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Soldiers lose privileges in online game over use of stand-in players

SEOUL — After a monthlong gunnery exercise at the Korean Training Center, Sgt. Chad Meyers, 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, was ready to get back to his barracks room at Camp Casey.

He wasn’t just eager for the comfort of his own bed, Burger King and the on-base movie theater. He wanted to get back to his computer — and his online gaming.

Just prior to the exercise, he had purchased the “World of Warcraft” expansion, “The Burning Crusade.” But after punching in his password, he was surprised to find his account was no longer working. Blizzard Entertainment — the company that makes “World of Warcraft” — had canceled his account for violating the user agreement.

Meyers said the cancellation represented a loss of more than 200 hours of play and hundreds of dollars. Seven other soldiers in his company also lost their accounts.

Most bought the game for about $40 and have paid roughly $15 a month to play.

Knowing they would be away from their games for at least a month, and not wanting to fall behind other players, the soldiers had purchased services from an online company called LeLeLink.

LeLeLink is one of many companies that will play a person’s online character to advance it in the game — a direct violation of the user agreement.

The soldiers admit they violated the agreement, but still feel they’ve been wronged.

“I paid for the game and the account and the monthly service,” Meyers said. “I should be able to do what I want.”

Blizzard Entertainment declined interview requests, but referred Stars and Stripes to statements on its Web site that claim the power-leveling services devalue other gamers’ playing time and are a threat to the integrity of the game.

Meyers said the amount of time he and other soldiers spend in the field training makes it necessary to purchase assistance in order to keep up with other players.

Spc. Shane Hardman, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 19th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), spends his days in an office maintaining computers.

Like Meyers, he lost an account, along with two top-level characters, after using a power-leveling service.

“If I didn’t have to work 12-hour shifts on the weekends I wouldn’t need to use power-leveling services,” he said. “If [Blizzard] really wants to make money they should offer the services themselves.”

Both soldiers said the problem was aggravated when post exchanges throughout the Pacific sold out their copies of “The Burning Crusade” within the first hour of having them on the shelves — forcing many to wait at least three weeks after the expansion’s release and fall further behind their online peers.

While many military players believe their high-ops tempo gives them a need to use the banned services, others have little sympathy.

“Half the fun of playing a game like [World of Warcraft] is actually playing it,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Eric J. Hinton, founder of the yokotagamers.com Web site at Yokota Air Base, Japan. “If you spend real money buying yourself the cool gear and best items, you’re just robbing yourself of the satisfaction of earning it. It’s like saying ‘I suck, but I can buy my way through the game.’ ”


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