Steam: The User Banning, Money Making Game Machine.
I think it would be safe to say that anyone who plays computer games knows of the game distribution platform Steam. Due to Steam’s dominance in the market (mainly because they have all of the games people like to play) and the popularity of video games with a high price tag, it wouldn’t be unheard of for people to try and either a.) pirate games or b.) gain unauthorized access to someone’s Steam account. Before I go any further though, let’s rehash how Steam works with regard to game distribution.
Once you purchase a game through Steam, you do not receive any physical disk or product key, the purchase (which is a one-time purchase) links to your Steam account so you can access it anywhere you login via Steam – nice, right? In theory, it is. However, it seems that it doesn’t always work out as nicely as it appears, especially since games are not transferable to other accounts (you will see why that matters below). For example, if someone gains unauthorized access to your account and you are banned from Steam via the Valve Anti-Cheat system there is absolutely nothing you or Steam can do. What? Why?
According to the Steam support site, “All VAC bans are permanent – Valve has a zero-tolerance policy for cheating and will not lift VAC bans under any circumstances.” That even applies if your account has been compromised. On top of your account being banned from secured servers, you cannot transfer the games you purchased under the account which was banned to the new account you will have to create if you wish to continue playing on secured servers with other people. Therefore, you end up having to repurchase all of the games you wish to continue playing on secured servers. Is it just me who finds this a bit unethical?
I understand the security of your account is your responsibility, but, as we have talked about in the past passwords can be cracked (more info) if enough effort is put into it. So in essence, in a system where it is impossible to a.) have a wrongful ban removed or b.) transfer over your games to a new account you as a user are screwed if someone decides to try and gain unauthorized access into your account. Steam’s response will essentially be as follows: “too bad.” leaving you to have to repurchase the hundreds or perhaps thousands of dollars in games you used own. Does that seem fair and ethical to you?
Apparently this has become such a problem that sites and communities have been started to try and remedy the situation. Sites such as Steambans are looking to add a human touch to banning people from servers, which in my experience typically works out better in the long run. I do not understand why Steam has to take this approach to its customers – I guess they know no one is really competing against them so it doesn’t matter. Nonetheless, even Microsoft offers free versions of Windows to customers who have been sold illegitimate copies if they can prove it. The same can be applied to the Steam situation, they track and log IP’s – if the IP is in a completely different part of the world from the account typically uses it is most likely a very good chance it isn’t the actual account holder. So give the user a break. It won’t kill you, if anything, it’s good PR. Try it.
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