Thursday, January 29, 2015

On Being Permanently Banned For 143 Minutes

At 4:28 PM on Sunday, January 25th I received this email:

And no, it wasn't a fake email that was actually done superbly well or something:

The good news is that 65 minutes after being able to initially contact Blizzard about the situation I was able to get the ban reversed.  That may be a world record.

The bad news is that this ban should never have happened at all and the "compensation" for Blizzard's mistake was absolutely pitiful.

That said, the tone of this post is going to be significantly more positive than it was originally going to be.  You see, I GM a Mythic guild that is currently working on Mythic Imperator Mar'gok.  We only raid two nights a week.  Those two nights are Sunday and Monday.  So you might see how being banned on Sunday night for potentially a few days while it got sorted out *might* have been a minor problem for my entire guild.

Thankfully (and unfortunately mostly through persistence on my part) that situation did not come to pass.  I was unbanned 40 minutes before our raid time started.  Woo hoo.  Yay.  Or something.  It has resulted in this, though:

If you can't tell, that's my guildmates writing "Free Balk 2015" with Savage Feasts in Mythic Imperator's room (the magic sparks in the bottom left are him floating in mid-air just off camera).  And now I'm the butt of many jokes such as that slogan being repeated a lot, comments about how people aren't sure they want to risk their Steam account (or insert other game service) by playing with me (since apparently I'm a priority target to ban), and how they're uncomfortable with having an identified exploiter as their GM, etc.

So how did this happen, anyway?

Well, as soon as I saw the email I had a strong suspicion of what triggered it.  You see, I have a guildmate (who also happens to be an officer in my guild and a friend -- though you can't ever tell him I said that last part) who had both Horde and Alliance characters on Illidan and wanted to transfer gold across factions.  The catch is that you can't mail gold cross-faction and you can't buy AH items any character on your account listed.

So Bury (that's his BTag) asked me to help him out and I agreed.  I made a level 1 Orc Warrior named Smashbury (incredibly clever, right?), he met up with me, flew me to Orgrimmar, gave me 30k gold, and I used the 30k gold to buy 3 Copper Bars his Alliance character had put up on the AH.  Which meant that his Alliance character then got 28.5k in the mail from the auction (5% AH cut).  All perfectly legal under WoW's Terms of Service, no in-game items/currency being exchanged for out-of-game currency.

Apparently the fact that a level 1 spent 30k to buy an AH item triggered some kind of flag and I was banned less than a day later.  This was confirmed to me by Blizzard representatives.  I am severely hoping it was an automated ban because the situation involved the following:

1. The gold being transferred wound up back on the same account.  From Bury's account to my account to his account in 5-10 minutes.

2. The person I was transferring the gold to had been on my BTag's friends list for probably at least a year.

3. Even ignoring the friends list, his characters are an officer rank in the guild that I GM -- so chances are we probably know each other.

4. The character doing the transfer was a Warrior named Smashbury and the account getting transferred to was named Bury.  I'll admit I have no idea how gold buying or other exploitative services work but I am *guessing* that they don't involve silly jokes like that.  The spammers you see in trade are all random letters thrown together.

On the flip side, the fact that I might have had my account *permanently* banned by an automated system (not a temporary lockdown for investigation or some kind of warning for a first offense) is also a disturbing idea.

But what did I have to do to resolve this, you ask?

Well, first of all, I messed up.

I went to the support center to submit a ticket and selected "Account Management Issue" (other options being "10-Year Physical Gift," "Account Hacked," "Purchase or payment," "Can't log in," "Technical, Computer, Connection," "In-game issue," TCG Loot Card Issue," and "Recruit a Friend issue") and then proceeded to "Other Account Management Issue" (other options being "Started Edition upgrade issue," "Error when entering game key," "Remove SMS Protect," "Parental Controls," and "Change account information").  This allowed me to submit a "Phone Callback" request/ticket which said I would be contacted by a Blizzard representative in 5-10 minutes.  I submitted this ticket at 5:46 PM.

I did in fact get a call in that time-frame, the agent confirmed my suspicion that my level 1 Orc Warrior caused this ban, and I explained the situation.  He said that he unfortunately was not in a position to make a decision or change anything and that I would need to submit a ticket to some kind of Appeal Review.  Apparently I was supposed to select "Can't log in" initially which would lead to "Banned, suspended, appeal request" as an option.

I mentioned that I was the GM of a Mythic guild progressing on Mythic Imperator and that we raided in less than two hours, so getting this resolved quickly was kind of a high priority.  I then asked what the length of the appeal process was when using the ticket.  The agent said he couldn't really say.  I asked (pretty much word for word): "Are we talking an hour?  A day?  A week?"  The agent said he still couldn't say.

So I asked if he had a superior I could speak to -- he said yes but that the superior couldn't do anything either.  I said I understood and that I wanted to speak to his superior anyway.  He left to go talk to his superior while I waited.

A few minutes later the agent got back to the phone and said his superior would look the case over and get back to me within an hour.  He mentioned something about checking the IPs as part of it (which also disturbs me -- the automated system didn't bother to check the IP when it banned me?  It thought someone was logging onto my account from China or something to exploit the economy but didn't even check the IP at the time?  Really?) and I thanked him for his time.

Sure enough, at 6:51 PM I received a notification saying my ban had been lifted (keep in mind that was still under an hour from the point the superior got involved) which you saw at the top of this post.  I even had a free game day of time thrown in for the inconvenience!

But..let's talk about that last part.

Worst case a WoW subscription is $15 a month which is basically $0.50 a day.  Which means Blizzard considers unjustly *permanently* banning me, freaking me out (both about the ban and the situation my guild would be in), and having me waste an hour of my time to get it reversed to be worth...about $0.50.

That's rather insulting, actually.  I mean, seriously, just keep your "free day."  I'd rather have nothing under the circumstances, $0.50 is in no way some kind of reasonable compensation for unjustly *permanently* banning someone.

Unless Blizzard thinks that's really no big deal, of course, but that's disturbing in its own right.


  1. Ouch, that sucks. Glad they got it sorted out quickly for you (at your insistence, of course, otherwise the standard process likely would've taken a week). I'm not surprised they have automated systems detecting transfers of large sums of gold (though today 30k may not be that large a sum...).

    The free game day thing vaguely reminds me of waaay back when I was applying for financial aid for University. One semester the government said I qualified for a whopping $143. Not even a single textbook :S I declined, telling them to save us both the paperwork (which would have likely cost the government way more than $143...).

    I get the whole, "Hey, they had a bad experience, let's compensate them to make them feel better," thing, but if it's a small token amount, I agree, it comes off as insulting rather than helpful. On the other hand, if it wasn't a token amount, and it's just used to offset the game time they stole from you by banning your account, then 1 day is appropriate. The text of the email suggests the latter.

    It does sound like their auto-banning technology still needs some human oversight, though. It's not being very conservative with its guesses.

    1. "though today 30k may not be that large a sum..."

      No kidding, that was another thing that struck me. I mean, we constantly have problems when recruits transfer and they need to figure out how to move their gold -- can only move 50k by default. When your daily profession cooldowns alone on one character usually net 1000g or more 30k doesn't seem like that much.

      "The free game day thing vaguely reminds me of waaay back when I was applying for financial aid for University."

      Just saying, usually when people talk about "waay" back in the day they're referring to times when gas was like $0.25 a gallon ;)

      "On the other hand, if it wasn't a token amount, and it's just used to offset the game time they stole from you by banning your account, then 1 day is appropriate. The text of the email suggests the latter."

      Yeah, but the problem with this logic (as I'm sure you're aware) is that if it winds up being some crazy issue and I fight with Blizzard for a month and then they finally say "Well, we screwed up, here's a month to make up for it" that has the whole problem of how you missed everything for that month.

      A month of profession cooldowns, raid lockouts, bonus rolls, garrison missions, etc. Simply adding on a month doesn't fix that -- and what we're talking about (in this hypothetical) has nothing to do with making me feel better about the situation and everything to do with making up for what was lost/stolen.

      "It does sound like their auto-banning technology still needs some human oversight, though. It's not being very conservative with its guesses."

      No kidding.

  2. I can hardly read the rest of your post after seeing Free Balkoth in feasts.

    Now that is great guild community, Balkoth. These sorts of thing warm my heart. Not the banning. No. Just the feasts.

    1. If they still remember this November they'll probably try to get T-Shirts made with that slogan to wear to BlizzCon or something ;)

  3. What you did is what Gols Sellers do. They reversed the issue in less than a day and you bitch? I am glad we are not on the same sever, get real.

    1. I'm guessing that you're this fellow:

      I don't think this is even worth dignifying with a real response.