Tuesday, June 10, 2008

8 Myths about Botting

WoWInsider has an article up titled, Do Botters Really Matter? My answer? Yes, but mostly No. The effect that botters have on YOU personally is pretty minor and in some ways beneficial. Let’s explore some of the myths surrounding bots:

Myth #1: Botters cause inflation by selling items on the Auction House
Botters often get blamed for inflation or ruining the economics of the game, but the truth is that their presence actually has a deflationary effect on many items. Mats that are farmable in the outside world will tend to be a bit lower priced and in much greater supply as a result of the bot farming. It’s not quite as cut and dried as all that since items that ARE NOT easily farmable by a solo player may go up in price, but as a general rule they don’t cause inflation by introducing new items to market.

Bots don’t do things like daily quests for Gold, they farm and then sell their wares on the Auction House which takes a 5% cut. No gold is created by selling items on the Auction House and the money made from vendoring items can’t be much more than the repair bill. Quite the contrary, an argument can made that they actually take Gold out of the economy when they sell things out of the Auction House.

In fact, if you just do Dailys for your gold – then you are directly contributing to inflation far more than any botter. Your gold is 1) created out of thin air by a quest turnin and 2) you aren’t providing any mats to Auction House. The only thing you are doing is using your Daily created gold to purchase stuff.

Myth #2: Botters cause inflation by SELLING gold for real money
Well again, since they don’t create it – it’s not inflation, just redistribution of wealth. They are taking that gold earned from selling items on the Auction House and redistributing it to players purchasing it. Now consider that I am strictly talking about BOTTERS, not gold sellers in general. It’s my belief that far more gold comes from other sources like Account Hacking and Exploits than from Botters.

And honestly, gold that comes from botters is preferable over gold that comes from account hacking (read this article about the victimless crime of buying gold). I say ban the gold BUYERS as often as the sellers and botters. IMHO, buying gold is just as big a crime as selling it. After all, if there were no buyers…

Myth #3: Botting in a Battlegrounds is as bad as going AFK
In battlegrounds, a well written BG bot that works to achieve objectives or stay with the group is going to be more productive than an AFKer. I’ve written before that the fundamental motivation between AFKers and botters is the same. If they couldn’t bot, they would AFK.

That’s not to say that Botting is GOOD for PvP, but given those two choices, I guess I would rather have them bot doing something than just simply AFK doing nothing at all. Note that I don’t distinguish any difference between an AFK bot that jumps or runs into walls and an AFKer that sits there hitting spacebar every 4 minutes. That type of AFK bot is not sophisticated and easily player reported.

Myth #4: Botting is faster than hand-leveling
No public bot will quest as effectively as a real human. In fact, the only questing available in any public bot is termed passive questing. If it just happens to be in an area where a quest is available, it will pick it up. If it happens to kill stuff that completes the quest and then happens to be in the area where it can turnin the quest, then it will turn it in. It does not actively seek out or know how to complete a quest and the types of quests that it will do are pretty limited.

Most levels come from grinding out mobs. It takes FAR MORE time played to grind out a level on mobs than it does through questing. This is particularly true with the leveling changes in patch 2.3. In total time played, botting can be as much as 150% slower than a smart player leveling an alt. Fourteen hours of botting is the equivalent of roughly 5.6 hours of hand-leveling. Of course, the difference is that bots are automated – so they can keep on going for 14 hours without break. So in terms of actual days, the levels can certainly go faster if you can bot 10+ hours per day uninterrupted. But a human who could put in 4+ hours would level at a much faster pace.

As a side note, one way to detect a suspected bot is to check the Amory for reputation. Bots often have wacky or unexplainable reputation. It’s damn hard to hit 60 legit and not be at least honored in one of the four major factions. I recently power-leveled a friend through about 30 of his levels and he was honored in two factions at 60. This isn’t a certain way to figure it out, but it’s useful as one indicator.

Myth #5: Player reports don’t get Bots banned
Despite the recent banwave that struck thousands of Glider and Innerspace accounts, the far majority of several hundred weekly bans are generated from player reports. The thing to remember is that Blizzard doesn’t typically act against these accounts instantly. The first thing that happens is that the initial GM reading the player report escalates it to a team the specializes in bots and exploits. This team then marks the account as something to monitor and will conduct an investigation into the reported botting.

If there is enough evidence for them to “suspect” but not confirm, then they will issue a 72 hour ban. During that time, they may confirm the ban and change it to a permanent ban or simply use it to conduct a warning. It is at the investigators discretion, but they also may find the offense is not serious enough to warrant more than a 72 hour ban. AutoIt programs used to automate fishing or simply jumping every 4 minutes in a Battleground are good examples of something that may only provoke a 72 hour ban.

When an investigator does discover an infraction, the ban itself is rarely instant. Instead, they queue them up to be banned in the weekly round-up that happens around maintenance time. This is a smart move on Blizzard’s part as it obscures the method of bot detection. It’s easy to determine and share the cause of a ban if it happens instantly. If it is delayed by days (or even weeks) then the actual cause can easily be lost by someone trying to figure out why they got banned.

Myth #6: Botters are greedy and want to ruin the game
Most botters are not motivated by greed when they begin to bot, but by a love and interest for the game they are playing. The initial reason for botting either starts with a desire to improve in the game for little effort or simple curiosity in creating and writing a bot that will conduct automated play. For some, there is an inherent challenge in writing the bot. For others, they simply don’t feel they have the time to invest to reach the goals that they want out of the game. As one botter once put it, “WoW is like Cigarettes and Glider is like the Patch.”

However, once botting begins, it often takes the luster, meaning and interest out of the game. Any “grind” mechanics (even in end-game) become glaringly obvious to the botter and something to be avoided. The hook that keeps them playing for the sake of playing is gone and the attitude becomes one where they think, “why should I do X when I can just bot and get Y”. In large part, this is a symptom of the reward system of the game and mechanics that force players to do unfun things for those rewards. The botter simply becomes disenfranchised with anything they see as unfun. Instead, the idea of botting and not being a sucker becomes the fun part. For some, that progresses into greed and attempting to make money from botting.

Myth #7: Botters are easy to spot
Badly written bots are easy to spot. Well written bots act like you and me. For the record, Glider is a BADLY written bot. It’s good for it’s type of bot, but at it’s core – it’s a keyboard pusher. It reads a handful of memory values and then pushes keystrokes and moves the mouse to simulate game play. The advantage of this method is that it’s harder to detect through detection methods like Warden. The disadvantage is that it has less awareness about it’s surroundings and is more easily confused by terrain and other players.

The best written and most sophisticated bots don’t just read memory values, they provide an active programming environment that allows bot authors to interact with the WoW API as objects. This allows them to do things like actively search for objects of a type and collision detection that allows them to avoid objects that would interfere with travel.

Glider like bots use “pathing” that a bot follows on a very linear path. You can watch the bot follow that path over and over or even kite them off the path and disrupt the bot altogether. More sophisticated bots use a “navigational mesh” that is comprised of a full map of navigable points. It then uses a formula to determine the best path from it’s current point to the destination point. It’s very difficult to kite this type of bot off it’s path since it “learns” new terrain as it travels.

Used in combination with the object oriented programming environment, these bots can find a point of interest (remember it in a database) and then travel to another point of interest. When it then decides to go back to that first point of interest (perhaps to repair) then it calculates the best path back to it from it’s current position. A mob or node can be the new point of interest as well, so it can dynamically follow them and recalculate path as it moves towards it. The result is something that moves very human-like and is not stilted. A few of these bots can also use Flightpaths in these calculations and know to use them to move to another area.

Both types of bots have several mechanics they use to determine other players who appear to be following them. The user sets safety conditions based on these followers and if it does go outside of these safety settings, it will log off or move to another area (possibly taking a flight path). Gliders will often “stand still” when being followed for longer than a period of time. Others will auto-reply or auto-emote to you (wave).

The best way to observe them is to monitor the behavior – move away – then monitor the behavior again. If you see these types of avoidance methods, mount up and stand on them. Then watch what they target. Any human player will almost assuredly target you or whisper you if you do it long enough. If you choose to whisper them… ask a difficult to answer question. Something like, where is the repair guy or what is your latency or how many bars to level 43?

The weakest part of the bot chain is what is called the combat routine. Most bot authors don’t know every class well enough to write the entire bot, so they write the framework and then leave the “combat” part of it to someone who knows the class well. This is the point at which you can often break the bot by kiting it or observing the behavior. One thing to watch is how quickly it changes direction. A badly written routine will flip back-forth quickly, too slowly, or be off-centered.

Myth #8: Botting does not matter
So it would seem on the surface like botting doesn’t really matter… right?

NO. It does matter. It very much matters. Because it’s the perception that someone is getting something for nothing. And we hate that. We all hate that. We hate that our hard work feels invalidated because someone else got something for little to no effort. That’s wrong. No one likes to work hard for something and the guy next to you is just handed it.

It wouldn’t feel FAIR. And that’s why we hate botters – they don’t play FAIR. They cheat the rules and reap the rewards. It’s wrong and the actual effect aside, we hate cheats. Don’t cheat and tell me you are doing the community a service. You’re still a CHEATER.

So even if botting is actually beneficial to the community, the fact that they are gaining something with little to no effort is not an acceptable cost to those of us that DID put forth the work. That’s why botters matter. The real effect doesn’t matter as much as simply knowing that they exist and they are getting something for nothing.

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