14/01/2017

Exploitarama

Hi, my name is Shintar and I've never knowingly participated in an exploit in Star Wars: The Old Republic. If certain parts of the player base are to be believed, that apparently makes me part of a tiny minority because "everyone's doing it".

I've never even written a post about the subject of exploiting (as far as I can remember), mostly because I find it to be such a depressing topic. It's also oddly controversial, even though you'd think that it really shouldn't be (what, you're saying cheating isn't bad?), and to be honest I tend to shy away from writing anything too controversial on here most of the time.

Nonetheless I've been on the sidelines of a fair number of exploits, and they have always been thoroughly disheartening affairs from my point of view. They tend to bring out the worst in people, as they brag about cheating their way to the top and may even try to force others into breaking the rules against their will, as poor Mox described on the podcast last week when he was forcefully prevented from trying to pull a certain boss the normal way.

What makes it worse is that Bioware is really not very good at dealing with exploiters. An ex-guildie of mine farmed implants from Nefra via an exploit back in the day, and when the subject was brought up in conversation with him recently, he still laughed about how he was never punished for it. During the infamous Coratanni bug, they did hand out some punishments, but I recall someone who was affected saying that while something had been done to his account, his illegitimately acquired main hand weapon wasn't even removed... or something similarly awkward and ineffective, I wouldn't swear by the details. The point was that the exploit had still been worth it for him as the punishment didn't counter the reward. And now we've reached a new low (or high I suppose, if you're into that kind of thing) with Eric Musco outright telling people on the forums that exploiting is okay.

Don't get me wrong: I do agree that this latest exploit (which did not grant you any extra loot, but caused one half of a two boss encounter in a small group instance to instantly fall over dead) gave relatively little benefit, so I didn't really expect them to get out the ban hammer or anything. But by not even bothering with as much as a slap on the wrist for the worst offenders, they are basically giving people green light to exploit as much as they want going forward. Oh sure, strictly speaking, Eric still says that you shouldn't. But that's an appendix to a post in which he states that there is an exploit, they can totally tell who intentionally exploited as opposed to triggering the effect by accident, but they still aren't going to do anything about it. In fact, they aren't going to fix it for another week, so go knock yourself out.

I kind of suspect that this stance is more the result of some sort of painful cost-benefit calculation than a firm conviction that nobody deserved punishment (meaning that it would take too much time to weed out the worst of the bad apples, they might not currently have a way to implement partial CXP rollbacks or whatever). However, that doesn't change that they are making fools out of those of us who follow the rules and have in the past tried to convince others to do the same. If you told anyone not to exploit Fractured, that person can now laugh in your face, and rightly so - because Bioware has their back, not yours. Not to mention that if actually punishing exploiters appropriately is too much hassle right now, why should we expect them to make time for it in the future?

I'd like to say that I have some sympathy for Bioware here because they aren't really big into competitive gaming, and ultimately exploiting is all about gaining a competitive advantage, so maybe it's something they don't really "get". However, they've been running this game for more than five years at this point, and I really would have expected them to have picked up a trick or two by now.

Unfortunately, I suspect that things are only going to get worse, partially because of this incident encouraging more bad behaviour, but also because of the nature of Galactic Command. Pre-5.0, they at least only really had to worry about operations and to some degree PvP as areas where abusing a bug could actually gain you a significant leg up. With everything being endgame on the other hand, everything also becomes a potential target for exploiting. They are not off to a good start in terms of keeping up.

18 comments :

  1. It wouldn't have been the mainhand for Coratanni, since that dropped the Revanite Chestpiece - that sounds more like a Colossal Monolith gain.

    It does hurt to see them just let this one go by when they seemed to be getting better at catching people... :(

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    1. Nah, it was definitely Coratanni. Then I'm just misremembering what slot it was.

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  2. I'm all for punishing exploiters on the principle that, while so will always try to exploit, you need to make it unhealthy for as large a majority as possible to try it. Effectively it is an eternal whack-a-mole game for the devs. :/

    I do think that the CXP system may be mitigating some of their normal response. While the exploiters would go up in rank faster, they aren't guaranteed to get any gear that would make them more powerful in game. They may have looked at the potential 'ill gotten gains' and saw mostly Jawa Junk and decided the dev effort wasn't cost-effective. That said, I do think the social/player environment costs were more than they realize. I know I'm being snarky, but not being in sync with their player base is a common complaint.

    On the other hand, looking at the PvP top 96 season titles, we do know that they are willing to punish as little as a hundred exploiters. :sigh: This inconsistent behavior is worse than doing nothing, behavior-wise.

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  3. Hopefully I can make you less bitter toward your fellow players by misquoting Ice-T:

    "Don't hate the playa, hate the GC."

    Bioware designed the system without asking us for input. Then they programmed the system. If there is a fix to put out, they are in charge of doing so. Our only responsibility was to make them aware of it, and we did. The only bad thing they are doing is waiting so long to bring the fix.

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    1. I dunno, I've seen quite a few players blame Galactic Command (e.g. "The only reason I'm exploiting is because the system sucks!") but I don't think that not liking a game/system is an excuse to ruin it for others. If you hate it so much, take a step back; don't farm uprisings for six hours straight. That's some rather confused messaging anyway.

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    2. You can tell from my elite GC level of 20 that I was NOT farming this exploit. :)

      In fact, I skipped queuing for uprisings during a recent uprisings bonus night. I skipped because of the fear, uncertainty and doubt created by some of Eric's earlier comments about "potential exploits". I had heard about the ravager's "incident", and didn't want to get sucked into something like that.

      I sure didn't appreciate having to fear being held accountable for something I have no control over. Bioware has all the power here, so they have to take the responsibility.

      Also believe that "actions" should be reserved for people who are hacking the client, or engaging in hate speech in chat.

      This "exploit" really only shaves a couple of minutes from an uprising, not that big a deal honestly.

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    3. Yeah, that was meant to be a generic "you", not you in particular. I figured you weren't doing that.

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  4. Over the course of more than a decade and a half of playing MMOS I have almost completely reversed my opinion on "exploits" like this. I started out feeling that players who took advantage of glitches and bugs were the scum of the earth and deserved the harshest penalties. Nowadays my view is much, much more nuanced.

    I typed several paragraphs here but then I deleted them. This is far too complex an issue to address in a comment and giving examples just leads to a relentless need for further examples. Suffice it to say that, as a rule, I think players deserve to be treated primarily as customers and that customers should not be criticized for the shortcomings of the products or services they pay for. Far from it. Indeed, if the product is faulty, which, in the case of most exploits it demonstrably is, then customers deserve to be compensated rather than punished.

    Indeed, the entire concept of a business being able to "punish" its customers is one I find increasingly bizarre and disturbing. A business has the right, within the boundaries of non-descriminatory legislation, to excercise a certain degree of selection over who it will or won't accept as a customer but that is as far as it goes. Where exploits like this are discovered by players the game company's role is first to APOLOGIZE for the flawed product, then to CORRECT the flaw. Then we all move on.

    If players want to bicker among themselves over the rights and wrongs that's their prerogative but the developers absolutely must not to get involved in any form of blame game or recrimination.

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    1. The main flaw I see with that argument as I read it is that MMOs are not item transactions - they are providing a service, and part of that, by their own definition, is providing a fair and pleasant environment.

      The closest real life comparison I could think of would be if I was in a restaurant and another customer caused a scene because they didn't like their food. I wouldn't blame the restaurant for that, and I would expect them to take action to restore order, even if that meant asking the disruptive customer to leave the premises. Being a customer does not absolve one from following certain standards and procedures if something is wrong.

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    2. I think if MMOs were like automobiles (you pay your money and get a car with a warranty), then your reasoning would be spot on. The problem is that we've entered into a contract that states we (as players) agree to not exploit as part of the conditions to our access to the MMO (as service). When someone else is violating the contract and getting away with it, it isn't unreasonable to ask why aren't they getting punished for it.

      Another issue is social in nature. As a game, we want to know that it is fair for all players. If someone can cheat/exploit/etc. to get ahead that devalues the game for players and observers. We want to succeed/'win' because of skill, not because we found a way to get an unintended edge.

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    3. I endorse and indeed expect the MMO developer, as service provider to maintain a safe environment for its customers and to abide by all necessary legal obligations in doing so. I'm fully in favor of very strong moderation of all public chat channels, mandatory filters for hate speech including zero tolerance for anything that would be unacceptable in a real-world context, including character and guild names. Similarly I believe the developer has an absolute obligation to maintain access to all the services provided, which means removing players from the gameworld if they deny those services to other customers. That is exactly analogous to asking disruptive diners to leave a restaurant or calling the authorities to report criminal acts observed taking place there.

      I don't see that as having anything to do with exploits that progress a player's character through content, except and unless doing so directly prevents another player from doing so (if it locks down a public NPC so no-one else can get a quest, for example).

      I strongly dislike the way character play in MMOs (the leveling game and it's associated faction or other attribute-raising parts) has acquired an element of player vs player competition. I think it is literally no other player's business how you level your character (unless they want your advice on how to emulate your methods). In the old days, when everything was open world, there was, perhaps, some merit in maintaining an even playing field, but with the overwhelming use of instanced content that has taken over the genre I don't believe those arguments remain valid.

      Focusing on exploits and whether they should or shouldn't be punished just compounds the underlying design flaw, which is that competition between players has increasingly been formalized and normalized in all aspects of the games, whether they're flagged as "PvP" or "PvE". I think that's an approach that should be heartily resisted although I appreciate it's a losing argument these days, now the MMO genre has become subsumed into the wider and much more innately competitive gaming culture in general.

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    4. Well, I suppose "I wish everyone would stop being so damn competitive" is a valid stance to take and I do appreciate you taking the time to lay it out here. :)

      That does leave me wondering about one thing though: If you think this clamouring for an even playing field due to competitive concerns is a new trend and you don't like it, what were you own reasons for disliking exploiters back in the day if it wasn't due to concerns about unfairness?

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  5. If I am playing an MMO and actively manipulate or alter the company's product then I consider that a violation. A player should be banned or punished accordingly.
    However, if a developer designs a product with flaws, it is ridiculous to turn around and punish players for using the game as it is currently designed. Regardless of whether the developers intended for it to be used as it is currently implemented.
    In this case, it is the developer's responsibility to admit the error and fix it. If such a design flaw led to players getting unintended benefits, you can either adjust their rewards or leave as is. Under no circumstances should a player be penalized for developer sloppiness or incompetence. Whether or not players continued using said feature even if it is obviously not working as intended is also irrelevant.
    The idea that players are exploiting a game when in reality the developers did a shoddy job is wrong headed. While I would not have used the content, castigating players who did is not the answer and smacks of a petty kind of envy. Blame the developer and put the responsibility for fixing whatever issues were created in their court.

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    1. I'm not sure we disagree as much as you seem to think if you would have considered "adjusting their rewards" an appropriate course of action. As I said, I didn't expect bans.

      I do blame Bioware for not taking action and enforcing their own Terms of Service that we all agreed to. Doesn't mean that breaking them in the first place is OK.

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    2. I have since looked into his issue a bit more. Bioware released content with a sloppy boss mechanic. If you want to get upset at someone, that should be Bioware. But not because they are not enforcing the TOS. Get upset with their sloppy content release.

      I don't begrudge other players using the content. It doesn't affect how I play and their rewards do not affect my performance or negatively impact any part of my gaming experience. In games like SWTOR, I agree with Bhagpuss. It is no one's business how any other player levels or gets their own rewards. This is not Dark Age of Camelot.

      Bioware would be quite right to ignore the TOS because there is no need to enforce anything. No one got any unfair advantage that will trickle into other player gaming experiences. All players who met the content requirements had access. If you chose not play it that is fine but there is nothing unfair here. Like any sensible developer, they realize that punishing players for Bio ware's sloppiness is counter-productive and bad for customer relationships.

      Players who want Bioware to enforce the TOS for something this trivial are being petty and childish.

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    3. As much as I'd love to live in a world where all software is bug-free, that's never going to happen, so if I got upset about every bug I encounter I'd be damn miserable. In an MMO at least, we have rules for how to deal with them.

      And it's all fine and well for you to say that you don't care because it didn't affect you personally but in this very post I refer to how it has affected people - players getting forced to exploit when they just wanted to do the content; others shying away from doing said content altogether because of being afraid that the same might happen to them. Only being out for your own gain, with a mindset of "screw everyone else", makes for a pretty poor community.

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  6. Great post Shintar. I'm glad to see there are still people out there who think doing the right thing is important. I 100℅ agree with you!

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  7. Part of the reason why I try to avoid the major SWTOR forums (outside of the obvious desire to avoid the drama) is that I don't want to be exposed to references to exploits/cheats. It's one thing to have to play a game where the AI cheats (such as most builder type games such as Civilization), but another to have an exploit discovered and then propagated throughout the environment. I'd rather win the old fashioned way.

    One thing that I will point out, however, is that slamming down the ban hammer on exploits/cheats brings out the haters in full force. And Bioware, as part of EA, certainly doesn't need to stir up that storm any more than they absolutely have to. It wouldn't shock me if Bioware does take that into account when dealing with exploits.

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