Monday, March 15, 2010

Macros: Taking the plunge into dark waters...

In Friday’s entry, I wrote about the blurry line of fair play as it relates to custom user interfaces, exploits, and keystroke macros. Admittedly, it’s a very long-winded entry but the central theme is that all of these things are a slippery slope and what ultimately defines “fair play” is not a EULA but our own personal perceptions and our interpretation of the vagaries developers provide us.

Syncaine wrote an article today about macroing in Darkfall in which he appears to be struggling with the concept of whether to use macros to level skills. Assumed in his entry is that Aventurine is OK with the use of such macros as long as they are only used in areas that are not protected by Guard Towers. As he points out in the comments, the official line by Aventurine is:
Any macroing or disruptive skilling up within the protective radius of the towers is strictly forbidden. Offenders will be kicked. Repeat offenders will be banned.

Unattended macroing anywhere is forbidden. Offenders will be kicked. Repeat offenders will be banned.
When does macroing become botting?
A macro, by definition, is a series of actions that execute when a single command is entered. The purpose of a macro is to simplify the user experience by grouping actions. In a game like Warcraft, macros are largely restricted to slash commands (Ex: /cast Fireball). As such, these in-game macros have defined rules which prevent abusive usage such as chaining non-instant spell casts or timer delays.

Macros, however, are not limited to in-game slash commands. In fact, programs which allow people to create macros for any Windows application are pretty common. Chances are, your mouse or keyboard software offers such macro functionality for key re-mapping and chaining keystrokes. As I wrote on Friday, because such programs are common and have legitimate non-game usages, they aren’t something that a game developer can easily block or ban.

The issue is that such programs can be used in very illegitimate ways. You might not be able to chain cast or set delays in an in-game macro, but that limitation doesn’t exist in these other applications. It’s quite possible to setup a macro that points down, clicks a button, waits 60 seconds, points another direction, clicks a button to move for 5 seconds, points down, clicks button and waits another 60 seconds.

What is unattended macroing?
Read the Darkfall forums or even Syncaine’s recent entry and you’ll come away with the understanding that most players in Darkfall use the very literal interpretation that “unattended” means not at your computer.

By this definition, my above macro/bot example could wander around mining resource node to resource node as long as I was watching it run around.

In fact, such macro usage is actually what Syncaine is suggesting in order to level up a skill. Want to level swimming? Swim in circles. Want to level jumping? Stand there and hop. Want to level that spell? Stand there and cast it.

As long as you aren’t doing it in an area “protected” by Guard Towers and as long as you are at the computer to answer a “tell” from a GM, then it’s perfectly OK.

Wrong.

I’m sorry, but if you are “watching” your character do stuff without you actually doing it – that’s botting.

And it’s unattended.

Implied in attending something is that you are paying attention and participating in the activity. If you are not participating, then it’s unattended. Watching a macro run is not participation.

When does macroing become botting? As soon as you enter a WAIT or SLEEP command into the macro that delays an action. A macro that executes immediately upon a keystroke is not botting because it doesn’t take action AFTER you participated in the action of making that keystroke.

The moment you add that WAIT or SLEEP, you’ve just entered the realm of automated play where botters nest. Make no mistake, it is botting even if your script is simple by comparison.

If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you?
This is the really tricky thing. It’s becoming clear that at least in Darkfall, the use of such macro scripts is accepted as long as you don’t do it in a protected zone and you are there to answer GM tells.

As a player, this leaves me in an awkward position that I resent. Do I jump off the bridge and start macroing? Or do I gimp myself relative to other players by watching them shortcut success?

I already know the answer: I’ll jump off. For no other reason than I feel compelled to NOT gimp my progression. And quite frankly, I resent that such action is needed on my part in order to not feel gimped.

Andrea Bargs argues that this type of macroing and Microtransactions are similar in that they offer the player a way to “skip ahead” without actually playing the game.

There is certainly quite a bit of truth to that statement and I’m certain that’s a big part of the reason I’m resentful about it. Although, I think that’s where the comparison ends. The really unethical part of the MT model isn’t the skipping of content – it’s the part where you PAY to skip that content.

I’m good at this stuff
One thing that makes this dilemma so difficult for me is that I’m good at this stuff. I mean really good at it. If you read this blog back while I was playing Warhammer, you might recall that in the process of learning the addon API, I had concerns about “button masher” style addons. Something which was possible because WAR lacked secure frames and I know of at least one publically released addon which could be configured this way.

You also might remember that I wrote (and released) an addon that attached icons over player unit heads that were visible through mountains and other terrain.

I think what bothers me here is the duality of my personality. On the one hand, I just want to play the game and have fun. On the other hand, I am fiercely competitive and willing to toe the line of acceptability to get results.

Say what you will about Warcraft, but at least the line of acceptable use is made relatively clear. In Darkfall, that line is ambiguous at best and there is a part of me that fears myself and my history of pushing boundaries.

In the past, when I felt like I pushed the boundaries too far, I released my work publically (like the Warhammer addon). The theory being more players using the advantage I provide forces the developer to address the problem. And, if I'm being honest, I think it helped with my guilt to know I wasn't alone.

In practice, I think that is just like throwing water on an oil fire. It only serves to spread the problem.

The irony is that all this makes me NOT want to play Darkfall. And yet, I’m committed for the next 3 months and genuinely enjoy the game.

7 comments:

Scott said...

Um, ok where does one use a microtransaction to "skip content?" You must be playing some seriously obscure and dodgy F2P games.

I've still yet to spend a dime on F2P, though I'm not opposed to it provided I like the game enough and think that I would stick around long enough to get an equivalent amount of enjoyment out of it. (Coincidentally, which is why I've yet to spend anything in an F2P yet...) But with statements like that, it's sooooo easy to play Devil's Advocate.

sid67 said...

Arrgh! It's not an MT post :) LOL.

I have to tell you I'm really laughing here because I wrote about it at length a few weeks ago and promised myself to quite writing about it.

I was even tempted to leave that paragraph out, but decided against it.

Oh well... :)

Anyways, regarding the whole MT thing since that cat is out of the bag, I'll point you to my more detailed thoughts about it.

The pay to skip content thing is a common theme in all three posts.

MT: Not only unfair, but foolish
MT: Why YOU need to hate them like I do
MT: Follow-up to Today's post

Quietside said...

I think part of the problem is player perception: I can't be competitive without x, and y, and it has to be at least as good as so-and-so's. Playing casually in DF it has become clear to me that I will not be able to compete head to head against the big kids without accepting that my advancement curve will be longer than theirs. Macro or not, the skills cap, you can only use so many at once, and if you focus on what's fun for you (which might be swimming into walls ofr that .1 str/hour) rather than a number whose significance is debatable, you will probably continue to enjoy the game.

Macroing in DF has a little more impact than in WoW say, but ultimately is of little importance.

If you focus on those aspects of the game where the real power is to be had. Tactics, organization, friends, support networks, all of the aspects that make DF more a world than a traditional mmo can't be effectively macro'ed.

Truth is that I didn't really appreciate Darkfall, or EVE until i stopped gaming them and started playing them.

Tarik said...

Good article as usual.

Point of order, Syncaine's not struggling with his choice to bot in Darkfall. He's wriggling around the nonsense inherent in his moralistic finger wagging at gold buyers with one hand, and his use of macros to skillup difficult skills on the other. He got called on it, so he's trying to carve a way out. I think very few people are really falling for it.

As someone who has both bought gold and macroed in at least one game each, I think, if anything, macroing is often worse. If you buy gold and load up on gems or a better hammer I lack, I suppose it may have some modest impact on my playtime if I meet you in a dark alley. If you skill up your resists while you work or play your iPhone and I don't, then again, it's likely to have some modest on my playtime.

But if you're using your macro to autotarget or track me through mountains (you bastard) well, hell, that's just plain irritating, and likely to totally ruin my night.

Lastly, I disagree with you to the extent you believe the Aventurine rule can't possibly be intended to be read as Syncaine reads it. I think that's just what they meant. They had to appear to be doing something about botters while tolerating their loyal botters. So they came up with a typically muddled and dumb Aventurine rule to "resolve" the problem.

sid67 said...

@Tarik
We don't disagee. I think that's exactly what Aventurine is doing. It's vague enough wording to frown upon it, but muddled enough so that people will interpet that it is OK to do what they can't prevent. And likewise muddled enough that people like myself can interpet it as wrong to do such things.

Tarik said...

@Sid

Sorry. I meant to say, and was a bit chagrined to see when I read through after posting that I hadn't, "to the extent you seem to want to believe ...." Meaning that I detected a small glimmer of hope in there that this was all a big misunderstanding. My bad. You don't come off as particularly credulous.

What I still find rather staggering about this whole saga is the underlying notion that "this is hard to max out, ergo it is intended to be leveled via automation." As an amateur games writer and avid gamer, you'd think he'd understand the design philosophy behind time sinks in a subscription-based game.

sid67 said...

@Tarik
What I find condemning is that threads discussing the "legal" nature of macroing are locked on the official forums. Meanwhile threads discussing how to use tools which easily can be setup by novices to macro are open and popular threads.

This tells me that Aventurine doesn't want to be forced to take a stand on the topic. They want some ambiguity because they can't prevent it at this point.

The problem for Aventurine is that it's a fairly difficult problem to enforce. It's even hard for Blizzard which has a lot more resources to through at the problem.

Now combine the lack of detection with the design problem of "on use" skill ups which encourage people to make otherwise unneeded actions. The result is a playerbase which more and more widely accepts the usage as normal.

That, in turn, leaves a problem for Aventurine who might not like the macroing result but doesn't want to piss off the now huge part of the playerbase that has come to accept such usage as normal.