WOO II An Exploration in Design - July 2012 - By Stoneghost: Dalaran

 

WOO II - BOTS and BOTTING

"I hate lvling. :/" - sentiment frequently expressed in Guild Chat.

 

A "bot" is a character being controlled by a computer program rather than a human player.

Bots are bad for the game, for reasons outlined below. Bots are also prohibited by the contract that players agree to when they log onto WoW. Any player caught using a bot is liable to be banned from the game. So:

  1. How do bots work?
  2. Why are they bad for the game?
  3. Why do players use them even though they are prohibited?
  4. What can be done about it?

How do bots work?

When you play an online game, you send commands to the game company's computer. You do this by moving and clicking your mouse, and by pressing keys on your keyboard. The data that you send out determines how the game computer moves your character around in the game, and also determines what your character does in terms of casting spells, mounting, eating, and so on.

Botting software installs on a player's computer and pretends to be the keyboard and mouse. It sends out signals that are identical to keyboard and mouse signals, and the game computer responds to these just as if there was a player sitting there. The software contains a "map" or "route" that it uses to send mouse clicks that tell the game computer where to move the character to. And it also sends clicks to make the character do a limited number of actions.

For example, suppose a zone contains ore deposits. A botting program might have a "map" that contains the location of each node of ore. When turned on, the program would send out the mouse clicks needed to move the character from one node to another. The character would be made to land, and to click on the node. If no node was there, then nothing happens, and the character is mounted up and moved to the next node position. If a node is there, it gets mined. The botting software can move a character around and around and around the zone, clicking on every node over and over again. So eventually, a lot of ore will be mined.

In a similar way, a bot can be programmed to move from place to place in a battleground. If it gets attacked, the bot fights. If not, it waits awhile and them moves to another spot. Since this behavior is similar to the way a lot of players behave in battlegrounds, it is very difficult to tell for sure, whether a character is a bot or not.

The description I'm writing here is purposfully vague. You can't tell from it how to create a bot, or even how to use botting software if you were to acquire some. But you can be sure that botting software is, in fact, available, and that it does work. In the early days bots were primitive and very clumsy, but the newest generation is much more advanced.

Why are bots bad?

Bots are bad for the game for two reasons:

  1. they distort the patterns of game play, and
  2. they give an unfair advantage to those who are using them.

Because bots are not very smart, and because they have no human sense of "play", they behave strangely and they do not engage in any kind of cooperative action. Furthermore, since there are only one or two basic bot programs, groups of bots tend to "clump up" and move about in unison. All in all, this makes them an impediment to the game. In battlegrounds, particularly, no team can make a strategy ... because its bots cannot listen and have no way of agreeing or disagreeing. In the end what this means is that the bots determine how a battleground is going to be played, and the human players have to go along with that.

Players who use bots gain level and reward points without playing. If this was an accepted practice (as it is in some games), then there would be no problem. But since WoW prohibits the use of bots, or even of automation of the kinds of keystrokes needed to run a bot, players who gain this advantage are cheating.

Why do some players use bots

Account holders who use bots are either doing it to quickly level a character for later (and illegal) sale or because they want to quickly get the character to the highest level and play the dungeons and/or battlegrounds there, or because they want to farm a material without doing the boring flying around.

But bots are the responsibility of the game designers. There is no question about this. Botting requires the presence of simple, repetitive tasks that nonetheless pay off in terms of experience or reward points. One the one hand these are exactly the kinds of boring activities that players hate, and on the other, they are the kinds of activities that bots can handle.

 

In other words bots appear when players are required to do a repetitive, boring activity in order to gain a necessary reward.

 

Here are two examples:

Farming. Think about the ore deposits in the zone described earlier. Here you are, as a player, flying in circles for hours, totally focused on your "radar", only stopping occasionally to click on a node or ore. How is this fun?!

And to make it worse, there are a bunch of other players doing the same thing, the result being that it takes you five times longer than it should to collect the ore you need. And what do you need the ore for? - you are leveling a Blacksmith because you want to make two or three top level items for your characters. These particular stacks of ore are only for making the low level items that you need to improve your Smithing - you can't sell them and you can't use them.

You are bored, annoyed, irritated, and unhappy. In a situation like that, why not install a mining bot? Taking advantage of other farmers doesn't seem like a terrible, evil thing. Half of them are problably bots already anyway, and besides, if any of them feel the way you do, they can get a bot easily enough. It doesn't feel like there's a moral problem ... a bot feels like any other add-on that you install to make some unfriendly part of the game a little more accomodating.

Battlegrounds. You you are a dungeon raider who has six level 95 characters, and you want to level them all to 100. You don't care about questing. You hate PvP. What you want to be doing is trying out the new top level dungeons. What you are looking for is the fastest, easiest way to level your stable of characters ... and the answer is Battlegrounds PvP. You don't care about the useless Honor Points, you just need experience, and in battlegrounds, especially the larger ones, you can just park your character somewhere and let the points pile up.

But botting makes this even better. You can turn your bot on before you go to bed and let it play through the night and the next day. The bot will move around, randomly fight the enemy, die, rez and do it all again ... over and over and over. It's the best of all worlds, you are not bored, and your characters quickly get the experience that they need.

What can be done to stop botting?

Botting cannot be prevented by clever user interface design or by creating "secure" code. The problem lies not with the game's controls, but rather with the way rewards are structured within the game, and the way the game's activities are designed.

If an activity is repetitive enough to be automated by a simple computer program, and if the activity also gives rewards, then cost/benefit favors its automation. Player usage follows because repetive activities are extremly boring.

Farming

Before mounts arrived, farming for resources made sense. Players encountered nodes while they were playing, on foot, and harvesting was a natural part of the game. A character could not travel fast enough to make "farming" a very productive activity unless you dedicated your life to it (which some people did ... see "gold farming").

A mounted player could move much faster, and this made it possible to ride a "circuit" around a game, checking out the locations of known nodes. Flying mounts made circuiting so easy that "farming" became a regular activity for most crafters, and even for some non-crafters who wanted to use resource sales as a way to augment their in-game currency reserves.

WOO II addresses "farming" by making the farms explicit and moving them indoors to instances that only the player who owns them can enter.

The effect of these changes is to make the farming of resources a standard activity that is carried out by people who dedicate their time to it and receive rewards from it. Since there will be no "amateur" crafters, the sale of materials will occur among people who know the value of the items, and if an item rises in price, more people will begin to farm it. In other words, supply and demand will be based on price rather than on the time it takes to fly around a zone. Even if some "farmers" dedicate all their time to farming the highest priced materials, all they are likely to do is drive down the price.

There is clearly no shortage of people who enjoy the "marketplace" aspect of the current game, and certainly many players will dedicate at least one character to Crafting. The market based economy will see to it that Raiders and Fighters get access to the items they desire. Beyond the market, the establishment of instanced Farms should give game designers a leg up on bot prevention. Using a simple "captcha-like" word game to control access to a Crafter's Holding, for example, would probably be enough.

Leveling

In the current game most players want to move quickly to the highest level. Leveling comes from experience. A player who is leveling a third, tenth, or higher player ... and many players have been playing the game for over ten years and have multiple characters on multiple servers ... finds the process of gaining experience extremely boring. And even the process of leveling from the previous highest level to the new highest level after a game upgrade becomes boring with the third or forth character.

WOO II makes experience a measure of total time played in the game and removes it from the leveling process entirely.

Leveling is based on achievements ... these occur within the player's Life Path: the part of the game they find the most fun to play. Achievements are awarded for various kinds of actions, but not for simply being present, making a kill, or ideally not for any simple, repetitive activity. All activities at every level contribute equally to leveling, and the lower levels offer many interesting and "fun" venues and events ... this reduces the need to level quickly to the "top" level.

Leveling occurs within a Life Path. Thus, a player cannot use raids to level a Farmer, or battlegrounds to level a Raider.

In Battlegrounds, specifically:

Sale of Characters

Some bots are likely being "run" in order to create high level characters for (illegal) sale to other players. This, too, reflects a flaw in the game design. If leveling a character is boring, or too time consuming, then the game should provide an option that lets players obtain a character already "pre-leveled" to his or her specifications. "Cloning" is not mentioned in the WOO II design, but it might be considered.

To repeat: