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THE GUIDE WHO FELL FROM GRACE WITH THE SEA [Author: wirehead]

I’ll be the first to say that obviously we don’t know all sides of this particular story, but it’s interesting none the less. Also quite long, so it gets its own page. Here’s an email I recieved, unedited, in its entirety.

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This message was posted by MontEs Darkwisp, posted on October 25, 1999 coming from XXX.XXX.XXX

Hail a bunch of players,
I started playing EQ about three days after Bristle came online, and I was in love from the start. Its hard to say goodbye to something you have invested so much in, so I have been putting this off. Its…umm, its long, though, but its substantive. And before I get into it I want to say thanks to all the folks who kept in touch over email, chat, and ICQ while all of this unfolded. I just can’t say how much it meant to me not to be abandoned by folks I had spent so much time adventuring with, or spamming with a2a!s. This was my first online RPG experience, and I have to say that in retrospect I’m pretty shocked at how close I’d come to feel with some of you. If any of you have – I don’t know, stories and/or screenshots about Montes’ life sitting around, I’m a packrat and I’d love to tuck them away somewhere.


After I received official word of my banning, I wrote the fellow who gave me that notice, Jeff Butler, the Manager of the Customer Service department at Verant, an email in an attempt to get them to rescind the ban. This was before Oake’s post of Vencor’s email discussing the ban and then Butler’s email to someone else (I forget whom) stating that Verant was not allowed to discuss customer account information made their way on to the Bristlebane Inn. I figured I would give them a few more days to sit on the stuff I had to say and not say anything publicly until I was 200% sure that Butler would not rescind the ban. I wrote Butler again after the two posts I mentioned above appeared on the Inn and told him that I was less than satisfied that Vencor could send a player an email giving not only information about a player’s disciplinary history but also make explicit reference to my RL gender one day and that the head of the CS team, Butler himself, could write another player the next day and say that it was inappropriate for CS folks to discuss a customer’s disciplinary history. When he failed to respond to either email two days thereafter, I forwarded him another email. A recent, unprecedented flurry of communications from him – two emails in so many days, after weeks of trying to get a straight answer from someone at Verant on numerous issues and being met only with silence or a series of runarounds – has made it clear that reinstatement is not an option, so for those who are interested in hearing my version of what happened in connection with disciplinary actions that Verant took against me regarding the Butcherblock Hammer quest, a sickeningly detailed account follows.


I’m sorry if this brings grief to some of the Guides on Bristle who are really good folks trying to do a good job for the players, and in general I think the volunteer Guides are a really dedicated bunch of folks who do some pretty thankless work. But I have received a lot of emails from folks since 10/2 asking to hear what happened and I told them I was biting my tongue until I was 200% sure that reinstatement was an option, and that thereafter I would clear the air as to what I was accused of and how the disciplinary procedure unfolded. You (players and Guides alike) can make whatever judgments and assumptions you want as to whether or not I am an evil person who deserved to be banned – at this point, none of that really matters much to me. I think that a close read of the following account, which is mostly just excerpts of communications to and from folks at Verant, will give you a clear sense of the whole story, from both sides, and will also give those folks who emailed me and said, “I am a guide on another server who has participated in quests on my play server and guide server and I heard that you were banned for leaking quest information and I wanted to know what happened to you so that it doesn’t happen to me” a very clear sense of how careful you need to be with what you do as a player to be considered a “conscientious” volunteer.


On Saturday, 10/2/99, Verant ran a big quest on all servers. At a certain point during the running of the quest, I received a /tell from Vencor stating that I was not to participate in it and there would be “consequences” (he might have said “repercussions”) for my actions. When I asked him what he was talking about, he told me that I knew what I had done and that he would email me later if I liked. I gave him my email, and then either went linkdead or was kicked by Vencor. I logged in again and either went linkdead or was kicked again. I logged in a third time, sent around a few /tells to my friends stating that I would be back later in the evening, and the camped.


That was mid-afternoon. I did some other things for a while, fuming, and tried to log on later. The login server said that I had been suspended from EverQuest for inappropriate behavior, and that I could contact customer service if I had questions, etc. (Throughout, my communications with the login server were more substantive – and humane – than my communications with the folks at Verant). I was shocked that Verant would issue a suspension so quickly since Vencor had not given me an official warning (expect the “consequences” or “repercussions” bit, which at that time I could not connect with any positive accusation, just a “stop doing what you are doing,”) and since I had camped of my own free will minutes after having received his /tells.


At 7:10PM on Satuday, 10/2, I wrote an email to eqmail@verant.com (the sort of generic email address you can write to if you want to get in touch with someone at Verant) and addressed it to Vencor. I said, in pertinent part: “I have apparently been summarily banned, without any sort of substantive explanation….Not only were the accusations you lodged at me in-game brief, insubstantial, and unwarranted, but it was entirely unfair of you to suspend my account without offering any sort of explanation first. In case you failed to write it down, this is my email address. I’d appreciate an explanation, both of the reasoning behind your accusations and explaining why I have been summarily banned. In particular, I would like to know what you have based my suspension and/or banning on. I was shocked to receive your tells; was even more shocked at your subsequent action; and I am in utter disbelief that you suspended my account without explanation.”


At 9:54PM, I received an email from Vencor stating that I was suspended for a week for “abuse of access to information as a Guide.” He said: “I have multiple screenshots of you telling people where to be and plotting which NPC’s you yourself would kill for personal gain. Your entire guild clearly knew of this quest thanks to you. For this abuse, you have been suspended for a week. I am sure some further review of your status as guide may ensue.”


At that point I thought through everything I had said that day, trying to figure out when he had chosen to snoop my private communications in an effort to get my head around what he was basing his assertion on. I had been in SolB with a group camping chitlin leggings for most of that afternoon. A series of /who all GM’s revealed a number of high-level guide flagged NPCs spread throughout a number of zones. I /who all GM as a matter of course, for a number of reasons. I started doing it back when Chette and Aradiel were around because I liked to bug them. Its an easy way to spot quests, and I had previously spotted and watched (but NOT participated in) two quests (one in Nektulos, where I watched a bunch of players – I don’t remember whom, but Mathius was one of them – kill Lanys (and chatted with Keziah), and one in Freeport, where I grouped with Rathendar and watched people kill a huge skeleton). I HAD heard that a big quest was going to be run, and I knew more than some other players did about the quest, as did a number of other players on Bristlebane who have admitted as much publicly and privately. Given a situation where a number of players had prior information about a quest, Vencor chose to snoop my private communications and not anyone else’s, and then others at Verant chose to make a number of assumptions about the meanings of those communications which ultimately led them to decide that I had done something which interfered with the gameplay of every player on the server so greatly that I ought to be banned from EverQuest.


At 11:23 PM, I emailed Vencor attempting to protest his decision to suspend me for abuse of access to information, asking to see the evidence he purported to have, offering the beginnings of a defense, and requesting that he (a) reconsider my suspension; (b) inform me who I should contact regarding appealing the same; and (c) inform me as to when, exactly, the suspension will be lifted, should he decide to keep it instated for the full week term.


I told Vencor that I had caught the quest starting, or them preparing to start the quest, on /who all GM. In response to his claims that I received information about the quest prior to its initiation since I guided on another server, I pointed out that I had been on a Leave of Absence from guiding since 8/20/99, that I did not therefore have access to the information he claimed I leaked as a matter of course, and that he had to make a number of assumptions about things I did (primarily, that I went to the guide web page and pulled and distributed the information, for example) for which he had no proof in order to reasonably justify punishing me for attempting to participate in a quest about which I had prior knowledge while choosing to ignore the reality that a number of other players clearly had just as much, or more, prior knowledge. At the heart of what eventually turned into a decision to ban me was an assertion that I had sought out information that I would not have been privy to had I not had access to proprietary information as a Guide. A number of active Guides – that is, Guides who were working 10+ hours a week and who therefore had contact with that information as part and parcel of their having been Guides – were banned for participating in the quest on their play servers while acting in the quest on the servers they volunteered on. That I COULD have pulled information about the quest off the Guide board and distributed it to friends for personal gain was, in the end, grounds enough to ban me, despite that (a) other players who may or may not have been active guides and/or gotten information about the quest from friends who were active Guides were neither investigated nor disciplined, (b) the quest was run at different times on different servers, so that there were actually details regarding its unfolding on one server posted on the web before it was run on other servers, (c) other folks who were active Guides leaked information about the quest on Bristle (to me and others) yet that made no difference, etc.


In my response to Vencor’s first email, I said:


“…That’s when I received your tell informing me that I could not participate in the quest and accusing me of having leaked information. This put me in a tizzy. I sent some tells to friends saying that I couldn’t participate in the quest and they said why not, just go to Crushbone, there aren’t a whole load of people there yet (by this time there were a bunch of high level players apparently interacing with several dwarven NPCs). I then sent them several /tells saying that NOONE should go to Crushbone since I was being accused of having rigged peoples’ participation in a quest and I didn’t want to get any of them barred from participating in something they had the legitimate right to participate in because of something I was being accused of doing. I went off to hunt clockworks in Steamfont and lost link twice; I’m not sure if I went linkdead or if I were /kicked. Frustrated and dejected, I did a /guildsay informing my friends that I was logging for two hours and that I would be back for the Vox hunt. I logged and checked my email several times and then attempted to log on and found out that I had been suspended, and for the next several hours I waited, completely in the dark as to what, substantively, I was being accused of….Truth to tell, had I detailed information about the quest prior to its initiation, I would have gotten and had a party together to participate in the quest beforehand. But I didn’t, so I didn’t. I am not the only person on the Bristlebane server who has at one time or another done customer service work on another server. If there were a leak about the quest you ran today you are pointing the finger at the wrong person.
On a different note, I find it extremely unnerving that you were even monitoring my private /tells, and I would be curious to know why you were so doing in the first place. According to my understanding of the relevant portions of the Agreement I clicked on each time I went to play Everquest, EQ/Sony does not ensure that “private communications . . . will not be disclosed to third parties” (excerpt follows below quote of your initial email). At no point, however, does it state that my private communications will be monitored by CS staff for any reason — and if you all are going to be doing this sort of thing, quite simply put, it ought to.
As to your assertion that “you are sure some further review of my status as a guide may ensue”, I welcome it. In fact, I am so disgusted with the customer service representation system at this point that I would happily resign. I have had a lot of fun guiding and I think I did a damn good job, but I bought Everquest to PLAY it and if having been involved in the CS program is going to lead to situations like this one I would rather simply not participate.”


At 11:23PM, Vencor replied and said:


“Your lies are truly an insult to my intelligence…. You were snooped because I recognized you as a guide from another server (you had attended a guide wedding on Bristle which was ONLY announced on guide board). When you started hanging around Cauldron when noone else was you became a suspect. My guides also recognized you as a possible guide from another server.
I have the text LOG from the server of your conversations (tells, group, and guildsay). If you care to stick to your denials, then you will only embarrass yourself.
Your suspension will last the entire week as I said previously. I will my report of this to my superior who will likely contact the guide program. I am not involved any further than this suspension.”


Vencor apparently started snooping my private communications (tells, group, and guildsay) after I appeared in Dagnor’s Cauldron and hailed a quest NPC, who did not answer. At that point I went to the poison vendor and bought suspensions (he was actually* not broken, and I was shocked). When I caught the GM’s on /who all GM I had sent around numerous tells getting a group together. By the time any of us arrived on the continent, the quest had started – there was a fairly large group of people gathered at the entrance to the Cauldron who had already interacted with the Dwarven NPC’s in Kaladim. I stopped and waved to one of the players, so its simply not the case that I was “hanging around” anywhere that “noone else” was, and folks who I don’t even consider close friends could easily back this up. When I zoned into the cauldron, a level 50 Tier’dal NPC was standing there plain as day, just as the /who all GM said she would be. I hailed her and when she didn’t respond to me I bought my suspensions and then ran off to Greater Faydark to get a bind and participate in the quest, since by that point a bunch of adventurers had already zoned in. A reading of the server log of my communications with friends throughout the day would have revealed my communicating with friends after spotting the buffed NPC’s and getting a group together comprised of a number of folks in my guild and a number of folks out of my guild. It would show that I had a friend to head over to Faydwer and investigate the NPC’s who were popping shortly after I spotted them, and although she appeared in the Cauldron before the other parties did Vencor did not choose to snoop her, since she was not suspected of being a Guide (to his credit, I think, although I think that at that point he just felt like his toes were getting stepped on and I was made for banned the minute I walked onto the scene). It would show affirmatively that I knew about three things about the quest beforehand which I should not have, but it would nowhere support a theory that I pulled information off of the Guide message board and distributed it to my friends for personal gain.


Arguably, participating in a quest when one has prior information of ANY sort is at least an exercise of bad judgment, if not a punishable offense. Quests are not run at the same times on all servers, however – even a big quest like the one in question – and any number of players invariably* have prior information of one sort or another. With respect to this quest on our server, there were a number of people who participated who knew as much or more than I did about the quest, and some of them even emailed Verant and told them as much. Those people received replies like, “This matter does not concern you,” etc. So, again, the issue of my Guide status was at the heart of the ban decision, and throughout my attempt to make a case in my defense nothing but the fact that I COULD have pulled information off the Guide page and distributed it mattered. Moreover, Vencor snooped my private communications both on a hunch and because someone or several people on the Guide team on Bristle told him that I Guided on another server (although they would not have known that I had not been on active duty at that time). Basically, they felt their toes were getting stepped on and Vencor used his tools to confirm or deny whether or not I was “leaking.” Again, the quest had started before I or anyone else I knew arrived at the scene. Had I the amount of prior information that Verant accuses me of having, you can be damn sure that I would not have been camping an item in SolB in a group I broke up to try and participate in the quest. I would have been conveniently lollygagging around its starting point, or I would have had friends doing so, etc. Or – hrmm, here’s one – I would have made sure that the one dwarf I adventure with regularly, Kyen, were actually ONLINE that day, or I would not have spent days’ worth of hours camping the items the quest dropped that I could have used (ykesha, sash, fishbone), every one of which I already had. In fact, HAD known all of the details of the quest and caught it at its very inception, I would not have been /snooped and banned etc. etc. Since, however, I attempted to hail one of the pops on /who all GM (the Tier’dal in Dagnor’s), Vencor began his investigation, and later supplemented the screenshots he gained therefrom with copies of the server logs from who knows how far back.


With respect to his allegations, I replied to Vencor later in the morning on Sunday the 3rd and said:


“It seems to me that you’re simply interpreting any communications you intercepted incorrectly, but I cannot be expected to respond effectively to a bunch of accusations without looking at the text on which they are based.
As to the wedding — Montes was there because Montes was invited…I was /told that it would be going on and where it would be going on. [Vencor was referring to Anntalia and Elijira’s wedding – an event to which Anntalia invited me and a number of other players]. I didn’t get details about the quest on the guide server and I didn’t read about the wedding on the guide server. When I was actively guiding I did a good job of separating my “lives”; and its not been an issue since I’ve been on my LOA.
I think your interpretation and the suspension are wrong. I’ve told you why. It would have been one thing to receive a tell from you stating that you suspected I was doing such and such and that I shouldn’t participate in this particular event — that would have been a relatively reasonable action given your suspicions and “evidence”.
But the fact that you chose to suspend me, and the way in which you went about it, was really just plain crappy…and you can tell that to your superior and whomever else you care to. I have put a lot of time and energy into the play character I have on Bristlebane; she’s vibrant member of the community we have going there, which is one of the best ones in all of Norrath. What else can I say except that taking her out of the game for a week is a silly kind of punitive, and socially damaging in ways you have no sense of.
As to my status as a Guide, as I said, I welcome the review. I guided because I like EQ and I wanted to give something back — but I play EQ for Montes.”


A few hours later, I emailed my former bosses on the server that I Guided on informing them that no matter how the investigation turned out I would not want to continue to work as a Guide, and requested that they send me procedural instructions as to how to destroy the Guide character I had on the other server I used to Guide on. Then, early in the morning, as I was getting ready to go to school, I received an email from a friend saying that they had seen that my Guide character was listed as banned and wondering what had happened. So far, in the space of a day, a one week suspension had been turned into an indefinite suspension (and possibly already a ban at that point), and I had been officially removed from the Guide program, without receiving official notice from Verant in either case. It was several days later that I received “official” notification from one of my bosses that I was being removed from the Guide program as a result of actions on my play server.


On the one hand, Verant does reserve the right to take any disciplinary actions it cares to against its customers without warning or explanation – the Guide/GM FAQ at www.everquest.com states that “Verant GM’s will then take discipinary [sic] action based on the severity and nature of the offense, and/or the number of warnings, subject to their discretion. This may include but is not limited to, temporary suspension or permanent banning from the game. Disciplinary action may also include editing of the character statistics, item inventory, or experience. Verant may take other forms of disciplinary action at their discretion. Be advised you may not receive any warnings prior to disciplinary action being taken. Players who repeatedly exploit anomalies in the game or disrupt the gameplay of others will not be tolerated in EverQuest.” On the other hand, it was not my impression that Verant had a habit of ignoring players and giving them the runaround as a matter of course, and the levels of communication and consideration that I ran into throughout my attempts to get to the bottom of what was going on in terms of my account were absolutely unacceptable.


Moreover, although there are references in the document that Verant distributes to its Guides to their release from the program, nowhere does it discuss special, “new” bannable offenses that you can commit as a player because you are a Guide. It DOES say that Guides learn things that they should tell noone, and that doing so is “one of the more serious offenses a CS person can commit” (Verant justified my ban on this passage). The same document also guarantees you the right to be involved in the investigation, but my repeated, reasonable attempts at being involved in my investigation were met with silence at every step.


While I should not have known that Verant was taking actions in connection to my account before they told me they had taken then, I found it absolutely unconscionable that they would do so days before they felt it necessary to inform me that they had in fact done so, and without any sense whatsoever of any sort of due process. I don’t think I need to go into how screwed up and haphazard Verant’s disciplinary system is – just about everyone I have ever talked with has had their share of good experiences and horror stories with it. To be fair, its something that they appear to be working on (Butler’s most recent producer letter is on point here), and I think that most Guides do their damndest to be fair and responsive to players. What happened among the large group of players who participated in the quest on 10/2 was pretty complicated, however, and the fact that it made no difference in Verant’s decision to ban me that many who participated in the quest – both “regular” players and guides on other servers — had prior knowledge from a number of sources continues to boggle me (although since I think the ban was silly I am happy that other folks didn’t suffer the same fate).


Monday afternoon when I got home from school, I started receiving emails and ICQs from people saying that they had read that I had been banned. I wrote back and said that I had been suspended and that I wasn’t going to talk about the details until I knew more about the charges and possible penalties, but I received two replies to my responses from folks who I knew had access to what is supposed to be private disciplinary information stating clearly that I was definitely being banned.


Obviously, I was pretty upset to hear this, and especially upset to know that Verant would make decisions like this about something like account status without any substantive communication with the player(s) involved, given the complexity of the situation and (it was then becoming clear) the severity of the charge. At 5:00 on Monday evening, the 4th, I called Verant and spoke with a person named Javier who said that I could write Vencor’s superior at mbayless@verant.com with any questions about the suspension or my account status in general, and that according to their records my account was suspended without a reinstatement date. This report clearly differed from Vencor’s assertion that I was being suspended for a week and substantiated the rumors I had heard that I was being banned. 20 minutes later, I received an email from a generic email address at Verant in response to my very first email to eqmail@verant.com which appeared to be from Vencor and stated: “If you are not satisfied with my assistance please feel free to contact one of my supervisors: ctrichel@verant.com or sgeorge@verant.com”.


At 6:41PM, I wrote mbayless@verant.com, ctrichel@verant.com, and sgeorge@verant.com a joint email. In addition to repeating some of what I had already said in communications to Vencor, I said, “I am suspicious that my suspension may be turned into a banning for a number of reasons….Accordingly, I am not writing herein to complain about GM Vencor’s actions, although had it not occurred to me that my status might be escalated to banned I would have eventually put together a list of carefully thought-through suggestions which I think would prevent the kind of misunderstanding I believe led to his choice to suspend me.
In case its not apparent, I am REALLY upset about all of this, and in case its not apparent as to why I would be, I have worked my virtual BUTT off in-game, both as a player and during the time before I was granted a Leave of Absence from Guiding, not to accrue a bunch of items and become some UberRogue (as if that were possible *coughsfixroguescoughs*) [and not that I don’t like items, err, don’t get me wrong there], but to make the community a better place. And I think if you ask any of the players or Guides who have known me as Montes, they will tell you that I have been pretty darn successful at so doing. To be suddenly cut off from a group of people I have become close with because you all believe I have violated an agreement is one thing — fine, I’m past that, I can suck up a week of not playing; but now I’m worried about being banned and that’s a whole other story.
Moreover, I told three of my friends that I had been suspended and requested that they do some in-game damage control when people started asking where I had been. So aside from the fact that I’m now nervous that a character I have spent is going to be taken away from me, possibly without any real chance for me to advocate in my own defense, I also want to be able to tell my friends if I will be coming back on Saturday or not.
So please: Someone write me back at your earliest convenience and give me a sense of which way this is all going. I am holding my breath here.” I forwarded a copy to Vencor and felt reasonably certain that someone would get back to me and at least apologize for not communicating the change in my account status to me and inform me that the suspension had been upped to a possible ban.


At 9:59PM, I received a reply from him, which stated: “Your account status is as I told you for now – suspension pending any further investigation. [Vencor had never told me that it was suspended pending further investigation; he told me I was suspended for a week – and that only after the EverQuest server itself, which – I’ll say it again — was the most responsive Customer Service representative that Verant has, by the way, told me that I had been suspended, and then some fellow named Javier after I called Verant when it became clear that I was not going to get a response via email]. I will update you if i [sic] hear ANYTHING other than this. At this time I cannot give you an update because I have passed on all my records of what occurred…What else happens – if anything – is not in my hands at this point. If and when any change in status occurs you will be informed immediately. [Lies, lies.] As a side note, I have received several nasty email from a friend of yours…. It is not right for this person to be trying to get involved….If this person will listen to you, perhaps you can let them know that their unwarranted involvement is not helping your case.”


At 11:34PM, I emailed Vencor back and said: “See, I’ve [had other actions taken to change certain aspects of my account status – referring to both my removal from the Guide program and that my suspension had been suspended indefinitely rather than for a week], yet I’ve received neither notice of that nor responses to other attempts at communication from anyone [involved]. So changes in my account status are occurring without my being informed either before or after — at the very least when you suspended me you eventually emailed me — thus my suspicions, fears, and subsequent attempts at getting to the bottom of it…. I am getting … a bunch of emails from people who are my friends and aquaintances saying that they are worried, asking what happened, etc., and I have been replying giving people minimal information and asking them not* to contact Verant at this point. Having said that, however, I invested a lot of time playing that character and developed a lot of good relationships. If the shoe were on the other foot and I heard that one of my friends had been suspended, I would want to take some advocacy-oriented action, as well. I don’t know how much you know about the social politics on Bristlebane but Montes is pretty heavily involved in the social life of the server so her absence is palpable. Once again, if further disciplinary action is taken, I certainly hope I get the chance to look at the evidence…and state my case to someone.”


On the 5th, at 2:00 AM, I received yet another email from Vencor which stated: “I guess I haven’t been clear on one thing in this matter – I am NOT the person deciding your fate in any way in this manner. I did what is standard procedure in instituting a suspension for what I witnessed on Saturday. I then filed a complete report and passed it to my bosses….I will be in touch should I have further info to pass on to you.” That’s the last I heard from Vencor.


Later that evening, at 6:20PM, I emailed someone else at Verant that I knew was involved disciplinary proceedings (an Elder in the Guide program) who I figured might have been playing a hand in this one. In that email, I said, among other things: “I had noticed during my tenure as a…player and, more recently, as a victim of disciplinary actions, inconsistent application of what appear to be prima facie unjust procedural processes regarding the means and kinds of of investigations you all undertake, the requirements you maintain for communicating in some substantive manner with players who are suspected or accused of having committed significant violations, the extent to which you all bar players from any sort of real due process at many stages of any disciplinary proceeding (including barring them from viewing any alleged evidence against them), the apparent fact that any sort of testimony or evidence which a player…might offer in their defense — such as prior evidence of good character or statements made by other players — is inconsequential, and a general inability on the part of [customer service] staff to shake the sense that it is “us and them” which could, I think, be averted by a more realistic evaluation of the actual forms that interactions between players and the [customer service] staff take on.” About twenty minutes later, I received a response from this person. This was the only half-human response I had received from anyone at Verant, and included an apology that “things were being handled this way” and an assurance that she or he was being vocal about that within the company.


At 2:39 that morning, I responded, and said: “…Its some small comfort to know that someone at Verant actually READ an email I wrote. …I responded to [Vencor] and made it clear that I didn’t think he was involved , but also that it was still unclear to me who was making what decisions about my account…status, despite several attempts to find that information out. …I am, however, concerned to have some sort of opportunity to act in my defense, should Verant choose to take further action with respect to my account status. Vencor told me I had been suspended for a week; a Verant rep named Javier told me on the phone that I had been suspended and that there was no reinstatement date; and my fear, obviously, is that the discrepancy between Vencor’s report and Verant’s exists because someone is considering banning me. Again, thanks for your time.”


On Friday the 8th, at 6:00PM, I called Verant asking for a status update. I was told there was no news and that I couldn’t speak with anyone and that I just had to wait. I then emailed several people requesting a status update. The next afternoon, on Saturday, the 9th at 3:15PM, I emailed mbayless@verant.com, ctrichel@verant.com, and sgeorge@verant.com again, and told them: “I did call Verant yesterday hoping somehow that, since the last “official” communication I had received which mentioned my account status stated that my suspension would last for a week, I would be allowed to play again today. [Writing this, I screwed up here – Vencor had* told me that I was suspended pending some vague “further review” and its possible that one of the folks I spoke with on the phone at Verant had communicated to the powers that be that they had informed me of the fact that “further review” was going on]. I had received an email from Vencor on the 5th stating that he was only involved insofar as he suspended me initially, and that he would inform me if he heard any change in my account status. When I was informed yesterday on the phone that my case was still under consideration somewhere, I told the person I was speaking with that this whole situation was very unfair, and he replied that “this is what happens when you are suspended pending banning.” I guess it seems unfair that you do not have and make available standards for communicating in some substantive manner with players who are suspected or accused of having committed significant violations. At this point, I could write a novella about the reasons why I should not be banned, but it is unclear to me even in whose lap my case is sitting. So, since someone at Verant gave me the impression that one of you was Vencor’s boss, and since Vencor gave me the impression that one of the people who would receive information about my situation was “his boss”, I am sending this in an attempt to find out what the scoop is. I’m not some yutz writing flames. I’m a customer who feels she was, and continues to be, wrongly disciplined.”


That evening, I also emailed eqseniors@989studios.com (an address I pulled off the Everquest GM/Guide FAQ to which players are invited to write with “input” about policies and procedures), both for shucks and giggles, and to take another blind stab at trying to find out whose lap this was sitting on. I said, among a lot of other things: “This has been a real smack in the face to me and everyone I’m close to and I am just trying to get some resolution. Toward that end, I am asking for some sort of communication from someone at Verant saying either that the suspension is being lifted on such and such a date and such and such a time or saying that “Jane Smith is looking at this, its in her lap, and here’s what the proceeds are like and what stage is at, she’ll contact you letting you know what issues we are considering so that you can make some sort of response in your defense, or she’ll contact when we make a decision within the next X frame of time.”


Sunday afternoon I started getting more emails from people who said that they had heard that I had been officially banned (some said that they had heard from friends who were Guides that I had been listed as a banned player as of Saturday). That evening, at 9:33PM, I emailed Vencor and said: “Although I’ve received no official word from Verant, I received four emails yesterday from folks saying that they had “heard” that I had been banned, and the server now, as of about an hour ago, tells me that I cannot enter Everquest because I am banned, and not suspended. It is my understanding — and correct me if I am wrong — that you have had no involvement in whatever disciplinary actions were taken against me beyond issuing the initial suspension. It has been unclear to me, however, whose lap this has been in — the only response I have received to a number of emails I wrote to various folks at Verant has been from [edited out – the human], and it wasn’t a substantive response regarding the facts and circumstances surrounding my suspension, it was a short note [regarding the way this has been handled]….Obviously, I want to make sure that I have exhausted all of my appeals options before I delete the Everquest files from my computer. If you know who I ought to be writing, I’d appreciate your passing that information along — otherwise I am just shooting in the dark….Despite repeated, reasonable requests that someone in a decision-making position contact me, each time the disciplinary action has escalated I’ve found out days in advance of receiving any sort of communication from anyone at Verant….I don’t know if you have any sense as to what sort of player I am or what role I play in the community on the server you work on, or if you care….But what’s happened here is unfair and I want to contest it. Please give me the email of someone in some relevant decision-making position so that I can attempt to do so. Thanks.”


On the 11th, at 1:03 AM, I sent a long email to attaching copies of relevant emails to and from Verant to twells@verant.com, yet another person I was told was “Vencor’s boss”, and again to the person who had actually responded humanly to one of my emails. I ended that email with “I respectfully urge you to reconsider my banning in light of the foregoing and, if you are not the right folks to be writing, I would like to be in touch with someone to whom I can appeal in this matter. If my case is closed and none of the foregoing makes a difference, I would like to have an official email from Verant so stating. Ideally, however, I would like the chance to participate in the disciplinary process…so that I can prove to you that I am not guilty of having done anything for which a player ought to be banned. Thank you for your time and attention.” This I forwarded to Brad, Fippy, and Hook.


At 10:27PM, I received an email from Jbutler@verant.com, the Customer Service Manager, quoting from the text that I had forwarded to Brad: “I apologize for not contacting you earlier, but the procedure for the investigation and removal of a player…is not a simple one. I have read your letter and compared it to the statements from GM Vencor and the evidence he provided. [He then quoted a passage from a proprietary document that I won’t disclose here]. Not only did you divulge game specific information to your guildmembers, but you acted to use that information for your own benefit. Regrettably, after a period of suspension pending investigation, you were removed from the Guide program and banned from EverQuest.”


The thing that really* got to me about Butler’s email is that he either flat-out lied or simply didn’t have access to very much information about what had happened in connection with my account before it ended up in his desk. It is unclear to me which “procedure” Butler is referring to here. The only “procedure” that I was made aware of involved a series of misrepresentations and silences about what was going on with my account when I KNEW for a fact that someone at Verant had decided to post that I had been banned long before he decided to contact ME and let me know. In his defense, the evidence that Vencor collected undoubtedly changed hands a number of times, and…I don’t know, maybe their email was slow or something? But it seems apparent to me – and I admit my bias in this connection – that whatever “procedure” he is referring to did not take very much into account except that I COULD have pulled information off the Guide board and that I knew more about the quest than I should have. I find it pretty scary that Verant will go to such lengths to justify issuing a ban in a case where they need to make the number of assumptions that they needed to make here in order to distinguish my case from those of the number of other players who had and have admitted to having prior information.


The next evening, 9:27 PM, I replied to Mr. Butler, and sent a copy to Brad, as well. I said:


“In my defense, I wasn’t a CS person guilty of divulging game specific information to folks, and that seems to be the issue at the heart of your having issued a ban.
I don’t know how you read the server logs, screenshots, or testimony with which Vencor provided you, but there are several details which I can’t believe don’t mitigate your judgment that this is a ban situation.
I wasn’t an active guide at the time of the alleged violation of CS policy. I was on a Leave of Absence.
Guides who are actively contributing 10+ hours of week of their time in service of the larger EverQuest community regularly come in contact with proprietary information, and when I was an active Guide, I never once passed along information I gained from guiding to others. In fact, I found it difficult to strike a balance between learning the lands, as Guides are required to, and learning the layout of the zones I hadn’t explored with my play group. Although as…my Guide character, I had explored just about everywhere in-game, as a player, Montes had a reputation for being constantly lost. Had I been an active Guide, and in touch with information regarding the quest in that connection, I could see how the section of the…[document]…that you quoted would have been applicable to me. However, I wasn’t. I had been online as [my Guide Character] only once since 8/20/99. That was for a period of about an hour, and noone mentioned anything to me about a quest.
At no time did anything I said or did effect the outcome of the quest. Even if I had participated, none of the items that I’ve heard were dropped by the quest were items I didn’t already have. And let me state again, and make it perfectly clear, that I did not receive information about the quest as a result of having been a Guide, and that there were SEVERAL other players who demonstrated having MORE information than I did at any given time. This is a matter of public record, and I know for a fact that players have emailed Vencor stating as much.
Does it mean nothing that, in violation of Verant’s rules, he allowed his team to get spotted, by me and by other players? Is it really possible that the powers that be at Verant believe that players in their situation ought to be banned, as well? Is it fair that I was snooped and they weren’t? Is that fair, given that Vencor had such shoddy reasons for snooping me?
I guarantee that if Vencor had snooped the personal communications of those other players, you would either be looking at a bunch of suspensions or a bunch of bans. And that a player can be banned for doing what I did shows a real lack of consistency in terms of the offenses for which players can be banned. When I was an active Guide, I saw some players do some pretty malicious things, repeatedly, and in the end most of them only received warnings and/or suspensions, sometimes multiple ones. Think about the things which players do for which Verant bans them. Does this really fall on par with other offenses for which players are banned?
In the real world, there are limits to the reasons for which the state can violate a person’s privacy, and those limitations exist for a good reason. Any reasonable person would, I think, agree that Vencor’s reasons for snooping me were shoddy, and I think that the majority of your customers would be shocked and outraged to find out that GMs can act as Vencor did.
What has happened to innocent until proven guilty? What happened to the commitment expressed…[by Verant]…to involving players in investigations of their alleged offenses?
I realize that Verant is under no legal obligation to do anything fairly…but its certainly something your players are concerned about.
I just can’t see that you can really believe, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a person with a completely spotless — exemplary, actually — record of service, both as a player and a guide, ought to be banned for having exercised indiscretion. To the extent that whatever information Vencor provided you with made you feel that I am simply too “shady” to continue to have access to proprietary information, I can see your acting to remove me from the Guide program, and as I’ve stated before elsewhere I wouldn’t want to continue to Guide after all of this anyway. But given that I would not have access to proprietary information anymore at all, I don’t understand why this is a ban, and not at best a suspension, case.”


I then emailed Vencor, asking him to remove the Guildmistress tag from Montes and give it to someone else. I said: “I will do what I can to make other players and folks at Sony aware of the abhorrent customer service I received from Verant. You had no right to be snooping. Had I known that, even indirectly, my having formerly been an active participant in the Guide program could lead to a ban, I would never have volunteered my time to try and make Everquest a better place for the players. Verant had no right to interpret the server logs, which could have, at best, provided ambiguous support for a ban decision, without involving me in the process. Its simply unfair, and the end result is a total loss for everyone involved — for me, for the Guide program, and for the community I was an integral, and valuable, part of.”


Then, on Monday, the 18th, I emailed Butler again:


“First off, I want to make it clear that throughout the situation involving my suspension and subsequent banning neither I nor any of my close friends in EverQuest made any substantive public posting regarding the situation for two reasons: (1) Because I realized that to do so would not be helpful in terms of my trying to make clear what I obviously think are circumstances which I think mitigate the severity of the offense of which I was accused, and (2) because to do so would necessarily involve discussing publicly that I had been a Guide, etc.
In light of the foregoing, I find it extremely disturbing that people on the CS team felt it appropriate to divulge account-specific disciplinary information to a number of other players, with the predictable result that said information is now posted on the public message boards which are the lifeblood of the Bristlebane RP community. Exerpts from some of the relevant, recent posts follow (one comes from an email which Vencor sent to a player, and one comes from an email which you sent to a player).
Vencor not only discussed circumstances regarding my ban which he explicitly told me not to discuss (in a threatening manner) — “As a side note, I have received several nasty email from a friend of yours….It is not right for this person to be trying to get involved. Our issue is a guide issue at this point and should not involve players. If this person will listen to you, perhaps you can let them know that their unwarranted involvement is not helping your case” — he also referred to my RL gender, a piece of information which I would think Verant would consider confidential, and protected, information.
That’s just not fair.
Next — and finally — I am still hoping that you will reconsider the ban decision. It has been sixteen days since I was initially suspended. I am sure that you are by now familiar with, if not tired of, the arguments I offered in my defense in a number of correspondences with you and others at Verant, so I will just underline a few points:
1. The charge is that I obtained and misused information because I was a Guide, yet I was not an active Guide at the time the quest was run, nor had I been active since 8/20/99. The assumption you are making, based on the screenshots and server logs with which Vencor provided you, is that I heard about the quest, grabbed information from the Guide web page, and then passed it along to other players in an attempt to make personal gains. I am confident that, if you closely revisit the information you obtained, you
will see that you need to make a number of assumptions about the meanings of the communications included therein;
2. Other players on Bristle had detailed prior information of the quest, and have admitted as much in emails to Verant. Since I had not been an active Guide at the time the quest was run, I did not have the same sort of access that regular Guides have to Guide information. It is not the case that I obtained information about the quest as a result of special access to information that I had as a result of having been a Guide;
3. If part of your intention is to punish players for having prior information about quests, or for gaining information about quests as they are ongoing, it ought to be made clear to players that they may be subject to snooping if they are suspected of having inside information and it ought to be made clear to players what sort of consequences they might risk enduring. The punishment should also be meted out fairly and evenly; and
4. If it part of your intention was to punish a number of Guides and make a political statement about the severity of abusing Guide access, that end has more than been achieved, but more importantly, …[Your Guides should]…have a clear sense that they may be subjected to snooping by the CS teams on their play servers if the CS teams on their play servers suspect that they may be Guides on other servers.
Again, I respectfully urge you to reconsider your decision to ban my account, and invite you to contact me via email, ICQ, or phone in this connection. In the alternative, however, I request that you inform me in writing at your earliest convenience that the ban will stick.” I forwarded this email to Butler again two days later (on Friday, the 22nd).


On Saturday, Butler replied again:


“Sorry, but I will not reverse my decision on this matter. I already reviewed the evidence thoroughly, and I will remind you that being on a LOA as a Guide has no affect on your access to the Guide Message Board. Your presence at a known starting point of the quest BEFORE the quest was to begin was probable cause for anyone to become suspicious.
The [document you received when you became a Guide] is clear on the issue of divulging proprietary information. I believe that conscientious Guides are aware of their responsibilities in this regard.
As you are aware, your campaign (or your friend’s) to convince us to reinstate your account went throughout our company and most certainly spilled over onto message boards. Although it is unfortunate that details of your disciplinary history was revealed to a third party, I would submit to you that you should have considered that before becoming involved with attempts to swamp us with such requests. If your concern for privacy was compelling, you should have allowed the issue to rest.”


Here Butler once again pointed out that the basis for the ban was an ASSUMPTION that I pulled information off a board to which I technically had access but which I no longer visited. He also defends Vencor’s snooping of me, and not anyone else, based on the fact that I was present in Dagnor’s Cauldron moments before a gaggle of others zoned in, attempting to interact with a level 50 NPC who showed up on /who all GM, as had at least one other person who was NOT snooped. One would also think that it would be clear to Butler and whomever else at Verant was so victimized by my alleged “campaign” that it would make no sense for me to try and get people to somehow ask them to explain their actions to other players, thereby waiving any right to privacy that Verant chooses to protect, and that under no circumstances should it be considered a defensible action for a Verant employee who has access to information about a player’s account such as their gender (or name, or whatever else) to communicate that to anyone but that player. He had clearly made his decision a long time ago, however, and was by this point just ticked off. I replied:


“You have no basis for thinking that I pulled information off the Guide Message Board, especially given the number of players on Bristle who admitted to having prior information about the quest. You had leaks and I wasn’t one of them.
Vencor’s actors were not hidden. I was in the Cauldron after the quest had started. Other players from Bristle (who had prior information about the quest) had already begun to participate in it and were interacting with several NPC’s — dwarves — who were also not hidden. Your actors had been showing on /who all GM for about a half hour before I showed up on the continent. After I did, other players were at the mouth of the Cauldron in the company of the dwarves. A quest had started, and a ton of players saw
it coming a mile away.
Obviously, I think you made a mistake in my case, but above and beyond that, I feel sorry for the Guides you banned who were active, because [the document Guides receive] is NOT clear that divulging proprietary information is a bannable offense. Of course, everyone knows that it is now that you picked a bunch of folks to make an example of. There is simply no way that leaking information is on par with the other offenses for which Verant bans players, and absent any prior notice it is mind boggling that you think it fair to issue a ban and make it stick. I certainly hope you have updated your [Guide] materials to reflect not only the penalty for purported information leaking but also the lax rules you have for snooping players’ private communications so that volunteers know what they are risking.
I resent your implication that I was not a “conscientious” Guide. I learned how to Guide from some pretty damn good Guides. But I didn’t Guide for you, I did that for the players. You weren’t there and I know they appreciated it.
I never engaged in a “campaign” to reinstate my account. The folks on your CS team were unduly tight-lipped at every step as to what was going on and changes were made in my account status and posted publicly days before I received any notification from Verant — thus the number of emails that you received from me. And I told other players NOT to contact Verant in connection with my suspension from day one, and I made that clear in my communications with you all.
I just don’t believe that folks — Vencor and whomever else — were somehow “pressured” into giving out information about my disciplinary history and account. Its my understanding that Verant has a strict policy not to discuss one customer’s account information with another. It was also my understanding that discussing the details of what had happened would have hurt the possibilities of my reinstatement, which is why I avoided so doing in a public context despite numerous requests to do so. I am shocked that you would attempt to justify such a violation of trust and procedure.”


Finally, Butler wrote back and said:


“I have read the logs and screenshots. You were a leak.
You appear to have a very selective memory. As I have told you before, Guides on Leave of Absence are active! You were an active Guide during this incident. You had complete access to the Guide Message Board, along with a Guide character. Inactive Guides do not!!!
Your statement that “There is simply no way that leaking information is on par with the other offenses for which Verant bans players” is frankly a joke. Your intentional act ruined the quest for every single player that had contact with you. Your motive was pure greed for the item in the quest, and your actions indirectly harmed every single player on your server. You used your knowledge to attempt to cheat them out of a prize that should have been given to the fortunate player who role-played and perservered [sic] throughout the quest. You showed no regard for your fellow players, and you attempted to ruin the gameplay associated with the quest for everyone. That offense cannot be more serious, or more deserving of removal from the game. The fact that this concept escapes you invalidates your assertions that you were a good player and Guide.
You may sympathize with the Guides who were banned, but the [Guide document] is clear on the issue that leaking information is one of the worst offenses a Guide can commit. Conscientious Guides have no need to be concerned with that clause. Those who ignore that rule are not welcome as Guides, or as players in any Verant game.
It is astonishing that although you claim to have not initiated a mass email campaign to get reinstated. Since we made no public announcement, it is clear that you are responsible for having informed the players who contacted us. I directly received numerous messages in protest of your banning, with many having been cc’ed to other Verant employees. That has no bearing on the decision process regarding your appeal, but it has a direct affect on our ability to control the information. As I stated, if you wished to avoid publicity, you failed. We did not release information of our own accord, but only after being subjected to numerous requests for appeal and further information from those you recruited to press the situation. Our privacy policy is unwritten but firmly upheld, but in my opinion you waived your right to privacy when you embarked on this campaign. On that basis, I have made GM Vencor aware of his error but I will take no further action.
I have closed my file on this matter. I will accept no further communication from you on this issue.”


In response to Butler’s assertion that my “intentional act ruined the quest for every single player that had contact with” me, his assumptions about my motivations, etc., all I have to say is that if this holds true for every player who had prior information about the quest run on 10/2 and if each person who had prior information tainted every other person they came in contact with, everyone was infected and should seek IMMEDIATE medical treatment lest the evil spread! Here Butler has clearly seen into the complete and utter disregard I have for everyone I came in contact with while playing EverQuest. Not only had you all been duped into having an impression of me as a positive influence on the EQ community – so had the players on the server where I used to Guide, since I volunteered all that time, on Butler’s account, so that I would have access to neat information about hammers that only dwarves can use (but fail to make sure that the only dwarf I play with were around) and items that I already had (fishbones, sashes, Ykeshas). I also want to thank Mr. Butler for clearing up that prizes are given to players who roleplay and persevere…this should smack down any sense you all might have to the contrary, so quit the thread below about the quest run on Saturday right now!


In response to his misinterpretation of my comment that “there is simply no way that leaking information is on part with other offenses for which Verant bans players,” all I have to say is that players who are not or have not at one time also been Guides need to do a LOT to get banned from EverQuest. In fact, shortly after I was suspended, one player threatened a friend of mine with violence IRL and that friend caught the player threatening her square with a /report and /petition…yet nothing was done. Players regularly do some pretty awful, malicious things and get caught in the act but Verant claims not to have enough information to support taking ANY sort of disciplinary action against them, let alone ban them. It may appear from where Butler sits that things along these lines are functioning nice and tidy and smooth but it never looked that way to me, and – well it obviously doesn’t seem that way now. I’m sorry, but to my mind, the joke here lies in appealing to violation of a standard of “conscientiousness” to which former Guides must adhere as a means of justifying banning them and relying on some weird, vague notion of what it means to be “conscientious” in a context where folks have no sense to what lengths Verant is willing to stretch the boundaries of what could reasonably be considered hard evidence of an offense that isn’t anywhere on the books in the first place.


Finally, I resent being accused of having “recruited” people to press my case. At best, I did not prevent people from writing Verant in defense of my character. What I DID do was tell several people who were close to me what was going on. I felt that I showed a good deal of restraint in not* making a public stink about the disciplinary process as it was unfolding. Had I chosen to do so, I would have make a public posting something along these lines a long time ago. I held back from so doing precisely because I understood that folks like Butler, who claim to be so responsive to players’ thoughts and feelings, are in fact extremely touchy when pressed in any way about the decisions that they make. Moreover, it should be clear from the level of disclosure I’ve made in this post that at no point was I concerned about the sort of “privacy” that Butler thinks I am upset that he violated. I find it unconscionable that a series of violations of what I understood to be policies that Verant upholds regularly should be punctuated with a defense of a GM who thinks it appropriate to discuss private account information about a player’s disciplinary history and real life gender by the manager of the CS team. I also find it ironic that such a violation doesn’t constitute the level of “conscientiousness” to which Guides are supposed to adhere – or maybe paid GMs just aren’t held to the high standards that former members of a volunteer staff are. Do I think Butler should take disciplinary action against Vencor or something? Nope, I don’t see the point. But I DO take his defense of that sort of thing as yet another example of the extent to which he is comfortable with talking out of two sides of his mouth. I realize that his two most recent responses were probably motivated more by anger and frustration than anything else, but it would have been easy for him to have responded to any of the other emails I sent his way before* it got to this point.


MontEs is dead. Now you know why and I’m sleepy so enough said. )


RIP
MontEs Darkwisp
Level 47 Scout of Tunare