Monday, December 1, 2014

Why Change Key Rebroadcasting In EVE Online?

Last week I wrote a bit about CCP Falcon's post explaining the concepts of input automation, input broadcasting and input multiplexing.  I didn't, however, try to figure out exactly why CCP made the announcement.  I don't have any special inside knowledge, but since so many people are asking "Why?", I thought I'd try to provide an answer today.

First, before CCP Falcon's post, the Third Party Policies contained references to two practices that players engaged in that CCP stated violated the EULA: cache scraping and the use of the multiboxing software ISBoxer.  CCP removed the reference to ISBoxer last week but is still available using the Wayback Machine:

The reference to ISBoxer (underlined in red) was removed last week.
Quite frankly, having such exceptions is pretty bad.  The exceptions, however, stem from the era when CCP devs didn't really care too much about the EULA if players wanted to do something that sounded cool.  Cache scraping should soon go away, with real time market data on the verge of becoming available through a CREST API.

ISBoxer, the "multiboxing application" referred to in the previous version of the Third Party Policies, was listed as also violating the section 9C of the EULA, just like cache scraping.  While CCP stated that they would not take action against those using ISBoxer,
"However, if any third party application or other software is used to gain any unfair advantage, or for purposes beyond its intended use, or if the application or other software violates other parts of the EULA, we may fully enforce our rights to prohibit such use, including player bans. Please use such third party applications or other software at your own risk."
Since this language was part of the Third Part Policies going back to the spring of 2013, I'm slightly surprised that anyone would argue that CCP had no problem with players using ISBoxer. But only slightly.

I believe in the old adage when researching a story, "Follow the money."  I think the most significant part of the paragraph is one rarely mentioned.  In-game overlays like Mumble and Teamspeak are also listed as violating section 9C of the EULA.  What else uses an in-game overlay?  Steam.  CCP is trying really hard to integrate itself with Steam.  I have the feeling that no one at CCP headquarters in Reykjavik wants to tell Gabe Newell that the Steam client violates the EVE Online EULA.  Really, pissing Mr. Newell off isn't a good move.

Did that theory contain too much tin foil?  How about another service with a social component: Raptr?  Raptr also has an in-game overlay and CCP has worked with the company in the past.  Perhaps CCP is considering joining companies like Blizzard, Riot, EA, and Trion as business partners in order to attract new players.

As I mentioned before, I have no special sources within CCP.  But a date of 1 January 2015 for implementing the changes for input broadcasting/multiplexing sounds more like a business agreement than just someone at CCP pulling a date out of a hat.  If the change was completely internally driven, I would expect the planned change to begin on a Monday, not a holiday Thursday.  But even if I'm wrong about CCP beginning a business relationship at the beginning of the year, such a change in the EULA would help with any such deals in the future.

Whether I'm right or wrong about the reasons for the change, the new terms "input broadcasting" and "input multiplexing" definitely clarify the meaning of Section 6A3 of the EULA.  The section currently reads:
"You may not use your own or any third-party software, macros or other stored rapid keystrokes or other patterns of play that facilitate acquisition of items, currency, objects, character attributes, rank or status at an accelerated rate when compared with ordinary Game play. You may not rewrite or modify the user interface or otherwise manipulate data in any way to acquire items, currency, objects, character attributes or beneficial actions not actually acquired or achieved in the Game."
Basically, the definitions of input broadcasting and input multiplexing can replace the first sentence and make the paragraph more understandable.

Before I continue, I should add I never felt comfortable about Section 9C.  The section works well for those developing software, especially botting software.  But how is a typical user going to know if an application created by a third party developer violates this section?  Trust me, I was amazed when I discovered that EVEMon is one of the applications that relies on cache scraping.  For those who don't know, players using software that performed functions like intercepting data packets or cache scraping that violates Section 9C are subject to an immediate permanent ban of all accounts for client modification.  Subject to the caveats in the Third Party Policies, that is, which is why people can use EVEMon without receiving a ban letter.

In the case of the ruling on input broadcasting and input multiplexing, I'm happy that CCP is banning the practice.  I'm even happier that the definitions are clearer than the existing ones.  My only concern is enforcement.  Let's take ISBoxer as the most prominent example.  Joe Thaler, the owner of Lavish Software and creator of ISBoxer, has every financial incentive to try to ensure the users of his software follow the EVE Online EULA.  He has already announced a version of ISBoxer that will lock down input broadcasting by default on 1 January.  But will all of the users obey the new rules against input broadcasting?  Even some vocal supporters have doubts.  One, a user named shadowandlight who I believe will appear on the DJ Big Country Show on EVE Radio at midnight Wednesday EVE time, posted the following on the Dual-Boxing.com forums:
"You know the more I think about the solutions or look at other peoples idea how to get around this newly imposed limitation I think the end result is your going to have a tremendously hard time differentiating between people who are using input duplication vs those people using hot keys, clickbars / menu bars or round robin.

"In fact if someone had time to make a quick video or link something already done I think we have a good chance in the next month + to get ccp to change their mind.


"If I setup a round Robin keymap that on every press hits "f1" I could smash that key extremely quickly, sending the f1 command to 20 clients in no time. People with logitech or similar keyboards will probably end up setting up an auto repeat in the logitech software to save them the hassle.


"Using click bars, menus or vfx could accomplish the same task, yes you have to click a button each time but that's pretty fast if you line all the buttons up close together.


"Now all that aside, I have a hard time believing that in every single case people are going to stop using broadcasting all together. The honest ones will do their best to create workarounds and in most cases it will be very easy to do, the only time it will be tougher is targeting or jumping through gates and I'm pretty sure that using round Robin key maps we can do that in a second flat for dozens of clients.


"All you've accomplished is less then an hour of setup to get around this really ignorant rule."
If I didn't know better, I'd think shadowandlight is trying his best to get ISBoxer banned from EVE, but I don't think he'll succeed.  ISBoxer's windowing feature is too useful to fleet commanders and as long as people don't abuse the ability to use the software, I think CCP will treat that functionality of ISBoxer like a Mumble overlay.  Also, from what I've read, Team Security has gone to a lot of effort to come up with an algorithm to detect players using input broadcasting so they don't just have to ban ISBoxer entirely.

As mentioned in the first graphic, CCP removed the mention of ISBoxer from the Client Modification section of the Third Party Policies last week.  I don't believe that means that CCP will now begin banning ISBoxer users (although some people are claiming differently).  Instead, I believe that ISBoxer will no longer trigger bans under Section 9C, although starting on 1 January players who take off the safeguards will face bans for violating the newly clarified Section 6A3.

Speaking of bans, I know that some ISBoxer users were indignant that input replicators1 will receive the same punishment as input automation, which is defined as botting and/or macroing.  But when looking at the effects of input automation vs. input broadcasting/multiplexing on EVE, one can make a case that input replication is more damaging to EVE than botting.

Botting and input replication are credited with having adverse affects on the EVE economy. Whether in the form of mining bots or ISBoxing mining fleets, both types of EULA violations fuel resource faucets in the form of ice and ore streams.  Both ratting and mission bots and input broadcasting fleets both increase the ISK flow in the form of bounties and other ISK rewards.

An ISBoxer ice mining fleet

Where input broadcasting becomes more damaging than bots is the types of content that input broadcasters monopolize compared to bots.  Botting basically occurs in three areas: mining/ice harvesting, mission running, and ratting.  Input replicators, in addition to the famous massive ice mining fleets, also are able to monopolize certain types of incursion sites.  Also, unlike bots, input replicators have proved effective in PvP, especially in bomber and ganking fleets.  Many players consider the ability of one or two input replicators running bomber gangs to stymie the efforts of two hundred players game breaking.  If CCP removed the area of effect doomsday from titans because the devs did not like one player wiping out a hundred ships in a drive-by attack, do players think a single player should still have the ability to do the same using the much less expensive area of effect weapons sported by a gang or two of stealth bombers?

In my mind, I do not believe the ability of a group to monopolize content is necessarily a bad thing.  If one group can control an area and the resources therein, that drives conflict.  But the design of the game requires a group of players to accomplish these goals.  Keeping as many players occupied with content is good game design.  Input replicators defeat that design goal.

Of course, speculation exists about the effect of input replicators using ISBoxer on the price of PLEX.  The theory is that most people who use ISBoxer PLEX their alt accounts.  How many accounts is that?  While CCP probably knows, the players don't.  However, I don't think too many people doubt that the number runs into the thousands.  With the great earnings potential of PvE fleets utilizing input replication, ISBoxers are less affected by higher PLEX prices than the average null sec line grunt.

EVE Central Bank Mission Statement From Fanfest 2012
The PLEX market is a sensitive part of the EVE economy.  So sensitive, in fact, that at Fanfest in 2012, CCP announced the formation of the EVE Central Bank to monitor and, if necessary, intervene in the market.  PLEX is the only item in which CCP will directly intervene in an otherwise player-run economy.  These interventions occur when CCP, with the CSM acting as a watchdog, feels that a market manipulation too severely impacts the average player's ability to subscribe to EVE using PLEX.

If CCP is willing to directly intervene in the PLEX market, does anyone believe the devs would not work to end shady practices that threaten the ability of the average player to unfairly maintain an EVE subscription using in-game currency?  Team Security has done so for years in their continuing War on Bots.  Why would CCP not employ the security team against those utilizing input broadcasting and input multiplexing?

The former CCP Stillman on the input broadcast ban.

At the end of the day, ISBoxer, if I read CCP Falcon's forum post correctly, will go from an officially barely tolerated software to one that players can use as long as they disable the input broadcasting function.  I think a lot of ISBoxer users who don't use input broadcasting and input multiplexing are happy at the prospect.  However, a lot of ISBoxer users who depended on input broadcasting will either cancel a lot of accounts or even completely leave EVE.  The question is: how badly will their departure hurt EVE?  Just judging by the reasons for taking a tough stance on input broadcasting/multiplexing, I don't think the game will miss them at all.




NOTES:

1.  A term first used by EVE Radio's Dirk MacGirk in a piece published yesterday on TheMittani.com.

14 comments:

  1. Happened to pass through Agal this saturday, waved at many and asked him how many accounts he would have after january first. Fise replied he was looking to expand his number of accounts and already had a work-around going. Let's hope he will be proven wrong.

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  2. "Since this language was part of the Third Part Policies going back to
    the spring of 2013, I'm slightly surprised that anyone would argue that
    CCP had no problem with players using ISBoxer. But only slightly."

    Well... in fact CCP allowed players to use input broadcasting in 2010 (original post) and 2013 (edited post), see (Lead)GM Lelouch: http://oldforums.eveonline.com/?a=topic&threadID=1291641&page=10#274

    "Lastly, multiboxing is allowed, and programs designed for multiboxing in
    mind which allow a player to manually issue the same command to
    multiple game clients at the same time are allowed."

    (Senior)GM Karidor made a statement inside the german sub-forum 7 month later where any kind of hardware or software input broadcasting is "verboten"
    https://forums.eveonline.com/default.aspx?g=posts&m=3588651#post3588651 and
    https://forums.eveonline.com/default.aspx?g=posts&m=3592753#post3592753 (if you need a translation i'll do my best).

    So even inside CCP there seemed to be some confusion as "pro" and "con" would find an "official statement".

    I always felt like ISBoxer being something like an "entry level drug"... once you get comfortable with controlling 20 accounts with a single "click" you might as well use a bot to do the single click...

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  3. Good article Noizy.

    A couple things stand out. First, people proudly poking their chests out saying that workarounds are already found and the automated input broadcasting will not affect anything is a sign to me. If this ban changes nothing except for some extra (whatever) - I'm not a program whore user - then why all the blustery crowing like a cock at sunrise?

    The second thing, why can't people accept no? You're (isboxer users) being told no more auto input. Yet you users just HAVE to have a workaround. You're like little kids who are not taught what NO means. You've grown up being sniveling shirt sleeve nose wipers. I personally hope your workarounds are EULA breaking as well and you find yourselves on the outside banned.

    Considering the roll CCP is on I'm not sure I'd want to take that chance. Good luck though.

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  4. "Like an entry level drug" Exactly.

    The game is changing. It will continue to change. Some of that change will affect ships (like the new graphics, or rebalancing efforts), some changes will be new gameplay (WH space), some changes will affect how we interact with the game's data (like visible bookmarks).

    Sometimes the changes will affect the EULA.

    Deal with change.

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  5. Well, to be fair, the reason that ISBoxer was listed as doing client modification was that it operates in the EVE client's memory space, not that it performed input broadcasting. That's changing, so instead of being client modification, which warrants a permanent ban for all of a user's accounts on a first offense (which CCP waived), ISBoxer will now be okay to use as long as the input broadcasting feature is turned off.

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  6. "In my mind, I do not believe the ability of a group to monopolize content is necessarily a bad thing. If one group can control an area and the resources therein, that drives conflict. But the design of the game requires a group of players to accomplish these goals. Keeping as many players occupied with content is good game design. Input replicators defeat that design goal."

    Will that change? People are already talking about using VFX and round robin keys to continue multiboxing. The type of player quitting is the small scale mining multiboxer with a basic isboxer setup. The people who used to run incursions and the like will still be able to do so.

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  7. I don't think there's anything suspicious about using Jan 1 for a change to policy with substantial ramifications for some. Jan 1 is a very obvious date. Easy to remember. If the year is 2014, you can multiplex inputs. In 2015 you cannot. In between is that big party and a nasty hangover.

    PLEX prices have dropped substantially, although there are two confounding effects: the newbie influx from the trailer and the sale that CCP had over the weekend. It will be interesting to see where they go. My money is on back up.

    That said, I doubt that multiboxed mining is of much value to CCP. Once you have the support structure for a multibox fleet -- the Orca and freighter pilot, basically, and the skills to refine and whatever else is desired -- then you are probably PLEXing. Adding more miners does not cost you anything then. But miners in highsec do not add very much content for other people. CCP is right to cut it off. The choice here is in which sort of content-creators are able to afford PLEX.

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  8. Looking at this from a strictly operational standpoint, I'd want to institute the change on Monday, 5 January or Tuesday, 6 January, just because I know that everyone would be in the office in case of problems.

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  9. You don't need to start banning people two minutes after the new policy strikes. It's just a policy! They don't have to ban anyone at any given time.


    Indeed I would imagine they'd want to gather at least a few days worth of data on a particular player before taking action... so, if you know people will be back in the office on Jan 5, set the data a few days earlier.

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  10. Oh, yes you do. You don't want to give people the impression that they can get away with stuff or you wind up banning more people in the long run. Besides, Team Security is so small, they basically have to start up an automated process that will start dishing out bans.


    The one thing that may happen, though, is that they may run their data mining process at downtime every day, so the bans would only happen once a day. So I guess starting to issue bans on that Friday, right before the weekend, might be a good move also.

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  11. Why all the blustering? Because it's a pointless change meant to attack a single playstyle rather than fixing game mechanics so they aren't terrible in the first place. If mining wasn't boring as sin and only requiring two clicks every 10 minutes, then broadcasting would be decreased naturally. Instead they want to swing the ban hammer around, with nobody, not even CCP, able to answer exactly what it will improve in the game, and put at risk many players who don't use key broadcasting (some of whom have already been banned supposedly for breach the new rule that's not in place yet).

    To be honest, with the stance CCP is taking towards development lately, being on the outside is starting to look more appealing every day. Changes just so a vocal minority of carebears stop crying when someone steals "their" ice should not be what CCP are focusing on.

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  12. Not sure how isboxer makes mining any more enjoyable. But ok. All the excuses I hear from you rats are nonsense. They make no sense. It's CCP's fault? Or maybe it's your fault for finally going ape shit with software that is tantamount to cheating.

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  13. Lol, calm it kid.


    First off, it does make sense, even if you want to sit there denying it. The gameplay is simple enough to be replicated and requires too little input to even be classed as gamplay, hence people do its mutliple times over. Not just with Isboxer, but multiboxing in general. Few miners for example remain as a single barge for very long.


    And yes, that's CCPs fault. Rather than fix their gameplay they are just attacking a playstyle so noobs like you will stop crying.


    And mate, a tool that has been *explicitly allowed* by CCP for several years is not cheating. Just because you don't like something doesn't make it cheating. Can't accept that? Too bad buddy, get over it.


    Amusingly, they've only banned one component of isboxer, arguably not even the most important one, so people will still multibox. So CCP have gone out of their way to drop a bunch of subs from a few of the biggest multiboxers and started banning players who don't even use ISBoxer, and what's the result? Nothing. Mutliboxers are still going to mutlibox because the reason they do so (terrible gameplay mechanics that don't scale properly) haven't been addressed. If those gameplay elements took more skill than can be achieved by dumb-repeating keypresses, then mutliboxing would be less appealing in the first place. But no, rather than gameplay improvements apparently what we need is a big ass wormhole with a station in it.

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  14. I think it's more important for them that the consumers have a clear idea of when it starts, than operational consistency.

    They're banning a very widely practised activity that a lot of people use. That means they need a few months to ensure everyone is heard of it and they need to be _very_ clear about when those months are over.

    That easily trumps Thursday not being a very good day to start implementing it. You don't want one single person claiming "I didn't know it had started yet" who can be avoided. 1st January is simple. When the new year starts, you stop

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