IN THE NEWS!
This page contains information that is from various real world newsources relating to our world of massively multi-player online roleplaying games (MMORPG).
Disclaimer: I often repost articles that have been posted on other UO sites. You can also look on UOPG FrontPage for more such articles. What I try to do on this page is present the salient issues and add my own thoughts on the issues.
THE REVOLUTION IS COMING MMOG COMPANIES....
|Last updated: January 2, 2004|
Gamasutra (a fantastic site on game design) posted an interesting article...
How to Hurt the Hackers: The Scoop on Internet
Cheating and How You Can Combat It
Last year I became hooked on a certain first-person shooter (FPS) game. After a couple months of addictive online gaming, I became convinced that some players were cheating and things suddenly changed that day. I was ready to walk away from the game in disgust and tell everyone else to do the same. Instead, I decided it was time to learn what I could about the alleged cheaters, their motivations, and most importantly their methods. In my case, I discovered at least three distinctly different methods of cheating that could explain what I experienced -- though as just a player I could not prove conclusively which methods, if any, were being used against me.
The aim of this article is to bring the subject of online/multiplayer cheating out of the shadows and talk about it in terms of real problems with real games and to help build a framework for classifying and understanding the various details. I will cover some of the ways that players are able to cheat at various games; at times I will go into the working details, ways to prevent those cheats, and limitations of various game architectures as they relate to multiplayer cheating. This is by no means a comprehensive and exhaustive tome on the issue, but it is a start. There is a serious lack of information on this subject, and paranoia among developers that talking about it will reveal secrets that will only make the problem significantly worse. Several individuals at various companies declined to talk to me about cheating and their games for this and other similar reasons. I respect that, but I think developers have everything to gain by sharing our knowledge about cheaters and how to combat them.
Just how seriously should you as a developer take the possibility of online cheating? If your game is single-player only, then you have nothing to worry about. But if your game is multiplayer only, the success of your entire product is at stake. If your game does both, you're somewhere in the middle. As more games are released with online play as an integral component, drawing ever-larger audiences (and the corollary development of online communities and sites based around the game), it becomes ever more important to insure that each online game player experiences what they believe to be a fair and honest experience. I'm reminded of a quote from Greg Costikyan's excellent report, "The Future of Online Gaming" (http://www.costik.com): "An online game's success or failure is largely determined by how the players are treated. In other words, the customer experience -- in this case, the player experience -- is the key driver of online success."
Consider the well-known case of Blizzard's Diablo -- deservedly a runaway best-seller and great game that acquired a significant reputation for a horrible multiplayer experience because of cheaters. Many people I know either refused to play it online, or would only play over a LAN with trusted friends. Blizzard did their best to respond, patching it multiple times, but they were fighting an uphill battle.
Cheating hit closer to home for me while I was working on the final stages of Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings. Cheating online became a widespread problem with the original Age of Empires. Tournaments had to be cancelled due to a lack of credibility, the number of online players fell, and the reputation of my company took a direct hit from frustrated users. Unable to spare the resources to fix the game properly until after Age of Kings was done, we just had to endure our users turning their anger upon us -- probably the most personally painful thing I've experienced as a developer.
Need more reasons to take online cheating seriously? Go onto eBay and type in the name of your favorite massively multiplayer game. Now look at the real money changing hands for virtual characters and items. What if those items being sold were obtained via some sort of cheat or hack? Let's not overlook the growth of tournaments and contests for online games. Consider the public relations nightmare that would ensue if the winner of a cash prize in a tournament had cheated. Enough to give you a headache, eh?
For a whole lot more, check out the rest, the complete
The article is actually a very technical discussion on how hackers go about their business of breaking into and exploiting game software. If you are not a tech-head I would skip the article. I have included the general message in the above text. The take home message to MMOG companies is that ignoring or trivializing the hacker/exploiter problem will result in a short-lived game.
The only reason UO has survived so long with the poor level of customer
service and visible contempt for their customers is because it was the
first game of its kind to succeed using a commercial model. Not to mention
this entire genre of games is VERY ADDICTIVE!
|January 2, 2004|
Q&A: Banned Sims blogger bites back
According Peter Ludlow, it all started with a simple post on his blog, The Alphaville Herald. Earlier this month, the University of Michigan philosophy professor spotted something that looked suspiciously like prostitution. Ludlow (whose avatar, Urizenus, is shown above) covers events and activities that take place in The Sims Online and writes about them in the Herald. He had stumbled onto a group of players who were exchanging in-game "sex" and "pleasures" for simoleans, the game's currency.
While many strange things happen in the Sims Online, the real-world marketplace for simoleans on eBay and other online auction sites raised issues Ludlow thought wise to bring to the attention of Electronic Arts. After documenting the escapades of the "prostitute" in his blog (which covers Alphaville, a town in the Sims Online universe), Ludlow said EA requested he remove links to the blog from his online profile--which he claims he did. But days later, EA informed him his Sims Online account was being "permanently closed" for continuing to list his Web site, a charge he denies.
The debate continues over whether EA censored Ludlow, a matter he and many other gamers take very seriously. More thoroughly covered in a Salon.com article, Ludlow's experience raises questions massive-multiplayer game designers and critics wrestle with all the time: To what extent are online activities which have an "illegal" effect in the real world punishable? To what degree are actions taken by in-game avatars expected to conform to "community" standards?
GameSpot spoke with Ludlow from his office at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
GameSpot: Your interest in The Sims Online was academic. You look at the Sims world and ask: How's does a society evolve? What have your observations taught you?
Peter Ludlow: It was interesting in a lot of respects. The first thing that made it interesting was that it was engineered to not have combat; rather you are given tools to mark individuals as friends (green links) and other individuals as bad (red links). Of course the fist thing that happens is that people figure out a way to exploit this architecture for griefing purposes. The red links get deployed in a game of reputational paint ball, and the effect on what you can do in the game is in many ways more significant than getting killed in a lot of MMORPGs. Red links really mess you up. Once you figure that out, then clans can emerge that will deploy the red links as weapons to control property in the game and extort in game currency from users. So our state of nature gives way to a system of tribes and clans (or mafias, if you will). This eventually leads to the formation of an extremely large and well organized super-group like the Sims Shadow Government, which can outgrief the griefers and at least try to restore the original intent of the game (which was socializing, I guess). People can then argue about whether the SSG is just another mafia (albeit the baddest mafia), but you can make the same argument about nation states like the United States.
GS: To what extent do you think The Sims environment provides data that is significant, and can be applied to the real world?
PL: Well, to some degree we dont need to apply it to the real world. It already is part of the real world. The people playing these games are, after all, real people. And to some extent (certainly in The Sims) they dont leave their real-life attitudes and emotions behind when they come into the game. People form friendships and groups in pretty much the same ways they do in meatspace. Likewise the economies that emerge in these games are real economies, with currencies that have conversion to the US Dollar. Now true, this isnt the usual way for people to interact with each other, but more and more we only interact with each other in ways that are mediated by electronic media. So, sad as this may seem, we may be looking at the future of human interactions and social institution formation.
GS: What do you think EA was trying to stop when it deleted your account? What do think its goals were and are?
PL: I really dont feel comfortable speculating on the intentions of the EA staff members that made this decision. They *say* it was a TOS violation, but that hardly seems credible. Ive been hanging out in virtual communities since 1985, and I even cohosted the ethics conference on the WELL for a couple of years, so I think I understand the situation from the perspective of the moderators and the game owner. I do my best to be aware of the contents of the TOS and I try not to violate it. If I am informed that I am in violation (e.g. by linking to my own non-commercial website) I adjust my behavior *immediately* (no matter how stupid I might think the request is). In this case I immediately removed the link to alphavilleherald.com from my website. Turns out there was another mention of alphavilleherald.com on my property description. Well, I forgot about that, so it led to a 72 hour suspension. Fine, but then they deleted my account 11 hours into the suspension. How do you violate the TOS when suspended? And what was the alleged violation? EA has never told me. So again, any claim that this was just a matter of TOS violation does not stand up to even casual scrutiny.
On the other hand, if their goal was censorship, then of course they failed miserably. In the age of the blog, censorship is not only impossible, but impossibly stupid. It being impossibly stupid is, however, entirely consistent with censorship being EAs goal.
GS: What's your perspective on virtual worlds providing a context where behavior considered abhorrent in the "real world" is above reproach? IOW, what's wrong with player-killing, pixilated physical abuse, as well as verbal abuse which takes place in a virtual environment?
PL: Depends on context. I happen to play Quake TA with a number of other academics, and nothing makes me happier than blowing the head off of the avatar of a Rutgers philosopher. The verbal trash talk that comes with that is also part of the game. And I dont have much time for people that want to ban or censor such games. The question is whether every game is supposed to be like that. I guess that The Sims Online (TSO) has a different kind of audience and the game is a whole different headspace from an FPS game or something like EverQuest. Now we are looking at a game space where 13 year old girls come in to play house. Not sure we need the same FPS trash talking shoved in their faces. It isnt the real world, of course, but it also isnt EQ. It might call for an intermediate set of behavioral rules.
GS: What other games do you see as providing entree into the human condition?
PL: All games, because the human condition is basically one of gaming from start to finish. Brokers working on Wall Street are not just working, they are gaming. Generals fighting wars are not just fighting wars, but they are gaming. When not trading on Wall Street and fighting wars the brokers and generals are gaming in preparation for the real thing which is just a way of say a game that is especially important to us. Our whole lives, human beings are creatures that game: whether it is playing house or playing war we are gaming. And not just human animals; When bear cubs wrestle they are honing skills that they will use when they face the real thing the game when they must face a challenger of some form. Same with us. We game from childhood until they very end. Its also reasonable to suppose that we game for evolutionary reasons. Creatures that game (whether playing house or war gaming) could arguably have a clear selectional advantage.
GS: IN your research at Michigan, what other environments/cultures do you study? What, is the crux of your own research?
PL: Im not really an anthropologist or a sociologist, so Im more interested in philosophical questions that arise in these cases. One issue has to do with the two way flow between the so-called fictional and real worlds. The Klingon language began as a fictional language in the Star Trek universe, but now people speak it in the real world and that feeds back into the fictional world. Likewise, simoleans are fictional, but you can buy and sell them on Ebay. So are they real or not? The Alphaville Herald is a fictional paper in Alphaville, but it is also real, no? So how did something fictional become real. Another question has to do with the nature of gaming strategies themselves. What kinds of extensions of mathematical game theory (in the Nash Equilibrium sense) would be necessary to describe and predict the behavior of individuals and institutions within game platforms like MMORPGs. Are those low level game-theoretic principles also at work when we look at other aspects of human interaction? -- Language, economic behavior, and warfare for example? These are the questions that interest me.
GS: Why should the average gamer give a hoot about what you are calling censorship?
PL: Well, every gamer wants to be free to express himself/herself in the game. And good gaming doesnt end when you look away from the screen. A big chunk of the game, maybe most of it involves the communication of strategies in IM, as well as the establishment of websites that contribute to the content of the gaming experience. Not allowing gamers to link to those outside sites is in effect a way of limiting the way they express themselves in the game. And remember, language itself is a kind of game. So dont be duped into thinking there is a big important distinction between speech and gaming. Gaming is speech, and language (typed and spoken) is an important part of our games.
GS: Where do you see the debate (your conflict with EA) going? Do you see any additional resolution occurring in the near future?
PL: I doubt that Maxis will have the good sense to restore my account, so this will no doubt go on until I pass on to that great MMORPG in the sky. But this is just a little skirmish in something that is fundamentally much bigger. I think this is just the first of many, many such conflicts that we are going to see between game companies and their customers. Gamers need to wake up and stop letting the game companies treat them like garbage. Dont believe the drivel that they own the game, so they can do what they want. The phone company owns your phone lines but they dont tell you what you can say. We need to understand that MMORPGs are not games per se. They are platforms for lots of levels of human gaming, socializing, and conducting business. As such, the platforms need to be handled in a way that is responsible and in such a way that users are treated with respect. If the game companies dont see this, then perhaps the games should be taken from their control.
GS: If you could speak directly to EA corporate structure, what would you say about their "management" of the Sims community of online avatars?
PL: Im not a business expert, so the shareholders should probably ignore what I have to say, but I will say that if I had two nickels to rub together I would run to a broker and ask him to short EA. A lot of people have commented that EA is all about greed, but I dont see that. I dont know anything about the management group at Maxis, but whatever their qualities as individuals are the organization itself seems to be completely indifferent to whether they make money. From the outside, it looks like people are not thinking profits, but are playing shelf basketball and working on their putting. How do you take the most popular computer game of all time, put it online, and turn it into a money hemorrhaging debacle? Well they give us a great How to plan. Its as though they bought a shopping mall that was supposed to have all sorts of content for children and homemakers, but then let gangs and prostitutes run the place, and let scammers stand in the doorway and intercept everyone effectively driving away thousands of potential customers on their first visit (this is, in effect, what newbies get when they go to the #1 house in the welcome category in Alphaville a scam house set up to scam newbies as soon as they hit the ground) For crying out loud, at least police the front door!!!. I understand that when I describe it in this way it seems like a good game in some respects; Im making it sound like Vice City Lite. But we are talking about a game that was supposed to cater to the Sims demographic. Then, when someone tries to describe forget complain, just describe what is going on in the game world, their response apparently is not to fix the problem but to ban the complainer from the mall. Well, we can argue about whether they have a right to do that, but what a stupid move. You are still losing your customers, and, as I said above, in the age of the blog censorship just doesnt work. So you now you have a massive PR problem on top of the debacle you already had. And for what?
What can we take away from this story? College profs play MMOGs? Even smart people have no protection in cyberspace? Crime DOES pay? MMOGs have no controls to stop their poor treatment of customers? Actually, all of the above questions are what this story exemplifies! Now, all that is needed is an organized group to start lobbying the MMOG industry to finally establish a regulatory agency to monitor customer service for these "above the law" companies.
|December 31, 2003|
HACKERS AND MMOG COMPANIES BEWARE!!!
|October 19, 2003|
According to a September BBC report, police in South Korea are investigating some of the 22,000 complaints made already this year by computer gamers that characters and property that they have acquired in such all-consuming games as "EverQuest" and "Ultima Online" have been stolen by hackers and sold to other gamers to make their own playing more successful. Experts say such theft of "intangibles" should be punishable by law, but the value of the stolen property might be inconsequential, except to those players whose entire lives revolve around a game and for whom the acquisition of a character or property might have involved hundreds of hours of playing. [BBC News, 9-29-03]
I find it hard to believe some system for valuing intangibles cannot be developed using all the information on MMOG auctions on ebay. I know that EQ outlawed auctioning their stuff, but UO certainly hasnt.
|October 7, 2003|
Drax over at UOPG posted a really neat graph of MMOG subscriptions
over the years (figure below), and then proceeded to associate the decline
of UO with the information presented in the figure. I am not quite
sure what his source is for the figure, but this is the kind of data I
have been cobbling together over the years, and it just proves the reason
that companies release expansions is to re-vitalize their games.
Sort of obvious I agree, but it is nice to see proof supporting the observation.