You may remember, back in March this year, a story that threw EA forum user Arno into the limelight. Having violated the rules of the EA forums he was given a 72 hour ban on his forum account. But found that he was also unable to play online with any of his games attached to his EA gaming account, nor activate his single-player Dragon Age II. This led to quite the brouhaha, which eventually resulted in EA's announcing that the ban had been "a mistake", and the promise that not only would Arno's gaming rights be restored, but they would fix the issue to prevent this happening again. They haven't.
We are receiving information from a number of gamers who have received forum bans for a variety of reasons who are finding they're unable to play Battlefield 3 (or indeed any other game tied into the EA user account), and worse, when they try to contact EA for help sorting this out, they are either ignored or told it's tough. So what's going on?
Three examples we've heard of in the last week provide contrasting sympathies for those banned, but always with the same result. The thing to stress at this point is, no matter the reason - nor how valid the reason - someone may have been locked out of their forum accounts, on no circumstances should this affect their ability to play games. There are a whole separate set of rules that might see someone locked out of their EA account (and the legality of these, and EA's rights to prevent someone from playing a game they've paid for without offering a refund, are another matter entirely), and one should not affect the other. As was explained by EA in March. Said EA's Senior Director of Customer Support, Boyd Beasley to "Arno":
"Unfortunately, there was an error in the system that accidentally suspended your entire EA account. Immediately upon learning of the glitch, we have restored the entire account and apologize for the inconvenience this may have caused while accessing other areas of the EA service."
However, four days later on 15th March, we were still hearing about the same happening to other EA gamers, and contacted EA to find out why this was still a problem. It was, they told us, still "an error". After we'd tried to get in touch with Boyd Beasley directly, we received a reply from someone within EA called Andrew Wong, who told us:
The problem was intended to be fixed by the end of that week, which was eight months ago. So why is it still happening? And why the mention of single-player games in that context? As if a forum ban is in any way related to playing online gaming, when it isn't offline gaming.
The first person to get in touch with us about BF3 was Nick. It's hard to sympathise with Nick, to be frank. He made a stupid thread about "teabagging" on the EA forums, and then seemed to be a bit confused that he should get in trouble for suggesting he dangle his "balls" in dead people's faces. Common sense would dictate that's not a subject to be raising on a family-friendly forum. His astonishment expressed to us that this should be an issue isn't endearing. However, less endearing was EA's response. Following Wong's advice above he contacted EA's Customer Support, via email and live chat, and received a refusal to even discuss the matter each time.
We also heard from Rob. Rob's encounter with EA's seemingly arbitrary banning process makes much less sense. His account was suspended for having posted a "commercial". What he had in fact posted was a link to his non-commercial blog, to a guide to "network troubleshooting", recently updated for helping gamers get connected to BF3. A link that's been repeatedly posted to the same forums for a couple of years, and better still, has actually been linked to by EA Support themselves. The link, says Rob, is mentioned on their own corporate support site and FAQ! He too found that the live chat support was absolutely useless, with those replying unable to deviate from a script that endlessly, uselessly loops. This led to his being banned from his gaming account for 72 hours, as well as a permanent "strike" on EA's "three strikes" system. Something it's not possible for him to dispute.
Then we heard from James, whose tale is even more extraordinary. He has been permanently banned for using the word "e-peen". (For those unfamiliar, this is short for "electronic penis", and tends to be used to suggest someone is egotistically willy-waving.) However, he did not even introduce the word. It was in reply to someone else who'd said it, and responded, "Ah, back to the e-peen talk." He was originally told this ban would be for 72 hours, but on Saturday received an email informing him that it was now to be a permanent ban from his Origin account, with no further explanation given. It was added that the matter was "now closed". And, as ever, EA's live chat and customer support are refusing to help him in any way. He's also been told that his BF3 characters and levels will be deleted.
Update: James explains he was polite and courteous with the EA Live Chat person, who had pointed him toward the email form to request further help. He filled this in, again politely he says, and the next day received an email in response saying,
"Please note that your account [email] has been permanently terminated from the Electronic Arts Online service for violating the terms of services. The account will no longer be accessible in any way, and all property, items, and characters associated currently are or will soon be deleted."
And the in field explaining why?
"This action was necessary due to the repeated nature of the offense on the account. We regret having to take this final step, but it is entirely necessary on behalf of protecting the Electronic Arts Online community. The violation has already been discussed above so further communication on this matter won’t be entertained. We thank you for your understanding on all the statutes within the Terms of Service, and they still contractually apply to you as per the original agreement, especially the sections regarding terminated members of the service."
No such discussion had taken place. No such "repeated" offense had occurred. Which makes the refusal to even discuss this ban somewhat problematic. Since he received this email, James has not been able to access any of his Origin games online.
So what is going on? We contacted EA about this last week, but have not had a response, let alone a statement on the matter. We've tried contacting some other people today, and will update if we receive a reply. And let's not forget the statement that EA gave to Shack back in 2008:
"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."