On Tuesday, 2nd January, Jagex announced that Rule 7 and Rule 9 had been revised and that third-party clients would no longer be tolerated, and would be deemed completely illegal and their users would be banned. The announcement was rather ambiguously worded and seemed to imply that using any form of chat or instant messaging while playing RuneScape would be grounds for permanent banning.
To say that many players took this news badly, would be to under-report the flamefest that erupted on the official forums and in-game.
A clarification was soon issued saying that there was no prohibition against IRC clients or messaging programs, but using them was not recommended.
Wednesday morning saw a re-revision of Rule 7 and Rule 9 which restored the status of third-party clients to "allowed but not recommended", provided they met the Guidelines for the development of third-party clients published in the Knowledge Base. I'm assuming that Jagex is going to give the developers of these clients a grace period in which to bring their software into compliance with the guidelines. To do anything less than that would not be fair. The author of one of the most popular clients has announced that his product will be updated to be in compliance with the guidelines by the weekend.
So what happened here? How did Jagex manage to completely misread its user base and set off such a firestorm? Needless to say, it's not a simple black and white issue. There are many levels of complexity here, and not even your humble editor is privy to all of them. So let's take a look at what appears to be going on here and see what fits and what doesn't.
The original announcement said:
"We have done this for two main reasons: a) The sheer number of users losing their account/password to programs which pretend to be one thing but actually steal their password; b) Problems with some of these programs including extremely unsafe chat channels where large amounts of scamming go on, and users encourage each other to try to break the rules."
"When RuneScape fansites are distributing programs on which 50% of the chat channels are being used to discuss breaking the rules or result in their own users being scammed, it's clear that our rules need revision! We don't want to be unnecessarily restrictive, but we obviously also have to balance that with protecting our users. We've thought long and hard about this, and hence this update."
If this is so, then my suspicion is that Jagex has gotten tired of being deluged by complaints of hacked accounts and of people being scammed. I can understand that, especially if the complaints are either couched in leetspeak or are from angry parents.
While there is no doubt that there are programs out there that profess to be third-party clients, but which are in fact keyloggers or trojans, there are also clients which are quite genuine and do not compromise the security of their users' computers. There are also a huge number of other vehicles for keyloggers, viruses, trojans and other malware. The problem is not just with third party clients. Video clips, spoof emails, screenshots, et al can all contain malware which can compromise your computer.
It's not Jagex's job to keep your computer safe – well, not beyond providing a clean product, giving you the means to keep your account secure, and warning you of the dangers of third-party clients, chat rooms, etc. If you're an adult, then you should know how to keep your personal information secure. If you're not then your parents should be supervising your internet access and making sure that the computer you use is secure.
Cheating in-game using autoers or macro programs is a very different matter from scams and hacks which are external to the game. That is something that Jagex has tried very hard to eliminate – with limited success, to be sure. Preventing that kind of cheating is certainly within the realm of Jagex's responsibilities. However the third-party clients with which I am familiar and which were so vociferously defended, don't provide the ability to auto-play or offer any advantage in how the game is played.
It's a measure of the huge success of RuneScape that these third-party clients exist in the first place. They are also an indication of the limitations of the game as it stands. If people didn't feel the need for the utilities they provide, then they wouldn't create them in the first place, nor would they find others wanting to use them.
By far the most popular reason for using third-party clients seems to be the embedded IRC chat clients that they offer. The ingame chat is very limited – not even Jagex will deny that. One can only converse with multiple people within a very small area, or with a single individual via private messaging. For a lot of game play, this is fair enough. However, for something like PKing clans, Pest Controllers, Castle Wars or teams taking on monsters such as the King Black Dragon, Kalphite Queen, Dagganoth Kings, or even the Chaos Elemental, the ability to talk with everyone in your group simultaneously (and if you're PKing or in a mini-game like Castle Wars, without your opponents hearing you) some sort of group chat ability is a necessity, not an option.
It's also against Jagex's rules to give out personal information in-game. Now while this is a good rule, in that it serves to remind people not to trust strangers, as it stands it limits real life friends immensely. If I meet up with one of my real life friends in game and we go off mining or fishing together, we want to talk. And not just about RuneScape either. We want to talk about work issues, school issues, mutual friends and family, and even more personal stuff. It's much easier to do this via instant messaging than it is using in-game chat, both because of the limitations of the censor and Jagex's rules on personal disclosure.
A lot of the players are teens. Teens live via instant messaging and chat programs much more so than adults, who tend to use email and the phone. Cutting off teens from their instant messaging is worse than grounding them. I'm sure it was that, as much as anything else, which prompted the massive protests.
In general, gamers are an inventive, creative and imaginative lot. Most of the professional game developers started off as players and graduated to writing their own games because they couldn't find a game that met all their needs. Unless my reading of Jagex history is incorrect, that is the exact way that RuneScape began – as a project by Andrew and Paul for themselves and their friends. So what happens when a bunch of smart, imaginative, and creative people get their hands on a game? Well they come up with tweaks, add-ons, fansites, and so on. They also tend to play the game to its limits and will exploit any and every aspect of the game to their benefit, whether that benefit is higher personal scores, more in-game stuff, or just strange YouTube videos. Look at the Tip.It site for example... it's a huge repository of information on and about the game. There are calculators, skill planners, quest guides, maps, databases, and more. All of it the work of players driven by the desire to find out how the game works and share that knowledge.
Jagex can deal with the third parties to the game, both clients and fansites, in one of three ways: they can ban them, ignore them, or support them. Banning is probably impossible, certainly difficult, and as we have recently seen, hugely unpopular. Ignoring them is not a good idea, as it allows the development of unfairly advantageous utilities to flourish, and offers the players no indication of the safety or legality of these products. Supporting them is not without its pitfalls either, but I believe it is the right thing to do.
If Jagex gives limited support to third-party clients, it can control their content to some extent. The current guidelines set out on the Knowledge Base are an example of that control. The guidelines clearly state what is, and what is not, considered cheating in a third-party client, thus Jagex can ban them on a case by case basis if they are found to be giving players too much of an advantage.
However, I rather think that Jagex missed the boat on this one. The time to have acted was a few years ago when these clients first appeared. I don't think that they realised that some clients were developed not as a means of cheating at the game, but instead as an attempt to add value to it honestly. Had they done so, they might perhaps have been able to negotiate either the purchase of one of them, or a licensing agreement, which would have given them the ability to oversee and influence the development of clients which both add value without giving unfair advantage and do not compromise the safety of the users' computers. They could even have sold it as a one-time addon for a small fee and I bet people would have been happy to pay for it!
I realise that RuneScape is still very much Andrew and Paul's "baby". They are still actively involved in the development of the game – which is an excellent thing – however, baby is growing up and it's perhaps time to let go just a little. Perhaps this sorry debacle will give them the incentive to loosen their grip, without losing control, and give us all a better gaming experience.
However, until Jagex comes out with its own improved client, or authorizes a third-party one, the best course of action is to stick with Jagex and avoid compromising the security of your PC and your RuneScape account. After all, the bottom line here is playing more RuneScape, not losing everything to a scammer or keylogger!
Note: The opinions expressed in this, and all Tip.It Times articles are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Tip.It. Neither the author, nor Tip.It recommend the use of any third-party clients with RuneScape. We encourage all players to play the game fairly, without breaking the rules, and also to take all necessary steps to ensure that their personal computers are secure and free of malware of all types. We recommend you visit our Security Centre for tips on staying safe in Runescape and on the Internet.
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