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In games where you have to use an account to sign in or otherwise authenticate yourself (e.g MMO games), it is often prohibited to share your account with other people.

For example in the World of Warcraft Official Terms of Use Agreement:

[...] You may not share the Account with anyone, except that if you are a parent or guardian, you may permit one (1) minor child to use the Account when not in use by you. You are liable for all uses of the Account that has been enabled by you […]

And the League of Legends Terms of Use:

[...] You can’t share your account or Login Credentials with anyone. You can’t sell, transfer or allow any other person to access your account or Login Credentials, or offer to do so. You’re entirely responsible for maintaining the confidentiality of your Login Credentials. [...]

What is the reason for this? Is it because of legal reasons and / or security reasons? I imagine account sharing would not be a problem if there weren't some real-world consequences for the company, not just the end-user.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Another factor you haven't touched on: If you provide a service for sale, would you like to make 5 sales or 25 sales? \$\endgroup\$ – TylerH Sep 13 '17 at 16:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ I remember there were lawsuits against Everquest for lost in game items and there were stories of settlements being paid out. Around that time the EULA started getting more and more strict. \$\endgroup\$ – Joe Sep 13 '17 at 19:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's not bad for you... things which are bad for you normally don't need to be forbidden in the EULA. Actually, most things forbidden in the EULA are good for you. It's a little like reading the medieval "to be avoided" rule books in order to know how people actually behaved, or using lists of X rated movies as recommendations as a teenager. "No skateboarding" places are the best. "Stand back from the doors" is the last call to actually board the train. Etc. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter A. Schneider Sep 14 '17 at 12:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ "What is the reason for this?" More profit? \$\endgroup\$ – Trilarion Sep 15 '17 at 10:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TylerH That would require special planning. Sharing a WoW account or any other online account for that matter is infeasible. You can only log in with 1 char at a time. This is the reason I don't share MMO accounts. \$\endgroup\$ – Dr_Bunsen Sep 18 '17 at 14:38

10 Answers 10

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It's important to have a firm grasp of precisely who the legal entities are in any contractual agreement, so you know who you have to sue or blame or whatever if it ever comes to that.

Less seriously, if account-sharing were permissible, then blaming "somebody else who was using the account at the time" would be a reasonable response to any punishments for violating any other rules. By prohibiting sharing that way, a company eliminates the hassle of having to deal with that argument (which is usually impossible to disprove) in response to bans. Obviously people still try to use that defense, but a company can simply point to the rule against account sharing and say "well that's not allowed either." It makes life way simpler for the GM team.

It also has a small side-benefit: it means that if you and your friend want to play, you have to buy two copies of the game, you can't buy one and share it. This is obviously also better for the company.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Note: The "ban" part also applies to black market account buying and selling. \$\endgroup\$ – Anoplexian Sep 13 '17 at 16:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ It also works the other way around: if you share your account, and your account is used to, for example, commit a crime, then you can't prove that it wasn't you. Whereas, if a system administrator were to impersonate you, this would usually only be possible via a specialized tool that leaves an audit trail (think sudo for Unix user accounts, which also logs every command and who was the actual user who issued it). \$\endgroup\$ – Jörg W Mittag Sep 13 '17 at 21:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ On the other hand there are videos on youtube showing abusing obviously stolen accounts. Blizzard still punishes the legit user. \$\endgroup\$ – Joshua Sep 14 '17 at 0:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Joshua Blizzard has no practical/easy way to determine whether your account was stolen, or you just sold it to someone for $500 on eBay. That said, a friend of mine had his WoW account stolen many years ago, and after jumping through hoops (faxing ID cards, etc), he did manage to get them to restore his account to a specific point. He still lost a lot of stuff because they rolled back to a point they were "certain" was still only him (erasing some of his legit late-game progress)... but it was better than forever losing the account. \$\endgroup\$ – Doktor J Sep 15 '17 at 15:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ They could just say that you're responsible for whatever happens on your account without disallowing sharing though? I suspect the main issue is the $$$ issue, not the responsibility issue... \$\endgroup\$ – Mehrdad Sep 16 '17 at 9:36
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From both a legal & security standpoint, the single biggest factor I'm aware of is accountability. If you cannot determine who is responsible for the account, you cannot reasonably hold anyone accountable for actions related to the account. For instance, money laundering is easier if you cannot trace account ownership. Forbidding shared accounts won't prevent laundering in all forms, but it is choosing to not make it easier & demonstrates an effort on the part of the developer to not facilitate such things.

You didn't ask specifically about this aspect, but I feel it's equally important - there are also design implications to shared accounts. For instance, as a designer, you might not want players to pay others to accomplish objectives due to the impact it has on the game experience. You might not be able to full prevent such things, but you can take steps to discourage them & forbidding it via the terms of use may be part of such a solution.

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    \$\begingroup\$ As for an example of design implications, consider matchmaking systems. If one player gets the account into higher end competitive groups and the other user is not that good, the team they end up on suffers as well as the weaker sharer having a poor gameplay experience. Or vice-versa, the weaker player keeps the character in lower brackets and the better player is always put up against mediocre/bad players. \$\endgroup\$ – David Starkey Sep 13 '17 at 16:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ Is money laundering a significant concern for game developers now? \$\endgroup\$ – Kenny Evitt Sep 13 '17 at 16:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JAB Yeah, I wouldn't expect game items to be any better than anything else ... unless the launderers are taking advantage of being able to (semi-)automate the trading ... which apparently they are. Okay – I'm convinced it is a real concern. \$\endgroup\$ – Kenny Evitt Sep 13 '17 at 18:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JAB apparently that is enough of a concern (at least from a legal compliance point of view, maybe not a practical one) that it was part of the reason for blizzard to shut down the D3 real-money auction house. Too much effort in reporting to all the banking regulatory bodies. \$\endgroup\$ – mbrig Sep 14 '17 at 20:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mbrig I think that's the real crux of the issue for laundering. It doesn't really matter if it seems impractical on the surface. If there's a way to clean your money digitally and it's possible to automate it; you're likely violating some some of financial law. \$\endgroup\$ – JMac Sep 15 '17 at 11:37
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In addition to all the other answers:

Prohibiting this has also the benefit of balancing the game from the point of view of players that won't be sharing their account.

Assuming that account sharing is allowed, a player who wanted to have an account only for himself could think:

Ah, even if I dedicate my whole time to this game, and even if I play in the best way possible, there is no way I can beat those guys with shared accounts - while one sleeps and the other works, the third player plays and there is no way I can level up as much of those guys... Therefore I don't stand a chance, and I won't even start to play this...

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a really good argument actually. Power in most games can be measured in "Efficient hours", so this becomes a really big deal. \$\endgroup\$ – Weckar E. Sep 14 '17 at 9:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ Especially, you do not want to encourage someone offering to powerlevel for you as a paid service - this will create even more balance issues.... \$\endgroup\$ – rackandboneman Sep 17 '17 at 9:35
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Besides the legalese mentioned in other answers, there are also simple business reasons.

Some games like World of Warcraft charge people by account. If you let two people share an account, you lose 50% of your revenue.

Other games like League of Legends charge people for being allowed to use ingame content. That content is bound to each account. If you would allow account share, only one person would have to buy content which all of them could then use.

The only business model where you would not have any losses by allowing account share would be a pay-by-minute price model. But that has fallen out of fashion over 20 years ago.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This. This is the answer I was looking for. All legal/security concerns aside, it just does not make practical business sense to allow people to share accounts. You're just providing free access to every additional person who has access to a particular account. By that logic, allowing another person to use your account, or using the account of someone else, is effectively stealing. \$\endgroup\$ – silvascientist Sep 16 '17 at 5:09
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It is absolutely standard that if you have an account for a service, then you are responsible for what is done with that account.

In game terms, some of the things which can be done with an account might include:

  • Cheating,
  • Playing disruptively,
  • Insulting or threatening behaviour,
  • Circumventing copy protection,
  • Distributing pirated software,
  • Distributing other illegal material,
  • Etc.

If account sharing is permitted, then this responsibility cannot be enforced.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I should add that this is standard outside of the scope of games too. I bet your AUP at work forbids account sharing for the very same reason. \$\endgroup\$ – Maximus Minimus Sep 13 '17 at 19:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ Indeed. If someone has a legitimate reason to need to access your account, they should go through IT, who have the capability to impersonate you in a way that leaves an audit trail. \$\endgroup\$ – Jörg W Mittag Sep 13 '17 at 21:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Why do you think that account sharing prohibits you from enforcing your game rules? You can just ban the offending account regardless of which of the actual users is responsible. Game moderation is not required to follow the due process rules which apply to real-world law enforcement. Pretty much every online game TOS has a clause which basically reads "we can ban you whenever we want for any reason we want". \$\endgroup\$ – Philipp Sep 19 '17 at 12:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ I didn't say that it prohibits you from enforcing rules. I said that it prohibits you from enforcing end-user responsibility for following rules. They're two different things. \$\endgroup\$ – Maximus Minimus Sep 19 '17 at 14:35
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In addition to all the other answers, there is another reason: Ensuring leaderboard integrity by prohibiting account sharing and multi-account usage. A famous example is the rhythm game osu!, which states as its first rule:

Each player may only have ONE account at any point of time. This account is you. It is not anyone else - not your brother, your mother, your sister, your friend - it is YOU. Don't share your account with anyone else.

Due to the game's ranking system ("performance points") absence of this rule would destroy the leaderboards, as a top player could easily dominate their rank range by just repeating their top scores.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – Josh Sep 18 '17 at 15:26
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In addition to the many fine answers, there is another reason.

Game companies don't want to arbitrate your personal squabbles.

If you share your account with someone, you allow them to delete your characters, sell your items, or simply change your password and lock you out.

Many people would trust some people with their account now, and would regret this decision later.

The owners of the game do not want to do arbitrating whether the old or the new email address used to reset the password is best, and whether to return the 'Sword of Awesomeness' that was sold to another account for 1 copper. It involves them putting in time and effort to decide which of their user base to annoy.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This isn't really a legitimate concern, because game companies can (and do) simply have a policy of not getting involved in such disputes. That issue can be dealt with independently of the issue of account sharing. \$\endgroup\$ – JBentley Sep 14 '17 at 8:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank god someone mentioned the password aspect. Every 'someone has stolen my password' case has to be looked into by staff which takes time and money. The more you can reduce it, the better. \$\endgroup\$ – Pharap Sep 17 '17 at 16:47
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I can see a single aspect why they would ask you not to do it: money.

If you share your account credentials with someone you trust, but end up losing all your stuff because that someone ended up not being trustworthy, you might ask the help-desk to recover the items for you. They would have to pay an employee to trace back where your stuff is. This would cost them more money than what they have planned.

If I play with you once in a while, the only thing I see is your avatar. I don't have any way to know if it's actually you or your little brother. I trust you, not your brother. Imagine if you lead a guild what can happen! Sharing accounts can also be used to create havoc with other players. All of this adds confusion and unease for other players, making them less likely to play your game.

If you share your account with someone else, it means that you (your account) can be connected and play 24/7. A normal person can't do that. If the developer estimated that it will take 6 months at 8 hours a day to reach the 'end of the content', playing 24/7 means that an account will reach it in 2 months instead of 6. Imagine a bunch of gold/item farmers that get there really early, get a bunch of end-game items and sell them on eBay? The reputation of the game would take a hit, reducing the amount of paying customers.

All of the behaviours that can be introduced by sharing an account are detrimental for the developer, either directly (they explicitly lose money), or implicitly (they lose reputation, then players, then money).

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I'm not a gamer, but my first thought was that if multiple people use the same account, any analytics collected about the user would be difficult or impossible to interpret. Not sure if games collect analytics, but figured I'd throw it out there.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ From my perspective that's a reason to be sharing accounts. \$\endgroup\$ – Pharap Sep 17 '17 at 16:50
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I run Wildfire, a multiplayer network backend for Crysis Wars. Like other networks, we don't allow account sharing- our ToS never actually goes into detail as to why this is, but I made this decision because:

  • One copy of the game per account- allowing users to share their accounts would dramatically skew the statistics of that account. For commercial networks, this would simply mean that they miss out on the revenue from multiple accounts purchasing a unique licence for the product.
  • Accountability- if a user of the account violates the ToS, it has an impact for all users using the said user account. Separate accounts mean that only one person is banned/suspended/warned, affecting just that one person when compared to multiple people. In addition to this, allowing multiple people to use a single account would make it very difficult to pin the blame on a single person.
  • Leaderboards- multiple people using one account would seriously inflate the statistics of the account (similar to my first point). By this, I mean that for Crysis Wars (an FPS) the amount of kills/deaths/points attributed to an account will be abnormally higher, and this is unfair for legitimate users.
  • Security- multiplayer backend systems, like my own, log everything (and I mean everything). There are several security systems that I use that these logs support- one of them is that the system automatically locks-out a user if it detects that it is using multiple IP addresses at the same time. Similar systems do the same.
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