20 Oct 2005, 05:18

Well, this is disturbing.

As a recently relapsed World of Warcraft junkie I was surprised and disappointed to find out that apparently Blizzard uses something called a warden client keep its player base honest. A warden client is something that will run along with the game and check out the other processes running on your machine in order to make sure that you’re not running any known 3rd party applications used for cheating. It then sends that information back to Blizzard. Cheating is obviously a problem for any MMORPG and Blizzard definitely needs to find ways to reduce it but that seems a little excessive. As the article points out, that could technically be described as spyware, except for the fact that they granted themselves the right to do so in their EULA. (section 13A) I just knew those years of skimming EULA’s and clicking ok would get me eventually! Now, there are privacy protections in place (it only compares hashes) and apparently the client won’t send any information other than to raise a flag on the account for potential violations of the terms of service. And, apparently there’s something of a precendent for this in that the popular anti-cheating system Punkbuster operates in a similar fashion. I wasn’t aware of that but I don’t really find it comforting. I always thought anti-cheat systems just verified the integrity of the games executable files and resources, not actively scanned the state of your system. I’m fine with the former but the latter just creeps me out. At any rate, I think it’s kind of pointless since the determined cheaters and hackers will eventually find a way around it and sure enough they already have. So, what to do? I’m obviously not going to stop playing WoW because 1.) Blizzard seems to be a fairly non-evil entity and I trust them to a limited degree and 2.) WoW is the sweet sweet crack and I’m only taking the time for all of this exposition because I can’t currently sign in. I don’t like the idea of warden clients at all. However, that I agreed to it without knowing is worse. The fact that some lesser known games company could just as easily slip something like that (or even more expansive) into their EULA and run whatever else they wanted to along with their game is just disturbing. There’s got to be a better solution to shrink wrap software licenses than 20 pages of firstborn-signing-away EULAs that you usually can’t even read (and by read I mean skip over) until you’ve already run an executable.


Comment by Carrie on 2005-10-19 22:59:35 +0000

A completely un-related comment: w00t Sufjan Stevens!

Saw his name on your recent tracks list and had to say ‘w00t’.


Comment by Neal on 2005-10-19 23:06:42 +0000

Rock | Blizzard | Hard Place

I really feel for Blizzard on this issue – it’s really a no-win situation. Should they give all their customers the full pat-down before letting them buy their product? You know this is going to escalate as cheating packages start to use root-kit-like functionality to “hide from the warden”. The fact is that I have physical access to my computer – I can install anything I want on it. I can tell WoW that I’m running Windows, while I’m really running Linux (that works by the way, but performance is impacted). I can just take over Windows API calls and lie to WoW without replacing the whole system. Blizzard is fighting an impossible battle against cheaters. This relatively benign spying is only the first shot fired in what will be a long battle.

I do hate EULAs, of course. They should have a “cliff notes” version that we could actually read. Maybe something like “don’t cheat – you’ll get booted, we reserve the right to spy on you a little, there’s going to be some server downtime – deal with it, click here for more info”.

Comment by Phil on 2005-10-19 23:59:25 +0000

Will, I think I’ve finally figured out why we love this game so much. Remember Ancient Anguish? WoW is almost exactly like that in format, but it has GRAPHICS! W00t!

Comment by Dave on 2005-10-20 18:05:25 +0000

Someone else mentioned this the other day and I fired up my Mac WoW client with a Terminal window and top to see if there was a similar program running alongside the Mac version. There doesn’t seem to be; at least if there is, it doesn’t look like the Windows warden.