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Free for All: Jagex answers more questions about nuking bots


Recently Jagex, maker of the mega-popular browser-based MMO RuneScape, bragged about the success of its Bot Nuking Day, an event of epic proportions that promised to rid the game of the thousands of bots that plague legitimate players. The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and any long-term player can now tell you that the effort seems to have worked. But for how long? Players have been promised a solution for a long time, so what makes Jagex think that the recently nuked will stay nuked?

I wanted to know more, and Daniel Clough, VP of RuneScape, was nice enough to answer several of my questions about the event. Did the nuking work as well as the team hoped? Will the bots stay dead? It didn't work in the Terminator, so why now?

Click past the cut for all of the answers!

RuneScape bot nuking day painting
Massively: The recent Bot Nuking Day seems to have gone off without much of a hitch, and the players appear to be happy. What has the response from the playerbase been so far?

Daniel Clough: It has been a couple of weeks now since our Bot Nuke campaign was launched, and we're happy to report that overall it has been a massive success. We managed to do significantly more damage to bots than the community expected, which has had a hugely positive effect on the gameplay experience. The core RuneScape community has responded extremely positively to the changes we have made. We've seen a number of former players who were turned off by the botting issues return to the game since the changes have been implemented. Although we have seen a good level of success from our anti-botting measures, this recent activity isn't a one-off. We are committed to ridding the game of botters, goldsellers and real-world traders and will not rest until the game is safe from these distractions.

"Having taken these steps, [we believe] botting will not return in its current form. We are also continuously working to improve this technology and stay several steps ahead of the bot developers."

One of the common thoughts going around right now is "the bots will be back." What steps are you taking to make sure they do not come back, and how is the bot nuking different than any previous efforts to stop botting?

The bot nuke has been in development for several months, incorporating patentable technologies to protect our game client from the vulnerabilities that previously existed. Having taken these steps, [we believe] botting will not return in its current form. We are also continuously working to improve this technology and stay several steps ahead of the bot developers. Since the release of the Cluster Flutterer, we have released further layers of defense so we can be extremely confident that RuneScape will remain a bot-free game.

It was obvious how much damage the bots did to the economy, but in some ways they provided a service for those players who needed large amounts of goods and items. Has the playerbase stepped up and replaced what the bots normally supplied?

Great question. Bots had previously had a massive negative impact on the community by creating false economies that unbalanced the game for the purer rule-abiding players and made it quite difficult to make money legitimately. With the bots now gone, we are starting to see some of the previous money-making methods return to the game as well as the ability to gather items and resources without the previous levels of competition experienced before.

There must be a fine line between botting and players who just play way, way too much. Do you try to discourage those players, or are they good for the game?

We certainly don't want to discourage any legitimate players. RuneScape has a huge variety of users, and there's something for everyone, no matter what type of gamer he or she is. Regardless of whether you're a more casual player who perhaps only plays a few hours a month, or a more hardcore player with the time to devote to leveling and climbing the hiscores, the sheer variety of gaming is great. But botting allowed some users to cheat and bypass some aspects of the game, which was detrimental to those who've gained their levels and achievements fairly.

RuneScape rules screenshot
Speaking of bot-like behavior, I wonder how much of the bot problem can be blamed on what some might call a need for grinding. Has the bot problem changed the way you approach the game's design?

While the grind aspect of MMOs may have encouraged the rise of botting, by using bots players not only miss elements of the grind but miss the gameplay experience. As a result, those players would be more likely to become disengaged, which will not benefit us, the player, or the wider community. Although MMOs are typically grind orientated, we have designed RuneScape in a such way that players don't have to get to the maximum levels in all stats and abilities in order to enjoy a large part of the game. There's plenty on offer for everyone at various levels, from a new player right through to the endgame. By adding content on an almost weekly basis, we aim to fill in some of the gaps by adding engaging content to allow users to train their skills in alternative ways to the typical grind.

"We're continuing to refine our anti-bot tech to stay ahead of this issue, and a large part of that is ensuring the gaming experience won't be harmed."

There is a possibility that Bot Nuking Day could have caused some issues with lag for some players. Can you elaborate on this problem? How close is it to being fixed?

The release of Cluster Flutterer, as with any significant change to the game code, resulted in some expected lag issues, which we are working hard to eliminate. We have already released significant improvements to the gameplay experience post-nuke and will continue to do so. The most recent improvements have seen map loading times become four times faster, and other areas of the game experience are now even faster than they were before these issues were encountered. As mentioned before, we're continuing to refine our anti-bot tech to stay ahead of this issue, and a large part of that is ensuring the gaming experience won't be harmed.

Do you think that allowing free access to your game has increased the bot problem?

We don't believe this was a factor in the botting problems we faced, as botting affects almost every MMO today regardless of the cost of entry. Having a low barrier of entry to RuneScape has been central to the popularity and success of the game over the last 10 years. RuneScape was a pioneer in F2P gaming, and we firmly believe that allowing everyone access is a key part of what makes the game special.

On a non-bot side note, do you have plans on creating more fully voiced quests like One Piercing Note? Are there any plans to add voice acting to quests and content that already exist in the game?

One Piercing Note was a great success in terms of the impact of voice and immersion, and we're very proud of it. Voiced quests and content is a concept we'll certain be looking at doing more of for future content and potentially adding it to some of the existing content as well.

I'd like to thank Daniel Clough for taking the time to talk with us. I have a feeling that bots are always going to be a problem for MMOs, especially RuneScape. The difference between the time before the patch and after is pretty remarkable, though, so it looks like the team has a pretty good handle on it.

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!

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