Square Enix has begun issuing bans to Final Fantasy XIV dataminers

    
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How do you feel about dataminers? If you’re within the Final Fantasy XIV community, you likely know that datamining is against the terms of service. That hasn’t stopped folks from digging in to the game files and showing off what they’ve found, naturally, but that activity has reportedly drawn some account bans and forced the FFXIV datamining community to go to ground.

The first instance of a dataminer’s banning was a player by the name of Icarus Twine, who received a letter much like this one that explains the ban. Other dataminers have reportedly been targeted by Square Enix, all of whom have shared what they’ve found. As a result of this ban wave, the data mining channel of the FFXIV subreddit Discord server is being shut down in order to protect its visitors. “We would continue to allow access to the data mining channel, but we cannot in good faith allow people to put their service accounts on the line. Should Square Enix change their position on this matter, we would be glad to allow community members to once again provide it to you,” reads the announcement.

Not only is the data mining Discord channel being shuttered, but usual places to find datamined information are apparently going to go dark as well. “If you want information, you’ll have to look outside of Reddit for it because SE is apparently poking around everywhere they can in order to enforce their ToS on people who share mild model updates to 3+ year old content,” warns one Redditor’s post. “If you have any kind of modded or datamined info up on your Gfycat account, Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, or anywhere else online that could be tracked to your character. Hide or delete that stuff!”

source: Reddit (1, 2)

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bakkahentai2600 .

People are acting like SE hasn’t actively gone against datamining before. They have in the past.

Hezkezl
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Hezkezl

It’s a completely different situation. XIVDB received a C&D letter from SE Legal, because they datamined the 2.0 benchmark and put everything up on their site (Yoshi was actually woken up in the middle of the night, literally, because of it). But this is the first time they’ve ever banned anybody for datamining, it’s largely blown up because it’s one of the more well known/public miners (Icarus), and there’s some drama from idiots about the World First race thrown into there, too.

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bakkahentai2600 .

No, I mean, I recall Yoshi-P speaking out against Datamining when Heavensward first dropped as well.

Hezkezl
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Hezkezl

Hey everyone, I’m the author of one of the reddit posts being referenced up above for this article, and the person who made the (rather snarky) comment about 3+ year old models which was highlighted up above, and I’m sure won’t come back to be a thorn in my side in the future :P I wanted to clean up a couple of things, so please forgive my enormous wall of text down below, but I hope this gives a bit more information to people who are wondering about it. Also to the best of my knowledge, neither of the players banned are really blaming SE for enforcing their Terms of Service, they’re more just disappointed that it happened and they weren’t given a warning about what they were doing (or really even contacted at all. A request to take the information down would have likely been immediately complied with. But instead SE decided to go pretty heavy handed with their approach to it… possibly as a result of making their stance on datamining and spoilers known for a number of years now, but I digress.)

Icarus Twine was not the first person to be banned from datamining. He was certainly the most “high profile”, in that he rose to prominence after taking over my old ‘job’ of posting datamined info to Reddit to try to keep people there happy in knowing what was in the files (I retired from doing that a number of years ago, for reasons that aren’t important to this story.) He’s also a major contributor to Gamer Escape’s wiki and has done a ton of work in helping to figure out what various things in the game’s data means (since it’s all numbers and TRUE\FALSE stuff as far as the eye can see, with very few actual “names” in places. It helps to refer to everything by an internal ID number, since that allows them to support a multi-language game easier. But finding where each of those ID numbers links to… has been a challenge that has been a struggle since before the game even launched, starting with the 2.0 benchmark release. Allegedly, that benchmark being datamined caused such a shitstorm over at SE, that Naoki Yoshida, the Producer and Director of the game, got woken up in the middle of the night by SE Legal and a C&D letter got sent to XIVDB very shortly after.) The picture up above of the email, with the text “much like this one”, is actually a redacted picture that HE took and posted to Discord.

The first person to be banned for datamining recently, was a player with the name of “perchbird” on Twitter. Perch… unfortunately I don’t know anything about, largely as I haven’t ever had any contact with them before today so I cannot provide more background on their history in the community like I can with Icarus. Perch posted several models from the upcoming “Ultimate Alexander” fight, which a lot of players were eagerly looking forward to and being quite rabid for any information related to it. Unfortunately… perch’s tweets seemed to have caught the public’s attention over in Japan, as they exploded in popularity. I’m talking 2+ million views in less than 24 hours. So he very quickly got on Square Enix’s radar for that, as SE has always had the appearance of “caring” more of what happens in the Japanese gaming sphere than the NA or EU ones. Once JP players started commenting on and sharing that tweet, and then complaining about dataminers “spoiling” it for people, I think the following course of events became inevitable. What follows from here is a long summary of what happened next, so if you already know the story there’s no reason to keep reading the rest of my comment.

The world first kill for Ultimate Alexander was accomplished by a North American group of players. A group of players who are undeniably the best in the world, as they killed Alexander TWO DAYS before the second kill happened. To the best of my knowledge, it’s the biggest gap between the first and second kills in XIV history. As a result of that large discrepency in talent, it wasn’t long before the accusations of cheating came out. Whenever accusations come out and start to pick up steam, it’s not long before some absolutely ridiculous and not at all possible in reality notion comes out to the forefront and gets spread around, because it sounds like the “most plausible” thing to people who don’t know the actual process involved or what’s possible. Those accusations of cheating, were that the NA group had used datamining and a private server to practice the fight during maintenance. Now… yes, datamining was used, but only in the fact that *everybody* and their grandmother sees the datamined information and models and names of things during maintenance, because players are so rabid for new information. But the private server accusations… that was a new one. It’s not even REMOTELY POSSIBLE to use a private server to “practice” a fight before it gets released. There are a large number of reasons for it to be impossible, but it’s largely due to the fact that you cannot possibly know how to get the attacks to trigger, let alone the damage they should do or the timing involved in those attacks (since that information is 100% kept server-side and farrrrr out of reach of any players. That information, I’d imagine, is more secretive than how much gold there really is in Fort Knox. But the general playerbase didn’t know that, and made assumptions based off of private servers for other games (mainly Vanilla WoW) and drew their own conclusion. With both the Japanese and the English FFXIV twitter accounts publicly acknowledging the world first kill, it wasn’t long before the death threats started coming out. (People are claiming that the devs congratulated the first kill group because of the accusations of cheating, and were hoping to dispel rumors of the team having cheated to get it, but I think that’s incorrect. While they did inadvertently address the rumors of it being a cheated kill by congratulating the team publicly on Twitter, it was not their reason for doing so, given their previous history of congratulating the first group to defeat previous Ultimate encounters.)

I don’t want to relink it here (I originally linked it in one of the comments of the thread that is the “1” in [1, 2] up above in the author’s article) but it was clearly from someone who wanted to hide behind a new, anonymous twitter account and they didn’t want their own to be in danger of any action. They threatened the world first raiders, they threatened dataminers and people who used both datamining tools and 3rd-party programs in-game (like Advanced Combat Tracker, or ACT as it’s known, to get information which is normally not available to players), as well as even allegedly the developers themselves. (That last part, about threats being made to the developers, I haven’t personally seen any proof of that and am purely going off of what is already being said. Hopefully it’s inaccurate, and people weren’t threatening the devs, but given the recent tragedy of a Japanese person going after an Anime studio and murdering several people in a fire and SE seemingly deciding to take action against a couple of people who were inadvertently stirring up the players into making the threats… there may actually have been some threats made against the devs.) It also was very clearly from someone who, either acting like it or really lacking the knowledge, didn’t have the greatest grasp on English as everything sounded a bit… “wrong” for how a native speaker would type things. From my own, personal, first-hand experience (and from talking with someone who was a JP player and had regularly browsed the JP websites where information was usually posted to, such as a few “blog” sites that get a lot of attention), I’m under the belief that it was a Japanese player who was making those threats.

Once those death threats happened, I don’t think it was long before SE felt like they had to step in and do something. It’s purely an assumption, but I’m going under the assumption that SE felt it was easier to “go after” the people who were spreading the information that was causing certain players to get upset enough to start making death threats, than it was for them to go after the people who were actually making the threats. It would also rid them of an annoying thorn in their side as they have long asked dataminers not to spoil things for people, or if they must then to include a very healthy spoiler warning before and after the information so random/innocent players cannot stumble across that. Unfortunately, these enemy models and player animations were not ‘hidden’ behind a spoiler wall very well (you can’t really warn people about spoilers on Twitter, or on Gfycat) so going after the people who had seemingly ignored their request that things not be spoiled, and who had apparently riled up the Japanese fanbase enough to start giving death threats out, it seemed like banning the dataminers was the right thing to do.

This is all pure conjecture, as SE does not comment on the banning of individual players, so we could be completely wrong with this and they had instead decided to go after two dataminers who were very publicly “showing off” content that was still hidden in the files. But dataminers have been doing this for a while, even publicly on Reddit and Discord, so it seems a bit suspicious to me that the first time that a dataminer gets a ton of exposure on Twitter by the JP playerbase is when SE decides to step in and enforce their TOS against two of the ones that were very popular.

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Utakata

All I can say is at least Mr. Yoshi is not doing this for China…

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kgptzac

Makes me wonder how much people get paid by SE to ‘hunt down’ errand dataminers who couldn’t bother to hide their char name on screenshots.

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BalsBigBrother

Data mining does have some uses and it’s not all about spoiling stories or suprises.

In Path of Exiles data mining has pulled a few unpublished changes to skills and items. I believe that has been the case with Diablo 3 too.

When such things are put out in the light the reply is usually something along the lines of sorry we forgot to add that to our patch notes or some such. That may well be true but often they are potentially divisive changes like drop rates for popular item etc.

Now I have no idea of the motivation for this change for FFXIV but just wanted to point out that data mining does have some value beyond spoilers.

Hezkezl
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Hezkezl

sorry we forgot to add that to our patch notes or some such.

For what it’s worth, there’s a ton of undocumented changes in the files every patch. It’s usually grammatical fixes (changing punctuation, fixing capitalization on some names, changing endashes out for emdashes, etc. Stuff that makes SE look like they don’t have the greatest proofreaders out there, so it’s no surprise that they don’t have a thorough list of everything that was changed in the files.

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Toy Clown

Datamining is like knowing what I’m getting for Christmas. While I get excited (or not) for what I see, when the day rolls around there are no surprises, no excitement, nothing I can share with others and that ruins the fun.

Yoshi-P made his stance on spoilers very clear just prior to ShB’s release. You can tell it affects him deeply when players do this.

Bree Royce
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Bree Royce

It affects him so deeply that… he hasn’t changed a thing about the way the client distributes these files and facilitates the mining? I love Yoshida but what. :P

Hezkezl
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Hezkezl

For what it’s worth, from before day 1 of the game’s launch Yoshi seemed to be overly confident in the game’s encryption. He laughed off concerns about players datamining something from the benchmark, citing the aforementioned encryption as being very robust… but he was still woken up in the middle of the night by SE legal, freaking out about everything from the benchmark being put up on XIVDB (FF14’s version of Wowhead), and very quickly sending that site a C&D notice to remove the information (which the admin of that site still has a copy of to this day…)

If they did want to really put a stop to datamining, they definitely should not put stuff in the files that is 3+ months away from being released. There’s information in the files now about the Valentine’s day event, and that’s in February!

Eliot Lefebvre
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Eliot Lefebvre

Actually it has more to do with controversy about the first Alexander (Ultimate) clear and whether or not everything was mined out beforehand or learned through play.

Hezkezl
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Hezkezl

Considering that everybody in the world first race had access to the same information as everybody else, them having access to it is a minor point in the grand scheme of things. Knowing that there’s an entry in the ‘Status’ file (the file that lists the mouseover text for both Buffs and Debuffs) that says “The codex is granting you the power to manipulate time.” really doesn’t mean a damn thing for actually being able to do the fight. You still have to do the entire encounter perfectly.

SE never lists damage numbers in their tooltips for Status, and they barely communicate that information for player attacks (and NEVER for enemy attacks). So claiming that information helped people beat the fight, is like putting a band-aid on a broken leg and claiming that it helped heal the break.

Hezkezl
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Hezkezl

Datamining can also help bring players who aren’t currently subscribed to the game, back to the game because they see a picture or video of the content being shared around and think “hey, that looks interesting I think I’ll check it out!”

Done properly with appropriate spoiler warnings, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with datamining. The people who repeat that information without taking the effort of masking any spoilers they’re repeating, are the irresponsible ones. I’d encourage you to not look at any datamined information, if you’re upset about “Christmas being ruined” for you, but I know that once it’s out of our hands there’s nothing we can do to try to protect people who don’t want to see that info.

Besides not datamining at all, that is. But that won’t stop people from datamining. Once those of us who have been doing it for a number of years, and have tried constantly to prevent spoilers from getting out, quit… what’s to stop the next person from coming along and just blabbing everything loudly to everybody? At least with us, we *try* to prevent some information from getting out…

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MassivelyMacD

I don’t get why data that is not yet released is even in the binaries. Sounds like something that could be overcome with a better deployment pipeline.

Hezkezl
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Hezkezl

I agree completely. If you don’t want players getting their hands on something… don’t put it in their hands until you have to. Instead, they push stuff out in the game’s files 3+ months in advance all the time.

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Arktouros

Datamining is always going to be a thing. If you overtly punish people, they’re just going to do it covertly instead under fake names and posts. The only way you’re going to get around it is not push things early to the client.

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Paragon Lost

Exactly. I might not always choose to read about data mined information, but they aren’t going to stop it. They’re just gonna make folks obfuscate who they are. They’ll still do it.

laelgon
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laelgon

Well they could stop it, they just need to not push the files ahead of the patch. Though I assume there are technical reasons it’s not that simple, beyond just wanting to keep the final patch smaller.

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K8 D

releasing small things ahead of the patch allows for easier bug fixes

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Danny Smith

I legitimately can’t stand datamining. When the game as a model relies on waiting months between updates having everything spoiled beforehand sucks. But i dont know what they think this will do to stop it.

laelgon
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laelgon

I really dislike datamining, and in general the way that it’s near impossible for MMOs to have surprises anymore. Everything is parsed and analyzed and leaked so that by the time an update comes out, there’s already metas, walkthroughs, and spoilers posted on every community. Basically unless you avoid any community site/forum/discord, turn off chat, and play completely solo, you’re going to see this stuff.

That said, hopefully the bans are just temporary. Not great to alienate some of your most dedicated players.

micedicetwice
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micedicetwice

by the time an update comes out, there’s already metas, walkthroughs, and spoilers posted on every community

This is not how datamine works dude. The fact that lots of guides appear almost right after the updates did has nothing to do with datamining and everything to do with youtube algorithms, people are trying their best to create content as fast as possible to get those juicy views.

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cursedseishi

Those ‘meta walkthroughs’ literally have nothing to do with data mining. Nothing. You don’t get boss mechanics, targeting areas and the various steps necessary to clear it through data mining. If you could and it did? Guess what! The Ultima Weapon Refrain fight would have been cleared in less than a day, instead of the week-long constant headsmashing people did just to figure out the tricks needed to even GET to Ultima Weapon for the better part of that time period.

You also get very little in story since, y’know, data mining doesn’t pull cutscenes from nowhere. At best, you’d get fluff bits of ambient dialogue that pops up as you run around.

What you’re complaining about is content creators, oh I don’t know, creating content when it is relevant. It is literally no different than people waking up the moment the patch is available to play and streaming a playthrough of it and whatever else.

laelgon
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laelgon

Notice the “in general” I used in the first sentence of my post. I’m very aware of what datamining can and can’t find. I was expressing my dislike for the way things are leaked and spoiled ahead of updates, datamining being a part of that. Sometimes they come from play testers or content creators given earlier access, which obviously doesn’t apply to all games, some are better at keeping things under wraps than others. My point is that I think MMOs are more enjoyable when the community gets to discover things together through playing the actual game, not because someone dumped a bunch of info before a patch.

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cursedseishi

Yeah, and notice how your ‘in general’ fits with absolutely nothing in your post aside from your last little sentence complaining about avoiding chats for it? I’ve played MMOs for years, and not once have I just ‘run’ into spoiler content and datamined information without actively clicking or looking for it. I’ve been on community forums. Perhaps its less everyone is talking about it, and more you just have a nasty habit of going where you know there will be spoilers/whatever regardless of you wanting to be ‘surprised’.

And content creators given early access? That literally isn’t a spoiler for anything. That sort of access is heavily controlled, and if there is anything of note the devs/publishers want to avoid getting out it is either removed or an NDA is signed. Same with data mining, as that provides literally ‘nothing’ of actual value for spoilers without any real context. And said context is only added in during the main patches for most any MMO on the day of release. So, y’know, it is kind of hard to ‘dump a bunch of info’ before a patch when that info is nonexistent.

Play-testers would be the only ones who could spoil much, but that would literally just be fights. And more often than not? They don’t, because a lot of people who actively participate in such content also tend to be the ones who chase world firsts or have an interest in doing so. Fortnite is the only game in recent memory that had anything spoiled by a play-tester, but that was such a nothing-burger that I doubt anyone but Epic cared for it.

It’s cool if you think an MMO is more ‘enjoyable’ if people avoid spoilers, but that is on whatever community you put yourself in. Don’t go mixing your paranoia about it though and misrepresenting finding out that Tataru’s hat got dyed black for being some major breach of information. Data Mining is hardly part of that issue.

laelgon
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laelgon

Whatever, man. You clearly need this, so I’m not going to argue the point.

Hezkezl
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Hezkezl

Nothing is stopping players from ignoring that dump of info before the game goes live and figuring things out for themselves.

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Axetwin .

The thing is, most of the time it’s not the dataminers spoiling things, it’s the websites that repeat that information. They, more often than not, put the spoilers right in the headline and/or with a giant picture that makes it impossible to avoid. If people want to datamine, fine, but I wish gaming sites would stop running with the information that just encourages people to keep doing it.

Bree Royce
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Bree Royce

(This is why we use spoiler tags.)

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Axetwin .

I will admit this is one of those times I wasn’t being passive aggressive towards MOP. You guys are pretty good about this stuff.

Bree Royce
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Bree Royce

<3 We don't actually wanna ruin anybody's day! I get spoiled tons just proofing our writers' columns. Don't want to inflict that on everyone else by accident. :D