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Botters, how do they work?

Matthew Rossi

One of the things almost everyone in every corner of our World of Warcraft can agree upon is that we hate botters... with the possible exception of those that bot themselves. Being the inveterate forum watcher that I am, this forum thread caught my attention. Should World of Warcraft have a system built in to randomly confirm that people engaged in excessive gathering or other 'suspicious' activities are in fact not botting? Well, I hope not the one described, a kind of captcha that would pop up a window needed to be typed into with an answer. That would just ruin gameplay for me the first time I had that pop up. Similarly, I have to agree that hiring thousands of staff to simply monitor for bots wouldn't be time or cost effective. We live at a period in the game where the game has automated a great deal of its customer service, after all.

What I really found interesting, however, was Takralus' takedown of a very old argument by players about Blizzard's stance on botting.

Takralus - Captcha to report and automagically disconnect botters
Let's say 90% of botters were compromised accounts. This means that 90% of these botters aren't paying accounts; they're stolen accounts, which are generally fueled by stolen credit cards. These payments usually get disputed and taken back, which actually costs us money. If we're looking to make a purely fiscal observation, it makes no financial sense to let these continue (aside from the fact that we don't like compromised accounts to begin with - we want our players to be playing their own accounts safely and enjoyably).

Let's go on the other side of the fence and say 90% of these botters were otherwise legitimate players paying for their accounts, as you purport. When players bot, other players are inconvenienced by this behavior (and trust me, you guys outnumber the botters, even if you may feel it's the other way around). The inconveniences range from normal players having difficulty farming on their own to struggling to keep up with an economy that's being forcibly fluctuated via unfair advantage. When players are inconvenienced in this manner, they submit petitions.

Every petition submitted goes to a Game Master for review. A living, breathing person that is paid to provide customer service looks over it, does what's necessary for the situation (in botting cases, usually forwarding the info on to our exploitation/hacks team), and provides a response. Let's say 1-2 people are inconvenienced by a single botter (in all likelihood, we probably get many more petitions per botter than that). This would mean each botter is inconveniencing at least as many, and likely more, players that are positive to the community (the kinds of players we like and want to continue to play our game). For each botter we allow to continue botting, we potentially stand to lose more than we gain for a single subscription, just out of the sheer inconvenience it causes other players.

Even if you change those numbers around of legitimate players versus compromised accounts - we only stand to lose more if we don't take action on bots (which we do, regularly).

I think it's very important to remember that a great deal of the profit made by those that sell gold and use botting methods to manipulate the in game economy is done using compromised accounts. Something like a captcha system might not work, because there's potentially a real person there who could respond to the pop up request. Also, once the real owner of the account gets it back, banning that account only serves to prevent said real owner from playing the game, it doesn't punish the real exploiters who have moved on to another account.

When we consider the variables here - the differences in who the botters actually are, what they're botting for, how they're botting (are they using software to automate a process, or do they have a series of stolen accounts) and the effort it would require to create 'botting police' who do nothing but monitor various servers looking for botters - we don't require the pseudo-conspiratorial take that Blizzard doesn't want to get rid of botters because 'they pay for accounts too' both because botters cost money in terms of all the complaints people file and because a great many of them are in fact using stolen accounts. This requires Blizzard to exert itself to deal with said complaints and help players get their stolen accounts back, effort Blizzard would be happy not to have to expend. That doesn't even take into account that people usually shut down the credit card a stolen account is linked to anyway.

So no, Blizzard isn't ignoring botters because the botters pay their account fee, because most of them don't (they steal the accounts they use) and those that do still cost Blizzard more trouble than they are worth in complaints that need to be checked out. In the end, botting is an aspect of a larger problem with people seeking to profit by ruining other people's game time, and it's that aspect that needs to be addressed.

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