Warden upgraded to Matrix 2.3, Neo unhappy with sudden inability to stop Agent Smith

Another undocumented change in World of Warcraft’s new kooler than Jesus 2.3 patch: all your bots are belong to Blizzard.

You had better get an idea what we are talking about. ISXWarden and ISXWoW may never work again, and if you are using InnerSpace for WoW, this affects you.

The amount of life I have saved through the enabling of such a wonderful anti-warden program can never be payed back. I have tried my hardest not to annoy you fellows with needless and stupid questions and have enjoyed being a part of isxwarden/wow. I can only hope that you defeat warden once again…

Lax, the author of ISXWarden (a detector/blocker of Blizzard’s anti-hack Warden software) and InnerSpace (the non-free DirectX host for the free ISXWoW bot software) responded by… blogging! That’ll show the evil empire. Blogs fix everything.

In this case, Lax goes straight for the Fear-Uncertainty-Doubt effect – “OMG, we can’t stop, er, don’t know what Blizzard is doing any more – they could be sending anything from your PC! Anything! Demographic data! Financial data! Pictures of your dog! PICTURES OF YOUR MOM!”

Blizzard, I strongly urge you to promote transparency in your policing efforts. The public cannot be expected to trust a corporation that is hiding information from its own customers. You are governing several million people across the globe, and even though you do not like some of them, you should not attempt to hide your software or the functionality of your software on your customers’ personal computers. There is absolutely no excuse for doing so, and I do believe that this is now, without a doubt in my mind, an ethical issue.

Of course, the Internet being what it is, Slashdot is ON THE CASE, y0. Not on the case to explicitly note Lax’s somewhat obvious conflict of interest, of course. Reading’s hard when all your software yearns to be free.

Now Blizzard has a tool that is encrypted and can run any type of scan, transfer any file or edit any document on your computer. That can’t be right.

If i had a WoW account i would be cancelling it this second, no videogame has the right to violate the privacy of my computer (Score: 5, Insightful)

You’ve already given up your life when you start playing WoW. What do you have to keep private? (Score: 5, Funny)

Seriously, if this is the worst that Blizzard does, I’m a happy camper. They really do have serious problems with their users being exploited, and detecting these problems early is all good. In my case, they’ll see everything that’s in my virtual Windows environment under Wine. (Score: -3, Embrace The Many)

My thoughts: here’s how I break this down. The usual arguments against Warden:

  • Warden scans the user’s process list and sends it back to the server without the user’s explicit consent (Blizzard’s response is that agreeing to the WoW EULA and playing WoW is implicit consent).
  • Warden logs when the user is found to be using third party programs Blizzard disallows, and then bans the user from WoW. This is seen as a violation of the user’s right to run whatever they want.
  • World of Warcraft has many functions hosted client-side (which is how teleport hacks and the like happen) to improve game performance. This is seen as bad coding.
  • Thanks to the arms race of hackers vs game developers and all of the above, Warden essentially behaves as a virus itself (using polymorphic code cloaking) to block users from stopping it from functioning. This is seen as hijacking the user’s computer.

I disagree with all of the above complaints (aside from perhaps the thing about client side coding – and it’s a compromise every developer eventually looks at, because it’s impossible from a cost/benefit perspective to keep everything on the server) for obvious (and, like Lax, obvious conflict-of-interest) reasons.

But the real bottom line: if you don’t like Warden and find it an invasion of privacy, vote with your pocketbook and don’t pay for WoW. It’s really that simple. Histrionics on message boards aside, playing WoW is not some kind of constitutional right, it’s a contract between you and Blizzard. As part of that contract, Blizzard is going to be looking over your shoulder while you’re playing. If you’re not OK with that, there are, believe it or not, other online games out there, some of which have been rumored to resemble WoW to varying degrees.

Game developers have not only the right, but the expected duty, to enforce a clean and open playing field. As black hats get better at breaking them, white hats are going to get sneakier (and sometimes overbearing) in protecting them. The arms race will never end.

(Until we have an OS with a sane user and application access administration policy. But that’s another subject.)

Edit: further discussion raging here as well.