BIC judgment rejects claims from online gamer suing game companies
A plaintiff surnamed Ma was an online game veteran. In April 2021, company X, the domestic agent of the game he had been playing, banned his game account permanently with no compensation on the grounds of his having used an illegal script. Ma then sued company X and another related company Q, for breaching the network service contract in the Beijing Internet Court (BIC). He sought compensation of 10,000 yuan ($1,571.52), which was his total account balance, with the two defendants.
In Jan 2020, plaintiff Ma registered to play a popular online game operated by the website X and then gained a number of rare game props by recharging and task upgrades. In that year, the domestic agent of the game changed to company Q. On Sept 4, 2020, a notice of punishment guidelines for the use of script in the game was published on the bulletin board of the game website. Ma was given 7 days buffering time before they finally banned his account in March 2021, on the grounds of illegal use of scripts. The company also declined Ma's request for a refund of his account balances.
During the trial, the two defendants submitted data to prove that the plaintiff had on multiple occasions played games without breaks. For example, the plaintiff had a record of playing the game for over 82 hours without stop, and for almost nine days without any stops.
To support the evidence, the two defendants also submitted an analysis report on "distance traveled (inkm)", the distance traveled in each game by the gamer. The operation of a game by a script is not as frequent as that by a human player, and does not make such moves such as "turning around" and "retreat", so its average and maximum travel distance is significantly less than that of a human-operated game. The game data showed the plaintiff’s average and maximum moving distance in the game from 2am to 8 am was significantly lower than that at other times, and the overall variance was less than that at other times.
Focus of dispute:
1. Was the game service and license agreement and its amendment legal and valid?
2. Did the plaintiff commit an illegal act in using a script?
3. Was the defendants' punishment to the plaintiff reasonable?
After hearing, the BIC concluded that:
1. The agreement in dispute was legal and valid. The defendants had fulfilled their informing obligation and the "banning" punishment was reasonable and necessary.
The two defendants jointly provided online gaming services to the plaintiff thus the plaintiff and the defendants formed a network service contract relationship. The defendants claimed that their ban was based on the agreement and its supplementary agreement. It could be determined that the agreement was a standard contract pre-formulated by the defendants. Considering the specialty of the internet business model, the existence of such standard contracts is necessary. The BIC examined the legitimacy and rationality of the clauses involving key rights of the users, and found that:
A. The defendants had fulfilled their obligation of informing. To retrieve the gaming data, a user needed to click on a button confirming he had read the user agreement before entering the game. As a veteran player of the game, the plaintiff should have been aware of the agreement. It was specified in the agreement that those using scripts to play the game would be banned and not refunded. In addition, before the defendants banned the account they released alerts to all users and gave seven days of buffering time to warn those who played with scripts. Only those who kept using scripts after that period would be banned. The defendants had banned other gamers and released notices to that effect before they banned plaintiff Ma. So not only Ma was banned, and Ma should have been aware of the consequences of using scripts.
B. The defendants' ban was reasonable and necessary. The two defendants are not only service providers for online games, but also managers and maintainers of the online gaming environment. The use of scripts by individual gamers was not only unfair to other gamers in that it leads to rewards from the game, but also reduced the fun of “real person battle” mode, and undermined the overall gaming environment as well as the commercial value of the game. For an online game open to all netizens, the platform service provider is responsible for maintaining the order of the virtual community jointly built by all game users, and thus had the right to formulate reasonable rules and implement reasonable disciplinary measures.
C. Constraints on acts that violate the principle of good faith and undermine fair trade are necessary to maintain a good order of online games. If individual gamers are allowed to use the advantage of machines to win over others, it is tantamount to encouraging cheating and damaging the vital interests of honest players.
2. The plaintiff's gaming time curve was seriously inconsistent with human physiological realities, and was more in tune with an automatic script.
The data provided by the two defendants showed that the plaintiff had played the game for a long time without any breaks, and the moving pattern was in line with a scripted pattern. The random examples of playing time also covered working days. The evidence had high probability, and if the plaintiff had no evidence to the contrary the defense of the defendants should be supported.
3. The plaintiff's behavior violated the principle of good faith and the defendants’ ban was conducive to creating a good faith online gaming environment.
The plaintiff had committed game violations and was punished according to the service agreement which was binding on both the plaintiff and the defendants.
As stipulated in Article 7 of the Civil Code, when conducting a civil activity a person must comply with the principle of good faith and uphold honesty and honor in their commitments.
As stipulated in Article 8 in the Civil Code, when conducting a civil activity no person may violate the law or offend public order or good morals.
In this case, the plaintiff should have abided by the agreement and maintained a fair online gaming environment together with other gamers and service providers. However, the plaintiff played dishonestly, ignored the warning notices issued by the defendants, and damaged the interests of other players and the game operators.
As a person with full capacity for civil conduct, the plaintiff should have been aware of the consequences of his cheating behavior. He took the chance and continued the dishonest behavior which eventually led to the banning of his account. His loss was fundamentally caused by his own behavior.
The game operators' banning his account and not returning his account balances showed their management function and disciplinary capacity, which was conducive to deterring illegal gaming behaviors and creating a fair and honest online gaming environment.
According to the banning notice involved in the case, the majority of the game users’ commentaries were supportive of the banning, which reflected the value choice of the majority of netizens. The formulation and applications of laws in adjusting civil relations should meet the demands of development of socialism with Chinese characteristics and promote core socialist values. Dishonest behavior needs to be punished appropriately. The BIC therefore upheld the defendants' punitive measures.
Details of the judgment:
The BIC's judgment of first instance rejected all the claims from the plaintiff. The judgment has now come into force.
Tips from the judge:
In this case, neither the plaintiff nor the defendants had direct evidence for their arguments. The game company could not monitor the player's behavior onsite and could only complete the burden of proof from data analysis. When the player failed to provide reasonable justifications for the reasonable doubts and supportive data from the defendants, the judge needed to evaluate the evidence based on the rule of "high probability". Evidence provided by the defendants showed multiple suspicions that were not in line with common sense, which the plaintiff could not justify. Therefore the judge accepted the defendants' claim and gave judgment based on the good faith principle and from the perspective of reflecting core socialist values in formulating and applying laws to adjust civil relations.