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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Botting, Gold-Selling, and Hacking

"When mores are sufficient, laws are unnecessary; when mores are insufficient, laws are unenforceable." - Emile Durkheim
Continuing my obnoxious trend of beginning posts with quotes, I find this one to be particularly relevant to the topic. Botting, Hacking, and Gold-Selling in video games are a billion dollar industry. Over the weekend, a reddit poster in the Guild Wars 2 subreddit offered to provide some insight from a person who had one been on the "inside" of that world. In the post he explains some of the mechanics of the industry, clears up some misconceptions, and aims to legitimize some of their activity. I bet you can guess by my tone, that I do not think this poster succeeded in the last of those.
A Brief History

The beginning of Gold selling involved websites similar to ebay allowing players to sell their items or resources in games like Everquest to each other. For a time this was "good" in the sense that it may offend the developers, but it was a harm the developers could work around. However, the success of these spawned the "gold farmers" we've all come to know and love to some degree or another; individuals who were paid to play a game with the purpose of acquiring in-game wealth. At some point which I will not try to accurately point out, some enterprising person realized that rather than paying people to farm, it was far easier to just hack (or pay someone else to hack) user accounts, take their gold/items, and make their money that way. Because of how prolific this became, it's pretty clear that it was more efficient. Some still use bots, many that automate play are still available but they tend now to be marketed towards users more than gold-sellers.

So, the post...

I linked it earlier, and I hope you gave it a glance as I mean to address some of the writer's points. In the end, the attempt to defend the industry primarily rely on re-definition and compartmentalization. We can argue that the "managers" and "bot writers" are just part of an industry, but it is an industry built on dishonesty. They still support and work in an industry that inconveniences people, encourages breach of contract, and at times infringes on property and copy rights. One could make the same argument that the secretary to an illegal arms merchant is blameless, but he/she is still a part of that industry.

"But there is a demand..."

There is, but a demand for something does not necessarily justify the provision of it. One can argue that there is a demand for slaves, a demand for drugs, a demand for assassins...none of this legitimizes the activity. Of course the first thought those should bring up is that those are criminal acts...however the bright line between legality and illegality does not necessarily divide along morality. Plenty of things that are morally repugnant are perfectly legal.

In this case, those who break the rules in this way are:
  • Inconveniencing other players (botting in the same areas, manipulating the economy, hacking their accounts)
  • Encouraging the breaking of EULA's and thus denying the developer's the right to set the rules in their game.
  • Profiting off a product they had no hand in developing.
Imagine owning an arcade (which is a surprisingly apt metaphor for an MMO I think) and a group of people found a way to break into your machines and extract tokens or prize tickets, then sold them (often for less than you, thus potentially hurting your profit). The goods and arcade are digital in the MMO realm, but this hardly seems to legitimize what's being done.

Momentarily returning to my quote at the outset; one major factor that promotes the Gold Selling industry is the power of internet anonymity to perpetuate this practice. Though developers go great lengths to secure their game and player accounts, there will always be holes. Furthermore, what looks like illicit behavior might be perfectly legitimate, thus potentially depriving a player of their game. These complications make enforcement extremely difficult, but still do not justify the acts.

"The Lies"

Most of the assertions here are essentially true, but as I refuted above, compartmentalizing the acts does not legitimize them. The Gold Sellers might not personally hack a user's account, but they buy the accounts from the person who does, they create that demand. They can claim that the demand for this gold is created by other players, but that still does not justify it.

"If I don't do it, someone else will," are words that have preceded plenty of vile acts in history.

"The (slightly biased) truth"

I am going after this one point by point, because much of it feels like the crux of the poster's argument:

"Botters are often personal users that get bored, or would like to spend their free time doing more than solely grinding away at a video game."

Then they should play something else. Disagreeing with the rules of a video games does not mean you are allowed to break them. Using this kind of logic, I should be able to kick my opponent under the table in Chess to break his concentration, because I don't want to sit there waiting for him to move. The developer's put the rewards at a certain level of time-investment for a reason, and refusing to invest that time means you are ineligible for the rewards. This diminishes the accomplishment of players that DO put in the time. If you want a game in which you can do this, make your own.

"These personal botters...."

Not going to address this one because I don't see an issue with it, all it does is clarify a definition.

"Gold sellers want to sell you gold, not steal your account. They make money and living selling you could. They are not in charge."

This is just a variation on the compartmentalization argument. I'll agree that they might not steal your account, but they buy the gold they sell from people who do; which in turn supports and benefits that practice. Them being in charge does not change something; if a military officer orders a soldier to kill someone, the soldier still did the act.

"Gold sellers do not enjoy selling gold. It's their job. They are paid to do it. It's better than working in a sweat shop to make Nike's. It's an easy, paid position, in a friendly family-like environment."

This is followed by his "rant" about not harassing gold sellers. Neither of which do I find persuasive. I sympathize for those who are stuck in countries in which this is the only form of reasonable employment they can take on, but that does not legitimize it. I do not per say blame them for that situation, but that does not mean they can be shielded from criticism or disdain. This argument could be used to justify a homeless person squatting, a poor person stealing. I get it, people do what they can to survive, but that does not make the things right. Furthermore, they are in the game I paid for, making it a less fun place. If I came to their country during what leisure time they had, and ruined THEIR activity, would that be alright?

Many jobs come with crappy side-effects that you may not like but can't avoid. A telemarketer still has to call people and get berated, a banker still has to foreclose on a house and hear insults, repo-men are still threatened when they do their job. Hearing the "don't mess with them" sounds like a "poor me" argument.

"Gold selling websites, like any other websites..."

Just a statement of operational fact clearing up a reasonable misconception, I have nothing to say on this one.

"If you buy a bot for personal use..."

Just as above, really it just explains that bot sellers aren't aiming to steal your account.

"Botting will both hurt and help the economy.."

This is a semantic argument and entirely depends on how you define "helping" an economy. He asserts that botters put crafting materials up on the AH, allowing people to get them for crafting. However these people could have gone to farm them on their own, and I am fairly sure on most WoW servers the crafting materials niche would have been filled if there was a void. The author notes that they were "over priced out the ass". See my post about monopolistic practice in games. Really, all he and his friend did was deny some player(s) the opportunity to play monopoly goblin.

Further, this claim relies on the assumption that crafting materials should be cheap and easily accessible...why? Did the developer state this? I doubt it, I'm sure some developers WANT certain crafting materials to be rare and expensive.

Lastly, just because the botting may have had a positive effect, does not justify it's use. Monopolists have used the "but it helped consumers!" argument plenty of times and been shot down. Sorry, but a botter is not Robin Hood; you are not saving the world from the tyranny of the developer set drop rates.

"Regular botters..."

Addressed above, just because you are tired of a grind does not give you the right to circumvent it. The rest of his statement is just definition.

"The best way to get..."

Good advice actually.


While I appreciate the poster being open and candid, I can't help but feel like he suffers from a bad case of internal justification and cognitive dissonance. He's distancing himself from the reality of his situation the same way plenty of criminals do: compartmentalization ("I didn't actually do the crime..."), humanization ("The criminals are people too..."), semantics ("Well I never actually HACKED the account...") and justification ("If I didn't, someone else would."). Sadly, none of these are a convincing argument for WHY it should be allowed; none of these legitimize the practice.


  1. I agree with everything you've said and I commend you for saying it so clearly. I just want to re-state something that you have already addressed.

    When gold sellers buy gold, they are essentially paying someone else to hack my account and steal gold from me. The gold sellers are receiving stolen goods. They are complicit with the crime and equally culpable.

    When I buy gold, I am paying a gold seller to manage the process of breaking into your account and stealing your gold to give it to me.

    If we accept that the assets in your account represent the amount of effort you've invested in your free time, then stealing account information is no different from stealing your credit card number.

    1. I was pondering doing a follow-up involving the "real world" implications of this industry. Especially with regards to games in which the "in-game" currency and items are beginning to have "legitimate" (read: Developer approved) real value (eg: Diablo 3, GW2) which, as you said, involve someone essentially stealing money from other people.

      Though I can't confirm as of yet, there are "rumors" of people's GW2 accounts being hacked and then not only being stripped of assets, but their accounts (and credit cards) being used to buy gems.