Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Spambots Are Bots Too

With the first round of voting in the CSM 8 election process only two weeks away now is a good time to bring up one of Chribba's big issues, spam bots.  When he is not busy sneaking up on snipers in DUST 514 he's using one of his websites, Eve Live, to keep tabs on the spam bots throughout New Eden.

By the way, the spam botter has fixed his bot and as I type this post is merrily spamming Jita every 108-109 seconds with a big variance in time every 15-20 minutes to try to throw off any automatic detection efforts.

Now, this may come as a surprise to regular readers of The Nosy Gamer, but I don't like bots.  I also wish to state I don't discriminate in my views on bots: I hate them all.  Doesn't matter whether the EULA-breaking code in question is a mission/ratting bot, courier bot, mining bot or market bot.  Just because I haven't written about spam bots in the past doesn't mean I hate them any less than the other flavors of bots.

My belief is that Eve Online is a player vs. player game, not a player vs. bot or player vs. macro game.  That means anyone who wants to run contract scams in Jita needs to actually sit at the keyboard typing and not run a macro that runs for hours trolling for suckers.  The same for anyone running macros offering goods in an attempt to do an end run on the market system by offering goods directly.  I believe these are definitely violations of the Eve Online EULA, specifically Section 6 Paragraph A subsection 3:
"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."
As is traditional when judging bots, the ability to perform tasks over an extended length of time compared to what a human can reasonably perform is what constitutes "at an accelerated rate when compared with ordinary Game play."

Up until now spam bots were seen as an annoyance in the major trade hubs and are given a low priority by CCP unless the spam bots are advertising for RMT websites.  While Chribba sees the people closing down local because of the spam bots damaging the social aspect of an MMORPG, many are beginning to see a business case for CCP to crack down on the annoying bots.  With the recent boom in subscriptions more and more pilots are trying to enter Jita, the economic center of New Eden.  Because of population limits they are turned away at the incoming gates and have to wait patiently for someone to leave.  What is that doing for commerce in Eve's famous player-based economy?  Worse yet, what does that do for the new player wishing to go to market.  I can ignore the problem living in Minmatar low sec but what about the new players who roll Caldari?  Makes life kind of hard on them, doesn't it?  And isn't CCP concerned with new player retention?

As I mentioned before the first round of the CSM 8 election process begins on 22 March.  While CSM members can't directly tell CCP what to do they can influence CCP's priorities.  I'm sure if the issues gets mentioned in passing often on the famous CCP/CSM Skype channel frequently that CCP may do something just to end the complaining.  The question for voters is, which candidates are willing to do the complaining?


  1. This is one of the reasons I have a constant beef with CCP Sreegs and his "Team"

    Spam macros are so easy to spot and despite this they operate freely (just take a trip to jita or check Of course Sreegs will come up and say "We take botting as a serious issue and we are constantly taking the appropriate measures to combat this scourge". But in the end the spamming continues and locals like Jita are nothing short of a dumpster.

    1. It takes all of 5 minutes to create a character and move it to Jita.

      Do you really want an automated (because a 4 (5?) man team cannot provide 24hr coverage) banning system that spends less than 5 minutes investigating?

    2. Yes, it does take 5 minutes to create a character, but if I remember correctly, trial accounts cannot use or create contracts. Therefore it must be a paid account. If its a trial account spamming someone else's contracts then they now have the main's account to ban. A paid account can be linked to others and they ALL can be banned. CCP has some means of fingerprinting systems and can link accounts to each other.

    3. If a trial account spam-botting your contracts is grounds for a ban, anyone who wants to grief someone can simply start spam-botting some unsuspecting victim's contracts.

      How is an automated (again, 5 people can't do 24hr coverage) system going to detect that 100% of the time (b/c I assume Sreegs puts the goal of achieving 0 false positives higher than the goal of 0 false negatives)?

      System Fingerprinting doesn't work on emulated hardware (i.e. any client being run on a virtual machine, a class which includes the official Mac Client).

      I'm just saying that there are limits to what is achievable, and that I'm not sure that significantly reducing the spam-bot population of Jita is really achievable.

    4. On Twitter today Sreegs said that spamming local is a CS issue, not a security issue. That's pretty much what I remember him saying at Fanfest back in 2011.

    5. That actually makes a lot of sense from a manpower perspective. CS has more than 5 people (it probably has a lot more), and is already on duty 24/7.

      I also understand why it's a low priority for them. Training all CS agents to be bot hunters (and having them approach a 0% false positive rate) is a pretty tall order, and would likely be largely ineffective (again, there's the problems of a spam bot alt taking no time at all to create, and the possibility of botters salting* the data to be concerned with).

      I just don't see any obvious or easy solutions to the spam bot problem. I mean, from a harm-reduction perspective, you could have a way to post in Jita local remotely, and come down hard on spammers (regardless of whether they're botting) who are physically present in Jita, allowing more legitimate traffic through Jita (though that may impact the loading of newbie systems).

      *It's quite possible that I'm using this word wrong. I'm talking about the issue of botters possibly responding to bans of contractors for having their contracts spammed by spamming innocent contracts with some bots, and their own contracts with others, causing CCP to either flinch or end up banning innocent parties.

  2. 2500 bots in jita with another 1000 waiting to enter.

  3. I don't think there's anyone on any CSM I have served on that doesn't want more effort put into fighting botting, though I for one have concerns about false-positives and issues of oversight.

    I for one have recommended for years that CCP adaptively tarpit local in active systems with lots of traffic. Not a complete solution but it would help a bit.

  4. I get accused for spamming all the time, but I do not bot. What is annoying to one user is fun for the other. I for one would like to see less meddling in the metagame by CCP. Otherwise, it just becomes like other games and gets boring.