Yesterday, Blizzard made something unexpected official – that key broadcaster software, most commonly used to play multiple characters in the game, an act called “multiboxing” – was now explicitly forbidden by the World of Warcraft updated terms of service. Now, to be clear, multiboxing itself remains fine, but what is actionable is the use of software which sends your single key input to multiple characters.
In the community, this was almost entirely well received, an increasingly rare sight for modern Blizzard, with most player feedback I saw being overwhelmingly positive on this decision. To understand why, we first need to explore the ways in which multiboxing is used in WoW and the ways in which such players have often undermined player experience in the game.
Multiboxers are generally best known for game-ruining behavior against other players, which is why they’ve gained a bad reputation. One of the most “famous” multiboxers was Prepared, who ran entire raids in the world and would often PvP, get beaten, and then manage to crash servers with his character army through various phasing bugs and issues of that sort. In the modern game, PvP harassment via multiboxer is less of a thing, but one thing many of us will encounter is multiboxers ruining the ecology of various quest areas and farming spots. All too commonly, you’ll see a fleet of stuttering animating Druid flight forms, swooping in to mass pick herbs, mass mine ore, filling the sky with a mass of Moonfire spam on world quest and farmable targets and then leaving to the next node. They flood the market with supplies of herbs that take one player action to receive but grant a supply for each character that is in the pack, and the in-game economy for an average player is often difficult to navigate for farmed materials as a result.
Given this, it is all too easy to see why most players are happy to see multiboxers using key broadcasters eliminated from the game – when they appear in game, they degrade the play experience for those around them, all for their own selfish gains, and it has seemed in the past that Blizzard has often refused to act against the multiboxers and instead blamed those who engage against them – in the video above, Swifty was later banned for the server instability caused by him and his fans countering Prepared, despite the fact that force crashing servers is something that Prepared was known for and witnessed doing on stream on multiple occasions.
I will take a slightly different tack for the rest of the post though, because I think there is another angle to explore here that is lost.
The tweet above covers what I think is something that is worth exploring, at least a little bit, and I might be able to add some light to this side of things.
For a brief window of 2009-2011, I myself was a multiboxer. Armed with a beefy PC and a license to ISBoxer, I would quite frequently spend downtime in game playing multiple characters. Now, I played two characters at once, and I was only using it to cheese Recruit a Friend to gain levels faster (due to my documented aversion to leveling content) and then using the giftable RAF levels that existed then to further level additional alts. This was before mass herbing and mining were possible, so there was no economic gain to be had, but instead I did it strictly to alleviate leveling times. When I finished, I paid to transfer the character off my alt account to my main account (since they were linked in Battle.net it was possible) and then I’d repeat the process.
Here’s where my empathy comes in ever so slightly for the downtrodden multiboxer – it is, in a weird way, a fun style to use when engaging with the game. It changes the way you think about your play a lot, and forces you to think of how to bind actions and manage class selection and loadout in such a way that it becomes a fun meta-game all of its own. For example, if you try to two-box a melee and ranged character, you have to very carefully manage combat interactions to avoid out of ranging one or both characters from the target. If you run a healer/tank combo or try to 5-box a dungeon, you have to think about group comp, UI buildout for mouse click rebroadcasting, and really challenge yourself to improve your layout, keybindings, and nearly every aspect of play in order to maximize performance. Provided you aren’t using multiboxing to harass or harm other players, I do think there is value in it and a certain type of fun it provides that can’t be offered in the same way by other modes of play.
Now, of course, that is the rub, right? Provided that multiboxing doesn’t provide an unfair advantage to a single person, it is fine. But, of course, we can all see the logical hurdles in the way of that idea. Pressing 1 key and getting 2-40 responses isn’t fair by most definitions. Being able to get 2-40x the resources in the same amount of time as anyone else is also clearly not good. Sure, in PvP scenarios, most multiboxers are absolute trash only held up by the sheer volume of outgoing activity, but they have an advantage that most don’t – Prepared would often just bumrush other players, and if he was losing, he would trigger a server crash and move on. When met with even a smaller array of unique players, they could often be brought down, and knowing how multiboxing works means that you can solve some amount of the problem they pose through gameplay, provided that they aren’t manchild ragebabies that crash the server when you take their toys away.
So I have sort of a 90/10 take on this. I do think that for the long term health and success of the game, and to allow the in-game economy to be better balanced, multiboxers using key broadcasters can’t be allowed to continue as they are. Unfortunately, that does mean that some players using multiboxing in a more thoughtful way will be caught in the crossfire, but at the same time, there’s not a really neat way to carve out an exception case for key broadcasters that makes their use okay without introducing weird loopholes to the rules and such.
In the end, Blizzard did what I think was a good thing, but it does have effects that limit fun modes of play. However, they did something that I think was impossible – united the majority of people together on November 3rd, 2020 in agreement on a controversial subject. So, good job!