Ubisoft Perma-Bans Creator Of Cool, Non-Cheating Tool For 'The Division' Because It Was Made With Cheating Software
from the cluster-bomb-collateral-damage dept
There are lots of ways companies can deal with those who cheat in online video games. We have seen developers and publishers sue those who cheat, we have seen national governments criminalize this kind of cheating, and we even got to see Rockstar’s attempt to force cheaters to only play with other cheaters. While these sorts of efforts vary wildly, the common response from game publishers is to be entirely too ham-fisted in keeping cheaters out of online games. This results in all sorts of problems, ranging from punishing players who weren’t actually cheating to creating all kinds of collateral damage.
One example of the latter recently transpired when the maker of a very cool tool for Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy: The Division found himself permanently banned from the game even though he hadn’t participated in anything resembling cheating at all. First, let’s outline what he created.
Cinematic Tools is a program developed by a Finish physics student named Matti Hietanen to help players take control of in-game cameras for the purposes of capturing interesting footage and images. He’s made the tool for 22 games, from Battlefield 1 to Dark Souls III, to Star Wars: Battlefront II. When the program is running, players can map Hotkeys to things like a free cam mode, timestop, and HUD removal as well as play around with the camera’s depth of field. This means they can unhook the camera from their player, make the sun set, change the weather and snap a great screenshot of the game from an angle that normal players would never see. It can result in beautiful work.
Beautiful isn’t the half of it. The tool is essentially designed to allow players to take cinematic shots in a variety of games, including The Division, which they can then share with the wider world. Put another way, the tool basically allows the fans of these games to show off the fantastic visuals within them from angles that would have otherwise been unavailable. Using the tool, you get artistic in-game shots such as this:
That’s just an example; there are a ton more of these types of shots. Two things are immediately evident when you view the “photos” taken using the tool. First, there are many fans of these games that go to great lengths to add an artistic eye to setting up these shots. A great deal of care has gone into the positioning of the camera, the lighting, and the depth of field settings, all of which are enabled by Cinematic Tools. Second, the visuals in these shots are absolutely stunning and full credit for that aspect of the shots goes to the makers of these games. If these screenshots do anything at all, they highlight the dedication and effort that gamemakers like Ubisoft and the developers they partner with to create mind blowing visuals for these games. It should be seen as an advertisement for these titles, if nothing else.
So why did Hietanen get banned? Well, because of the technology he used to make his application.
Cinematic Tools isn’t designed for cheating, but it was built using things like Cheat Engine, a program that some players use to look for opponents’ information, positions, and aim angles in a multiplayer match. He said he used them in order to dig into the game’s code and find ways to take control of its third-person camera, day and night cycle, and weather effects. All of this breaches the game’s Code of Conduct. Hietanen warns potential users of Cinematic Tools on his website that bans are possible.
Hietanen thinks that its his use of Cheat Engine that got him in trouble and not for his own Cinematic Tools program. “I’ve heard of other people who have gotten banned for using Cheat Engine for screenshotting so that gives me some confidence it isn’t about the Cinematic Tools.” Using Cheat Engine to reverse engineer how a game’s camera works is currently an unavoidable part of how he builds his tools though. He added that while automated bans are expected, he hopes that appeals are at least looked at. “I don’t think that’d be too hard and staying completely silent to banned content creators, no matter how hard they try making contact, really sucks,” Hietanen said. This is the first time he’s ever been banned for life.
This serves to highlight a couple of things. To start, cluster-bomb style cheat blocking is going to create this kind of collateral damage. Period. Full stop. To be fair to Ubisoft, the company didn’t start this war. Those who choose to cheat in its games did. Still, when a company’s anti-piracy measures are so ham-fisted as to not only perma-ban a party that was not cheating, but also one who created a tool that is essentially a tool for advertising the visuals of the game in question, that’s not a good anti-cheating strategy.
The other thing this highlights is that targeting tools and technology that can be used for cheating, but aren’t limited to doing so, will end up causing collateral damage as well. In this case, it’s hard to fault Ubisoft too much. I mean, the name of the program is “Cheat Engine.” Still, it will hopefully be a useful bit of education for Ubisoft to have put a blanket target on that program only to see an innocent and beneficial result of that program caught up in a ban.
Hopefully Ubisoft will see the error in all of this and lift Hietanen’s ban. He’s essentially working for the company’s advertising department for free, after all.