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.

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