AUG 5, 2006 -
Over the past couple weeks I've received a number of emails and PMs (on non-TTLG forums) from friendly "concerned citizens" expressing support to me and sometimes outrage over the banning. Also, I've discovered that there has been some forum discussion over the matter recently, with a lot of curious folks who would like to know what really happened. That's what this page is for.
Now, first of all, this is only me explaining all this here, from my point of view, so you may wonder how well you can count on the objectivity of this. Well, I'm willing to admit negatives on me, trying to understand fairly the "other guy's" point of view, and I'll just try to lay out what I can remember clearly and accurately, noting things that I may not remember where appropriate.
REVERSE TIMELINE -
- July 16 - I was banned from the TTLG.com forums, apparantly permanently. This is what I see if I try to log in:
- July 15 - I posted a thread in Thief Gen stating I was selling an extra used copy of "Thief: The Dark Project" on eBay with a link. I also said I was selling "Heart of Darkness" and "Gothic 2" as well (with links), and that I also had a hard drive and a DVDRW drive for sale if anyone was interested in them (not on eBay). I know full well about the TTLG forums rule:
"No Advertising or Promotions.
You will not post topics or messages that solicit or promote any commercial concern or transmit advertising, promotional materials, chain letters, pyramid schemes, or make any commercial use of our service. Doing so will result in the immediate termination of your account."
I support that rule. It keeps the forums clear of scammers and people who just want to abuse an internet forum for free advertising for their business. But I never would have guessed that it means a longstanding community member can't mention as a one-time-only situation that he has a few games for sale on eBay, especially games that Thief fans usually are interested in! I can see how it might technically break the letter of the law ("any commercial use"), but c'mon, the spirit of the rule is obviously to avoid lamer spammers who sign up, say "check out this great awesome website, it's cool man" and crap like that.
But I underestimated the trolls. Immediately the thread was taken over by my band of haters. It's roughly the same folks each time (in past Comm Chat and other threads) who for some reason love to attack me. They made fun of other things I had listed on eBay, called me "money grubber" and other much nastier comments because I wasn't giving my games away for free, etc. I tried to calmly defend myself, but then the next day I found the thread completely gone! I did not get any notice or warning.
I was pissed off about that, and in a rash moment I posted a new thread called "Don't you Dare sell Thief!" in which I said "Don't you dare try to sell a used copy of Thief and tell about it on the forums, because your thread will get crapped on by the worthless haters and then deleted by the forum nazis" (or something very close to that). I knew that thread would get deleted and the admins wouldn't like it because I just called them nazis, but I was angry. However, I admittedly WAS surprised within a couple hours to find myself totally BANNED! Again, I was not warned with a "final warning" or "last chance to clean up your act" (as if I had done so many wrong things before anyway) or anything like that.
- June 14 - At Shadowdarkkeep.com I added 3DS MAX 5.1 to Komag DVD TDS. This is a 3D graphics program that is required for Thief 3 editing to make custom objects and meshes. Version 5.1 is years old and now impossible to get. There is literally no way to get it - it's not for sale, you can't order back versions from the company, you can't buy it used, etc. But this version is the only one compatible with T3Ed. I don't know the legalities in freely offering this old software, but it's probably illegal.
I posted a thread in the TTLG Thief 3 Editing forum that I updated Komag DVD TDS with 3DS MAX 5.1. I hadn't read the forum rules recently, but now I see that the thread was a blatant violation of the "No Warez" rule! I knew about the rule generally, but I had always considered warez to be stealing software that could be bought, such that you rob the distributer/authors of profits they otherwise would make on the legitimate sale. But I admit I didn't think of this very deeply at the time, or I probably would not have posted that thread so forwardly.
Well, that thread disappeared! I figured "Crap, I guess it's too blatant, too out in the open". Then I was reading another thread that talked something about editing tools, and I tried to slyly mention that I had "something that could help out with that, hint hint" type of wording (I can't remember exactly).
But here's the thing - I wasn't trying to be "bad" here in the face of the moderators/admins. It's not like "screw you for deleting my thread, I'll just post it again over here" or anything like that. First of all, I believe I am doing nothing wrong by making 5.1 available for free. I thought the first thread was deleted because it was too "out in the open" and they are protecting the forums legally. I completely understand that, so this second time I mentioned it I tried to keep it "on the down-low" so to speak.
Haven't we all seen that a million times? To me it was like telling your neighbor where he can buy a large tank toilet cause his turds are big and don't go down easily, even though the law says all new toilets can have tanks no larger than 1.6 gallons or whatever. Seriously, I think it's a fair comparison; you're doing something technically against the rules but is it really WRONG?
Anyway, that second post got deleted and I got a PM from Dave very curtly telling me to STOP TRYING TO SELL WAREZ KOMAG! (or something like that) and that this was my ONLY warning! He said they were "this close" to not allowing me to have my sig, which links to KeepofMetalandGold.com and ShadowdarkKeep.com, because they contain warez. I figured, "Okay fine, I guess it's just too touchy, I'll never bring it up again". And I didn't, I heeded the warning and was "good" from then on about that.
- 2001-2006 - I offered Komag CDs and later Komag DVDs containing fan missions, demos, and lots of other Thief related stuff. Lots of people hate me for this. Go figure. They think I'm evil and trying to "make a buck" off your hard labor of love. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The biggest issue people take with this is when I offer to send discs out in exchange for a donation. They feel this is a scam and that it's just bull-crap legal double-talk for "selling fms". Again, nothing could be further from the truth.
I spend time maintaining and updating (though not enough!) my Thief websites. I don't get paid for that. I host Thief files on KeepofMetalandGold.com, ShadowdarkKeep.com, and Komag.net. (In the past I've spread some of the files on a couple other websites that my wife and I have on the side, but never have any of the donation funds gone to them.) My monthly hosting costs for the sites is about $50 a month, an extra bill I can't afford (heck, I didn't even get a cell phone until this year!). I'd really hate to flood all my pages with ads, so I solicit donations as a sole means of funding. I personally do not make any money from this.
No one has to donate to get the FMs. THE FMS ARE FREE. First of all, you can download ALL the missions directly from my sites, fast and free. I don't even have daily limits or registration or any of that crap. NOTHING is in your way, just click the links, get the missions. If you wanted to, you could download ALL of them EVERY DAY.
Secondly, anyone who wants to, and I mean ANYONE IN THE WORLD, can send me a set of blank discs with a pre-paid return postage envelope, and I will take my own time and burn you a set of Komag DVDs. I have done this over 300 (yes, OVER THREE HUNDRED) times. Each time I spent my own time doing it. If a disc turned out bad, I never said "oh well, sucks to be you dude.", no, instead I used one of my own and made the burn, no charge of course. Often the internatinal postage is confusing and they don't include enough for the return trip, but I just go ahead and add the required amount, no problem. And I've sent out a lot of discs over the years as contest prizes. So again, THE FMS ARE FREE.
Finally, if you don't want to wait for the two-way shipment, or if it's not worth your time to bother getting it all ready, or if you don't want to wait for all the downloading, then you can opt to send a donation to my websites, and I will then send you a disc or set of discs for free. Of course the donation amount is more than the supplies cost - that's the whole point. You aren't buying the discs to make me a profit. You are supporting the websites. So far in 2006 (seven months) I've gotten a little over $300 in donations, just about enough to cover the costs. I've always tried to keep it about even, lately lowering the donation amounts when I noticed I didn't need as much.
And here again, if someone got the discs and they were broke in the mail, I sent out another set free. If I mixed up a request and sent the wrong one, I sent the right one free. If someone donated in the past and wanted an update but couldn't afford to donate right now, I sent out a couple discs anyway. Holy heck, I'm a nice guy!
But it doesn't matter, the haters cannot be satisfied. If authors don't want their missions included I have always respected that and kept them off. I keep a folder of "permission denied" missions that I don't include. But the haters want me to quit altogether and not offer the service. If I caved in to that, everyone would lose a great service, and I would probably have to shut down the websites for want of funding. But they would probably like that. No good deed goes unpunished.
What does this have to do with getting banned? A lot I think.
The admins, particularly Gingerbread Man and David, have on occasion gotten really nasty to me in some threads about my economic and political viewpoints. So be it, but it spills over. Case in point - there was a thread in Thief Gen about a year ago where someone said something about how you could get missions on DVD from Komag, and someone said they don't want their mission on it (or something like that), and then GBM said something like "It doesn't matter, it's not like you can stop him, he'll just include it and sell them anyway". In his mind, I was a "money grubbing" scum who doesn't play fair. I replied that I had long ago removed "Benny's Dead" from the discs and any other missions authors had requested, that I resented his remark and deserved an apology. Someone else replied that they just checked their recently acquired Komag discs and sure enough, no Benny's Dead. The next day I found the thread edited, all references to that part of the conversation GONE. Yep, totally censored away. I got no PM, no apology, nothing. Very few people ever saw that before it was swept under the rug. It was telling to me.
The Admins have often been my harshest critics, even personally attacking and demeaning me. They hate my Komag DVDs, and try to interpret it as me "selling warez", breaking EULA, etc.
- 2002-2003? - I was appointed a moderator for the Fan Missions forum, somewhat appropriate I think. At first (like the first couple weeks) I think I overstepped my bounds, editing some posts and threads too much. But then I learned better what sorts of things I should let go versus where to step in and be a mod. Months passed, perhaps a year or so, and I thought I was doing just fine. But then I was suddenly "fired". Now, I think Jason and Linda are GREAT mods there and fit the bill well, but why fire me? By then I had already felt some anti-Komag stirrings from the upper levels though, so I wasn't surprised. To be fair, GBM handled it nicely enough, just saying "time for a changing of the guard" or something like that, but I was suspicious (and I'm not really a suspicious person in general).
- 2000-2001 - I was a dork and posted way too often to get my post count up. This was under "KeeperofMetalandGold" screen name, which I retired to become just "Komag". At the end of the year I spammed the forums and then just kept deleting the posts, all just to up the post count just above Lytha's. It was dumb newbie behavoir, hardly damaging, but idiotic nonetheless. This probably has NOTHING to do with the banning, but I wanted to include it to show that "Komag's an idiot" viewpoints aren't totally without merit!
That's enough timeline I think.
Of all the people on the forums or ever involved with Thief (besides developers), I doubt more than the amount I can count on my fingers have put in more time overall than I have for the Thief community. For right about six years now I've spent at least some time each week, sometimes dozens of hours, giving of myself for others' benefit. I'm not talking about posting on the forums, but rather working on Thief related projects. People like Shadowspawn, frobber, Yandros, New Horizon, Nightwalker, Purah (back in the day), John D., Digi, Raen (aka Sledge), and others may have put in more hours. I can't say for sure of course, and if you belong on the list I'm very sorry for forgetting in this moment (and thank you).
Most of the time I enjoy it, a labor of love from myself, but other times it's a pain in the butt. I don't always feel like burning DVDs, and it would definitely be easier to just quit that. I often get behind with updates, and then spend 10-16 hours straight on a weekend getting caught up! I don't know how many countless hours I've spent taking, editing, brightening, and uploading various screenshots. I don't always want to process all the contest results all day long. Not to mention a jillion hours writing, rewriting, and editing my tutorials.
About two or three times a year I get very very tempted to delete all my Thief related folders, cancel the webhosting, and just move on with my life. I was REALLY close last month, probably the closest ever. But I keep telling myself "Ben, dude, relax man, don't do anything rash, give it a few days, think about it more at that point", and by then I always figure I'll keep it going.
I really love Thief, the world it created, the whole amazing style of gameplay, the unique and charismatic blend of medieval/steampunk in its universe. I'm just a big and loyal fan. Enough of a fan to put up with the crap that occasionally flies my way. And the occasional supportive email/PM also really helps, thank you very much to those of you who've sent them, I appreciate it.
Final comments on the banning:
As far as getting "warnings" and "second chances", the only one I can remember is the "YOUR ONLY WARNING!" regarding the 3DS 5.1. There was no warning just prior to the banning. There honestly might have been one or two other minor warnings in the years past, but I can't remember (though I feel like I sort of remember something, just not sure). I have never used foul language in the forums, I have never personally attacked anyone ever, even in the face of direct attack and abuse.
I have always tried to follow the rules and never intentially or maliciously broke any (the warez rule I got warned on so I never brought it up again, the non-commercial rule I didn't know I was breaking). Of course I haven't seen any of my haters (admins included) getting banned for horribly and overtly breaking the "No Abusive Behaviour" rule. And GBM's location is still "Uelekevu" which is his business website uelekevu.com, though I suppose that's neither here nor there.
But in the end, in anger, I did call Dave a nazi, and I got banned right then. And no one is allowed to talk on the forums about my banning, big no no, those threads get shut down. So I wrote this page to try to tell the whole story.
Am I guilty? Perhaps of some small things. Do I deserve to be banned? That depends on how you look at public forums. True, they are not designed or supposed to be democratic. Hey, it's their forums, so even if they wanted to just randomly kick people off, they have that right and prerogative. Of course, if they decided to get way crazy with that type of thing, probably the forums would dry up because all the good and reasonable people would leave.
But the problem is, when they have the power to cover it all up, delete threads, edit out posts that make them look bad, etc, how will the good and reasonable poeple know that something is going down behind the scenes? That's why I used the term "nazi" in my last thread there, because that's how it was in Germany all those years ago. I'm not saying it's bad like that at TTLG now, and I'm not still calling anyone a nazi as that's far too strong a term to seriously use in this case, but in that moment it just felt like that to me. I was angry and sensitive and that's how it felt. I probably should have just let myself cool off, don't post anything for a few days, relax, come back later, etc. But I felt like I had already done that many times, and I just couldn't stop myself. That was a mistake.
The other consideration is that the TTLG "Thief" forums are the most active and wide-read Thief forums in the world. They have thus become the Thief fan community center. Even though they are owned privately and operated non-democratically, the whole community has, in effect, entrusted the spirit of the games' legacy to this one website, this one set of forums, more than to any other. That's a large responsibility, and of course the mods and admins are just people who have feelings and can make mistakes. I think it was a mistake how I've been treated.
I guess that's about it.
I don't know how I feel right now about coming back to TTLG ever, even if I'm allowed back in. There's plenty of great folks there (odds are you who are reading this post there). But I don't feel welcome by the higher ups. I feel like the banning was done as soon as the rules could possibly justify it. But for what it's worth, sorry for posting the eBay games I had for sale thread. Sorry Dave I called you a nazi. Sorry GBM for any other harsh words I may have used. I don't harbor any hate.
PS - I've updated Shadowdark to remove direct references to Max 5.1.