Free for All: The real damage of botting, in the words of a botter

RuneScape screenshot
I received an interesting email from someone the other day, someone who wanted to let me in on the lifestyle of a botter. Frankly I was a little embarrassed for the guy since he seemed to believe me to be naive about the entire process. The truth is that I have met plenty of shady characters and heard stories that would make your eyes bug out of your head. I've heard these stories from the developers and players themselves. There truly is some nasty stuff going on in MMO gaming.

The saddest thing is that cheaters honestly think that what they do cannot possibly result in much harm for the game they are botting in, cheating at, or hacking up. It's sad because the truth is that a cheater, as one person, might not have much of an impact on the game. Add up several thousands of these scam artists and the results are mindboggling. Drive by your local dump to see just how much trash can pile up, one person at a time.

I want to shine some light on just how damaging botting can be. Click past the cut.

Gold screenshot
I am going to be referencing this brilliant clip from last week's Runefest. I discovered it through Jagex's official Facebook page and shared it on mine. Brendan Drain decided it was worth a deeper look, and so he wrote this short piece on it. I'm glad, since he is light years ahead of me in patience, ability with basic math, and tolerance for, you know, facts.

Some of the numbers Brendan pulled from the video are staggering; 100,000 to 200,000 botting accounts are created every day, and 9,000 accounts are banned per minute. This is the stuff that many games deal with, albeit in different volumes. It should be noted that there are essentially two kinds of botting done in RuneScape (it is probably similar in most games):
  • Players who bot so that they can build up their characters as fast as possible. These are the lazy players who think nothing of harming the game they love as long as they achieve some sort of virtual glory. Not to sound mean, but I think cheating in a game, especially a game that does not have only one goal, is pathetic at best. It is a sign of low self esteem or a need for some kind of acceptance. Either that or the player is truly addicted to the game and cannot do anything else with her time. As much of a gamer as I am, and even as much as I play games, I find botting for character growth or character riches to be as bad, and worse in many ways, than the next kind of botter.
  • Gold farmers. These players are trying to gather as much gold as possible to sell to the dimwits who feel the need to buy the gold. While I think gold farming is the scourge of many of our favorite titles, gold farmers exist only because of the demands of those few, sad players who are either too young to understand the harm of gold farming or are old enough not to care. Either way, the gold farmer is just a response to the greedy player.
According to the email I mentioned earlier, botting is harmless as long as it is done in small amounts. The logic behind this is that a player who is interested in botting is essentially playing the game the same as a player who is, you know, actually playing the game. Sure, they might not be sitting behind their keyboards while the program does all the work, but it's the same thing, right? I want to let you read some of the email, just see how nuts it is. I've highlighted the particularly wacko parts:
"I played RuneScape for a few years but quit after my account was locked by Jagex and would not be unlocked. I came back two years after that and started a new account. I was older then. As I am a mathematically, logically and rationally oriented person, I sought out guides to maximize the usage of my play time and level [and] to earn cash as quickly as possible. This worked out well; I made a lot of friends through RuneScape. After a while, though, I became interested in bugs and glitches and stumbled upon bots. I made a few accounts but did nothing major. The site I was using, [redacted], shut down after Jagex threatened to sue it. I moved over to [redacted]. Around two days after moving to [redacted], I learned how to program for it. It was wonderful. I had already been making basic macros for other applications, and it was an excellent way to improve my programming skills. [...] I became a trainee scripter, then a developer of the application itself. That was certainly thrilling. I taught myself color picking, and that was eventually added into the client. Color picking is where the client looks at the image of the game, not the memory, to determine what to do.

"[Redacted] was shut down and switched to [redacted], then [redacted], due to internal problems of greed. The owner of the site took off with $5,000, leaving the community with nothing. We rebuilt from scratch. Speaking of greed, I'll go ahead and lay down the greed aspect of botting: [redacted] is founded, developed, left untouched, earning thousands a month off ad revenue alone (not to mention donations). It switches hands a few times; eventually, [another player] takes a hold of it. He leaves but hacks thousands of accounts collecting billions in gold. He founds [redacted] with [another hacker], who creates a client that locks your computer from using other clients, leaving you stuck with [redacted]. Concurrently, [redacted] is founded, and that steals your account information if you're unlucky. I would bet 99% of botting is done to earn more gold to sell or build accounts to sell. I'm not going to pretend it's not true: bots destroy the economy. They crash prices of most goods. Just about anything bottable is crashable. I can't say that I personally have lead to any crashes, but I can say that I've kept certain scripts well hidden for that reason.

"Bots flood both the supply and demand markets, and I'm not sure which they hit more, but it's not good either way. Bots aren't gone. I can promise that. All Jagex did was get require [sic] OpenGL. Most bots used safe mode to hook into the client. This allowed them to "peer" into what was happening. However, now that safe mode is gone, they'll have to rework the bots to use OpenGL. Bots will be back. It may be days, it may be weeks, but no more than a month or two; when there's money to be made, people will make it. Botting is too big of a business to let itself fail. Botting itself isn't bad. If people run a bot or two for five hours a day, the effect isn't felt. In fact, it's good for people because it makes it easier to buy and sell goods when you have mules running around gathering resources that are dead boring to fetch manually. They also help teach programming, both encouraging new programmings and training old ones. It's the gold farms that hurt. People grabbing tons of gold with 10 simultaneous bots running for 15 hours a day. Anyways, I hope I didn't bore you too much. I hope I made a good impression on you :P"
There's really nothing I have to say after reading that. Just notice how much he seems to villainize one aspect of botting but goes on to talk about how wonderful it was and what a great community was built around it. To me, it's absolutely stupid. Notice also how many crimes he was witness to yet never reported. I'll guarantee you he benefited plenty from stolen cards or accounts. He's ready to call it greed when it's someone else who benefits from it. This is the logic behind the spoiled gamer. I'm not mentioning this guy's email or name (both of which he sent) but it seems as though he is now in charge of an online picture sharing service. I wonder how he feels about hackers in his product?

I'll leave you with some reasoning from Jagex Ceo Mark Gerhard about why you shouldn't "just allow" botting:
"The short answer is that you can't, because it breaks the game. How does it break the game? Well, it's not just the balancing, the economy and the inflation and the deflation, which obviously a lot of you feel so acutely, but it fundamentally changes the nature of the game. It takes it away from what is a multiplayer, social experience to a single player, anti-social experience."
I could not agree more. Botting is anti-MMORPG. Botting is the result of greed and boredom. The saddest part is that there are literally thousands of titles to choose from. If one isn't moving fast enough for you, why ruin it for everyone else by botting? Just leave.

Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to beau@massively.com!
This article was originally published on Massively.