Last week, hundreds of loyal players of the MMORPG Final Fantasy XI were told that their recent suspensions are now permanent bans from the game. At the surface, this event may seem no different from the other monthly occasions on which an upwards of 10,000 accounts are terminated. However, this type of large scale banning has generally been done as a means to combat the exchange of in-game currency for real-world currency, a problem that has plagued the game since its inception. What makes this particular banning different is that it is in reaction to a game flaw introduced and left in place for months by the games producers after its discovery and not real money trade or third-party program use (hacks). As an action against the most experienced, loyal, and accomplished players in the game, the event is likely to sound the death knell for the long running MMORPG, and perhaps the company itself. One of Final Fantasy’s most enjoyable and rewarding events is a battlefield called Salvage. For this event players are taken to a special area with all of their equipment and abilities restricted. Over the course of the event, players defeat monsters that can drop items that slowly remove these restrictions, increasing the power of the character. When Salvage was first introduced, the event was a mystery. The methods now known to allow rare and rewarding monsters to appear had to be figured out through methods of trial and error. The most advanced players had difficulty achieving success, lost in an area with no directions. When stressed players approached Square Enix for guidance, their pleas seemed to be overlooked. Eventually, after months of intent questioning and probing, Square Enix developers conceded that the event was more difficult than intended. In June 2007, sixth months later, SE adjusted the difficulty of Salvage by increasing the number of ways one could obtain these restriction-removing items. Shortly after these changes, another method to increase item rewards was uncovered. By executing a series of commands, items could be duplicated, similar to the already-implemented method of duplicating items within the area. Some within the select groups that had discovered this method showed concern. Four distinct players now report having called a Game Master (GM), the name of Square Enix's in-game support, calling attention to this manner as early as August of 2007. Each player claims that they were told that "The area is functioning as expected" or "We will investigate the matter" by the GM staff. One report even suggested that the GM staff claimed the development team was aware of the area's behavior and was not going to take any corrective measures. The terms of service states that players are forbidden to use cheats, exploits, or third-party programs. This message runs deep as many are glad to see third-party program users removed from the game. These same users, however, are having a different take on the recent banning. "Before, we have happy to see cheaters and RMT go. The game economy improved, prices dropped, and overall fairness was seemingly at the top of SE's agenda," one player on the Asura server who was not directly affected by the banning writes. "With this banning, we have seen a large portion game's top players shut down, ending friendships and coalitions within the players that have kept FFXI alive for so long." These opinions are not uncommon as many point to the terms of service as an inadequate justification for the banning. "The terms of service outlaws cheats, exploits, and third-party programs," a banned player on Garuda writes. "What it does not do is define what cheats and exploits are." When pointed to other strange elements of the game, this point seems more and more valid. In the same version update that modified Salvage, developers introduced Odin, one of the hardest boss monsters in the game. In order to defeat Odin, players are required to put themselves in a healing state or face instant death from a powerful attack. In fact, Final Fantasy XI is known for encouraging players to experiment with battle tactics that include forcing monsters into unnatural movement patterns that allow players to avoid any threatening attacks, defeating monsters that can only be slain with certain weapons, and overpowering enemies by the use of the same party commands used in Salvage to allow more than the allowed 18 players to face a single monster. After more than a thousand players were aware of the new method, suddenly Square Enix seemed to rapidly change direction. In November 2008, at the pressuring of what many describe as a "distinct but vocal minority" of the player base, Square Enix decided to shut down what they called a "programming error" in an emergency maintenance. Shortly after, again at the pressuring of players, they announced they would be investigating those who used the method within Salvage. Again, however, players called foul. "Many outside the few who had discovered the seemingly legitimate method were enraged because they were not privy to the method," said one player on the Phoenix server. "The Salvage process was essentially contained to the top players of the game. After all, they were the only ones generally intuitive enough to discover the inner workings of the area." The technique, which did not require the circumventing of game mechanics or third-party programs, was considered a highly illegal exploit by the game's developers and the accounts that could be "sold" to other online gamers for the upwards of $50,000 were essentially destroyed, ending years of accomplishments and game play for what was considering a "programming error". Now, many former Final Fantasy XI players sit, 16 months after the method was brought to the attention of the game's developers, without their accounts. Many point out that Square Enix has only dropping sales and a frustrated player base to look forward to as former players hope to be able to re-obtain their banned accounts and others look around and see their friends gone. It appears that when game developers suggested that players should "reach for the sky", they didn't mean it. Somehow, almost 1,000 people reached too high.