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Reader Comments (9)

Posted: Apr 14th 2010 1:37PM J Brad Hicks said

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I want to take this out of the realm of MMOs, because I think that (like almost every argument I've ever seen about cheating in MMOs) you're making a fundamental philosophical mistake in arguing that if you can't make cheating impossible, you can't do anything about cheating.

There is no way that the government could, with anything like today's technology, search every computer storage device in everybody's house for child pornography. In any given year, they probably search fewer than a thousand of the untold hundreds of millions of computer storage devices in the US. Nor does the government even pretend that it can stop all child pornography from being manufactured, nor does the government even pretend that it can stop all child pornography from entering the country. And yet we still have laws against having child pornography on your computer, and those laws are mostly obeyed. Why? Because while the odds of getting caught with it are really low, they made the consequences of getting caught, if you are caught, genuinely horrific: a lengthy jail sentence, followed by being harassed in too many ways to even begin to list for the entire rest of your life as you're on the registered sex offender list. Does this stop everybody? No. But it stops a LOT of people.

I'm not saying that cheating in an online game is as bad as sexually exploiting children. I'm not trying to say anything about moral equivalence here. I'm pointing out that the government doesn't have to make a crime impossible in order to reduce the occurrence of that crime. In fact, we almost never even TRY to make crimes impossible. We make them difficult enough to get the point across that you shouldn't be doing that, and then we impose punishments if you get caught going ahead anyway. Heck, the lock on your front door can be bypassed by any reasonably competent lock-picker, and most people's front door wouldn't even hold up against a sufficiently determined shove. Does that mean that since you haven't done everything necessary to make it impossible for people to break in and steal your stuff that you've really given them permission to do so? No, it doesn't. That lock is just there to serve as a reminder to people that they haven no business trying to open that door, whether they could do so or not.

What is missing from the discussion of cheating in MMOs, in every single MMO other than EVE, is punishment for the cheaters. When City of Heroes' then-lead Matt Miller threatened to impose consequences on people who obviously cheated, people they could see in the server logs had cheated, everybody screamed that this was unfair, that if City of Heroes didn't want people to cheat, it was their responsibility to make it impossible to cheat -- and it really angers me that Miller mostly backed down. In a game where hundreds, maybe thousands of people openly and unashamedly cheated over the course of a couple of months, only three or four were punished. The punishment was minor: they didn't get to keep the high level characters they cheated to create. A slap on the wrist; they weren't banned from the game, they didn't even lose their other characters. Worse, the punishments were done as quietly as possible, to the point where it took me serious detective work to find even one person who'd been punished. That's foolhardy, because it completely destroys the deterrence effect if nobody has ever seen anybody be punished for breaking the rule. If nothing else, there should be a weekly announcement, or at least monthly: "This month we deleted (however many) characters that were leveled via exploits. If we catch you exploiting, we will delete your character, too."

If anything, what they're doing now is actually worse than doing nothing. What they do now is say, in effect, "If you cheat, and we catch you cheating, then a couple of weeks later we'll take away your ability to cheat, if we can." All that does is create the maximum possible incentive to cheat AS HARD AS POSSIBLE, as many hours a day as possible, whenever a new way to cheat is found. If you cheat as hard as possible, as many hours a day as possible, then you'll have gotten the maximum amount of benefit you can get before the new cheat gets shut down. And since you'll almost certainly get to keep the stuff you cheated for, why wouldn't you?

Posted: Apr 18th 2010 11:28PM (Unverified) said

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Brad, you are absolutely correct, and I was about to write a similar post to yours, but I'll just echo that I hope people see it and consider its implications. I find Eliot's article extremely nihilistic. Because we can't stamp out exploits entirely, let's not even try to curb the worst of them. That is simply an unacceptable attitude to me, and if the developers of City of Heroes (or any game) adopted that attitude, I'd leave. I'd go so far to say that if a developer developed that attitude about ANY software, they might as well forget developing, period.

I think that there are a couple of important facts being lost here. First is the extent to which the exploitation was taking place. We're not talking about someone popping in to get a level or two. We're talking about people getting to level 50 in less than two days. I've heard stories about it being done in as little as a few hours. There's just no way that any conscientious developer could leave an exploit like that in when it's being so massively exploited.

Second is that I just don't think that people understand how crushingly demoralizing it is to new players when they log in, get on an exploit team, have a level 50 within a couple of days, think they've "won," get bored with the game, and quit within a day or two. This isn't theory, I've actually witnessed it happening firsthand in talking to people. A couple of weeks ago, I met a level 30-ish Peacebringer who had been playing for all of two weeks. He told me he wasn't going to renew his subscription because there just wasn't much to do in the game.

There is, in fact, a LOT to do in the game. But players unfamiliar with the game have the perception that it's like most other games, that when you hit the level cap, you've "won." If you've effectively beaten the game in two weeks, why would you pay $15 a month to keep playing?

This isn't just a matter of "you play your way, I'll play my way." New players especially don't have a good background on what a "good" way to play for themselves is, and the exploiters and farmers end up sucking them into their grindfests. It conveys a crushingly demoralizing impression of the game to new people, and it's just got to stop.

Something else that I wish had been reiterated in this article is that the developers have acknowledged that the system as it exists right now isn't working as intended. Yes, it's still borked. But given the choice between it being borked with players massively exploiting it and being borked with players not massively exploiting it, they chose the latter. You can always fix it, which they're working on right now. What you can't do is convince the new players who canceled their subscriptions because the game was perceived as boring grindfests to come back because you left an exploit in.
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Posted: Apr 14th 2010 2:14PM (Unverified) said

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The problem with harsh penalties for cheating in an MMO is that, ultimately, they can't kill their revenue. If we say for the sake of arguement that 10% of the population were cheaters and got banned... or even half of that 5% in a low population MMO--- i think that would be a serious chunk of revenue. Now sure NCSoft is big enough maybe to not care, but CoH population really cant withstand a witch-hunt.

they ought to just award xp at the end of missions (not unlike DDO dungeons). I think if you were to do that, you can then pre-assign xp amounts based on a few variables.


Its a shame though that people abuse such a nice feature as user content tools

Posted: Apr 14th 2010 2:41PM (Unverified) said

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Well, if you're talking about revenue, I think it's much more damaging for a company to be known to tolerate cheaters, exploiters or grievers for their bottom line, and that would chase off a comparable percentage of genuine players. So there's a balance to that number. If a game goes lawless, than the lawful won't stick around to abide it.
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Posted: Apr 14th 2010 6:23PM wjowski said

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What he said. To use an example; Asheron's Call having a reputation as a haven for cheaters and exploiters was one of several reasons why they never pulled in the numbers of EQ or even UO.
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Posted: Apr 14th 2010 2:51PM (Unverified) said

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Point taken.

There is a balance somewhere on all of that. I just think the whole thing misses the issue anyway in CoH--- that being there is no endgame.

If people power leveled through the architect to a vast endgame in a game that has popualtion issues--- is that bad? I dont think so. (and i realize 'population issues' is a relative term)

In fact, when the whole cheating/leveling issue came out, I asked myself why they care if it gets more people to play and pay for their game.

:) I have mixed feelings on the whole thing, clearly... i think as it always happens the developers had their heart in the right place, and those that like to exploit do what they always do.

it bums me out. :)

Posted: Apr 14th 2010 5:07PM Heraclea said

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Character slots have always been CoH's endgame. Most of the time I play my level 50 characters, I play them with an eye out towards giving the benefits they reap to another character. This has become even more important since the Invention System was added.

One issue that occurred to me is that at least part of CoH player base has no real concept of "grinding", the repetitive tasks that fill every MMO including the City games. The devs gave at least a nod to grinding in the repetitious missions that are handed out by contacts like Borea and the newspaper and radio contacts.

But there seems to be an animus against grinding in the Mission Architect. There seems to me to be no real bright line distinction that could possibly be drawn against forbidden "farming" versus legitimate "grinding" for tickets, XP, inf, and other rewards legitimately offered through its systems.

Fixing exploits like buff bot allies is one thing. But ultimately there's no conceivable way to police the system based on the quality of writing or the story justification of the use of a particular map in a mission. If this is the only definition of a "farm" in AE, there's not really a whole lot that can be done. And I don't think the use of AE for grinding is really an exploit, or really an illegitimate use of the system.

Posted: Apr 15th 2010 8:25AM UnSub said

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Isn't the main point of the MA is that players can create and share their own stories? Wasn't that the selling point? Aren't rewards secondary?

I say that with my tongue in cheek - I argued before MA launched that is should award inf and XP. However, the devs failed to account for the efficiency of MA in terms of inf and XP awards - with no travel time between missions and the ability to build 'farming' missions, MA blows the time spent vs reward equation out of the water. MA is simply the most efficient way of gaining XP, so of course players are going to use it (your Option C example).

Honestly, the devs need to curtail the rewards, either with diminishing returns (for ever extra MA mission you run, you gain X less XP and inf) or with some kind of capping system (you can only earn X inf and Y inf per MA mission within each level band). Paragon Studios really build a rod for their own back with MA and tinkering around the edges isn't going to help things (although, as noted above, making hard fixes is probably going to drive down revenue to some degree, so it may be a bit of a Morton's Fork).

Posted: Apr 15th 2010 5:13PM lmollea said

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Farming missions, quests, gold, whatever is in the end THE ONLY GOAL OF NEARLY EVERY MMO, (sorry for the caps, but I wanted it to be clear), unless you have something to do that isn't tied to "amassing some quantity of whatever".

PVP oriented games may be a bit different from this, in EVE online you may concentrate on dominion of null secs (even if you have to amass resources and isk to mantain your ships, your corp structures, ...), DAOC and WAR may be much grinding oriented (but in the latter you still have to accumulate renown points and levels to get good gears).

With all due respect, having been a paying customer in COH for 2 years, farming is welcomed because what's generally boring is levelling a char before level 32/35/38. Having a 50 and creating a new alt and playing through atlas park/hollows/skyway/faultline or mercy island/port oakes/cap au diable, without a decent travel power, without stamina, with few powers at low levels is what kills the replayability. Playing the television mission or the battle maiden portal mission on and on before MA was exactly farming (19 levels in a single run of those missions for a level 1). You could start a new toon and in an evening be level 25. The new supersidekick system simplifies that. This new addition indicates that even the devs are aware that farming exists and people will do it to storm through unwanted content.

And I am sure that even the new Incarnate system will result in some grinding. It can't be helped, as everything in generally all MMOs is "measured" by some number, but if grinding is fun, then people will play.

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