A Lesser Evil

Answer this question right now, which is worse – gold farmers or cheaters?  They might belong to the same coin of the disease that hurts our favorite MMOs, but they attack it from wholly different sides.  The answer, for me, is not self-evident.  Sure, if I were the Ultra Decision Maker with infinite resources I would press my magic button and both problems would be dealt with by my happy MIT graduate programmers.  But, developers don’t live in that world.  They live in a world where the target is always moving, always trying to outsmart, and there is never enough time to line up the scope for a perfect kill.  So which is worse when you have the development time for one bullet?

The easy answer is gold farmers.  There are literal wars going on against the bastards.  They lie, cheat, steal, and exploit the system for one purpose.  To flip the digital drugs to a player looking for a fun time.  Then while that player enjoys the product, they try to lie, cheat, steal, and exploit the player.  Yet, they lack true power.  Yes, they might cause gold inflation.  Yes, they might cause a developer to create un-fun mechanics to curb the gold farmers.

Still, in my usual play sessions gold farmers really don’t affect me.  They can’t join and grief my 6-man dungeon run.  They don’t have time to play in advanced PvP scenarios.  I can ignore their annoying blather.  And, I can make their whole existence meaningless by choosing not to buy gold.  I wish I could force all other players to never buy gold too, but the fact that I have the choice sends gold farmers further down the food chain.  And, for players that do give them power by giving them account information, credit card information, or merely buying their digital product I hope that those high up on the food chain take care of them too. Gold farmers do not exist in my community.  They are outsiders, aliens, that scrabble for purchase in hopes of being a lowly interloper.  At most what I have for them is pity that this is their chosen way to exist.

Cheaters, on the other hand, do affect me.  They are part of the community.  They do exist in pick-up-groups and random scenarios.  And, I am powerless to let their actions touch me until I become disheartened enough to just pull the plug.  Unlike gold farmers, cheaters don’t try and ruin lives and credit reports, but they do ruin fun.  I am much more likely to leave a game due to a cheater’s actions than a gold farmers.

This causes a disconnect between the MMO developers and me.  They have their publicized crusade against gold farmers.  Mythic even had a gold farmer-banning counter to proclaim loudly to the world that this simply will not stand, man.  But, players that packet-hack, .dll hack, or simply use exploits for achievements seem on the safer side.  They might get banned, and those with company-approved voices will, when pushed, proclaim that this evil will also not stand, but it is clear to me where the gunsights are set.

Turbine’s Mines of Moria had a ton of instance “exploits.”  One of my kinship’s most contentious was The Forges exploit where by running past the first boss until he reset the hard mode timer would never start to countdown.  Then the group of players could take their leisurely time through hard mode to get their bound token.  Then at the bottom, the battle with the end boss was supposed to be a moving battle where the players had to stay ahead of the wall of fire.  Instead, players could hole up on one specific spot at the exit cave and ignore the silly fire-running mechanic.  These exploits took months to fix.  Months!  On top of that, I cannot recall a stamp down on the use of these exploits.  Recently, there was an exploit in a skirmish where one could gain untold amounts of skirmish tokens, which of course amounted to gold.  This exploit, by comparison, came with an immediate “if you use it you will be banned”-statement and was fixed very quickly.

Guild Wars is currently having issues with hackers going through a .dll to gain loads of information not readily available on screen.  The cheaters that use the hack allegedly can get a readout of the enemy team’s health in PvP matches and the “bot” can watch and interrupt the entire team’s skills with robot precision.  There is another alleged bot that runs Rollerbeetle Racing with near perfection.  It seems there was one hotfix ArenaNet used to combat the .dll hack, which the hackers easily hotfixed around.  But, ArenaNet has been silent on the use of any of these specific items.  When pressed they will claim that 3rd party programs affecting Guild Wars is against the license agreement.  These exploits are even worse than a PvE dungeon cheat because people choosing to play in PvP or Rollerbeetle Racing cannot choose not to be affected.  I want to hear “you ain’t got no problem, Ravious. We on the motherf—-r.  Go back there, chill them ninjas out and wait for the Wolf who should be coming directly.”  Sadly, nothing from ArenaNet has even come close, and I am leery about entering in to any PvP match because I don’t want to play with or against cheaters.

Cynically, I have my ideas, and at the most distilled level it comes down to this: who is the customer?  A gold farmer is not a customer.  A gold farmer is a leech.  A vampire.  A thief.  A cheater is a customer, and if nothing else the customer is playing and seemingly enjoying the game more by cheating.  Which one helps the bottom line?  I am probably being unfair.  I know I am marginalizing the gold farmer problem, but I feel developers are marginalizing the cheating problem.  This is what I see.  You want to show me something else, then tell me the Wolf will be here in ten minutes.

–Ravious
recycling bins or bullet casings

19 thoughts on “A Lesser Evil”

  1. 90% of the Luxon players in the Jade Quarry are bots. They were one year ago, and they still are. It annoyed the heck out of me. I switched to the Luxon faction after maximizing Kurzick rank and it was an awful experience. Got told to run Mt. Qinkai instead of Jade Quarry. Sigh.

    They need to fight both, gold sellers and cheaters. I do not see why cannot do it both. At the moment they are doing a very bad job at both.

    Neither in LOTRO nor in WoW – not even in times when Goldspam was at its prime in WoW – have I seen so much botting and goldselling as in Aion and Guild Wars.

    I seriously wonder how this could happen to Aion – they had experiences from the Asian version. And I hope they learn a lot how to prevent such things for the future, for games like Guild Wars 2.

    It is not so easy to draw the line between cheaters and gold farmers, in Guild Wars PvP a cheater can ruin the game, in PvE he is probably in another instance and I probably won’t notice it. Unless he starts multiplying armbraces of truth by hundreds…

    I don’t want to call gold farmers the lesser evil; the ongoing account phishing and theft attempts that increased so enormously for my NCsoft and Battle.net/WoW accounts near the end of the last year are nothing else than organized gold farmer account theft.

  2. But how does someone that cheats effect you? I mean, sure..if you are fighting them in PvP and they kill you with a cheat, that is effecting you.

    And with a rare few cases of someone that might use a cheat to rob your guild bank or something, but again these cases are so rare and most MMO provide a customer service fix for that.

    I don’t get it. If they cheat, they might gain something for themselves, but how does that effect you?

    (re-reading to make sure I am not missing something.)

    Beau

    1. Well like you mention… not always. Most cheating likely happens solo. However, when it happens in PvP… when someone speedhacks or something, you have no control. The whole thing can be ruined. Or what about using an expoit in a PUG?

      The big thing is that they are part of “the community.”

      1. Oh, I’ll give ya that. But most of the cheats or exploits that people complain about are when a group or individual uses one to get something for themselves. Gold farming is something effects everyone all the time.

        Beau

  3. This is probably too terrible or too enlightened, it’s too early in the day to tell, but I wonder how much of a reduction on both you’d see if you were to eliminate grind.

    Seems to me that grind is the foul spring from which these two ultimately emerge, and I’m not so sure if they are really diseases or just symptoms of a greater underlying problem. The problem being, time and time again we are seeing an (n) portion of the playerbase quite happy to sidestep, go around or go through the rules of the game (and let’s not kid ourselves: If gold farmers still exist is because they are able to sell. And if they’re able to sell it’s because there are plenty of normal players willing to buy their services).

    Introduce a game in which repetition exists, but offers no benefits whatsoever other than the pleasure of repeating a fun activity and I imagine the time investment/benefit ratio for gold farming and botting wouldn’t make as much sense anymore.

    Of course, there’s the tiny problem of this going against the unspoken business model we’ve had since the first shareholder said “Hey you know what? It’d be cool if we could keep our players paying longer.”

    1. I disagree – to an extent. FPS PvP games like Counterstrike, Quake, Unreal Tournament etc. have all been plagued by botters, speedhacks, wallhacks and so on. People cheat because they want to win. The only reason gold sellers don’t exist in Counterstrike is, well, no gold to sell. But if there was, they would no doubt flock to it like flies to shit.

      Whether it’s gold to MMO players, performance enhancing drugs to Olypmic athletes, fake blood capsules to rugby players or hired imposters for marathon runners, where’s there’s games and sport, there’s cheating. The reasoning for cheating is to win, to be (perceived as) better than everyone else.*

      Why I only disagree to an extent is that, on further inspection, it can be also be asserted that where there are games and sport, there is also a grind if you are to be at the top of that particular discipline. (I’ve got half a post written about that very subject.)

      *unless you’re a Chinese student and want to get into university that is.

      1. Agreed, but the “cheating to win” is slightly different than the “cheating to achieve something else”, and like you say it’s more often observed in PvP environments.

        In PvE, my point more or less stands. The PvE cheating always tends to be, ultimately, an illicit shortcut to shorten the grind.

        Maybe a better distinction about this would be to think it in terms of “cheating to gain an advantage over whom?”. Cheating in PvP and RL sports, as you pointed out, it’s about cheating to gain an advantage of an opponent. In PvE and non-competitive environments, the cheating is to one-up the game itself, usually because of ridiculous rules (or what players perceive as ridiculous rules).

        1. Thinking further on this, I’m still not sure I totally agree. Obviously grind-aversion is a factor and I have my own first-hand experience of this* but I’d also assert that as soon as other people are introduced into the mix which MMOs, by their very nature, do, there will be an element of competitiveness – even in a denoted PvE environment.

          For example: having the best gear; being the server first to reach level cap; down first boss etc. The levels of one-upmanship in a PvE MMO are amazing and you only have to look at the various comments regarding Recount and Gearscore in the WoW community to see it an action.

          In thinking about non-MMOs, though, it’s obvious that people will also cheat in single-player PvE games too: whether it’s by using a developer code (“IDDQD”) or finding an exploit, some folk will use whatever they can to beat the game. Perhaps it is to avoid the “grind” of playing a game, as you suggest, but I suspect there are other reasons as well.

          My point? I guess while I agree that some people will cheat to bypass a grind, I don’t think that eliminating grinding will see a marked reduction in gold selling or exploiting. When games are played, people will cheat.**

          *A former guildie alluded to the fact that gold buying would permit purchase of better gear and make levelling faster. He all but admitted he’d done it himself.

          **This aphorism brought to you by Generalisations-r-us.

  4. Speaking to the “exploits” in launch MoM, the reason that a lot of those got figured out and disseminated so quickly is that they weren’t any harder to figure out than whatever it was the developers intended us to do. A lot of those hard mode instances were next to impossible to clear “the right way” at launch, and it was often unclear what the developers considered correct or incorrect. I will allow that some of the things players did were clear exploits (like bugging out bosses on terrain), but I honestly think Turbine made that bed.

  5. Exploiters are far and above the bigger problem for the community.

    I’m not siding with Gold Farmers/Sellers, by any means, but they’re really a non-issue for the majority of MMOs. Aside from that, most gold farmers *are* customers. They need a means to acquire gold which is usually through paid accounts. Additionally they are merely providing a service to the player, whether you agree with that service or not is up to you. Hell, some MMOs provide this service themselves with RMT.

    Botting is a completely separate issue from gold farming. There’s a connection in that most farmers use bots, but botting isn’t exclusive to the gold farmers. Botting, itself, is an exploit. Players use bots to gain unfair advantages in-game. Gold farmers use them to maximize revenue.

    Players who exploit are the real burden on the community because they are part of the community. They post on the forums, they play the game regularly. Gold farmers do not. Most likely they are off farming in a corner of the game world you rarely visit. Exploiters are playing with you and against you. Gold farmers are using bots to farm gold to resell to players. Exploiters are using bots to gain unfair advantages over other players. There is a very distinct difference.

  6. I feel like MMOs should give in and create “gold-buying” servers, where you can buy gold via RMT. All the gold buyers could create accounts there. Maybe the RMT would go to subsidize your subscription if you agreed to play only on RMT servers.

    They’d still have to police the “non-gold-buying” servers, of course. A penalty for getting caught buying gold would be that your character would get transferred to a gold-buying server. (And, ideally, you would lose whatever gold you bought. This provides an incentive to start on the gold-buying server in the first place.)

    It wouldn’t be ridiculous to suggest they might sell other things (experience potions, etc) as well. The goal here is to put the farmers out of business.

    Of course cheaters would still have to be banned. (The better solution is to build an architecture that keeps most of the information on the server, so it’s harder to cheat.)

    I wonder: if they did create gold-buying and experience-buying servers, what fraction of users would migrate there?

    1. They did just that (essentially) in EQ II. It seemed to work pretty well, but I don’t know if it cut down on gold selling in the regular servers.

  7. Of course, one of the issues really not touched on is the “real” cost of cheaters, gold farmers and gold sellers. It costs money to fight them and more money when they exist in charge backs on credit cards against the game developer. I believe that SoE was candid enough one time to disclose that it cost them well over $1,000,000 in lost fees as well as the cost of resources to combat the problem. Customer service gets tied up “fixing” accounts where everything is mysteriously lost because of some illicit actions.

    Lets not forget about content that winds up shut down or delayed while a “fix” is designed to combat against players that must have somehow known that things were not working as intended sometime around the 100th time they exploited a flaw. Sometimes (Everquest II comes to mind) they simply let something like trivialized content (gray shard farming) go by because so many players did it so often for so long. It’s like finding out after working all week long really hard at a job that all you had to do was show up and get the same reward.

    In my opinion, anything that detracts from the game and discourages the honest players from enjoying the game is a detriment. Online gaming tends to be competitive for many and trivializing the end rewards takes away from the games attraction.

    So the honest players in the end wind up not being able to log in while patches are implanted to subvert the exploits while content is delayed because developers are fixing exploits instead of working on new projects. In the end, we all pay the bill for those who like to exploit, purchase gold or bot their way through the game.

  8. The only problem I have with gold sellers is if they are hogging one area to farm in and it is getting in the way of legitimate players. And the spam.

    Cheaters are a scourge and should be instabanned. I don’t consider doing something that is possible to do in the game but is not “in the spirit of the game” like hiding from fire or resetting bosses or what have you. Those are the game dev’s problem to sort out, not the players’. I mean like botting or modding to do things you wouldn’t normally be allowed to do in the game.

  9. It is much more important to tackle RMT first, as they are a bigger threat, since their money depends on exploiting the MMO, while cheater solely gain fame/XP/whatever. Furtheremore RMT is getting bigger by the day and carries with it the chilling wind of professional hacking. RMT corrupt the community at wide, potentially attacking fansites, whereas cheaters harm it in a much more focused way.

  10. This is easy for me. Hypothetically, if I had just one “bullet”. The player. Whether it’s “Which came first…”, or some other analogy, the answer is the player.

    Goldsellers are there because the players say “Would you please come into my game? I know the devs don’t want you too, but if you could sneak in, that’d be clutch because I will do anything to rocket myself to level cap and I want the strongest “whatever” when I get there. I’ll make it worth your while, I’ll pay you REAL money:)”.

    No player, no goldseller. Then we’d have empty games? Not at all. Only select ppl with lower standards, wavering ethics and lesser morals do this. Take care of the player and you take care of the goldseller.

    Part of that problem is how people seem to have jaded themselves to treat it as though it is something frivolous, like a “I got yer nose” trick.

    Yes you can point to whatever reasons you want to defend it or treat it like it is less than it is. Many subcultures exist that find morally offensive behavior to be no big deal. Pointing and saying “Look at all the people doing it, it’s just a fad in todays gaming” is another way of saying everyone’s doing it which is just the nihilistic way out. It’s hopeless so let’s party like it’s 1999.

    Just because I know many people who, let’s say, goes around spraying graffiti, or swiping “just one candy bar” from the convenience store down the street, and all their friends treat it like it’s just not that big a deal, doesn’t mean I’m going to join them.

    That’s why I’ve almost stopped using the word goldseller entirely, and replaced it with goldbuyers. Because that is the source. The demand for cheating has opened up the market.

    Sorry to rant, but I just did a similar post recently, and I guess the fire is still fresh in my veins :)

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