Wednesday 23 October 2013

MMOs: Cheaters in the Third Party

[Part of my MMO Design Folder] 

"It's ok to cheat if you don't get caught."  That line of thinking seems to extend into MMO's.

In most MMO EULA's I seem to recall a line wherein "the use of third party software" is a punishable offence. This might not be the case anymore (I tend to gloss over EULA's these days) but if it is then there would be a lot of people who commit that crime (ooooh cyber crime, so futuristic). I think we should pop on some definitions though for clarity. Let's define "third party software" as code created by a company or person, unaffiliated to and/or not endorsed by the game publisher/creator, which gives the user an advantage over someone without the same software while playing the game. That's pretty fair isn't it?

I think we'd all agree that someone who has code to give them god-mode would be pretty unfair (happens regularly in GunZ the Duel I might add), and the guy that runs faster on foot than someone flying in a jet plane is probably hacked. Throw in the farmbot plague which is impressively far reaching when you think about it. These are usually very obvious and no one, other than the exploiters themselves I imagine, would really have an issue with the game masters going after these particular players (or robots, whatever).

But what about that program that changes the font for your client so you lag slightly less, or the one that lets you see the specific durability value of items, or the mod that changes your HUD to make it less cluttered than the vanilla version? Do they give you an advantage over someone who doesn't use it? Let's blur the lines further and ask - what about teamspeak? Or that program that lets you monitor the real time auction house prices (like gw2spidy)? What about youtube walkthroughs? They are all technically software.

Ofcourse the game might actually endorse some 3rd party stuff (eg. GW2 put Dulfy -in- the game, so I take that as an endorsement) in which case those should be absolutely fine - but as for the rest? Guess justice isn't so much a solid line and more a wavy faded noodle, around which the "cops" tread lightly and are fearful or are simply too impotent to go uphold their own laws when it becomes difficult or inconvenient to police (mirrored in real life). That leads to the question - if something is not policed, is it still "cheating"? At what point does "being resourceful" cross the line? I guess the answer to that comes down to you.

It's ok, she's not looking anyway.


  1. I'm finding it really odd that you're catagorising websites or VOIP stuff as third party, EULA breaking things to be honest. :P

    1. I don't. You wouldn't believe how hardcore I used to be on what constitutes "cheating" in an MMO. My fundamental rule was "if it isn't included in the game you shouldn't do it" so if a game doesn't have VOIP included in the disc, the download or the patch process then using it is cheating. For that matter, speaking to teammates on the telephone as you play is cheating. Even speaking to someone playing in the same room as you is cheating.

      I also used to believe that using any form of macros or keyboard shortcuts was cheating, even if they *were* included in the game. Even if the game manual listed them. Even if the tutorial led you through them. And of course I believed that using any form of Mod was totally cheating, even if Mods were not only permitted but encouraged by the game-makers.

      When it came right down to it, I didn't believe the developers of a game had any moral right to decide what was or wasn't permitted in their own game. Any right-thinking player would just *know* what was right.

      Over the years I've kind of mellowed. A bit. I don't much care what mods other people use. I don't care who has macros or who uses a future-tech programmable mouse that all but plays the game for them. Most MMOs aren't a competition and people can draw their own lines of acceptable behavior.

      Me, I still feel very uncomfortable if I use anything other then the default UI or control my characters with anything more sophisticated than a mouse and some hot bars.

    2. -Lothirieth, that's because I have the same lines of thought much like Bhagpuss does (or did before he mellowed? :D).

      -Bhagpuss, glad I'm not the only one who had the "if it isn't included in the game you shouldn't do it" rule, pretty much to the exact "T" you described. I'm mellowing out a little now though too. Does that mean I'm getting old? :O

  2. The wording that I have in mind when it comes to this is "software that modifies the behavior of the game client [to gain unfair advantages]". The bracketed part is soft and difficult to define, so let's leave it out. I think it typically is in such situations. That still requires two things:

    1. It has to be software. Software is generally defined as machine-readable instructions that are are executed by the computer. It's different from data in that way, which is not executed itself. So I can't see how exchanging a font, which is data, could constitute cheating. There's of course also a blurry line. If the font is not easily exchangeable, for example, because it is bundled up with other data in a proprietary format, it's debatable, I guess. If exchanging the font gives you an unfair advantage, it's cheating. That might happen if, for some reason, the game uses a specially crafted font to display things, and exchanging the font gives you information that would otherwise not be accessible. (It would also be a pretty ugly bug, and should be reported if found.)

    2. It has to modify the behavior of the game client. Third-party software that runs on its own, such as Teamspeak, doesn't modify the behavior of the client, and therefore is not cheating. Your example of a speed-hack is. Showing additional information in character panels (e.g., hit rate if it isn't reported), would also be cheating. Though, if that information could readily be calculated from available information, and the formula to do so was also readily available, it would be a silly limitation on the quality of life. A tool that allows you to monitor the auction house in real time is not cheating if it simply processes information that is available from a public API. If it isn't, then it probably is cheating, unless all the information is typed in by hand (in which case, I'd call shenanigans on the real-time capability ;)).

    1. Thanks for the reply Flosch! The "changing font to make you lag less" example I put is actually a real mod in Mabinogi. Especially when the timing of your combat moves is quite critical it does give people an edge simply due to less lag. Then again so does living closer to the server so yeah, blurry lines. :P

      If you read Bhagpuss' comment I am totally like that. I remember playing UO with my brother, who was sitting in the same room a few feet to the right. We wouldn't talk in real. Only if our characters met in game (and then only through text) - because that would give us an unfair advantage over people who didn't have that. Sounds very silly, but that's just how I am.

      I really dislike how more and more games seem to rely on teamspeak or mumble though. The Tequatl fight is a good example. I didn't read anywhere in the GW2 site that I need 3rd party programs, so I shouldn't need them. I absolutely hate it when sites then go... oh just sign up to x or y so you can listen in on the plan.

      I'm all ears. Just tell it to me in-game. GW2 has no excuse for not including voice comm if they wanted to go that route. Many games before it did, many after did. That leads me to believe it shouldn't be required. Ever.

    2. I think a lot of games shy away from providing in-game voice comms because out-of-game options are too readily available to invest the time into setting up your own voice communication infrastructure. From the top of my head, I can think of only three games that did it (which means there are probably many many more): DDO, EQ2 (which isn't a surprise, they seem to include pretty much every feature they can think of, and then let half of them rot), and WoW. And for WoW, that didn't play out all too well at the time. I'm not sure whether you played it during TBC, but the voice patch was a debacle. It seemed to have bound so many development resources that the game went over half a year without any content patch. And the one before voice had only added Black Temple (out of reach for most) and a few dailies, so in the end, it was almost 10 months. Players were not amused to get a feature few wanted at that point, because you either already used voice comm or were not interested in using it.

      I personally also think that it's wasted development time, because it's not an integral part of the game. It binds development resources and will result in a product that won't be able to compete with existing solutions. As a more extreme example, it would also be wasted time to implement a rich-text HTML editor that allowed you to generate your guild pages in-game on the game's guild web servers.

      Coming back to you, I totally see your point as kind of a self-imposed limitation, like nethack conducts. They can be fun, definitely. I just wouldn't qualify breaking them as cheating. ;)

    3. I agree that it is wasted development time if its not an integral part of the game. When devs start designing stuff assuming people have those "non integral parts" such as mumble to coordinate in taking down Tequatl, that's when I take issue. :P