Battleground Exploits

I remember riding back to the Stables at Arathi Basin and finding an Undead Mage on top of the roof, running around and slaughtering the Alliance troops underneath him. It was a mad run to try to DoT him up before he could kill me with massive amounts of fire or dive to the other side of the roof to heal. The stalemate was only broken when a Night Elf Death Knight also climbed up on the roof and killed the Mage.

It took me a while, but eventually I learned how to get up on that roof myself.  I’ve seen dozens of people do it, but it always seemed a tough climb for me, much like getting to the top of the Blacksmith in Goldshire.  I could never do it reliably, but if I’ve got nothing else to do while guarding the Stables I would give it a try.  When I could do it, defending became much easier.

Blizzard considers climbing onto the Stables roof to be an exploit. It doesn’t matter if you climb up via the outhouse, jump the side building, or float down via parachute cloak from the Lumber Mill — if you engage in combat from that roof, they consider it an exploit.

Yet… it’s something that is possible within the confines of rules of the game.  There’s no software being hacked, no mods being used to change any code — just some creative jumping and use of terrain to let you target opponents without them easily able to engage you in return.  Not that it’s impossible — just difficult.

I play a battleground to win.  I might play it for other reasons, but almost always, my goal is to win.  It is my duty to use every bit of my grey matter to outplan, outthink, and outfight my opponents to reach that goal.  I use potions and flasks to expand my abilities.  I use Frostweave Nets like nobody’s business.  And you better believe I will climb up on that roof to defend the Stables if need be.  Every advantage will be pursued.

Does this attitude surprise you?  It shouldn’t, and I suspect you share it.

Within the confines of Warcraft there are strict, specific limits on the things I can do and cannot do.  I cannot blow up the tunnel in WSG, even though I have charges that can blow apart a wall in the Strand of the Ancients.  I cannot use grappling hooks or ziplines to get from the Lumber Mill to Blacksmith to Mine quickly.  I am completely limited to those things that the developers allow my character to do.

How is jumping on to the Stables roof — something any character can do, though perhaps not easily — an exploit, if I’m able to do it in the game?  If hundreds of players can do it?  Through jumping?

Let’s take another battleground example: getting on top of a wall or pillar in Wintergrasp Keep by flying into position before the game starts.  Trivially easy to do, and you can take out defensive cannons and defenders with ease up there while exposing yourself to minimal risk. Smart use of the roofline and LoS, just like on the Arathi Basin Stables roof, allows you to be effectively unreachable by other players on the ground.

Is that an exploit?

The blue post says,

Players accessing any area of Arathi Basin in order to engage other players from a safe vantage point but avoid combat themselves is considered a reportable exploit.

If we use that definition, this is the very essence of an exploit.  But yet — it’s allowed to happen.  You don’t get kicked off the top of a wall when you land there, you get to stand and kill cannons with impunity.  Interestingly, if you’re on a tower you do get kicked to the ground — but only when the battle first begins.

So what gives?  Is this an exploit, or not?  I’m not trying to deliberately break the rules here, but if I can do it in the game… why shouldn’t I?  Why shouldn’t you?  How are you, someone whom I assume is not a Blizzard developer, to know if this is right or not?

I find myself in complete agreement with Cassandri when she says there’s no such thing as an exploit, at least not in the context of in-game mechanics.  There might be bugs, but bugs are not the fault of the user.  We cannot be expected to know the intent of the developers.  Quoting from that excellent article:

…(B)ecause they exist unchanged in the game, that implicitly confirms that they must be working as intended – otherwise they would be changed. We accept them and the best of us turn them to our advantage.

You don’t question whether it’s intentional or not. It’s not your place to question what is and isn’t a mistake in the game. You are a gamer. It’s your job to win.

Cass is writing about PvE in general, and the banning of Ensidia for the use of Saronite Bombs in the 25-man Lich King world first kill.  I’m staying away from discussing that specific topic because it is a charged, emotional debate about ego and bragging rights.  There  is the additional component of whether Ensidia, or Exodus, or any of the other guilds who have been taken to task for exploits in PvE, “should have known” that the encounter was not working as designed.  That’s the whole crux of the debate, actually, which is why it’s so complicated.

PvP is simpler.  If you don’t pursue every advantage — be it in gear, skill, level, consumables, positioning, macros, addons, communications, whatever — someone else will.  If you don’t send people on the walls and towers of Wintergrasp, the other side will.

And if they have an advantage that you choose not to take, you will probably lose.

I don’t want to get banned by Blizzard.  I enjoy playing their game and try to follow all the rules they set forth in their ToS.  I’m not trying to cause problems with their code or servers, or gain an unfair advantage in their economy.  I don’t want god mode cheats.  I don’t want world first titles.  I just want to play their game and enjoy it.

But when I play, I also want to win.

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Filed under Battleground Strategies, Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

11 responses to “Battleground Exploits

  1. In another game I play (Eve Online), this topic (e-honor) comes up a great deal. I fall squarely on your side of the fence. If the game lets me do it, I can do it. Sure, there are some gray areas (new content bugs, etc), but Arathi Basin has been in the game for 4.5 years. There have been roof squatting alliance p*ssies up there pretty much the whole time. If Blizzard thought it was an exploit, they have had more than ample time to fix it. An invisible square on top of the roof preventing us from getting up there doesn’t take too long to implement, nor does it detract from the Warcraft experience.

    As someone who got blown out of a WG defense cannon yesterday by a lock hiding on the wall to the left (where the damned cannon won’t hit directly), I can say that’s clever use of game mechanics and a great spot. Really, its our fault for not putting people on that wall to defend it.

    Btw, the Blizzard language on this is extremely vague: “in order to engage other players from a safe vantage point but avoid combat themselves” . Doesn’t that sound like the basis of every single ranged DPS strategy in PvP? Hell, the Hunter deadzone reinforces it.

  2. Russish

    I can’t speak directly to the issue of PvP, being a nearly exclusive PvEer myself, but I had to respond to this:

    “We cannot be expected to know the intent of the developers.”

    I call BS on that. Can you know every single intention? No, obviously not–you’re not a mind reader. But you’re a thinking person with a mind of your own, and you can try to guess what the intention is by observing the BG and using your analytical powers.

    Let me give you a scenario: you’re fighting in a new BG that has a gatehouse. Your objective is on the other side of the gate, and while it’s closed, you can’t get to your objective. There are cannons set up on your side of the gate that you can use to blow up the gate, but in order to fire a cannon you must acquire cannonballs from the stocks on another part of the map.

    Now, you say that you can’t know what the intent of the developers are. So how do you ever figure out what you’re supposed to do there?

    The answer: you look at how the map is set up, you look at all the options available to you, and then you THINK. You think “I need to get through this gate to get to my objective. I can blow up the gate with cannons. Cannons need cannonballs to fire. I can get cannonballs over here. Hmm… maybe the intent of the developers is that I go get cannonballs, bring them back to the cannons, and then use the cannons to blow up the gate and get to my objective.”

    Now what happens if you’re walking along the wall the gate is in and you find a place where if you jump from a very specific rock to a very specific tree and then toward the wall, you can get past the wall without blowing up the gate. How are you ever to know whether this was intended or not, since your character’s jump height is a constant known by the developers, and they clearly could have designed the map differently if they didn’t intend you to use that?

    Again, you THINK. You notice the carefully set up series of steps necessary to blow up the gate, and you observe that the cannonball depositories are accessible by both sides with defensible positions, and–with your natural human thinking skills–realize that the intent of this part of the BG is to fight over those cannonballs and break through the gate. Why would the developers have set up those carefully balanced positions if they intended you to bypass the gate by careful jumping? Isn’t it just possible that they miscalculated the jump distance in that one spot?

    To be honest, I’m not familiar with the topography of the BGs in WoW. I’m a PvEer reading your blog because it’s interesting to get the PvP PoV. So I can’t tell HOW obvious it is that that location is not one you’re supposed to be in.

    But your argument (and the argument you linked to) that we as gamers aren’t able to tell what the developers intend–and shouldn’t even try to do so–is specious at best. Your final words are more honest–you want to win, and you’re willing to deceive yourself into believing you don’t know what the developers intend if it means you’ll win.

    I can totally get behind that thought, by the way. Just don’t try to hide it. :)

    (Fair disclaimer: I’m a professional video game designer, although not for Blizzard. Game designers use the fact that players can know our intention all the time, although most commonly we use it by subverting the player’s expectations to give them a pleasant or not-so-pleasant surprise.)

    • One of the really interesting things about this discussion are the different perspectives people bring to it. You raise a totally valid point, and you probably have more experience than many regarding player motivation. As a game designer you expect players to think their way through the game, and when they use language that obscures their true motives (to win) that probably pushes all the wrong buttons. I know it would me!

      However, while the example you put forth is great for proving your point, it highlights the specific problems with Blizzard’s policy towards Arathi Basin and Wintergrasp because of its clarity. Here’s where the details of the battlegrounds matter.

      Your example is of an obstacle that the players must overcome through use of a particular object, and all the visual cues of the scene are oriented towards that use. You have a cannonball, a cannon, a gate. Bypassing the gate might be a smart thing to do in real life, but within the context of the game, I can accept that the developer’s intent is clear. The reasonable person test used in court applies here.

      The best battleground analogy I have is a bug that existed in Wintergrasp for the first few months of the expansion: the ability to drive vehicles through the inner keep walls. If you angled them just right, which was pretty easy as long as you just kept trying, you could simply drive siege engines through a defensive wall. That’s right, you could drive a big honkin’ siege engine through an itty-bitty doorway.

      My expectation is that a reasonable person would say that both of these examples are not working as designed and should be fixed. That person would also expect this to be corrected when reasonably possible, based upon an honest assessment of the software development lifecycle and resources available to that company. So, the tree gets moved and the walls get made more solid in a few months. The players and developers both acknowledge this was a bug, fix it, and move on.

      But what if that change isn’t made? What happens to the reasonableness test then? As @shieldbreakr points out above, the Stables roof was accessible for over 4 years. And not just accessible via a hinky set of jumps between the outhouse and the back wall, but easily accessible by a double jump onto a low shed near a low part of the roof.

      (It’s a pity you can’t go and see how this was all configured before; the shed was placed in exactly the right place for you to look at it as a way onto the roof. In the language of industrial UI design, it afforded roof access. Sadly, it was all changed a few months ago.)

      Given that there is a shed conveniently placed next to a low roofline right at the bottom of a hill, the intentions of the the game designers becomes much harder to decipher. Add to that the relative simplicity of access, the presence of other accessible rooftops in WoW (Darkshire is infamous for rooftop world PvP), and the lack of any fixes over many patch cycles, is it not reasonable to assume that this is the desired configuration?

      What about the walls of Wintergrasp? There is no jumping about on sheds here; just fly to a wall or tower and land on it. There are flat platforms atop many pillars, wide walls to walk upon, and even a special room atop one of the towers. They can attack with, and be attacked by, ranged weapons and spells. What is there in the design of this environment that says players should *not* be there?

      And it’s been like this since… September, I think? Maybe August? We’ve had one major patch and several minor patches since then. So what should we, as players, infer from that? Is it broken or working as intended?

      I brought up these PvP examples because I honestly think they help us analyze and discuss Blizzard’s policy without the politics of top raiding guilds or world firsts clouding the discussion. The policy that was applied to Exodus and Ensidia is the same policy that governs Arathi Basin and Wintergrasp: taking advantage of bugs in the code is a bannable offense.

      But is that policy fair? When it reasonable for a company to suspend a paying account for a bug in their product’s code?

      That is my biggest problem with this policy; that in its specific application to PvP, it fails the reasonableness test.

      So I guess my counter to you, Russish, is that while players can and do think about the intentions of the developers, but not every case is as clearly defined as a developer would like to think. The actions of others outside of the development team can, and will, shape players’ interpretation of an encounter.

      And blaming players for misunderstanding, in this case, just doesn’t seem right.

  3. skinnemuva

    I agree that if the exploits are still in game, they should be free game to be used, and if I don’t use them someone else will. My favorite example of this is with WSG and running a flag. The best flag runners know what are where all the exploits are and in using them to their advantage are almost impossible to bring down by someone unless they know the exploits too. I personally love that and I think it shows a someones skill and experience with a game to be able to use all of the exploits to their advantage; even if one knows where the “exploits” are, it still takes a little bit of skill to capitalize!

    • I only recently mastered the ability to jump the fence in front of the Horde base in WSG. I didn’t know about it until I started playing in the 19 twink bracket, and then suddenly *everyone* was going over the wall. It’s just one of those routes you’re expected to know.

  4. “But your argument (and the argument you linked to) that we as gamers aren’t able to tell what the developers intend–and shouldn’t even try to do so–is specious at best. Your final words are more honest–you want to win, and you’re willing to deceive yourself into believing you don’t know what the developers intend if it means you’ll win.”

    Exactly. This is what I would type if I had that kind of time.

    You started out with the comment of it being in the game and willing to do it – I don’t blame you, but you’re an intelligent person and using an argument about not knowing intent is questionable at best. I know you are using the opportunity to combine a widely publicized incident with a battleground equivalent, but if someone doesn’t know that you need the right class composition set up on each side of the building at the Stables to take the node then that’s just unfortunate. Again, I like your argument – but you know better, and if you didn’t the first conversation with a GM after being reported would ensure that you now know better.

    Even reading the recount of Muqq’s post and everything else reported I tend to side with Ensidia, but that’s only one side of the story. Something tells me that along the way someone went, “hey this encounter is broke”, but letting Blizzard fix it meant not being the first to do it. Like our examples in a battleground, we know better to begin with, we’re just discussing a matter of degree.

    • I picked the rooftop because it’s one of those I honestly didn’t consider an exploit until I saw that blue post. I thought it frustrating because I couldn’t do it with the ease of some players, but it’s much like climbing on top of a lamp post or fountain — I just figured I didn’t have the skill to do it.

      Your point about having the right class composition on defense is absolutely correct — you need either 2 ranged dps, or someone who knows how to climb up themselves.

      The walls of Wintergrasp are an interesting case for this policy in that I honestly don’t think anyone thinks it’s an exploit. Opponents on the walls are irritating, and can be OP (dear lord, Resto anything on top of the walls can be a nightmare) but not anything to talk to a GM about. Also, I have no idea how to fix it without banning flying in WG again, and that would be a step backwards. Better to leave people on the walls and move on.

      This has been an interesting comments section. Thanks for the feedback!

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  6. Just re-reading this older article, I’d like to add that, since WG is a “flight-allowed” zone, the idea that the rooftops and walls are an exploit is debatable.

    AB is a “no-flight” zone. You shouldn’t be able to get on top of structures.

    Best example I can think of ATM: I can get on top of the fortress structures in WG, but I can’t get on top of the statue next to the Broken Temple workshop. There seems to be an invisible wall there, unless I totally missed something.

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