Thursday, May 28, 2015

A Partial Victory For Blizzard

Due to internet problems, I didn't notice until yesterday that Bossland withdrew support for the use of the Honorbuddy bot in World of Warcraft's PvP arenas on Monday. Withdrew support means the software shuts down when a character enters an arena. On Tuesday, Bossland published the following statement:
"Many of you wonder, why we have said, that Arena will no longer will be available.

"Actually, since the beginning of Honorbuddy, Arena was the only section of the game where we actually never wanted our bot to be. There where many requests in the forums and we always declined them. We did not want to automate Arena. The main reason for this was, that this is the only thing in WOW that had the one-on-one spirit of competition. And we wanted to leave it that way. The decision came from above, from Bossland and from Hawker.

"As you can see in one of the typical requests, we always declined to involve HB with the Arena*:

"https://www.thebuddyforum.com/honorb...a-botting.html

"If you search harder you will most likely find many such posts.

"Why the recent change then? Again it is not a change, it is something we decided long ago but did not enforce.

"We are now just making sure it stays the way it was supposed to be since 2010. That said, we are also looking into Battlegrounds.

"We approved Honorbuddy to be used in Battlegrounds since its first release but we will look into that again and tell you if we have a change of mind very soon. Or maybe, just maybe Blizzard opens the "Bottlegrounds" with patch 6.2., exclusively for us paying customers.

"I am also very sorry about the censorship that took place in this forum, i have reopened most of the threads. You are always free to discuss relevant matters in our forums."
HonorBuddy, as used in WoW's arenas, isn't a bot in the true sense of the word. What HonorBuddy did in arenas is provide a feature called combat rotations (CR), which pushes the keys for HonorBuddy users more effectively than the users themselves. In EVE Online, what HonorBuddy does is considered a macro. But since WoW has a macro system in place, players tend to call everything a bot. Perhaps "automated cheating" is a better term.

When asked if users could still use CRs in battlegrounds, a developer replied:
"Yes for now. It is not sustainable to have BGs with too many of the players being bots and we are reviewing how to handle this. I am hoping that removing BGBuddy from trial keys will remove the users who buy a trial and bot continuously for 72 hours and get their full epic set."
The strategy is clear. Bossland hopes that reducing the visibility of the cheat to average players will result in fewer complaints to Blizzard. Fewer complaints means less pressure on Blizzard to go after the PvE users of Honorbuddy. Bossland is not alone about concerns about PvP use drawing Blizzard's attention. The manager of Soapbox Rotations made the following statement on another forum on why Soapbox will not support PvP:
"I get it you guys are looking for a PVP program with the recent banning of HB and them closing their doors if not temporarily or forever. I do not develop, or support development on anything thats intent is to directly impacts the gameplay of other players. I am not sure what about the HB ban has all the sudden made everyone a 'Warden Expert', but I do things a certain way here for a reason, and it has worked quite well so far. 
"Its not just about having protection, its about not ruffling too many feathers. Like I said I get that you guys want something for PVP, I am sure someone will eventually fill that demand but for the safety and longevity of my product, it will not be me. It is nothing that I can be convinced otherwise either, there are more than enough people that prefer PVE rotations and I certainly enjoy focusing my time and effort into that crowds wants, instead of one that would just contribute to more problems in the botting community."
One of my favorite sayings is that people hate losing to software. In a PvP environment, players don't mind losing (much) to players with more skill. But losing to players with less skill using a cheat, especially one clearly against the rules? Then players start complaining. Loudly. For these two developers, the obvious answer is to restrict, if not prohibit, the use of their products in PvP.

Hopefully, a pullback by Bossland away from PvP will not reduce Blizzard's efforts at stopping botting in PvE. If my monitoring of the gold selling sites is any indication, the illicit RMT operations took a hit as the supply of gold available to sell fell after the ban wave two weeks ago. Bossland's retreat from PvP is a sign of Blizzard's effectiveness. I really hope Blizzard keeps up the pressure.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Writer's Call In New Eden

An interesting event occurred last week. Both TheMittani.com and Eve News 24 put out a call for new writers. Anyone wanting to get into writing about EVE now has the chance to make a little in-game ISK, or even potentially real world cash.

First, let's take a look at the call over at EN24:
We are opening spots in the EN24 team. If you wish to be part of the crew, here are the basics:
– Good Grammar.
– Skype access.
– Free time.
– Decent EVE politics knowledge.
– Decent EVE Online experience.
– Wish to earn some Iskies.
– Open minded view on current political events
– All TZs
– Aim to write 2 articles per week

Job description:
– Write about events happening in and around Eve Online
– Opportunity to interview well-known players.
– Payment is determined on your amount of articles every month

Note: In-game background is not important for the job, everybody is welcome!
EN24 is easy to understand. The site focuses strictly on EVE. For those who wish to write a lot, a pretty good opportunity.

Next comes TMC, which is a little more complex:
It has been almost six months since we have actively recruited new contributors to the site, and we are now ready to take on new blood. The application process, writing expectations, and ISK compensation for relevant pieces are as follows:
  • Email a writing sample in the form of a publishable feature article to submissions@themittani.com. If your application is accepted, this will be your first published piece. It should relate to something our readers are interested in - our core games (Eve Online, Star Citizen, H1Z1, Elite: Dangerous, League of Legends, Mechwarrior Online, PlanetSide 2, World of Tanks, World of Warships), science fiction book reviews, or real world space/future tech news. Former contributors interested in returning under this new system are welcome to apply normally. 
  • Contributors are expected to write a minimum of one publishable article every two weeks.
  • Contributors who write relevant articles will be gifted 250m ISK per published article. 
  • Each month, the three contributors who have produced the most relevant articles will be gifted a bonus; the top contributor will receive 500m ISK/article, second 375m ISK/article, and third 300m ISK/article. In the past we've given the top writer a fixed bonus reward, this new system increases the bonus the more that is written, and expands it to three potential winners instead of one. 
  • Contributors who achieve a spot among the top three writer positions for two months in a row are qualified to apply for junior editor positions, which can earn real-world financial incentives. 
I believe that only EVE Online articles are eligible for ISK payouts, so ask about payment before writing about any other game. Unless, of course, the goal is to become a junior editor and making real world cash. At that point, quantity counts as long as the quality doesn't drop.

The TMC offer is a bit more appealing than the one from EN24. First, the requirements of two articles per month versus two per week is more attractive to those who may only have the spare time to write on weekends. Also, some stories just need a lot of research. Next is the presence of editors. If the TMC editorial staff takes steps like making sure links work properly (and are relevant) and stopping questionable stories as well as checking on grammar and spelling, that is a big plus in my view. Finally, TMC spells out the rewards for writing articles.

One question I do have though is how well both news sites will do without real news until FozzieSov hits Tranquility in (hopefully) July. Reporting on Titan ganks only goes so far. Perhaps the current quiet in null sec will allow a shakedown period for new members of the staffs. But for those who wish to write about EVE, the openings are now available.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

EVE Online In Four Videos

Sometimes I wonder how to explain EVE Online to people. Instead of using words alone, I thought using some of CCP's excellent trailers might make the post more enjoyable. So here are four trailers along with a brief explanation of the points I wish to emphasize.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Reports Of Honorbuddy's Death...

I just double-checked the blog due to the latest news. Unlike outlets like Kotaku, Eurogamer, and PC Gamer, I at least refrained from proclaiming the death of Honorbuddy on The Nosy Gamer. A good thing too, because Bossland, the maker of the bot, issued the following statement yesterday:
"Greetings Buddies,

"We will soon release Honorbuddy again - we expect it to be by the end of this week.

"Its been a week since we closed down the authentication servers for Honorbuddy. In this time, we tried to figure out what happened. We must say that we have no idea what really happened and all we have are speculations.

"We speculate, that at some point, Blizzard used parts of the World of Warcraft client that acted in a hidden manner like malware. Then they scanned everything they could scan on a given computer and flagged the ones they thought were operating against their TOS/EULA. They are fine to install any such malware-type hidden software at any given time according to their End User Agreement.

"There have been rumours, spread by Blizzard, that over 100,000 WOW Accounts have been banned during the ban wave on 13th May 2015 and that they are most likely all Honorbuddy users. We have to dispute this; there has never been that many active Honorbuddy users. We are still unaware if this was a real detection or some shady malware that was injected into everyones computer for a short period of time.

"Be aware that we have not seen the cause of the bans. We have an anti-malware and anti-detection tool called Tripwire that aims to identify unexpected behaviour by gaming companies. We can just try to make sure, that the next time something shady has been done, that Tripwire detects it. Tripwire is the only hope we can rely on right now; it has been improved and hopefully will watch over your shoulder much better now.

"Again, we will give no guarantee and we have never given a guarantee, that our software is immune to detection or bans."
In effect, Blizzard went for a headshot in the RMT war ... and missed. The morale boosting effect of Bossland's legal victory over Blizzard in a Hamburg court two weeks ago had to help the bot maker whether the storm caused by the mass banning. Bossland is even using smack talk by Blizzard employees as a weapon to inoculate the bot maker from future claims by the game company. The Washington Post reported last Friday that the figure of 100,000 banned accounts came from a conversation between a player and a GM. Amazing how many news outlets went with the 100,000 accounts banned figure based on an image.

Honorbuddy didn't have 200,000 active users?

Of course, when Bossland made the statement, "there has never been that many [100,000] active Honorbuddy users," the spokesman hopes that readers ignore the front page of the site where Bossland claims over 200,000 registered users. So while Bossland survived the ban wave, the way the company is spinning like a top indicates the bot maker is heavily bruised.

Now we see if Blizzard is committed to waging a CCP-style RMT war or if the gaming giant is too set in its ways to change its tactics. The company made a good start setting a cap on how much WoW gold sellers could charge with the WoW Token. The "top down" pressure of gold sellers competing directly with Blizzard forced the median price of twelve sites I monitor down from $20.96 USD per 30,000 gold on 6 April down to $11.13 USD per 30,000 gold on the day the ban wave hit.

The ban wave is a form of "bottom up" pressure that increases the operating costs of both the gold sellers and the independent gold farmers who sell to the various gold sellers. For example, the ban wave cut down on the supply of gold available for sale on the secondary (aka black) RMT market. The result is that sites that do not harvest their own product drive up the price of gold by competing with each other.

Price of WoW gold immediately after the ban wave

At least in North America, the secondary RMT market experienced a large spike in the price of WoW gold following the ban wave. The median price of my secondary RMT WoW gold price index rose from $11.11 per 30,000 gold on 14 May to $13.98 per 30,000. Perhaps more telling is that one of the gold sellers ran out of product to sell for four days.

A 25.8% increase in the price of illicit WoW gold in seven days is a good start. Blizzard needs to keep the pressure on the botters who feed the gold selling websites. The higher the price of illicit gold, the more likely a player will choose to purchase their game's virtual currency through the game company. What holds true in New Eden also applies in Azeroth. But in order to keep the price up, Blizzard needs to end the practice of collecting lists of botters and conducting one or two major ban waves a year. That type of shock and awe tactic just gives botters months of uninterrupted time to operate. In order to have a real impact, Blizzard needs to holding ban waves at least once or twice a month, not once or twice a year. Ideally, Blizzard would move away from the concept of ban waves and ban bots based on their bot detection systems every day.

Reading the Honorbuddy forums, a lot of users expressed dismay that Bossland would release the bot for use despite not knowing how Blizzard detected their bots in the most recent ban wave. But for the professional gold farmer, having accounts banned is just a normal cost of doing business. If a gold farmer receives $0.20/1000 gold, then selling 250,000 gold covers the box cost. A botter can easily cover the $50 cost of a copy of WoW every six months. Every two weeks though? If Blizzard takes action that often, I think a lot of the casual botters will either drift away or just stop botting.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Cheating Stories I Couldn't Make Up

Some people wonder why I don't want to commit to writing only about EVE Online. Quite frankly, online gaming has a lot of cheating going on, and why would I want to limit myself to just the people that Team Security bans every day? The wider world offers up so many more opportunities for giggles than I could ever imagine.

First comes the story out of San Diego that Daybreak CEO John Smedley offered to allow banned players back into H1Z1 if they publicly apologized in a YouTube video. Something tells me the idea originated from customer support staff sick of reading phony apologies and promises to never use hacks again. Smedley posted the following to Reddit:
"I'll give you my perspective. So far we've unbanned 3 people out of 30k we've now banned. One of which is probably about to get re-banned for taking his video private.

"I want to make sure it's clear there are consequences for cheating. You don't just get to make a video and get unbanned. This is a very limited time thing to try and raise awareness of what's actually going on. You may say "hey there clearly aren't consequences if you are unbanning people". Let's get back to the part where I said we've unbanned 3 people. If these videos go far and wide and it elevates the importance of getting rid of the cheaters in PC gaming, I feel it's an excellent trade.

"Why?

"Here's why. These guys could easily go right back in, make a new steam account.. use an HWID hack and play anyways. Yes, that's the reality. It's ugly, but there it is. And it's true for every single PC game out there. Even the ones that say it isn't.

"So is this the right move? I don't know. But doing the same thing we have been doing is a tough fight and I'd like to at least try something different.

"Video submissions end at Noon PST today anyways. Maybe by then it will be 4 or 5.

"Update at 1:08 Pacific -
We unbanned 5 out of 30k.
Smed"
Of course, someone on Reddit reminded Smedley of Daybreak's past views on the subject.


The next story comes from World of Warcraft. I just found out that those banned for cheating did not confine their tears to the Honorbuddy forums. No, someone decided to demand action from the U.S. government and started a petition on WhiteHouse.gov. While the Obama administration chose to remove the petition because the petition violated its Terms of Participation rules, Geek News Central saved the text for posterity:
"Today over half the pvp community that did not use their fingers to play have been banned. The other half were people who would use a program called T-Morph to do stupid things…Anyways we are demanding Blizzard to change their terms of service and fix this game so we can play again. WE do not want to see any lives lost due to A ban.

"Please help us change this

"Blizzard you are ruining everything"
I only wish that GNC saved the categories the petition fell under. Another WoW-related petition on WhiteHouse.gov categorized a lag-free game experience as a civil and human right.

While not a reporter, I do like to collect these types of stories. Hopefully you enjoyed these too.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Does EVE Need A New Eden Gaming Commission?

Another Council of Stellar Management election, another event involving a major gambling site in EVE Online. CSM 8 dealt with the discovery by players that CCP's rules for game time code resellers meant that player affiliates could avoid following some aspects of the EULA. CSM 9 faced the effects of SOMERblink attempting to circumvent the EULA and the subsequent banning of Somerset Mahm. Now, IWANTISK.com is in the news because CCP blacklisted the site in the IGB. While many suspect the involvement of illicit RMT in the decision, we don't know if ownership is involved, the matter involves just a few rogue employees, or if hackers cracked the website and CCP shut everything down, including banning accounts, until they can sort out the situation.

Is EVE at the point where CCP needs to create something like the EVE Central Bank to oversee the gambling operations using virtual currency and virtual goods from the EVE universe?

EVE Central Bank Mission Statement - Notice The Mention of RMT
The EVE Central Bank isn't a permanent organization that meets every day deciding the fate of the New Eden economy. The EVE Central Bank meets whenever the economics team feels the movement of the PLEX market affects the ability of players to purchase PLEX to continue playing the game. The ECB is funded using the assets seized off of permanently banned accounts. Basically, the economics team sees strange movement in the PLEX market, meets with the senior producer, and if the senior producer agrees, the economics team dips into their stash of confiscated PLEX to steady the market. The CSM is informed of the move to ensure that no funny business (i.e. another T20 situation) occurs.

If CCP does establish a New Eden Gaming Commission, the organization should only focus on violations of the EULA, Terms of Service, and any associated policies. If unscrupulous gaming operators want to cheat the rubes, let them. But if a gaming website becomes a way to launder large amounts of ISK for illicit RMT operations, CCP has to take action. And if a gambling site operator with a large amount of violations claims the nature of the business precludes taking any effective measures to prevent EULA/ToS violations, then perhaps CCP shouldn't provide the API access the operator needs in order to stay in business.

Does CCP need to create a game commission if the company already has an internal group performing the same function? I'll answer with another question. Did Dr. Eyjo need to create an EVE Central Bank apart from an excuse to roleplay at work? Maybe. By giving the process for deciding to inject PLEX into the markets a name, he indicated that CCP recognized the important role that PLEX had gained in the EVE economy. He also identified the people making the decision as very highly placed individuals and not just a couple of guys looking at a spreadsheet. Finally, the term EVE Central Bank is a reminder that CCP does have a bank of seized PLEX and doesn't need to create PLEX out of thin air to influence the market. The PLEX, which CCP removed from the game due to player misconduct, is just reintroduced at a time when a major market manipulation CCP deems bad for the game occurs.

I think the final answer on whether the company should introduce a new organization like a New Eden Gaming Commission into the game universe depends on how CCP views the current state of player-run gambling institutions. Do they feel that the gambling sites are prominent enough that they help distinguish EVE from other games on the market? Does CCP consider some of the websites large enough to partner with at EVE player gatherings? And are the gambling operations so big that their finances warrant special monitoring? If the answer to these three question is yes, then perhaps CCP may want to raise the visibility of its procedures for dealing with major player-run gambling sites.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

IWANTISK - What A Mess

Tired of all the controversy that seems to surround some of EVE Online's gambling sites? Me too. After CCP shut down SOMERblink's long-running ISK laundering scheme in 2013 and banned him permanently in 2014, I wanted nothing to do with virtual gambling again unless CCP took action. Well...



Monday, May 18, 2015

Bond-A-Geddon: What We Know

"No need for tinfoil - nothing sinister or strange afoot at CCP!"
Adam Kahn, Sr. Director of Communications at CCP
Over the weekend, TMC published an article by Dirk MacGirk publicizing the fact that CCP removed all financial documentation from its corporate website, probably following the delisting of its bonds on the NASDAQ Iceland exchange on 29 April. The fact that CCP intended to buy back the outstanding bonds was not a secret to observers in the EVE community. The marketsforISK blog covered the story on 5 April, speculating that CCP is undergoing a recapitalization process because its balance sheet is under pressure and the company needs new capital in order to continue. The news today is CCP is no longer required to publicly post any financial information.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Is Legion Dead?

Every so often I visit the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office looking for new trademarks submitted by game companies. I found something interesting last night. CCP has abandoned all four of the trademarks it owned for EVE: Legion.


CCP abandoned all trademarks on 13 April. Not only do I no longer see any live trademarks filed with the U.S., containing the phrase "EVE Legion", but a search of the EU trademark databases also failed to find anything.

Perhaps I need to cast a broader net. I hear that Blizzard files is remote trademark offices to avoid instant attention to its future plans. But with CCP abandoning all of the trademarks filed in the U.S., I have to ask the obvious questions. Is Project Legion dead and has CCP given up on the idea of bringing a first person shooter to the PC?

EDIT: In response to the comments, I perhaps missed the most obvious question. Does CCP plan to port DUST 514 to the PC as DUST 514? If so, what a difference a year makes.

EDIT 2: Biomassed pointed out that the EVE Legion is still trademarked with the World Intellectual Property Organization until 11 March 2024. The trademark received protection within the European Community on 6 March 2015.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Blizzard Loses In Court, Botters Lose In WoW

Yesterday saw a major ban wave hit World of Warcraft. Many botters believe the move was retaliation for the victory of Bossland GmbH, the maker of the Honorbuddy series of bots, in a German court concerning the Demonbuddy bot for Diablo 3: