Strategies to prevent bots

How to prevent bots.
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Specific software that mimics player actions in an MMORPG is called botting software or simply a bot. The ultimate goal of botting is to gain an advantage over other players by acquiring more virtual goods in a shorter time with less personal effort. This article presents strategies to prevent bots.

Table of contents


Who benefits from bots?

The more bots determine a game, the less influence the game mechanics have. Bots remove available enemies, resources, and slots for human players. They distort the server economy. Their misconduct disturbs the immersion.

A common misbelief is that bots provide players with resources and can be useful for the economy. This is just as true as the claim that social networks are social.

So, who benefits from bots? Firstly, in a paid bot software scenario, the distributor of the software benefits from bots. Secondly, with paid or free bot software available, the inconsiderate bot user benefits from bots.

The losers of this game are honest players. They will lose interest in a game governed by bots and leave. At this point, you, as a game provider, are a loser.

Botting is an existential threat to any MMORPG. You must apply strategies to prevent bots, or your game will not survive.


Traditional strategies to prevent bots

There are various strategies to prevent botting:

Game master supervision

Often other players detect bots because of their conspicuous, repetitive, or senseless behavior. Similarly, the presence of a player in the same area for many hours is also considered to be conspicuous. If players report the suspicion to a game master, they can block the account. Before doing this, he should make sure that he actually has a bot in front of him.

Advantage: If the game master reacts promptly, the players feel well looked after.

Disadvantage: You have to pay a lot of Game Masters. Also, it is common for a bot operator to run many bots in parallel and take them over manually in malfunctions. Therefore, the Game master cannot convict the bot operator. Popular explanations for the strange gambling behavior are suffering from depression or watching TV on the side. To make matters worse, some players like to make fun of simply reporting an unpleasant teammate as a bot.

Turing test

Occasionally, designers implement game elements with the intention of a Turing test. Those are tasks that a person can solve and a bot cannot. The Captcha (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) has the same intention.

Advantage: This may exclude simple bots from certain game elements.

Disadvantage: As with CAPTCHA, sooner or later, bot programmers equip their creations with the ability to solve the tasks. In the arms race between game programmers and bot programmers, the latter has the advantage of being able to focus completely on bots.

Cyber swatting

The game client software searches the player’s system for known bots’ signature.

Advantage: Works like anti-virus software and can prevent bots.

Disadvantage: Works like antivirus software. You need to update the game client constantly to recognize the latest bot versions. Bots try to hide. Besides, unlike a virus, the bot user wants the bot. Therefore, he will sabotage the software as best he can. Even the most honest player will perceive too aggressive monitoring of his system as intrusive.

It’s the economy, stupid

This strategy deprives bots of their economic basis. Players cannot trade. Relevant loot binds on pickup

Advantage: An effective strategy to prevent bots.

Disadvantage: Effective, yet not efficient. Removing trade damages the MMORPG core.

Opportunity makes a thief

A game without repetitive tasks offers less incentive to use bots.

Advantage: Starts with the bot operators’ motivation.

Disadvantage: An MMORPG without repetitive game mechanics is out of this world. Not only the farming of raw materials is repetitive. Similarly, completing quests and fighting opponents with a combat system follows a similar sequence.

Legalize it

Some games allow or even encourage the appearance of bots. If everyone uses a bot, there is no advantage in using a bot anymore. This restores a certain level of equality of opportunities between all players.

Advantage: Restores equality of opportunities between bot users and honest players.

Disadvantage: There are still more than ever bots in the game that disturb immersion.

Become the dealer

With this strategy, the game operators offer a legal opportunity to purchase virtual goods.

Advantage: The bot operators and the game operators receive additional income.

Disadvantage: The economic shifts caused by bots and legal real money trading add up. The real wallet increasingly determines the progress of the player. Does not prevent bots.

Increase the costs

A game with paid accounts in which convicted bot users consistently lose their account can make the use of bots economically unattractive. The opposite is the case in a free game without strict anti-bot measures.

Advantage: A working strategie to prevents bots.

Disadvantage: Cannot detect bots. Therefore, it needs other flanking strategies.


A novel strategy to prevent bots

None of the above strategies has completely removed bots from a game. In the end, they all have in common that they cannot solve the following problem: distinguish between a bot and a human player.

A well-maintained bot cannot be safely distinguished from a human player.

However, there is a strategy to completely remove bots by design: sleepwalking.

Sleepwalking – How does it remove bots?

The player can mark mobs, resources, and instances for sleepwalking. This is a kind of favorites list. The list has a limited number of entries, for example, 3. The player can only include elements that are within his level range.

In short, the server then simulates a bot that will farm the items on the sleepwalking list while the player is away. However, we don´t want the server to simulate bots. We want to remove bots. Therefore, the server calculates the loot a bot would gather.

When the player logs in again, the server calculates the passed offline time. Then it conservatively estimates how much loot and XP the player would have earned if he had farmed the offline time using the elements in the sleepwalking list.

You can limit the offline time that sleepwalking is active to a reasonable amount like eight or twelve hours.

The mobs’ normal loot tables are used to calculate the sleepwalking loot. Don´t try to cheat on the players at this point. They would notice that the loot is inferior and return to botting.

How to hand over sleepwalking loot

In the simplest variant, the player receives the farmed loot, XP, and all resources that he would have received if he had played normally. Since this measure affects all players, there will be equal opportunities. Adjust the drop rates for loot and the amount of XP to achieve the desired progression speed.

In a further developed variant, the game does not simply receive a huge chunk of loot and XP when logging in. Rather, both are released in a protracted manner during the following game. It could look like the player gets an XP boost that pays out double or triple XP until the surplus is used up.

Basically, what rest bonus is for XP, sleepwalking will be for farming loot.

The loot could be done so that the entire offline loot goes into the “sleepwalking bag”. This is a virtual bag with unlimited size. The player can see the number of items in the “sleepwalking bag”, but not the exact content. With every normal kill, the player also receives an item or stack from the “sleepwalking bag”.

What sleepwalking should not do

As a rule of thumb, sleepwalking should be able to do everything that a player would want a bot to do. And nothing more. Game elements that players like to bot are time-consuming, repetitive activities that require no or no relevant decisions.

On the contrary, singular, diverse activities that require relevant decisions are rarely left to bots. For example, completing quests or distributing skill points in crafting or combat are activities players like to do themselves. Furthermore, anything that is considered a rewarding activity or collecting rewards should be left to players.

Also, there may be areas like raid instances or temporarily accessible zones where bots would not work. You may consider prohibiting sleepwalking there too.

Make sleepwalking essential

To ultimately remove bots from the game, make an essential resource that only sleepwalking can deliver. The player cannot actively farm this resource. He must log off and let the sleepwalking process do it. The process will generate a certain amount of the resource for every hour of dream farming.

This resource – maybe it is called rheum – will be required to unlock skills, craft stuff, or other essential activities. Make that game progress requires a continual amount of rheum.

As a byproduct, you have a resource given in surplus to less active players: an ideal catch-up mechanic.

Concerns

The player will farm with a twink army!

Sleepwalking only works on the last played avatar. So, only on one character per account at a time. Twinks don´t help.

The economy is flooded with items

The abundance of farmed material increases. So this is a mere balancing problem. Of course, you need to adapt the economy and crafting system to sleepwalking. You may increase the material costs for crafting or decrease the drop rate of materials.

Is active farming devalued?

To gain the sleepwalking items, you still need to farm stuff. Sleepwalking for loot is like a rest bonus for XP. However, farming in the sense of grinding the same-mob-kind-for-hours is devalued. Because Sleepwalking does this automatically while the player is offline.

Is the player “forced” to log in regularly?

The mechanic is flexible. When you want to support loose player binding, you can allow sleepwalking to gather materials worth several days or even weeks of farming. So the player can stay offline that time without being “punished”. Likewise, you can configure how fast the sleepwalking bag loot is given to the players. So the mechanic can be tuned to an arbitrary degree of accessibility.

But the botter can still use multiple accounts!

The short answer: When botting doesn´t pay off on one account, it won´t on 100 accounts either.

The long answer: The strategy doesn´t prevent multi-boxing. When an honest player farms 2,4 hours a day, the illegal botter can farm 24 hours a day, making the output of the illegal account and the impact on the economy 10 times higher.

An illegal botter can multiply this advantage by multi-boxing. This leads to an unfair distortion of the economy.

However, with sleepwalking, illegal botting loses that advantage. The only advantage left is, that players might use multiple “farm accounts” to support a “main account”. As we talk about paid accounts: let them do so if they like. This doesn´t impact the community in a negative way.


Checklist

Traditional strategies fight bots on many levels:

  • legal
  • social
  • technical
  • game design

However, the most efficient strategy that prevents bots by design only works in MMORPGs with a very restricted number of avatars.


Game design considerations.
Design Doris

The most efficient strategy to remove bots forever is creating unavoidable, legal game mechanics that mimic bot service without being a bot.

(Last Updated on April 22, 2021)

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