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.

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Companies: ubisoft

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Comments on “Ubisoft Perma-Bans Creator Of Cool, Non-Cheating Tool For 'The Division' Because It Was Made With Cheating Software”

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Blorpodorp says:

“He’s essentially working for the company’s advertising department for free, after all.”

Without having been asked to do so. Apparently without being wanted to do so. Obviously in a way that violates ToS/CoC.

Also obviously knowing all the above, but just going ahead and doing it anyway, expecting to get told “thanks, but no” and thinking “fuck ’em, I do what I want how I want; I’ll ‘help’ them, whether they want me to or not.”

What is this about again? Some guy willfully and repeatedly breaking ToS/CoC, not giving half a fuck about it because it would stand in the way of his mission – so the world has to oblige? “But he wasn’t cheating! So he’s allowed to do everything he wants to other people’s services!!! TYRANNY!!!”

Fuck this crap.

Lawrence D’Oliveiro says:

Re: Some guy willfully and repeatedly breaking ToS/CoC ...

It is true that Ubisoft are not a democratic institution, they are not answerable to anybody but their shareholders, they can set whatever the hell conditions they like for their own “intellectual property”, and ban anybody for any excuse, or even no excuse at all.

But nevertheless, they are a business operating in a competitive market, hoping to make money off their fans. That means being nice to those fans, and not doing things to antagonize them.

Remember, the key to a successful business is not just getting people to pay you money, but to make them feel good about doing so. Otherwise they will start thinking of reasons to stop handing over that money. And that way lies insolvency.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re: Some guy willfully and repeatedly breaking ToS/CoC ...

“Remember, the key to a successful business is not just getting people to pay you money, but to make them feel good about doing so. Otherwise they will start thinking of reasons to stop handing over that money. And that way lies insolvency.”

And since very few game companies intend to make one game and then retire from the industry forever, not antagonizing fans becomes even more important — why should they buy your second game, if you went FAR out of your way to crap all over everyone who bought the first one?

Christenson says:

Re: Working for free...

First, it has been pointed out ad nauseam on techdirt that closed games, like copyright, are really only social contracts.

Even if Mike doesn’t support the libertarian ideal that Ubisoft has the right to terminate its users for any or no reason, (perhaps because Ubisoft is too large, and so might be discriminating against people like you, or maybe the whole idea of depending on Ubisoft’s good graces after “purchasing” the game ), he certainly has the right to criticize Ubisoft for being silly and ungracious in the face of some free advertising they likely couldn’t get any other way.

In fact, “some guy” there has given Ubisoft a huge gift….and if I were running Ubisoft, I would hire that guy to make those camera moves official, and to help make sure that “cheating” and the various cam modes were distinct, and to deny those awesome art prints to other game companies that might compete with Ubisoft.

One way to do that is to simply include the camera controls in the main game, and to notify all opponents if they are used beyond certain limits.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“because it would stand in the way of his mission”

His mission to… make the game more valuable and make it a better experience for people who pay to play it? Where’s the problem?

“But he wasn’t cheating! So he’s allowed to do everything he wants to other people’s services!!!”

Pretty much. If he wasn’t doing anything to negatively impact the game, and was in fact making it better for those who used his tool, why should he not be allowed to use it?

Come on, try an argument other than “respect their authoritah”, argue the facts.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Analogies for the impaired.

Robbers use guns, lockup everyone with guns.
Robbers use cars, lockup everyone with cars.
Robbers wear balaclavas, lockup that ski resort.
Robbers breath air, lockup all the mammals.

Zero Tolerance policies look fine in the abstract, but when you can’t tell a poptart from a gun (if I knew how I’d link to the coverage here) perhaps you went to far.

Beautiful images that show off the game… its exactly the sort of evil cheating that promotes the game!

Lawrence D’Oliveiro says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Welcome to American politics...

I see the anger of those kids, and I am filled with awe and respect. Will it be enough to make a difference? I would love to say “yes”, but …

They are right to feel outrage that so many of their politicians are taking money from the NRA. But there is a reason for that: it’s because standing for office in the USA, at least at the State and Federal levels, is eye-wateringly expensive. So it is very difficult to do it without campaign contributions from well-heeled donors. This gives a lot of power to lobby groups like the NRA who can stump up for such contributions. Because of course they will expect something in return, no matter how much both parties protest that there are no strings attached.

It seems to me nothing short of a popular uprising will be enough to effect change.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Robbers use guns, lockup everyone with guns.

You are assuming that all killing is murder.

[citation needed]

Do you seriously believe that the woman who prevents her own rape with a gun is of equal or even lesser morality to the rapist she stopped?


That’s a constructive use of a gun right there.

It may be a positive use of a gun, but it’s destructive, not constructive.

Shaun Wilson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Robbers use guns, lockup everyone with guns.

It may be a positive use of a gun, but it’s destructive, not constructive.

Getting into semantics is often problematic with an argument, no mater which "side" you fall on. So, onto the semantics and analogies!

Removing ivy growing on an historic building (ie killing it) is obviously destructive to said ivy as shooting a rapist is to them. On the other hand if the ivy is actively destroying the building is it really a destructive act to destroy the ivy? It could even be argued it is actually a constructive act by contributing to the repair of the building.

In the same way is preventing the "destructive" act of a (implied) violent rape by the "destructive" action of shooting (or even just scaring off) the rapist with a gun really an overall destructive act? It could even be considered constructive by removing the rapist’s ability to continue being destructive to both the individual victims and society. Furthermore, if that removal helps the world heal and grow to a point where no woman would fear a stranger alone on a street at night, then it could become even more truly a constructive act.

Jajo (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Your analogies are spot on, but the scope is undefined.
Games have to adhere to their own intrinsic rules, otherwise they do not work. These rules dictate how players can interact with other players and equally importantly, how they can not. These rules are what constitutes a game’s “reality” and are what players themselves (have to) fully embrace, if they want to have meaningful bearing on the outcome of the game. In this case Ubisoft created a game where one of these intrinsic rules is, that players should not be able to see behind corners/walls.
I don’t imagine for a second, that Ubisoft had any pause deciding what to do in this (in my opinion) difficult situation (they’ve proven to be dicks many times), but I am not in the least surprised that people using this tool got banned.

It was ultimately a decision between having a fundamentally broken game with better visual promotion, or manageably broken game without such promotion.

So yes, it is a case of “Robbers use guns, lockup everyone with guns.”, but the important question is also: “Do we even need guns?”

Phoenix84 (profile) says:

If he used this tool to reverse engineer, but doesn’t actually use it in his own tool, how is there an automated ban? Or did he use that cheat tool on his own account, and that’s why they banned him?

In addition, his tool *can* be used for cheating I presume, in order to see around corners and other cheaty things.

Sorry, that’s what you get for trying to work on a game by a draconian publisher. Give Ubisoft’s sordid history, he should have seen this coming.
I’m not saying Ubisoft is right, but he should have known this was a possibility, especially since others have been banned for using this tool.

It’s far better to use a pirated version that you can play offline if you want to make pretty screenshots and videos. This should not be done on an online game.

Maybe I’m being harsh, but this guy was pretty dumb for not thinking he’d get banned.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I remember a long time ago, when Battlefield 3 was in full swing, this guy decided to create a mod that altered the color palette of the game. His intention was to make the game look better, but it could also be used to give players an unfair advantage. I believe that one of the devs basically said you could be banned from the game for using it.

This photo mode tool would be especially advantageous in the high-stakes PvP areas of the game, which is where the best loot is. “Free advertising” is nice and all, but the method he used to create that free advertising goes against what the devs allow, and could be used for cheating by other players.

I’ve always felt that the kinds of “Hey, leave him alone, he’s giving you free exposure/making your game better (using methods that would give him an unfair advantage in the game), he didn’t do anything wrong!” arguments have always been rather shallow.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: PvP

As a note, when The Division was first released, PvP play was optional. Ubi has since made PvP the focus of most new updates and the only place to get best loot.

That would have been a dealbreaker for me, and I wouldn’t have purchased the game had I been properly informed. Action PvP is always biased towards better internet connections, hence against Comcast regional monopolies. For games that are not intrinsically competitive (such as The Division which is intrinsically cooperative) Forcing PvP is a cop-out. It’s justification to overrestrict (as per the game’s draconian trading restrictions.)

The Division treats single-players and co-op players as PvP as a means to justify DRM, not because it makes the game better.

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The “Cheat Engine” in question is basically an application for reading and searching what is in RAM. It’s actually a general tool that can be used for anything involving poking at what is stored in memory. One would not “use it in” another program as such, yeah. This guy used it to find the camera (and some other) controls, apparently.

He didn’t get permabanned from 21 other games… but sure, if it were me, i would have considered how the tool might be abused. If i were Ubisoft, i would have considered other options first, even if i didn’t like the camera tool beside the claim that it could be used as an in-game spy-god.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

I have a number of friends who play The Division

I played it for a while, until I found I couldn’t do housekeeping without being currently signed into the network. I hadn’t encountered an MMO-lite until then. Tried it for a while and left disgusted by a dozen points.

Curiously, it’s a game where civilians and enemies are only discerned by the color coding of the HUD. Either way, they’re desperate Americans in a quarantined lawless city. But it’s okay for these Americans to gun down and loot those Americans because we’re members of a secret government department and we’ve been ordered to do so.

And that fiction is accepted unironically throughout the game.

Candescence (profile) says:

To be fair, it does seem like the devs might fix this problem.

The creative director for the game actually responded to a tweet by Hietanen about the ban, complimented him on his work and said he’ll look into the issue.

This might actually encourage the developers to implement a proper photo mode, since the concept is so popular in other games as of late.

PaulT (profile) says:

So, the creative director of the game is unaware of the demand for a popular feature? Then only says he’ll look into it after the guy who took it upon himself to meet said community demand got banned for his efforts? Plus, he only says he’ll look into the feature and not, say, try to get the guy reinstated as thanks for his work?

Something tells me that the actual problem is not going to get fixed in the near future.

Anonymous Coward says:

Is this the whole story?

The article doesn’t say if the tool can be used when playing PVP. If it can then it most certainly would be considered a cheating tool. Paraphrasing from the article’s description of the tool. “free cam mode” & “This means they can unhook the camera from their player”. To me this means I could hunker down in a great sniping position, go into free camera mode and find targets, see their gear. All of this leads to my advantage, hence cheating.

Did Tim dig into this at all? The article seems to indicate he didn’t and instead tries to make this an example of a big bad company going after a fan.

As a disclaimer, I am not a fan of UBI Soft at all because of their use of DRM, but here I think they got it right if the tool does what I outlined above.

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