Community servers are the lifeblood of almost any lobby-based game. They open up an infinite realm of possibilities for gamers to customize gameplay and share their preferences with like-minded players; from servers with official rules, to servers that offer unique twists on the game’s physics engine like the bizarre Surf maps that populate Source games, community servers continue to surprise and amaze those who happen to wander into them. But they can also be a morass of regulatory gray zones, as demonstrated by a recent debacle between Valve and individuals who own community servers for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
Earlier this Tuesday, several CS:GO server owners were greeted by an unpleasant evening surprise: they found that their accounts had been banned from using Game Server Login Tokens. This permanently prevented them from logging into their servers. The server owners quickly took to the Internet to share their baffling state of affairs with other affected individuals.
All became clear when Valve posted an update on CS:GO’s official blog on Wednesday. This post recalled a statement Valve had put out last July, which warned server owners not to provide “services that falsify the contents of a player’s profile or inventory.” Specifically, these “services” included plug-ins that allow players to temporarily use official items not in their inventory, like weapon skins and custom knives:
We’re aware that some server operators are offering to their players false inventories and/or profiles as a free or paid service via mods on their servers. These mods inaccurately report the contents of a player’s inventory and/or matchmaking status, devaluing both and potentially creating a confusing experience for players.
Therefore, we are asking server operators to remove any mods and plugins that falsify the contents of a player’s profile or inventory.
The new blog post mentioned an additional horror: affected server owners would be permanently restricted from creating new login tokens. To create new tokens, these players would have to create new Steam accounts with new qualifying phone numbers.
To many CS:GO players, Valve’s actions were an outrage. Many took to Valve’s official forums and Reddit to complain about the sudden and unexpected nature of Valve’s bans. The tumult thickened when some of the affected server owners stated that they had only been running non-official custom weapon skins, which had previously been believed to have been allowed by Valve. Moreover, other servers that had custom weapon plug-ins sitting inactive in their disabled folders had been banned as well.
Some players point out that Valve was protecting their profits with the bans. Several of the affected servers, after all, were offering “premium” services to let players ‘try on’ gear that they did not own, which effectively negated official purchases that players could make toward said items. Rather, it was the fact that Valve seemed to have issued the bans with little warning that made the issue controversial among CS:GO players.
A Valve representative, brianlev_valve, responded to concerned Counter-Strikers in a Reddit thread yesterday by stating that Valve had ‘clarified’ the aforementioned guidelines. However, the following statement had been simply crossed out:
[To clarify: it is also not acceptable to provide players with custom models and/or weapon skins that do not exist in the CS:GO ecosystem]
This has only further confused and angered concerned CS:GO players. Competitive players, meanwhile, remain unaffected.
What kinds of rifts this banning incident will leave on relations between CS:GO players and developers is unclear at this time.