Lore, a Blizzard CM, posted on the WoW Classic forums to explain how they factor where and when a punishment is applicable for players when it comes to exploits.
Soooooo since I’m seeing a lot of confusion (here and elsewhere), here’s some insight into how we draw the line between what makes something a punishable exploit versus a “happy little accident.”
The key factor here is intent. Did the player do something with the specific intention of causing a glitch to occur, and did they do it order to exploit said glitch for their own benefit?
This recent glitch makes a pretty clean example. The players who were abusing it had to do some Very Weird Stuff to cause it to occur, and then did so repeatedly. No reasonable person would expect that this behavior was intended, and the players involved had to go out of their way to cause it. It’s obviously unintended, it’s obviously a glitch, and the people who abused it were obviously exploiting said glitch for their own benefit. That’s pretty open and shut.
Someone mentioned Esfand’s random MC reset in this thread, which is a pretty clean example of the other end of the spectrum. In that case, they just turned up to raid and the instance had been reset. They didn’t do anything intentional to cause it or go looking for reproduction steps so they could abuse it – in fact, they reported it to us and didn’t continue until they got confirmation that it was out of their control (and that we wouldn’t consider it an exploit if they cleared).
Side note for the curious: that was a completely separate bug that has existed since 2004, and actually happened several times back then, it just wasn’t being broadcast to thousands of viewers at the time.
Obviously, neither situation is ideal – we try our best to provide a fair playing field for everyone – but there’s a pretty massive difference between “the instance is reset and we don’t know why” and “if we do this One Weird Trick we can infinitely farm this dungeon boss.” That’s the key factor that turns something from an accident into an exploit.
This ended up being longer than I expected so I’ll wrap it up with one last caveat: there is a lot of context and nuance that goes into these situations, and they’re not usually as cut and dry as these two examples. We end up making a lot of judgement calls based on the specifics of each exploit as well as their overall impact on the game (the phrase “clever use of game mechanics” originally came from one such convoluted situation). These two cases just happen to be pretty obvious.