Thursday, February 26, 2015

ISBoxer, Another Ninja Edit, And A Correction

'...when you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.'
- Sherlock Holmes, The Blanched Soldier

Sometimes, facts that we all think we know aren't true. For example, the input broadcasting and input multiplexing bans in EVE Online. Everyone knows that CCP began banning players for input broadcasting and input multiplexing on 1 January 2015. That means that CCP changed the rules and that input broadcasting was allowed before that, right? So then, how could CCP Falcon go on EVE Radio's GRN Show on 25 January and state that nothing in the EULA had changed?

Humor me for a moment or two and assume that CCP Falcon is absolutely correct in his statement. That means that input broadcasting has always violated the EULA. Now, I know what some people are thinking. Impossible, right? If CCP had allowed users of ISBoxer to violate the EULA, that means that CCP had given ISBoxers special treatment for a long time. Well, that special treatment, and CCP apparently trying to hide the fact that they had given ISBoxer users special treatment, has led to the mess surrounding the current enforcement of the EULA where ISBoxer is concerned.

The origins of the current situation go back to the beginning of 2013. Team Security began to ramp up its automatic detection system at the beginning of March. A few weeks earlier, on 18 February 2013, CCP performed a ninja edit on a forum post that Lavish Software used to promote its advanced multiboxing software, ISBoxer. Following a flurry of discussion in the EVE community, CCP issued a dev blog and a new addition to the EVE Online Rules of Conduct, the Third Party Policies page. In the new policies page, CCP referred to something called "the multiboxing application" in the Client Modification section of the Third Party Policies. CCP defined client modification as software that violates Sections 6A2, 6A3, and 9C of the EVE Online EULA. The actual quote at the time read:
"We do not endorse or condone the use of any third party applications or other software that modifies the client or otherwise confers an unfair benefit to players. We may, in our discretion, tolerate the use of applications or other software that simply enhance player enjoyment in a way that maintains fair gameplay. For instance, the use of programs that provide in-game overlays (Mumble, Teamspeak) and the multiboxing application is not something we plan to actively police at this time. However, if any third party application or other software is used to gain any unfair advantage, or for purposes beyond its intended use, or if the application or other software violates other parts of the EULA, we may fully enforce our rights to prohibit such use, including player bans. Please use such third party applications or other software at your own risk."
Now, was "the multiboxing application" ISBoxer? The debate at the time the Third Party Policies were created would indicate yes. But we have a more recent statement from a member of Team Security. In the Team Security presentation at the CSM 9 Summer Summit in Reykjavik, the CSM asked about ISBoxer. CCP Peligro's response indicated that, indeed, CCP considered ISBoxer client modification.
"The software is used for all kinds of nefarious things, not just multi-boxing. We’re banning RMT’s and botters because that’s more detrimental to the game world. Client Modification is another big thing, and ISBoxer in particular is a powerful framework for this purpose." (page 102)

A Recommendation from the OwnedCore forums

CCP Peligro also put a link to the Third Party Policies page into the minutes to help explain CCP's stance on ISBoxer. I think I can safely state that "the multiboxing application" referred to in the Third Party Policies was indeed ISBoxer.

So, the situation on 24 November 2014 was that CCP considered the use of ISBoxer as client modification as users could use the software to violate sections 6A2, 6A3, and 9C of the EULA. However, CCP would not actively police the use of ISBoxer, although the game company reserved the right to do so at a later date.

That later date was 25 November 2014.  As far as I can tell, CCP made a ninja edit to the Third Party Policies to remove the words "and the multiboxing application".  I can't tell for sure because I didn't notice until the following week, blogging about the change on 1 December.

The words underlined in red were removed on 25 November 2014
The change to the Third Party Policies was buried under the news of CCP Falcon's forum post defining the terms input input automation, input broadcasting, and input multiplexing. CCP Falcon's post was designed, I believe, to clarify Section 6A3 of the EULA. Instead, almost no one realized the real news is that ISBoxer users were losing their immunity from prosecution under the client modification sections of the EULA.

This is the point in the story in which I have to admit my mistakes. I was drawn in by CCP Falcon's post as well and thought that the changes only applied to Section 6A3, because that was the section that CCP Falcon directly addressed.  But after thinking about the situation, I now realize I was wrong in my assumption that ISBoxer users would only have to obey Section 6A3 and could still safely ignore Section 6A2 and Section 9C. By removing the phrase "and the multiboxing application", CCP was now stating that ISBoxer users need to follow all three sections of the EULA.

Let me make the following point very clear. CCP did not ban input broadcasting and input multiplexing on 1 January 2015.  Those practices always violated the EULA. What CCP did was, in a very sneaky fashion, remove ISBoxers' immunity from punishment for violating the EULA. CCP Falcon's post didn't announce a change in the EULA; his post attempted to clarify exactly what Section 6A3 allowed and prohibited.

CCP's effort to clarify Section 6A3 continued in December with the publication of a Team Security dev blog on 19 December. CCP Grimmi addressed many of the workarounds ISBoxer users were advocating on the EVE Online forums with the following section:
Refresher Course - Macro Use
During discussions about the input multiplexing and broadcasting issue on forums and in tickets, we have noticed a frequent misunderstanding we would like to take this opportunity to address.  Any use of macros to interact with the game world is prohibited by EULA now, and has always been. The EULA clearly stipulates:
Conduct
A. Specifically Restricted Conduct
3. You may not use your own or any third-party software, macros or other stored rapid keystrokes or other patterns of play that facilitate acquisition of items, currency, objects, character attributes, rank or status at an accelerated rate when compared with ordinary Game play. You may not rewrite or modify the user interface or otherwise manipulate data in any way to acquire items, currency, objects, character attributes or beneficial actions not actually acquired or achieved in the Game. [emphasis mine]
The part I emphasized is important, because many people believe, even after CCP Grimmi's dev post, that a macro is allowed if the macro only performs one action inside the client. That is not the case. CCP Grimmi clearly indicates that, "Any use of macros to interact with the game world is prohibited by EULA now, and has always been."  That sentence means that if the macro only has one step that interacts with the game world, then the entire macro violates the EULA.

But even following the dev blog, I still believed that Section 9C of the EULA did not apply to ISBoxer users. I still like my reasoning on why that section shouldn't apply, but I now believe I was wrong.

I don't know why CCP has not come down like a ton of bricks on those ISBoxers who continue to violate the EULA. Perhaps Team Security cannot tell who they should ban and who they should not. In my experience covering CCP's War on Bots and Illicit RMT, they have operated on the side of caution when banning players. That does not mean they have never banned the wrong people, just that they've let a lot of botters go who later bragged about the experience on various forums. But I am still seeing users of ISBoxer post videos in which they clearly violate the policy against using macros playing EVE.

Since we are in CSM election season, I have to add that I am glad that the CSM brought up the subject of ISBoxer during the summer summit. Part of the reason that CCP created the CSM was to assure the player base that CCP was not playing favorites among the players. The situation that existed before 1 January 2015 was that one class of players, the users of ISBoxer, were given preferential treatment over the rest of EVE players.  CCP stated in their policies that ISBoxers were allowed to violate sections of the EULA related to client modification that would see non-ISBoxer users receive 30-day and permanent bans for violating the same rules. If the CSM is more than a consumer focus group or player lobbyists, then the members of the CSM had to involve themselves in this situation. Overseeing developer favoritism is in the CSM's DNA.

One of the most ironic parts of the whole controversy is that CCP spelled out in the Third Party Policies the conditions that ISBoxer users could keep their special privilege.
"However, if any third party application or other software is used to gain any unfair advantage, or for purposes beyond its intended use, or if the application or other software violates other parts of the EULA, we may fully enforce our rights to prohibit such use, including player bans. Please use such third party applications or other software at your own risk."
To use technical language to summarize this section, CCP told ISBoxer users to not act like dicks. If ISBoxer users had done that, then CCP would have had an argument to present to the CSM to allow unrestricted use of ISBoxer to continue.  Instead, the arguments of the CSM members concerned about the use of ISBoxer carried more weight.

Perhaps having covered CCP's War on Bots and Illicit RMT for over three years gives me a different perspective on the situation. I'm not worried that CCP has not yet dropped the banhammer on some of the loudest proponents of using ISBoxer to violate the EULA. Not all users of ISBoxer use the software in that fashion. At this point, I'd hate to see those bad apples force CCP to ban any application using Inner Space. While the bot fighter in me would love to see that occur, I realize that using ISBoxer doesn't automatically mean that a player is violating the EULA. So I'll settle for CCP telling all the players in the sandbox they all have to follow the same rules. No more special snowflakes.

Now, I'm not happy with the way CCP used a ninja edit to change the policy. I believe that CCP should have just forthrightly stated that they were invoking their rights to revoke ISBoxer users' special exemption from having to follow certain sections of the EULA. If they had done so, perhaps this whole issue would have died down months ago. But, what's done is done. I'm interested to see how CCP will handle the mess they created by first giving a class of players special exemptions from following the EULA and then trying to sneak revoking that privilege.

But, please everyone. Stop saying that CCP just banned input broadcasting. You're diving me crazy. The practice has violated the EULA for years!

11 comments:

  1. You know... ALL of this is completely covered under one simple sentence...

    "CCP may amend this EULA from time to time by posting an amended version at https://community.eveonline.com/support/policies/eve-eula/. If you accept this EULA, the then-current version of this EULA shall apply each time you access the System or play EVE."

    Or in simpler terms, "CCP may amend this EULA." period.

    and... "If you accept this EULA, the then-current version of this EULA shall apply each time you access the System or play EVE."

    Any an all changes, no matter the effects or arguments pro pr con by ANYONE, to the EULA are fully within their rights to make... They own the game, it is a for profit product, these are not 'laws' or 'rights' these are the solely arbitrary rules which CCP alone has total control over. Period.


    Each and everyone of us AGREES to abide by the EULA and ToS, no matter WHAT THEY SAY, each time we login through the client to their server cluster... each and every time. Period.

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  2. Yeah... but it does make sense if you look at if form a we know and accept we are a niche game, so we can't afford to piss off a bunch of players with heavy handed, "We pwn it, FU if you dunt like it." attitudes... This is one place where I feel it is obvious CCP actually cares... about the game and the playerbase... (not that we deserve it most of the time).

    The 'parsing language and threading needles' as you put it to to try and allow the players a 'real sandbox experience' while at the same time maintain a 'for profit property' in a healthy, manageable and profitable state.


    Looked at that way, it makes sense. Keep in mind this is also not new in the human condition... how many 'laws' are on the books that are not enforced? How many corporate rules are in place simply so the company can use them JIC they are needed... but not 'policed' the rest of the time... and EVE Online is not a state or a nation... it is, in truth, just a game after all.

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  3. Inb4 we start hearing about advantages from having two monitors is an advantage that CCP needs to curb. Or whatever other set of failed arguments that proliferate to support why ISBoxer should or should not be allowed in any or all of its forms.
    As Noizy showed so perfectly, this course correction on the part of CCP was not a change in anything other than their enforcement. Their words were always clear and had they simply held to those words on a uniform basis in the past, the issue wouldn't be with us today. We'd be talking about ISBoxers the same way we talk about RMT and Botters: just another thing that was always disallowed by CCP in the playing of their game.
    As with so many things in this game and the RW, some issues go overlooked, intentionally and unintentionally, so long as they do not grow to the level of being noticeable. However, once they breach that level of relevance, it isn't a matter of anyone changing their mind. The EULA, the law of how we are allowed to access and play this game, was always there. The fact you may have been allowed to get away with edge play for longer than you did, changes nothing.
    But please, please, please... I encourage those who continue to try and fight for a complete reversal of CCP's stance on this issue, or in pushing the boundaries of the spirit of the EULA. Because what it's doing is keeping the issue alive, which will more than likely lead to further tightening of the belt. The more the Hyperboxer crowd pushes, the more opportunity to crush it down even harder. So good luck with that. In the end you will bring about your own self-fulfilling prophecy.

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  4. Interesting response. One person’s ‘irritating waffling’ is another’s ‘painstaking negotiation’.

    Maybe EULA’s aren’t susceptible to discussion in the same manner as other parts of game play. Fozzy and Rise, masters of the Features & Ideas discussion, seem quite comfortable with tossing a ‘We’re considering doing X, thoughts?’ and then engaging those that wish to partake in often spirited discussion. From what I’ve seen, EULA changes are not treated similarly. Rather a decision from on high is delivered, appropriate texts are sighted and that’s pretty much it. EULA stuff tends to feel like courts rendering verdict. Features & Ideas stuff tends to feel like raucous legislature in action.

    Leaves me wondering if the different flavors have a nature of the beast origin or rather a nature of the participants’ origin.

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  5. Too many space lawyers is the real problem.

    CCP has *always* stated that anything that gives you an "unfair advantage" in the game is a violation of the terms of service. And, the interpretation of what comprises an "unfair advantage" has *always* been up to CCP to decide. This includes use of bots, macros, in-game exploits, insider information, etc. They may choose to let certain things slide, then later decide to disallow it - they may even choose to make certain penalties retroactive to past activities.

    The simple fact is that EVE Online is the property of CCP, and they are
    the sole dictatorship of the New Eden universe. They are not required
    to be fair, impartial, or even consistent in their management of the
    game.

    Players only have the right to play the game, or not play the game. That is all. And, even that right is subject to CCP's sole discretion - they don't really need a "legal" reason to ban a player or seize his/her ingame assets (which belong to CCP anyways).

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  6. Oh, the EULA does give players some protection. For example, if CCP changes the EULA in a material way, then the player can not accept the new provisions and receive a refund for any unused subscription timw.

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  7. There doesn't appear to be any legitimate use for ISBoxer and anyone who does use it definitely has an unfair advantage. The fact that they don't outright ban all of them is probably an
    indicator that it's in widespread use and would likely be a significant
    loss of accounts. What other reason could there be?

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  8. One is written by lawyers because it is the contract under which we agree to before entering the game. The other is written by devs seeking feedback on features and ideas.

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  9. Remember that ISBoxer has not been banned, and in fact it is used for window management by quite a few senior FCs at the very top level of the game since it lets them swap rapidly to that covops they keep forgetting to cloak after jumping through gates as well as having all their clients visible at once.


    What is banned is just one use of ISBoxer: input broadcasting (which I *believe* is turned off now but perhaps there is a way to turn it back on again). I imagine it was the predominant use of the software but since there are legitimate uses they cannot just try to detect it and ban everyone who comes back positive.


    By the way, from speaking to an ex-employee of CCP I gather that even detecting it is very difficult for them but that's a different matter.

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  10. Yep, which is why I'm not screaming for ISBoxer to be banned. Although I think you're wrong about it "just" being actioned against for input broadcasting. There were 3 sections of the EULA that are mentioned in the client modification section of the Third Party Policies page, not just one.

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  11. "... the player can not accept the new provisions and receive a refund for any unused subscription time."

    Yes, I did state that players have the right to NOT play the game.

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