The Daily Grind: Why is quashing MMO cheating so damn hard?

    
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Massively OP Kickstarter donor Daveha is not amused with an MMO industry that seems content to let cheaters get away with their nefarious deeds. For this morning’s Daily Grind, he writes,

By trade I am a Director of an IT department, so I have a pretty good understanding of how things work in the IT field. My question has to do with MMO data gathering and the parsing of data to identify possible cheaters. I assume that most large MMOs have a relational database as part of their backend infrastructure. I also assume that these databases are huge with many tables and lots of data. In my experience I can sort and select data from the database that will give me information down to every click they make on my ecommerce website. If I can do that working with my DBA, what stops these MMO companies from doing the same to identify cheaters?

In Final Fantasy XIV, I reported the same bot for over two weeks through proper channels, but nothing was done. When I posted proof, I was banned from the forum! Why is it so hard for these companies to identify and remove these cheaters? If you have accurate timestamps from the report and positional data, not to mention a character’s name, what stops the company from using the information in the database to make a case from banning them from the game?

What’s the deal with studios and cheaters? Why is quashing MMO cheating so damn hard?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!
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Gangrel
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Gangrel

AGx Gangrel Porculasalvania Well done. We are now back to the system that we have the moment. Although in this day and age, they use the information that we give *at that point in time* to work with other reports that are submitted to help build their case. Infact, all the change that you suggested does is allow people who report a character/offense a lot to “jump the queue”, so that the more “visible ones” get banned. More often than not they would have been dealt with WITHOUT needing this queue jumping.
So whilst it may result in *faster* banning for individual players (ie the one who gets reported a lot/often in a short period of time), this would have happened anyway due to the number of reports coming in.

AGx
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AGx

Gangrel Porculasalvania The solution to stuff like this is fairly simple, remove the automation part. It’s easy enough to have a staff of 10, hell you can even have interns, monitor some sort of queue for accounts flagged above this theoretical limit. Once the account hits 500, you don’t automatically ban him but this is a flag for the admin to look at logs (which should be made readily available and easy to read). If you spot the bannable behavior, THEN you ban him/her. They should still be allowed to appeal but those logs should be archived as evidence at that point. While you might get hundreds of these per day, simple database queries would make what you’re looking for easy to find and a good DBA could write scripts that any idiot can run and read the results for.

Xvim
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Xvim

Khalith In the Wildstar case, I ended up just trying to hit them so they’d pop up in the combat log. I actually got a stun on one and got him killed…..a level 14 in a 45 zone.

Khalith
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Khalith

The naming and shaming thing gets you banned from forums because it could very easily be abused by other players to put heat on a legit player.  One day while playing FF14 I was just running around an area mining, just hanging out after work, and listening to some music, when some player runs by me and says “stupid bots like you ruin the game” and I was like, “what?” He did apologize when he realized I was a legit player, but what if he had reported me? Or worse, took a screenshot on the forums and claimed I was a bot? That could have ended very badly for me, so I am definitely against naming and shaming.  When it comes to bots that are speedhacking or teleporting around zones or whatever, you can only report them and hope for the best.

In Wildstar around the time the game launched, the botter issue was rampant with people teleporting across zones to take mining nodes, they moved so fast that at times you couldn’t even see their names, just had to target them, quickly type it and file a ticket.  They managed to get rid of a huge chunk of them, but they crept back little by little.  There are always going to be cheaters sadly.

Mansemat
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Mansemat

melissamcdon Mansemat I dont personally play the game because it’s not my cup of tea so I can’t really make a definitive call. However, games that come out of SEA have had every nook and cranny of their client looked over with a fine toothed comb by RMT and the like by the time it hits state’s side. And they are always one step ahead because their local version is more up to date than whatever version is running here. They already have a lot of time invested into creating bots and any exploits that can be used to compromise accounts or gain an unfair advantage simply because they have their hands on it first. But as a natural extension of RMT botting and exploits you’ll see that same information bleed over to players from ex-employees and various other avenues. Now I’m not saying that RMT is the causing factor for cheating, but a huge amount of their time and effort is specifically for that purpose. And any game that has an active RMT presence tends to have existing issues with cheating.

Xvim
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Xvim

Serrenity I just figured 9 sec of a Nightblade / Assassin build in RIFT (including cooldowns)….I average about 15.7 hits per second on the target alone (not including additional self buffs and the non-DoT debuffs — or potential heals stolen from the target).
When it released, I had a cleric build that did 40 hits and 200 healing ticks (each with 2x 10% to apply a HoT) in 2 button presses (followed by lag crashing my game — needless to say I only tried once). Again, that did not account for any incoming effects or any world interactions.

Craywulf
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Craywulf

Two major reasons why cheating is prevalent in MMOs

1. There’s money to be made cheating. It all started when Nintendo was forced to allow third party company provide cheat codes via cartridge adapter Game Genie, because Konami had inserted a cheat code years before the Game Genie. Nintendo was forced to concede that there was a market for cheating. Since then its become socially acceptable to cheat, find exploits, and hacks.

2. Anonymous power rules the internet, and no less with MMOs. Gamers are notoriously fickle about their privacy. Fearing condemnation of their gaming rep if others knew they cheated. Anonymity protects a inexperienced player just as much as a veteran power gamer. There’s no separation between the two when privacy is protected. This could be a good thing too, unfortunately the industry is dominated by greed.

Kwasimoto
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Kwasimoto

One of the biggest reasons I’ve seen is the players’ unwillingness to give up their privacy. Weave the system with slack leaves holes in your net, yet weaving it too tightly and people cry out over invasion of privacy. You could receive a report about a character being a bot, but how do you know that it’s a macro controlling the character rather than a human who also happens to play suspiciously like a bot? If you monitored enough parameters, you could probably prove it, but you’ll have to ask yourself whether monitoring those parameters is ethical.

Tethyss
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Tethyss

Game companies need to make money.  It’s easy for a company to turn a blind eye to cheaters because they are paying customers too.

Think about how many WoW accounts have been ‘hacked’ in some way due to pure negligence by the account holder (e.g., shared credentials with buddy or forum, keylogger, malware etc).  Does it make more financial sense to (A) lock down the account and investigate further or to (B) reset it so the original account holder can keep playing?

Tridus
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Tridus

EO_Lonegun We do hire a team of people to do that sort of thing in the real world, we call them the police. Speeding is still rampant, despite it being against the rules. The manpower required to be everywhere is simply beyond what’s affordable.

Simply hiring more people won’t stamp this out, because those people need to be able to find and action cheaters without going after legitimate players, and the manpower required to stamp out cheating entirely is so expensive that it’d make the game financially unviable.