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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…

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