that they can ban accounts at their discretion, will this be changed such that single player games, including DLC, will no longer be affected? And if someone were to violate the ToS with regards to multiplayer gaming - say, abusing other players - would their ban be specifically for multiplayer, and not affect any online single player content?
EA certainly seem to be suggesting that their software's error is causing account bans to be too overreaching, and that single player gamers shouldn't be affected. Which would be fair enough. But when their ToS says that account bans can include the permanent deletion of accounts, with no reimbursement for the value of the games lost, where are the lines drawn?
When we hear back, we'll let you know.