Several weeks have passed since those naughty boys at Valve gave idlers a slap on the wrist, and the forum furore has finally had a chance to calm down to a simmer. I have probably changed my mind on the subject more times than my socks, but I think I have finally come down on the “fuck you Valve!” side of the argument, but not for same ridiculous reasons conjured up by some of the TF2 community.
First off, the “Cheater’s Lament”. I realise Valve are using the C word loosely here, but it is completely misleading as to what idling consists of. Half of the forum debates are dominated by people going completely nuts over the fact that players are apparently idling in active servers, thus taking up a slot that could be potentially filled by someone who wants to play. However, this is not what idling is (and usually this isn’t even possible for anything longer than around 5 minutes in most servers). It merely consists of either joining a server specifically intended for people who want to idle (which I will come to later) or using a third-party program to ‘fake idle’ in order to still get random item drops. It is not, I repeat not, cheating. Cheating, in the video-game context, or more specifically multiplayer games, is something that gives you an unfair advantage over other players that is not freely available to them and that is clearly stated as not allowed in the rules of the game.
The fact that hats are purely aesthetic, at least for now, means that having them gives you no unfair advantage in the game, even if you are not acquiring them through the intended method. That is a largely uncontested point. However, there was a significant amount of ambiguity over whether Valve had actually banned idling or not. They had certainly frowned upon it, but at no point had they specifically stated it was not allowed. Imagine, for example, if the government suddenly announced that they were going to fine everyone who has ever used their phone whilst driving, even if they had done it before it was actually made illegal. Ludicrous, no? Frowned upon or not, if Valve never categorically prohibited idling then there is absolutely no reason for them to expect players not to do it, and it seems unwarranted to punish people for doing something while it was still technically allowed. This is actually a largely unarticulated point, as much of the discussion over the last few weeks has been focussed on the suitability of the punishment, rather than whether a punishment should have been given at all.
Even if, for the sake of argument, it is agreed that idling is an illegitimate way of getting items (even though the concept of ‘legitimacy’ is fairly difficult to pin down in a random drop system), it seems odd that Valve have only targeted the ones who access these ‘idle servers’ through the external program, and not the ones who access them through the game. The external program, as it runs in a DOS box, merely simulates what you can do normally without hogging your computer’s resources. Are the people who idle in achievement_idle servers within the game client itself any different? And surely if idling is to be considered an illegitimate way of acquiring items then those who farmed achievements on achievement servers got their items in an equally ‘illegitimate’ way and should face similar punishments?
That being said, the response to Valve’s actions were, once again, blind, murderous fury accompanied by some of the most ridiculous arguments I’ve ever heard that I would be the first to decry. Amongst the most hilariously embarrasing responses, was from apparent ‘atheists’ who claimed offence at the sight of “Christian bull**t”.
The fake idler program may not have been facilitating cheating (in the true sense of the word) or affecting the game on any significantly detrimental level, but to allow the use of an external program, even a perfectly harmless one, would have set a poor precedent as far as hacking and bottling applications are concerned, and so a certain amount of sympathy must be given to Valve for having an iron-fist approach to external applications in general. It was just strange that they let it go unchecked for so long, fully aware of its existence and its popularity, only to punish those who use it without warning. But remember, these are the people who are responsible for bringing us some of the greatest games ever made, as well as releasing continuous, free-of-charge updates that only make their games better, so maybe we should cut them a little slack.
Just this once.