The recent release of Grand Theft Auto Online's first non-dripfeed DLC, Southern San Andreas Super Sports Series, brought with it an unfortunate issue.
Over the course of the past few days, players have been tracking the exact flow of events, Reddit user MikeRaven11 in particular, but things are looking pretty grim with an out-of-control ban-wave sweeping through the GTA Online PC community, taking innocent players with it.
Tunable Files Update #1
Let's get back to where this all began. A week ago the tunable files for the PC version of GTA Online were updated, which is standard procedure soon after the release of an update. Tunable files are used to unlock content already present in the game files, and to activate timed event bonuses like discounts and double GTA$ promotions.
First Ban Reports
About three hours after the tunables were updated, GTA Online social sites and communities were flooded with a vast amount of people claiming they were falsely banned.
Of course, 99% of those who are banned claim to be falsely banned - the difference here was the sudden and sheer amount of reports coming in, which was unlike any previous ban wave. Accounts with less than 10 hours in the game and no history of hacking or other TOS violations got hit. It seemed that everyone was getting the same universal 30-day ban as opposed to the permanent ban most hackers get right off the bat.
Two Different Types of Bans
Back in 2016, Rockstar changed their stance on GTA Online bans to make them more strict and the punishment more severe. Everyone had, at most, two strikes. Either you got a 30-day ban, after which any infraction got you permabanned, or you did something so abhorrent (i.e. hacking) that you got permabanned instantly. All bans, under all circumstances, were non-appealable, with no exceptions. The temporary 30-day bans also wiped all progress, meaning that after the ban is lifted, you start from a clean slate, with the only thing untouched being in-game funds purchased with real money.
The Uproar Begins
Since so many innocent accounts were being hit with progress-wiping non-appealable bans, this caused a huge uproar. In the past, erroneous bans of innocent accounts were reversed in spite of the non-appealable policy, though this is likely due to Rockstar finding an in-house error as opposed to player appeals.
All Players Classified as Modders
A day after the ban-wave started and PC players kept being banned left and right, some members of the GTA Online Discord channel (Funnypig and a Reddit user who remains anonymous) used a method to reveal the in-game cheat detection's classifications. Basically, a tweak allowed them to make the game display whether the Rockstar Anti-cheat labels players as hackers or not, and in both cases, all players in the lobby were "detected" as modders. This, of course, was an error.
Steam Review Bombs
Also around this time, users started to review-bomb GTA 5 on Steam. A flood of angry negative reviews, citing the erroneous bans and progress-wipes, appeared and reduced the game's overall score. A similar review bombing event took place last year when OpenIV was sent a cease-and-desist order by Take-Two, however in that case the modding team was later allowed to continue their work.
Rockstar Support Tickets Confusing
Players submitting tickets to Rockstar Support haven't received answers at this point. A well-known leaker of GTA Online data, Yan2295, indicated that all tickets related to the issue were classified as low priority and closed, though it is unclear how he or she got this information. A more likely reason is that Rockstar is aware of the issue and working on a universal fix, making answering each individual ticket truly a low priority.
“ac” Theory Debunked
Following another tunables update, players analyzing the code assumed that the change had something to do with the anti cheat used by GTA Online, however this theory was later debunked. Basically, code fragments with string names that had "ac" in them had players assume that stood for anti-cheat, but then the same fragment was discovered in unrelated code elements.
Support Auto-Response Changes
Soon after, Rockstar changed the auto-response text to ban-appeal tickets from stating that bans are final to a statement indicating that they know of the issue and are working on a fix. As opposed to the automated system, Rockstar will now manually check each account claiming to be affected.
First Bans Lifted
On the 28th of March, community sites started receiving reports of affected players becoming unbanned, though far from all. Additionally, alongside the news of some players being unbanned, the phenomenon of innocent accounts getting hit with 30-day bans continued. Plus, further reports of appeals being met with automated responses saying bans are final alongside responses saying the issue is known muddied the water, with some suggesting to file tickets under other categories.
Banned a Second Time
Then players who had reportedly been unbanned already were subsequently re-banned, this time with permanent bans. Even though the previous ban was lifted, it seemed that it already registered as a "strike" on the account, meaning that the re-banning was detected as a second ban, and thus defaulted to a permanent one.
The Current Status
Ever since, reports of accounts being banned continue coming in and the issues have not yet been fixed.
The change in the auto-response messages and the un-bannings show that Rockstar is trying to work on the issue and sort out a fix, but while manually checking accounts and rectifying erroneous bans helps momentarily, whatever error is causing the bans in the first place is still hitting those accounts a second time.
We'll continue to update this story as it develops and hopefully Rockstar will work out a fix soon.