As mentioned in previous posts, Blizzard bans players at a rate of 100k per month. It's probably closer to 60k now, though, due to diminishing subscription numbers.
For the longest time though, they were making a profit of approx. $12 million dollars per month just by banning players. (The cost of new subscription, old subscription, WoW license + expansion packs.)
It's a pretty big chunk too. Banning players apparently amounts to approx. 10-15% of Activision Blizzard's Quarterly Net Income!
Not only that, but on the "books" it gives the appearance that they have 2 players when, in fact, they only have 1 player. This doubles their "Active Subscription" numbers to please the shareholders and improve customer confidence. Banning players is just another "alternative revenue stream" really. And, they'll be making even more money (per banned player) when Cataclysm comes out.
"But if a player get's banned, why then is it so easy for them to start back up again? They're probably highly technical right? They use new PCs, new MAC IDs (or spoofing software), employ proxy servers to mask their IP addresses, change their accounts around, right??"
Well, no actually. Let me explain.
Blizzard collects a TON of uniquely identifying and personal information about you.
Let's review the WoW Client and associated Warden system.
Warden, as you know, is a polymorphic (hidden) application that hides on your system and constantly changes it's code to remain hidden and obscure it's activities. It collects a ton of information from your PC and forwards it all to Blizzard.
If you weren't aware of this, here's some information to bring you up to speed:
According to Blizzard, the purpose of the software is:
- to make sure you can play the game without fear of hacks or keyloggers
- to protect your account from being compromised
- check for hacks and bots to prevent cheating
- survey for future games so that developers can better understand our systems. "During each survey period, we obtain information regarding the CPU, RAM, operating system, video, audio, HD/CD/DVD, and network connection you use to connect to World of Warcraft." (Link)
There's a ton of information that Warden collects. It includes, but certainly not limited to:
- IP Address
- PC Name
- User Names / Logged in User Name
- MAC Address
- OS Version, Patches installed
- Browser Version
- Software Installed
- Website URLs open at the time of the scan
- Documents on desktop, or documents open at the time of scan
- Accesses every process and program running on the PC
- Sniffs email addresses
- Webpage favorites and bookmarks
How serious is Blizzard in stopping this type of activity?
Even though they have the information available to completely ban cheaters for good, or at least make it extremely difficult for them to create a new account, they don't.
Blizzard collects a ton of unique information about your PC constantly but they only ban the ACCOUNTS and nothing else.
To be clear:
- Blizzard does NOT ban by IP Address (they know if it's static).
- Blizzard does NOT ban by MAC Address (very easy to do, highly effective).
- Blizzard does NOT ban by user name, address, credit card information or any other unique info.
This means that if you're a horrible cheating exploiting speed-hacking PVP bastard, and someone catches you and reports you, all you have to do is simply create a new account and power-level your toons back up to 80 within a week. That's it. Feel free to put it on your old credit card too, Blizzard doesn't care.
How serious is Blizzard in protecting the user?
Warden is also supposed to protect your account from key loggers and trojan horses, not just detect cheaters and botters.
I installed 3 common WoW keylogging applications (on a testbed PC of course), Warden did not detect them or warn me at all when logging into the servers. I suppose it's possible that Warden's account protection features haven't been updated in 5 years.. after all, most of their efforts seem concentrated on trying to detect cheaters and botters (and build up a list of "Players To Be Banned").
Warden has been so ineffective in protecting users that Blizzard had to release the Authenticator token. It wouldn't take much though to get Warden to detect keyloggers and actually protect users, but that would cut into their Authenticator sales.
All of these facts point to a single truth: Blizzard is serious about detecting cheaters, but not serious about protecting the user. They want the return business after all. :)
In an earlier post, I had said:
"And because they can introduce the services any time they want, they only have to release them if they are showing poor performance for that quarter."
Coincidentally, Warden 2.0 was released on June 23, 2010 in the middle of the quarter when their profits were the lowest they've seen in 21 months.
There was a huge BLITZ on banning accounts, Blizzard got some good PR and gave the impression that they're making WoW safer for players and stopping hacks, but nothing has really changed at all. Banned players have re-activated their accounts and Blizzard received a massive spike in profits from the "returning players."
It's just like when police have "blitzes" themselves.. speeding blitz, unsafe vehicle blitz, sex trafficking blitz, drug blitz, etc. It's only effective that one time, there's never any follow up or consistency, and it's really just to rebuild confidence and address complaints. Nothing ever changes though. If Blizzard was serious about protecting honest users, bans would be permanent and based on the person not the account.
Warden 2.0 is a very clever alternative revenue stream for Blizzard.
Even though they can create new accounts at any time, botters, hackers, cheaters will always need to employ new methods to avoid detection however. Mostly because it's inconvenient when they get caught and they have to start from scratch. They never have any worries about not being able to play again.. it's just a renewed investment of time.
It's under Blizzard's best interest though to keep detection algorithms up to date however. The more players they can ban, the more reactivations there will be, and the more profit they reap. =]
tl;dr; Warden is an ineffective anti-cheating method by design and is employed as a means to reap profit.