For the last week I've been sending quite a few emails to various people within EA, trying to get to the bottom of why gamers receiving forum bans are finding they do not have access to their Origin online gaming. My goal has been to get a clear understanding of their current policy on the matter, since the company's actions don't appear to match the statements made in 2008, and March this year. On both occasions they have made it clear that forum bans should not affect access to games, and yet it's quite obvious that's not the case. So what is going on? We're getting closer to understanding. While we've still no clear idea what their current policy actually is, EA have promised me that they are "planning a policy update which will include more equitable rules", with a view to having "the time fit the crime."
A number of people had contacted us to say that their forum bans (both justified and mystifying) were locking them out of their online gaming, and that their attempts to find out why from EA's customer support were met with silence or nonsense. Ignoring the question of the legality of preventing access to a purchased product (something I'm looking into), the confusion really lay in EA's previous assurances that they would not be doing this after the "error" in March. Something that really doesn't seem to line up with the statement given to me today.
John Reseburg, of EA's Corporate Communications, contacted me overnight with a statement. I'm breaking it in two halves:
"With every game and service EA offers, we take the satisfaction of our customers very seriously. We discourage cheating and strive to maintain a high level of integrity in both our games and our forums. Therefore when someone violates our Terms of Service, we are forced to take actions that can include suspensions and other measures. We do not take those decisions lightly – however the integrity of our services and the satisfaction of our customers requires a clear set of rules.
Obviously this first half obfuscates the issue. This hasn't ever been about those who cheat within games, and clearly in violating EA's online gaming rules, such actions will receive the stated consequences to online gaming. This is very much at the core of the issue here: the conflation of incorrect behaviour on forums, and the same in games. Let's have a quick aside to ensure absolute clarity about why this conflation is quite so inappropriate:
If you play a game of BF3 online, you're going to hear swearing. Heck, if you play it offline you're going to hear swearing from the in-game characters. BF3 is a game in which there is swearing, cursing, bad language, however you'd like to put it. The chances are you're going to hear some strong language as you play, and no one's getting banned for that, least of all the NPCs of the single-player campaign. However, say "balls" or "e-peen" on the forum, and you're getting banned, seemingly from the games too, for one person for life. There's clearly no equivalence. It doesn't make sense for the two to be treated the same, which, oddly enough, was EA's own opinion in the past.
But back to that requirement for a clear set of rules. The statement continues:
"We have listened to our customers and are planning a policy update which will include more equitable rules on suspensions – we want to make sure the time fits the crime. As with all technology updates, these changes take some time to implement. Meanwhile, we urge any user with a question about suspensions or our policies to please contact us at (866) 543-5435 so we can address their specific situation."
This is potentially great news. The 'time fitting the crime' aspect is a little concerning. It's never been about the 72 hour period being too long/short. But perhaps more equitable rules will mean forum suspensions will no longer affect gaming?
But of course the current problem remains: the implicit suggestion that it is their policy to ban from games for forum violations after all. So what was March all about? I've responded to all involved at EA asking if we can just get a clear reply explaining what their current policy is. If it is the case, right now, that misbehaving on forums affects your Origin gaming, then we desperately want to be able to warn you about that, not least because we assured you the opposite eight months ago when EA told us that. I think it would be safe to say that were this EA's current policy, we would strongly advise our readers to go nowhere near EA's forums for fear of an errant ban directly affecting their ability to play games they have purchased. For now, until I receive clarification, I think we have to assume this is the case.
It's also worth noting that those forum violations are pretty stringent - if quoting another's use of "e-peen" is enough to see a ban (and in this guy's case, a permanent ban!) then they need to make their guidelines a lot clearer. Especially as it currently has such a dramatic effect to be banned. Although more importantly, a proper distinction needs to be drawn between the forums, and Origin.
Reseburg stresses how much he urges those being affected to call the number stated above. Unfortunately it's a US number, so would be an international call for many involved, and I've asked for a European equivalent. (The other issue there is the Get Human page for that number reports the average wait time to be 79 minutes (although skewed by one report of 400 minutes, and probably closer to around 30).)
So that's where we are at the moment. Still working on it...