Thursday, October 9, 2014

Now Kotaku Is In Bed With Botters and RMTers

The GamerGate controversy started off with a games journalist sleeping with an indie game developer.  That morphed into a scandal in which gamers began questioning the integrity of games journalism in general.  I won't go into the details, but a segment of games journalists were staggering until the recent controversy involving the release of a new game, Middle-Earth: Shadows of Mordor.  YouTube, which many gamers are granting more credibility than the gaming web sites, now had its own ethical issues to deal with.  Mainly, that in order to get a pre-release copy of the game, YouTubers had to do some questionable things.

Interestingly, Kotaku chose to have Nathan Grayson, a journalist at the center of the sex scandal, write an article about the new scandal.  But as Kotaku moved to take the high ground, they decided to step on one of my main concerns: botting and RMT.

Two stories down from the Shadows of Mordor/YouTube story was a "sponsored article."  This type of native advertising is designed to look like a regular piece of content on a website.  If one isn't careful, a reader could believe that the story is a legitimate feature and not advertising.  Yes, that's right, that "story" is actually a paid ad.

The ad is for a company selling VPN access.  Now, those familiar with botting, hacking, and conducting illicit RMT know how useful a VPN is in avoiding detection by game companies.  I wrote a post about CCP's automatic hardware ban system designed to detect banned players from obtaining new accounts.  The botter in my post reported the only way he got around the system was using a VPN.  But CCP, according to botters, started effectively targeting botters using VPN, which led to a greater acceptance of a program called Red Guard.

The Kotaku article made a direct pitch to people that MMO companies really don't want in their games:
"Top Features
  •         Secure Public WiFi Connection
  •         Unlimited bandwidth and connection speed
  •         Bypass territory-restricted web sites (for example, access a blocked US website from inside China)
  •         Works on up to 5 devices (Mac, PC, iOS, or Android)

"If you're a gamer, hacker, or just Internet power user, you know how important security is online. For about 50 cents/month, you can connect to WiFi securely, anywhere." [emphasis mine]

The highlighted sentence is a not very subtle hint that the service is perfect for Chinese gold farmers and sellers, isn't it?  I know that people get upset with or EVE News 24 if an RMT ad appears on their sites.  But that's usually a problem with the advertising software like Google Ads not filtering out the offensive content.  That native advertising article that appeared on Kotaku is not a mistake.  Someone at Kotaku made a deliberate decision to take the money for that disguised ad for a shady company.

Now, I'm not naive.  I know that the people who are going to bot, hack, and sell in-game currency in on-line games are going to find services to help hide from the game companies.  That's why I went ahead and linked the article; not linking the article would not help prevent these activities from happening.  But what I can do is point out how Kotaku is accepting money from a company that provides a service that can harm the game experience of on-line gamers.


  1. To be fair, bot farms are probably an edge case for the people who paid for that ad; what came to my mind on reading it was more stuff like YouTube region locks and the Great Firewall of China.

  2. While I'm sure that VPN is used in botting, I would venture a guess that there is a much higher number of people using it for much more prosaic reasons, like for example being able to access servers in other regions, circumventing region locks on youtube or other similar web services, not to mention circumventing local firewalls, for example in university dorms or work environments. I can say from personal experience that when I stayed in a dorm which had firewalled internet that prevented access to some ports the only way to play EVE was to use a VPN service. So I would say that your assertion that just because the ad says 'Bypass territory-restricted web sites (for example, access a blocked US website from inside China)' it does not mean that their whole plan is to enable botters. I would say that here you've been affected by confirmation bias, choosing to believe what you wanted to believe.

  3. "Now, I'm not naive."

    If you think that the only use for a VPN is botting, you are.

    The Australian government recommended it's citizens use VPN's. Because the government is hardcore into botting and farming? Of course not. It's because Ausies get screwed with region locks, paying astronomically higher prices or simply not having software/content/etc available.

    The Great Firewall of China is notorious for blocking access to all sorts of legitimate sites, including simple news sites. VPN's are a well known and documented method of gaining access to these resources.

    A VPN is simply a tool. If Kokatu had an ad for Dell, would you post an article that Kokatu supports RMTers and Botters because, computers? Of course not.

    Your articles are normally quite good, and I look forward to reading them. This one, however, is EN24 quality at best.

  4. He's right. There's no reason for any game company's data center to accept traffic from other data centers or VPNs and many of us filter them outright. On top of that you openly admit to using the VPN to violate the terms of service for the products you're using by bypassing region locks. He even specifically mentions that use case. If you want to make a case I'd recommend finding an actual legitimate argument. Especially if you're going to call someone out. All you've done is prove his point.

  5. You're violating your terms of service either way. I have no idea why you'd think that was a valid defense or reason to attack the content of the article.

  6. There's not, huh?

    China blocks access to Tranquility (which is why CCP setup Serenity). So if you travel to China and want to update your skill queue, it's not legitimate for you to use a VPN so you can do so?

    "But that's an edge case from a highly restrictive society!" what about all the hotels and other wireless access points that block tons of services/access? Or have routes configured in such as way that are non-optimal for you (especially for gaming)? It's not uncommon for hotel internet to get routed in all sorts of interesting ways, including some that try and monetize it by doing injections and packet inspection.

    So now if their firewall is blocking or slowing down your access to TQ, it's not legitimate for you to use a VPN to bypass that block so you can log in remotely.

    How about this as an (even more) CCP specific example. CCP looks for accounts that log in from multiple regional IP's to track account sharing and hacked accounts. As someone who travels (a *TON*), I don't want my account getting flagged (and potentially banned) just because I'm logging in from different locations (which looks quite a bit like account sharing). So I use a VPN back to my home, so the IP that CCP see's is always my home IP.

    Note that this isn't the primary reason I use a VPN. Reason #1 would be so I have access to the resources I have at home (gotta be able to access PLEX). Reason #2 would be the problems mentioned with hotel firewalls (I can't even count the number of times that all sorts of broken stuff started working as soon as the VPN was turned on, including how well my connection to TQ works).

  7. I'll say that #1 is not legitimate. CCP has legal obligations to meet if it is to do business in China. In addition of a Serenity, CCP also has a studio in Shanghai, which I assume is getting tax breaks. So yes, CCP doesn't want you logging in from the PRC.

  8. I don't know enough about China and Iceland law (and the international agreement there), so I won't talk about a PRC national.

    As an international person travelling to China, the agreement between China and CCP likely means nothing. It's certainly not enforceable outside China (and it's most likely not enforceable inside either).

    Unless you are suggesting that somehow I subscribe to both TQ and Serenity, play on TQ when outside China and Serenity when inside. Somehow this "solution" seems ridiculous. Using a VPN to access TQ from inside China is perfectly legitimate.

    One other case I thought of. The vast majority of business laptops have VPN built into them, and the business often requires that they be connected all the time. Many businesses don't care if you use the laptop for personal use.

    Congrats, you just lumped in anyone who's logged into TQ from their business laptop as an RMT/botter.

  9. What Ebag said.
    No Hulu
    No Netflix
    No HBO Go
    Pay 40% more on Steam, Kindle and other trading platforms.
    Get ripped off all the time.
    Based solely on my AUS IP address.
    Hell yeah I'm buying a VPN

  10. Actually, if you want to play EVE while in the PRC, you do need to get an account with TianCity, so yes, I am saying you need accounts for both servers.

    I'll stop now since we are going to disagree about whether players need to follow the rules when logging into online games like EVE.

  11. I did not know that dissenting with one's opinion and criticizing it constituted an attack. As for your assertion that I was violating the EVE terms of service, could you please point me to the relevant paragraph? I was not aware that the EVE terms of service do not allow for the use of VPN.

  12. Living and working in China for a few years and being a Eve player, the GFW doesn't actually block access to the servers. The GFW tends depending on the provider to cause packet loss and extra lag. China Unicom on 3G no problems connecting, use it at work on a 3G stick on the laptop with no issues. However China Telecom 100m/bit fibre lots of issues after 9am. This is due to Shanghai waking up and starting to use their mobiles on 4G to read idiotic messages on WeChat(25 million in shanghai all on gold iPhones many rich people here!). To burrow through this crap and to be secure with communications to the western world requires VPN. I would also imagine that the vile rat was using VPN whilst on deployment, being in a hostile environment. To get to the point the use of VPN has legit uses, security, logging in whilst on a free wifi in Starbucks for instance, people sniffing your data etc, WPA can be hacked, NSA spying, mind you I think some of the American VPN providers are fronts for CIA/NSA. Also CCP I believe from reading this blog over the years has other code inside EVE to look at where you are actually and what other nefarious programs you may be using, VPN doesn't hide you much just to a certain amount. The VPN providers usually have specific IP's which are blocked by some country's. In China generally OpenVPN protocol is blocked mostly but not always, PPTP isn't usually and IPSEC also not blocked. To do basic stuff with the western world requires VPN, YouTube/Facebook/Twitter are all blocked so all the westerners here have some form of VPN just to live a normal life there.

  13. I thought we weren't supposed to be stereotyping by race anymore?

    Can Nosy back up the "Chinese farmer" claim with evidence to suggest that the people doing the farming and booting are Chinese as opposed to, say, illegal aliens living in Los Angeles slums?

  14. Could this be a poster case of 'context matters'?

    I can see many legitimate uses for using VPN, some of which have been mentioned in the comments (and no, while getting around region locks may have moral justifications, it's not legitimate (though it gets hairy if you're a citizen of a country with a compulsory TV/Streaming license, yet being abroad prevents you from actually exercising the license you already paid for)).

    And if you're present in an oppressive country, and use a VPN to get around the Great Firewall to get in contact with the more free world - I think especially Americans should agree that struggle for freedom ought to trump government regulations. (Not to mention that people doing so take a risk for themselves).

    And yes, I can see a use of VPNs for playing even if you're not intending to break any EULAs or ToS: if your only connection is a hotel connection (no blocking whatsoever), I won't blame you if you create a VPN just to make sure that there are no eavesdroppers regardless of what you're actually going to do with that connection.

    But the Kotaku ad in context of the gaming article positions itself as none of the above.

    But then I got interested: the Kotaku article ad lists 'access US from China' as one of four benefits of using this particular VPN. The advertisement consolidator behind the Kotaku ad lists "access US from China' as one of eight benefits, and it's only in an explanatory sentence.

    The VPN company itself does not appear to mention China in their "Our Benefits" nor their "FAQ".


  15. The_Lang has a point: where do the EVE ToS prohibit the use of VPNs?
    You have a point too, though: local ToS may prohibit certain uses with good reason.
    But there's also the middle ground: a situation with no reasonable ToS in existence - and overworked and underpaid administrators clamping down on permissions just because doing so keeps them one step ahead of ritual suicide.

    In other words: I don't think blanket statements serve any purpose in this kind of discussion.

  16. It's not exactly racist, but it is nationalist and economist.

    But it is also a very efficient way to convey a concept - if I say "chinese gold farmer", you know exactly what kind of people I am talking about, even if the individuals in question aren't really chinese, nor are actually farming "gold".

    Spoken (written) language is a work in eternal progress, so I'm open for suggestions.

  17. Okay, so you specifically meant farmers from China.

    I don't read Chinese, so I can't tell if the QQ Games article is journalism or opinion. I'll just have to accept your assertion that the article is authoritative and that the Chinese represent the bulk of the RMT population.

  18. The research I'm familiar with is dated, but it states ~80%. Also, when I look into the sites selling gold/plat/ISK, more than half the time I can trace the site back to China. But if you have more up-to-date information, I'd love it if you'd link it. I like trying to keep up-to-date on stuff like this.

  19. I'll not get into the whole VPN issue at all. Out of my league. I'll just point out the awesome irony of Nathan Grayson calling non-journalists on Youtube out on writing favorable reviews under based on . . . questionable circumstances. It's really a hoot.

  20. It's important to remember that the journalist sleeping with the indie developer didn't actually happen. The ex-boyfriend who claimed it did said it happened for the sake of a review which never actually existed in a time frame that wasn't possible.

    The controversy just spun off from the initially false rumour