Google is in hot water after banning the Google account of Andrew Spinks, the lead developer of the hit indie game Terraria. The YouTube account of Spinks’ game dev company, Re-Logic, was hit with some kind of terms-of-service violation, resulting in Google banning Spinks’ entire Google account, greatly disrupting his company’s ability to do business. After three fruitless weeks of trying to get the situation fixed, Spinks announced that his company will no longer do business with Google and that the upcoming Stadia version of Terraria is canceled. “I will not be involved with a corporation that values their customers and partners so little,” Spinks said. “Doing business with you is a liability.”
Three weeks ago, the official Terraria Twitter account publicly pleaded with YouTube for some kind of resolution to a recent Google account ban. The Terraria account explained, “We have not added anything new to our only YT channel (RelogicGames) in several months. However, we randomly received an email saying there was a TOS violation but that it was likely accidental and as such, the account would receive no strikes.” The Terraria Twitter account continued, “Three days later, the entire Google account (YT, Gmail, all Google apps, even every purchase made over 15 years on Google Play Store) was disabled with no warning or recourse. This account links into many business functions and as such the impact to us is quite substantial.”
Re-Logic’s vague recollection of “a TOS violation” highlights one of the main frustration points of a Google account ban: you immediately lose access to your Gmail account, so you can’t give a thorough account of what happened or what any communication said, because you can’t read your email. Re-Logic’s YouTube channel, which is still up here, (with a disabled profile picture) appears to be nothing but trailers of the company’s games.
Spinks says his entire Google account has been down for three weeks now, and Google has “done nothing but given me the runaround.” You can view the quality of Google’s support on Twitter for yourself. After the tweet from the official Terrarria account, YouTube support declined Re-logic’s request to try to solve the problem privately, choosing instead to publicly offer irrelevant suggestions to the game developer with over 30 million customers. First, YouTube asked if Re-Logic could access its banned email account, which the developer already explained was banned. Then, YouTube suggested trying Google’s account recovery system, which is only for users who have forgotten their Google password. Finally, YouTube shared instructions for how to recover a voluntarily deleted Google account, which is in no way relevant to an account ban.
Then Spinks made his big announcement.
I absolutely have not done anything to violate your terms of service, so I can take this no other way than you deciding to burn this bridge. Consider it burned. #Terraria for @GoogleStadia is canceled. My company will no longer support any of your platforms moving forward.
— Andrew Spinks (@Demilogic) February 8, 2021
Google is notorious for how it handles issues on Google Play and YouTube, where every rule violation feels like it’s handled by a bot, and getting a hold of a real human can feel like an impossible task. Google wants people to build a business on top of its platforms, but the lack of common-sense dispute resolution is, as Spinks puts it, “a liability.” Google makes billions of dollars per year from both of these services.
Google uses a single account system across nearly all of its products. On one hand, this makes it easy for users of one Google service to try other Google services, but it also leads to ridiculously disproportionate punishments if a user gets hit with an account ban. A YouTube copyright claim, Google Pay transaction dispute, or TOS violation can lead to your entire online life being taken down. If you’re all in on the Google ecosystem, a Google account ban means you lose access to your entire email account; all the pictures you’ve ever taken; your cell phone service; your ability to communicate with friends and family; all your 2FA accounts; anything that uses Google OAuth; your app development business; your YouTube business and all your followers; your purchased apps, games, movies, music, and books; and all your contacts, documents, bookmarks, and notes.
For many people, a Google account ban is an online death sentence, and it’s also a punishment doled out without much recourse for the victim. How would you even begin to dispute a Google account ban when the first thing that happens is your Gmail stops working? If you happen to be a famous indie developer with a hit game in development for Google’s streaming service, publicly canceling your game on Twitter is probably a good way to get your case heard.