Underhanded and sneaky: Pando, DDO Online, and Turbine
Date: February 15th, 2010 @ 10:39
A lot of us are familiar with software companies leveraging the BitTorrent protocol. World of Warcraft comes to mind; every update is, if possible, sent to you via the torrent protocol. This is fine, because once you close the updater, the torrenting ceases. You are aware and informed.
I found something a lot more underhanded the other day while investigating some issues. A program called PMB.exe wanted to access the internet. PMB is another torrent client (Pando Media Booster) used by some other pieces of software to share data (in my case, it was from trying Dungeons & Dragons Online for free for a few weeks).
The key difference is that, unlike the WoW patcher, PMB was operating without my being aware, and was not making any attempt to keep me informed. As I have quite enough torrents that I deliberately seed, the last thing I need is another client fighting for bandwith, sharing files that I’m not interested in sharing. It was only sharing game data files, nothing of mine, but it’s still an extremely unethical thing to do without my knowledge.
I don’t have any expectations for Pando to live up to; they make stealthware and sell it to other companies. I do, however, have expectations for DDO’s publisher Turbine to live up to. When Asheron’s Call was popular, one of their practices which set them apart was their approach to their customers. At the time, the big massively multiplayer online games were Ultima Online and Everquest. Ultima Online’s developer, Origin (now Electronic Arts) were best known for a rather brain-dead approach; problems with the game were often hand-waved as something the players should sort out, and there was insufficient attention to detail to the ramifications of software changes and how they would be exploited. Everquest’s developer, Verant (now Sony Online Entertainment) was better known for being downright hostile to its users; you were playing their game, according to their vision, and if you had a problem with that, well, you didn’t know what you were talking about and frankly you could go toss off if they didn’t ban you first.
Turbine was the first of the more popular MMOGs to treat its customers like customers. They were neither ignored nor actively treated like the enemy. Their customers weren’t always right (and anyone who ever played an MMOG is going to cringe at the notion that the customer is always right), but they weren’t talked down, patronized, or insulted.
This respect for the customer is precisely why this inclusion of Pando Media Booster feels like a betrayal of Turbine’s values. This is my bandwidth. The use of users’ bandwidth without informing them is theft. If a game developer wants to use it to distribute your content in a more efficient fashion, go ahead and ask the user. In my case, I’ll probably let you, assuming your client isn’t running in the background when I’m not actively involved in the game loader or the game itself.
Turbine, this is shameful and unethical.
Update, 16 Feb: Peter from Pando’s Network Support Team commented below and addressed some of the issues I brought up. Specifically, he does address the initial notification issue, so there is an initial screen which informs the user about the presence of the PMB client. If the PMB client was running only when DDO was updating, and running as an application showing up either in the task bar or the system tray, I’d feel a little differently about this whole situation. As it is, it’s the fact that this client has been running silently on startup and that I had to find out about it via firewall software and the process explorer that bugs me. I didn’t sign up for that.