Doom: Eternal is a fantastic FPS (First Person Shooter) while Half-Life: Alyx is a milestone in video games history whereby Virtual Reality games have finally approached Star Trek Holodeck-like engagement. For me, it’s all about Call of Duty. The highly-flawed series provides the perfect, fast and frantic action that can satisfy a 10-minute gaming craving or act as an all-day boredom buster. I’ve put thousands of hours into the franchise and more than a hundred hours into the latest version. I’d call it, ’Wife’s bane’ but she gets to catch up on her soaps while I’m playing, so it’s a win-win. I’ve just been permanently banned from playing for it. No reason given. No recourse. Is this fair? Is this how you treat loyal customers and fans? Let’s find out.
If there’s one thing more annoying than cheats in Call of Duty, it’s Activision & co’s near total lack of action against them. Since Modern Warfare 2 appeared, with its automated matchmaking system, aimbots and wallhacks have plagued the game (for PC players). I lost count of the number of people I reported. I ended up videoing and screen-capturing them and sending the images off to the developers and publishers… but you’d still come up against them. All the time. They’d frequently goad you for threatening to report them, saying that nothing was going to happen. Many were maximum-level players who had evidently been getting away with it for a considerable time.
It’s something I’ve been writing about for years: here’s an article I wrote about it with Modern Warfare 3 back in 2011 on the ABC.
44 Kills and 2 deaths (next highest is three) with massive latency and an opposition who rage quit. That's the hallmark of a cheater. But who at Activision cares?
Here’s another example from 2017’s CoD: WW2. I’ve plenty more. As I write this, the top post of the /r/ModernWarfare subreddit is titled, “They Don't Hide It Because They Know Nothing Will Happen” which perfectly illustrates the point by showing a blatant cheater cheating, being reported and the report being filed straight into a paper shredder. It feels like that’s been the case since the beginning.
Meanwhile, in Australia…
With CrossPlay in the latest Modern Warfare, the problem feels like it’s reduced slightly. PC players now get to play against Xbox and Playstation players meaning that Australian PC players can actually play more than a handful of modes and that there’s a sizeable, thriving online community for the first time since the early days of Modern Warfare 2 back in 2009. Console players can’t easily cheat, although they do get given auto-aim features due to the ‘disadvantage’ of playing with a controller. But that’s the price of playing against consoles. It’s a good thing because, after the launch of MW2, the rapid release of sequels ate into the ANZ online userbase leaving only a few game modes available. Us remaining, dedicated players subsequently suffered horrible pings from trans-continental match-making plus a sizeable contingent of hackers.
A Global Problem
Now, with 30 million players taking up the free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone Battle Royale mode, it was inevitable that a bunch of cheaters would appear. It’s also refreshing that, a few days ago, Activision permanently banned 50,000 players. Good on them. Finally. However, the company states:
We employ a number of programs in place to combat both cheaters and cheat providers.
- Our security teams monitor 24/7 to investigate data and identify potential infractions.
- The teams review all possible cheats and hacks, this includes identifying use of aimbots, wallhacks and more.
- We’re working to improve our in-game system for reporting potential cheating. Plans are underway to streamline the UI for a more seamless reporting experience.
- For all reports that are received in-game, they are both analysed and filtered based on key data.
- Once investigations are complete, we will continue to work as quickly as possible to ban.
But Activision has been saying similar for years and it’s never rung true before.
And yet, last night, in the middle of a game on the fast-and-frantic Shipment map, I suddenly got disconnected and shown this:
Permanently banned. No idea why.
I am not a good player. Any A.I. analysing my scores will show that very quickly. In fact, simply looking at my KDR (Kill/Death ratio) will demonstrate it. I mainly play to grind through unlocks on small maps because I find the fast and frantic burst-based gameplay, the best on the market. When I’m not doing that I’m playing as an objective monkey to win the game against a team of campers who decimate me. I’m not into stats and you can’t aimbot objectives.
So, this has pushed me on a mission to a) look at the appeals process and b) establish what exactly the “key data” is that the “security teams” look at to identify cheaters.
A) Is quite straight forward. If you’re permabanned, that’s apparently it. You don’t get told what you’re banned for and there’s no course of appeal. Following Activision’s ‘Contact Us-based’ “Support” process leads to the following, unhelpful, workflow with a suck-it-up-Princess, dead end. For a product that costs $90 - $120 in Australia, that’s unacceptable customer service that’s surely illegal. To find out we’ve contacted the ombudsman that deals with video games. We’ve also reached out to Activision (Publisher), Blizzard (Distributor) and Infinity Ward (Developer) to find their take on the matter and to establish the identification and key data that’s being used.
A contact us section which says don't bother contacting us.
What’s more troubling is that even social media channels are censoring any complaints: Tweeting to support drew no reply while posts in both the /r/callofduty subreddit and /r/modernwarfare subreddit got removed (despite the first getting immediate upvotes).
Warning: the next paragraph is a rant so feel free to skip it
As someone who has an all-time gaming highlight being the time when he earned a pair of virtual, leather trousers by shooting down a third Paladin (futuristic AC-130 gunship in CoD: Advanced Warfare) with an RPG - despite it being a super rare care-package reward (which meant I’d earn multiple care packages and leave them around a map for the enemy to hijack in the hope they’d call one in) and that it was only possible to shoot it on a couple of rare maps on low rotation in a small, online community, and only in a couple of locations on those maps. The Paladin would take three RPGs to be taken down, but you only had two and the travel time to the Paladin for three rockets was less time than it took for the Paladin to fly away. Consequently, you had to fire an RPG – switch to a Light Machine Gun and shoot it just enough to make up for a third RPG explosion (but not so much that you’d accidentally take down the Paladin with bullets), switch back to an RPG and fire the second explosive round – hoping you wouldn’t be shot by the enemy during the exposed, lengthy, elaborate process – and that both your slow-moving, zero-lock-on, RPGs actually hit the gunship moving away in the distance. I recorded the immediate aftermath of my reaction when that happened. The fact that there was a well-known glitch that stopped me actually getting my leather trousers and that the developers never bothered to fix it was by the by – and standard for CoD support. It took me months to complete that one challenge. The point of this rant is that being unfairly banned from a video game – especially in a time of Covid-19 lockdown – is a big deal, especially when people invest so much time, effort and money into it.
Back in the room: Activision Support
I would have a great deal of sympathy with Activison support due to the shear volumes of players they have and the vast volumes of false-cheater accusations that they deal with... except that they’ve been hopeless since at least 2009. With so many people recording and publishing gameplay, it should be simple to identify the most blatant cheaters and ban them permanently, with cause and, most importantly, with evidence.
The current situation is just not good enough. A quick scan of the Activision forums show’s it’s a very common issue and that customers are being unfairly hammered – some of whom spend thousands of dollars on in-game purchases.
If this has affected you, please get in touch to help elicit answers from the publishers.