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.
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.