Monday, February 15, 2010

RMT: The Unstoppable Force

If you think Syncaine is caustic, how about a guy just as abrasive who censors his comments? I’m not linking to his blog, but I will link to Tobold’s article about the latest entry on his blog, because I think the topic of Gold Sellers in MMOs warrants a discussion.

The original posters main point appears to be that because there are all these things that Blizzard could do to catch Gold Sellers, and Blizzard doesn’t do any of them, they must secretly support Gold Selling.

This guy must be a Moron (M&S?)
As Tobold points out, the idea that Blizzard secretly wants Gold Sellers is ludicrous for several reasons:
  • It undermines the Pavlovian conditioning Blizzard uses to keep people chasing the carrot
  • Gold Selling, and the illegal activities that support it, are the source of the biggest customer service concerns
  • Service requests related to these illegal activities costs Blizzard real money
  • Blizzard makes no profit on illegal RMT

Or, as you can read on Blizzard’s website, purchased gold comes at every player's expense:
What many people don't realize when buying gold is the large impact it has on the game economy, and also how the companies selling gold obtain it. Our developers, in-game support, and anti-hack teams work diligently to stop the exploits these companies use and help players who have become victims of their services. We regularly track the source of the gold these companies sell, and find that an alarmingly high amount comes from hacked accounts. These are the friends, relatives, and guildmates you may know who have gone through the experience of having characters, gold, and items stripped from them after visiting a website or opening a file containing a trojan virus. Our teams work to educate players and assist them in avoiding account compromise, but the fact remains that the players themselves are often these companies' largest target as a source for gold, which the companies then turn around and sell to other players.

Fighting the hack
Most of Blizzard’s resources for fighting this war come in the form of anti-hack tools and legal prevention. Consider that the #1 botting program for WoW, Glider, hasn’t been available for download since March 12th, 2009.

And Warden, the client-side anti-hack tool, is very very effective. If you don’t believe me, consider that ISXWarden, the ant-anti-hack tool that enabled all the other bots (WoW Bot, Open Bot, RhaBot, and others) hasn’t worked since June 2008. And, as fledgling hackers soon learn, editing memory values or other such hacky things without dealing with Warden will get you banned.

Does it still exist? Yes. And it will always exist because it’s a cat-and-mouse game. And, the more clever the mouse is, the more difficult it is for the cat to catch. The people creating these things are not stupid. Perhaps some of the people using tools created by these people are stupid at times, but the authors themselves are extremely clever.

BUT – at least right now, it doesn’t exist as publically as it once did. In large part, because these clever people figured out there is some safety in obscurity.

Detecting the behavior
Players view Blizzard as some huge monolith that can level destruction down upon the infidels. The issue is that it’s VERY difficult to find the infidels. Our OP would like you to believe that because certain players spam chat or ‘BEHAVE’ in specific ways, that Blizzard should be able to track them down.

It’s not that simple.

The reason is that the number of choices and amount of data are so immense that it would require a lot of computing power to calculate all the possible patterns. For this reason, they mostly rely on player reports to identify erratic or irregular behavior.

We see those that don’t care if they are seen.
If it seems terribly obvious, that’s because they simply don’t care if they are discovered. The spammer is the best example. Either, they are on a Trial account spamming Local or they are on a Hacked account spamming you in a whisper.

After all, if someone is going to take the time to hack your account and steal your gold, why wouldn’t they run a script that spams gold selling services at the same time?

And therein lies the rub. Account stealing is so rampant in WoW, why should “bad” behavior be limited to just stealing your gold?

Obviously, it’s not. And all the really bad stuff, the item duping and such, ARE obvious and DOES get detected. It just happens on hacked accounts. And they simply don’t care because it’s a throwaway account.

And the worst part for Blizzard, the guy getting hacked is the VICTIM, not the actual problem.

Bans are never instant
This is the one that bothers players and creates the perception that Blizzard doesn’t do anything. Players think that if they spot and report erratic behavior, the ban should come down instantly once a GM has reviewed the ticket.

But remember that this is a cat-and-mouse game. If the ban comes instantly, the mouse knows exactly what they did that got them banned. Keep in mind that there is a community of these people and they DO compare notes.

If instead, it is escalated to a team responsible for detecting it, they can ban a bunch of players in a wave and create confusion about what happened. Additionally, the Blizzard team can take some time to investigate and look for abnormalities that may later be detected automatically.

And what if the player in question was hacked or falsely accused? By not insta-banning, Blizzard gets the chance to review it.

EDIT: By-the-by, I think Blizzard does deserve some criticism for not being better about spam. I think most players want this auto-filtered, but the issue is the unintended consequences of filtering out valid messages. Clever spammers can come up with clever ways to avoid filters.

You can't really easily filter:
The only real solution is player reports, for which they should respond more quickly.  But even then, what's to stop them from creating several accounts/characters and so forth.

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