MMO Economies Suck: But developers are blameless

…according to Ed Castranova’s snippet that Scott J posted from the MDY vs Blizzard trial notes.

Courtesy of Scott, here’s a hosted copy of the source documents.

Ed writes a nice little explanation of why / how bots damage an in-game economy. I liked that. Good stuff – go read it. So far, so good – a great primer for anyone wanting to understand the situation better.

Unfortunately, the implication throughout the document is that this is all directly damaging to Blizzard’s revenue, and should be prevented *by someone other than Blizzard*.

I think this is a really stupid way of looking at things. My impression from reading the submission was that it’s overall a somewhat twisted description of the situation, coloured by a desire to use the facts (economic analysis) to support a personal desire (stop people using bots rather than go to the effort of fixing the bugs in the game-design). Sure, capitalist companies will pursue the cheapest possible means to achieve their goals, including suing people if they think they’ll succeed, but I deeply object to this kind of good factual analysis being spun to imply it proves stuff that it does not prove, and which consists an attempt to dodge responsibility and use the legal system to make up for mistakes in a company’s product-development strategy. Make better games, don’t blame the players for not playing the way they were “meant” to. Even the ones who are cheating. Ban them for cheating, stop them however you can, but don’t claim it’s not your fault that they’ve managed to cheat in the first place: of course it’s your fault.

Picking the snippet Scott quoted, which is nicely indicative of the whole piece:

Glider bots destroy this design, distorting the economy for the average player in two specific ways. When a Glider bot “farms” an area, it picks up not only experience points for its owner, discussed above, but also the “loot” that is dropped by the mobs killed by the bot. Because Glider can run constantly, it kills far more mobs than anticipated by WoW’s designers, thus creating a large surplus of goods and currency, flooding the economy with gold pieces and loot like the Essence of Water. This surplus distorts the economy in a specific way.

When bots gather key resources, they gather them in abundance. Owners of bots usually sell these resources to other players for gold, which inevitably deflates their price. Blizzard’s design intent is for the resources to command a certain high value, so that average players, who might get one or two of the resources in an average amount of play time, may obtain a decent amount of gold from selling them. But because characters controlled by bots flood the market with those resources, the market value of these resources is far less than Blizzard intended, and the average player realizes only a fraction of the intended value from the resources s/he finds. The deflated value of key resources presents a critical problem for ordinary players trying to enjoy the game. Blizzard’s game systems assume that players will be earning a certain amount of gold per hour, and many systems, such as repairs and travel, force players to make fixed payments of gold into WoW’s systems. Buying a horse, for example, costs a certain amount of gold. That pnce IS set by the game designers based on the assumption that normal players will accumulate gold at a certain rate, and that some of their gold will come from the value of resources that they harvest and sell. When the value of those resources plummets because of Glider, the amount of time it takes to accumulate the gold required for in-game expenditures like the horse skyrockets. This skews the economy, frustrates players, and, as a result of a less-satisfied user base, damages Blizzard.

My interpretation of the above argument:

  1. Designer makes various tables of numbers showing relationship between prices, rarity, the difficulty of achieving items at a given level, etc. This is normal – people who do this are often called “balance” game-designers, because they’re balancing out the risk/reward, cost/effect of everything
  2. Developers hard code these values, on the assumption that the world is perfect, they are God, and nothing could ever go wrong (this is fine; normally you make that kind of mistake once, and then fix it when you realise the problems this is going to cause)
  3. System collapses because of “bad people”
  4. When caught in such situations, Developers get to blame everyone except themselves, even though it’s clearly their own shoddy game design / implementation

The analysis is economically accurate, but the conclusions about the impact on design, and whose responsibility it is to contain/prevent/undo this, is just making out game developers to be lazy, stupid, bullies. People should take responsibility for their mistakes, not blame everyone else. Especially not blame the users of a game. Even if they hack your game to pieces and cheat like crazy THAT’S STILL YOUR FAULT AS A GAME DEVELOPER. You may hate them, rightly so, but it’s your responsibility to make better games. At least, that’s how we used to make games. Maybe the industry doesn’t work that way any more. Maybe it’s just me that thinks that way, maybe to everyone else in the industry a “bad game” isn’t your fault as a developer, it’s the players’ fault for not being clever enough to appreciate the coolness of your game.

Look at Diablo – it fell to pieces and died because of in-memory live hacking of the game-data. Seriously hardcore stuff (in a way). But that didn’t mean everyone just shrugged and said “those nasty hackers, they ruined a perfect game, it’s not the developers faut”, instead we took it to mean they hadn’t built it well enough, that next time they would have to change their approach, or their priorities, to prevent this from happening again.

To pick one more quote that underlines how silly I think this piece is because of the spin being put on it:

Glider bots occupy resources that Blizzard could otherwise put to other, more constructive uses. Because those resources are required to fight Glider, they are spent in a way that does not improve the game

Well, duh. And the same is true of most of the work being done by the Customer Service depts that all of the MMO companies pay large amounts of money to in salary every day. And it’s also true of the hardware that we use to run the game. Etc, etc. Just because a development cost “does not improve the game” doesn’t mean you have grounds to go and sue someone else for causing you to have to do it.

Where does it stop, if you go down that route? Are we going to start suing players who ask questions of the CS team that are too stupid? Will we bill players with crappy graphics cards for our time that was wasted diagnosing problems with their hardware that were stopping them from playing our games?

Which is not to say that I support botting or bot applications. I don’t support either. And I believe there are many different ways you can fight them, and there are many good reasons for shutting down people and organizations that use them. But I don’t think the reasons given above are included. And I don’t want to sink to the level of making specious arguments just because it’s the path of least effort…

6 thoughts on “MMO Economies Suck: But developers are blameless

  1. shander

    Blizzard also implies that the “cheats’ give some players advantages over others in in the way getting an extra piece or move in checkers would, and hence destroys the game.

    A better analogy for the “cheaters” , ( the glider users and gold buyers), would be people who started watching a long running drama in the last season or few episodes along side others who had watched the story unfold for years.

    In the game, the “cheaters” are on par with those jumping in to the same episode that long time fans are watching. They may be skipping ahead of others dutifully trying to get to the end by watching all of the previous episodes. Really the cheaters are cheating themselves from all the parts of the story they will miss by starting at the end… but maybe they are content with the cliff notes introduction and just want to watch along with friends for social reasons.

    The way WoW is set up, advancement a characters skills and equipment allows access to game scenarios and opponents challenging for a given level. There is little challenge and very little in game rewards from engaging in stuff bellow ones level.

    Somehow though a larger enough percentage of players who have “worked” through all the lower level content feel slighted by people starting closer to the end. The perception that they have “earned” something is dear to their attachment to the game and something Blizzard fights hard to preserve.

    If a person got all huffy puffy about someone skipping to the last season of a show we’d think they had emotional problems. How were they getting, not just entertainment, but self esteem from having watched so many previous episodes? How did they feel slighted by people who skipped to the end?

    This emotional reasoning is hard for outsiders to understand and perhaps lays close to aspects of the game associated with dysfunctional usage. (playing longer than they’d really like doing repetitive unenjoyable activites for sake of in game “achievement”). Enhancing the sense of “earned and lofty entitlement” felt by many players is the crux of why there is black market in WoW items and achievment aids and the (it seems from the lawsuit) tens of millions Blizzard spends to thwart those that just want to pay extra to skip large parts of the game.

    Being on record that they had a strong economic interest in what might be regarded by non gamers as dysfunctional attachment might not be so good. So they’ll just call people who want to use their product with a smaller less emotional time commitment “cheaters” (like they had a corked bat, or stole a play book) and dwell on the side effects caused by elaborate third party schemes necessary to start play nearer to the end.

  2. Drew Shiel

    “Somehow though a larger enough percentage of players who have “worked” through all the lower level content feel slighted by people starting closer to the end.”

    The last time I saw this argument, it was offline and in a completely different area – the “purchase” of degrees by people who had not gone through college courses, as recognition of industrial experience. Obviously, there’s no direct comparison, but the same feeling of being hard-done-by existed in the college graduates in that discussion.

    However, the sensation of progress is an essential part of WoW – and indeed, most MMOs.

    There’s also the argument that the in-game markers of level and equipment are an indication of experience and skill. For group pursuits, such as most of WoW’s end-game, that is a false indicator if people can acquire the level and gear by means other than experience.

  3. Palebrew

    Hey Blizzard, stop overcharging people who only have enough time to play for 15 hours a week!

    Shouldn’t the reverse work with the argument they are providing? Should I sue WoW because I haven’t been able to play what I payed for and not being able to advance fast enough in my gametime?

    Think.

  4. Pingback: T=Machine » Culture, Reputation, and Running a Game Studio

  5. Tony

    I really don’t know where to begin. However a write does have to have a starting point, so I will start by saying:

    I have played the game World of Warcraft now 3 years (legitimately). I, at present, have 9 level 80 toons… all of which have good gear that I’ve worked for. One has the tundra mammoth (price 14,000 wow gold) and 5 have their epic flying mounts ( 4200 gold each) not to mention the many various riding ground mounts and most have level 450 professions ( I have no idea of how much wow gold I’ve spent here) . All this done legitimately via Instances, questing and grinding for months sometimes as was in the case for the Tundra Mammoth. All this and much more happening even after Blizz went after glider.

    All my life I’ve played games from simple games such as Old Maid when I was a young child, through Monopoly, various sports games and the list goes on. The point is, that in every one of them, there was someone trying to (so called) cheat. But like everything, that word cheat is dependent upon the individual’s perspective.

    For instance in the Game of Monopoly, some people, when they play the game, put money owed via the community chest and chance cards, in the middle of the board. This can accumulate to a substantial amount and can be had if one lands on “Free Parking”. I have seen some say that doing this, since it wasn’t in the rules, is cheating and the money has to go to the bank as per the rules. I have seen it said that is is unfair to those that aren’t lucky enough to land on free parking. Of course the simple argument to that is that everyone has the same chance, simply because each player gets a turn at rolling the dice.

    Moving alone:

    Some don’t like or feel cheated if someone uses a bot such as Glider and some feel cheated because in the World of Warcraft game, they can’t spend as much time in game as some others or because they aren’t fortunate enough to have gotten picked to do a particular raid no matter how many times they have put their name in the raid hat. All can be felt as being cheated. Personally the only qualms I have about bots, are those used via the web site gold selling companies. Most of them design /wrote their own bot program and are not affiliated with Glider (though I have heard that some smaller gold selling websites had used glider too) or any other bot out there. And even if they don’t use a bot, all they need to do, is get 25 people together that know the game of WoW, each buy an account and then go level their toon ( I can can level a toon from 0 to 80 in 16 days legitimately), then start running the various raids. Or they can go to one of the many online websites and each purchase an already geared level 80 toon and do it that way. They cheated because they bought a toon from another player via a web site right! They can run those raids, get the loot, either sell it on the AH or like so many do, build a web page and offer wow goods for real dollars.

    All I see here is that Blizzard wants to be a supreme deity (or dictator) and they found what they perceive as a demon that they created because of the way they built the game.

    So I echo the other guy, its Blizzards fault for the problems in the game and not anyone else’s. Not the bots, it’s not the people that for whatever reason can sit and play the game everyday all day. It’s not the various groups of people that can do the latter of what I said above. It’s all Blizzards own fault for trying to play a deity of which they simply don’t seem to have the knowledge to do nor the expertise. But they sure have what it takes to be a dictator! That can be easily seen by anyone that hasn’t closed their eyes to it.

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