Something is rotten in the state of Neverwinter, and the community is responding to it.
If you are a frequenter of the Neverwinter sub-reddit or Discord, and you’ve snoozed past this last weekend, you may not have even noticed. That is, of course, intentional–both forums have been sanitized of the controversy. But Twitter is telling a different tale, with nearly every official Tweet from the studio being followed with mixed messages of support and vitriol.
The problem? A thorough ban-hammer swung by Cryptic Studios at everyone who has been using a long-identified exploit. And with reportedly thousands affected, the community is split on where to shift the blame.
To give you a quick primer on the Hunt Exploit at the center of the controversy, it comes down to Astral Diamonds–one of Neverwinter‘s in-game currencies. Cryptic describes Astral Diamonds (AD) as “one of the most useful types of currencies in the game,” with a similar spending power to the micro-transaction currency, Zen. After refining the AD, players are able to use them in-game to speed up progression, buy gear, and even trade it for Zen.
While certain high-AD earning quests are blocked behind gates that require items (in this case, Tarokka Cards), this Hunt Exploit allowed for players to re-play the Barovia Hunts to earn salvage (which can be turned into Astral Diamonds) or Refinement Points indefinitely.
In other words, the game had a glitch where players could make the equivalent of in-game currency.
The bug has been around for seemingly months, with it being rolled out during June 26’s Ravenloft module for PC. However, things didn’t start gaining traction until August 28 when the module went live, still unpatched, on consoles.
It’s impossible to say without more precise numbers how many people used the exploits (though we did ask); whether it is a vocal minority or affecting the most core part of the fanbase substantially. Regardless, guilds were able to produce 100,000 astral diamonds every 30 minutes.
The exploit was officially patched out on August 29th, however the PC update managed to get fixed much quicker than the console versions. It wasn’t until September 12th that Cryptic Studios formally responded to the console version of the exploit, and this time it was with a warning:
We will be reviewing playlogs and any character found using the exploit will be subject to possible actions taken against player accounts as per our Terms of Service.
Of course, there are always two sides of any story–so let’s start with Cryptic Studios. Chatting briefly with the PR for Cryptic, they think the issue is cut-and-dry:
Exploits such as this one can negatively impact the health of Neverwinter and affects its players. The exploit is now fixed; players who chose to abuse the Hunts system were in violation of our Terms of Service, so action was taken against them. Any players who would like to dispute actions against their account can contact our Customer Service team.
But not everything is so black-and-white for the community as a whole. We caught up with J.P. Harvey, a casual MMO player on console who plays Neverwinter with his wife, and has been for about six months. Between their busy lives, they manage to squeeze in a few hours daily. Their guild knew that they spent less time playing the game, and passed along the exploit as a way to catch up — so they took the opportunity. According to J.P., he thought:
Hey, they aren’t too concerned. Otherwise, they would have made sure the code didn’t make console…. New players just don’t have that kind of time to grind to honestly play the newer content. My wife and I have been saving for a couple of months with hopes to get gear and diamonds and such so we can play with our friends.
Even worse, the exploit was seen as a necessary way to stay ahead. With many people already gaming the system for the rare currency for months, it was clear that high-ranked players and guilds were making leaps and bounds–when currency is auctionable and items can be bought with in-game currency, this sort of exploit imbalances the entire system. While this is why Cryptic Studios enforced the bans, it is the reason driving many people to use the exploit to begin with.
Meanwhile, Neverwinter community streamer Nova (who maintains a more than 14,000 subscriber base on YouTube), also found himself on the ban list. Despite playing since launch on PC, he never thought he would see himself on the other end of the ban list–especially given that he was conducting Q/A interviews with the lead developer just days earlier.
To Nova, the problem comes down to the time it took for Cryptic Studios to address the problem:
It doesn’t make any sense, to be aware of a game breaking exploit, and allow it to reach a PC live launch and console live launch, being fully capable of fixing the issue prior to these live launches.
Though, ultimately, he would have been happy even getting notification that he was banned:
It would be nice if Cryptic actually sent out emails to everyone that was banned, but many people including myself have yet to get an email.
And with Cryptic effectively controlling Neverwinter‘s Reddit, Discord, and forums, Nova states it is nearly impossible to have a discussion with developers to air their grievances:
I would suggest that Cryptic should have made an announcement day one when they got notice of this exploit, by making a statement on their official game page, twitter, and or/reddit and discord. But unfortunately, you’re not allowed to discuss or talk about things like that on the forums or you’ll be banned.
J.P. seemed to take his ban in stride, though takes aim at the idea of banning people for something from often unreadable Terms of Service:
I can already see the toxic commentary “Good, one less cheater. Bye Felicia”. And I get the very well written terms of service agreement so that the designers are afforded the luxury to do whatever they want and use TOS to justify it…. They could have done a neat special mount for anyone who didn’t bug hunt, or an in game item. Instead, they created a memorable moment for people to remember and remember well when it comes time to open their wallets. I know in my guild, people are moving on. And so are we.
And, seemingly, the community is not yet moving on from the now week-old bans. Every social media post seems flooded with the hashtag #DontBuyZen.
Update: On the other end, not everyone from the community is so incensed about the move by Cryptic Studios. A reader reached out after publishing the article, looking to anonymously support how the devs have handled the Neverwinter situation:
Knowingly running something that you know is against the intent of the game is cheating and the vast majority of people that were banned did it expressly for personal gain. The actions taken against these people was long overdue and was not the companies fault but the fault of the ones cheating/exploiting.
In my brief conversation with the anonymous Twitch streamer and Neverwinter community member, he rallied against a lot of the comments from the article–making points that people who intentionally go into the exploit with the notion of cheating to get ahead shouldn’t complain after they cheat.
Lets [sic.] be clear these are people that exploited the game, in essence cheating, and saying that it is the games fault for not fixing the exploit faster. This is basically the same as saying it is not a crime if you do not get caught.
This Neverwinter player went on to discuss that Cryptic shouldn’t explicitly be blamed for making the occasional mistake in their bans, given that the issue is so widespread:
Yes, there was collateral damage in the sweep, but the number of people using the cheat was so large that the margin for error was also going to be large.
But, anecdotally, the player wants people to know that Cryptic Studios seems to mostly keeping the permanent bans few and far between:
The number of actual permanent bans were small and from what we are hearing now, a lot of them are being turned into suspensions once people contact support about it.
Perhaps the perfect solution lies somewhere in the middle; the community should likely never have capitalized on the exploit, however it’s difficult to penalize the core audience after two months of not getting a fix. Either way, Neverwinter is dealing with a significant PR fallout with some of its (once) loyal fanbase and a non-negligible loss of players month-over-month. Whether Cryptic Studios is able to turn this situation around and welcome back since-banned players has yet to be seen.
Neverwinter is available now on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.