Having previously admitted that a recent spate of Dark Souls 3 band may have been made in error, Bandai Namco has now warned players about their conduct.
In a page on its Knowledgebase site about the ‘Invalid Game Data' message that some players are being presented with when logging in, the publisher has now said that the warning gives players ample time to take steps to correct it – once they've figured out the cause.
This message is intended to inform end users that some external file, modification of game save data, exploit or cheat/hack, or alterations to the game have been detected by the Dark Souls III server team and that the end users' account/profile has been flagged for further investigation,” the company said.
The warning message will continue to be displayed until the Dark Souls III server team has determined whether or not a violation of the End User License Agreement (EULA) occurred. At that point the account/profile will either have restrictions placed on it (to limit the online interactions during multiplayer sessions and a further penalty message of ‘You have been Penalized' issued) or the ‘Invalid Game Data' warning message removed.
During the time that the warning message is displayed the end user will have a chance to completely remove any such external files, mods, cheats/hacks or delete their game save (if alterations were performed to it or hacked items/equipment were obtained either as a direct cheat/hack or via unknown ‘gift' from an online player).”
Herein lies the problem. Neither Bandai Namco nor developer From Software has given any indication about exactly what software is being flagged up by their systems. It may be restricted to the likes of Cheat Engine, in which case great.
However, the lack of clarity on the issue is leading to all sorts of speculation among the community about an assortment of possible triggers, including third party controller software, a program used to enforce a borderless windows mode, the Steam overlay itself and even that the whole is a side-effect of the game crashing.
Plus, item swapping – described above as an unknown ‘gift' – has been a big feature of the game for years. Friends are technically free to swap any items they want. And should players really be punished if a stranger drops an item that was acquired by hacking, even if the recipient is completely unaware? Especially as no warning is given about the possible consequences of using what appears to be a quite standard game feature.
The publisher's instructions then get even more complicated.
Due to the apparent risk of ‘taking candy from strangers', it is recommended that players should always back up their save data to an online service (such as cloud saves) or as a direct back-up of the save file to a separate folder/directory (for PC/Steam),” it added.
This would allow any players who end up receiving a hacked item/equipment unknowingly from an online player, the ability to restore their original game data from the cloud or separate backed up game data.”
No instructions are given about how this should be done. Indeed, many presume the game data is automatically saved to the Steam Cloud, but this is not in fact the case. The location of the save data can be hard to track down, especially as it's in a folder that will by default be hidden on most Windows system.
(The game's save data, incidentally, can be found at C:UsersYour-usernameAppDataRoamingDarkSoulsIII. The AppData folder may well be hidden for you, so users will have to manually tell Windows to show hidden folders at that location.)
And what if your last manual save game backup is from a few hours ago? Five hours? Ten hours? 100 hours? All of which could be lost second-guessing at what point the mystery event happened that triggered a ban.
Adding to the pain, rumours were rife during the Dark Souls 2 era that save data tampering would itself result in a ban. So are players truly free to back up and restore their save data now?
Bandai Namco last week said that From believes the ‘invalid game data' warning may be showing up for some users by mistake. What has changed between now and then is unclear. Dark Souls 3 is From's best PC release to date, but it seems that its struggle to properly communicate with and manage its PC fan base continues.