Wednesday, April 6, 2011

On Botting

Rivs over at High Latency Life wrote an interesting, if brief, article regarding his feelings about bots in video games. He ends it with a question for our feelings about bots, and I feel inclined to take the bait and turn it into a post.

Personally, "bot" to me in any video game is a dirty word. It's not exactly rational either. Rivs makes some good points about the pros and cons of bots being allowed to exist in virtual worlds, but at the end of the day what does it for me is a simple Rage Against the Machine. Games are for playing. Therefore, anyone not "playing" is Doing it Wrong.

Things are rarely so black and white, though. I'll be the first to admit that the opinion expressed above is based more on prejudice than actual rational thought and due consideration for the problem. In other words, it's ill-formed.

So here's my attempt to rectify my mistake, remove my blinders, and think outside the box. If we toss aside the notion, even if just for the length of a post, that "bots" are inherently bad because they're non-human, what do we have left? I think most of us can agree with the sentiment expressed by Rivs that "PvP bots are where to draw the line." His analogy is an apt one. If I'm engaged in sport of any kind (say football), and one of my teammates goes AFK, or worse, runs around jumping randomly, slamming into obstacles and not contributing at all to the goal of the game... well, I'd be pretty pissed and rightly so. Too bad we don't have a coach that can sit your PvP-botting ass on the bench.

However, in the case of gathering, there is a bit of a different paradigm. To some extent, you could argue that allowing bots to collect items is beneficial to other players. It drives down costs and makes things plentiful that otherwise might not be. In the end, it only negatively effects you if you were trying to make money off of said items. For people that don't play the AH game, it's predominantly win. The only downside I can see then is that it may be hard to find a node if you find yourself in need of one.

It also might be useful to know how much time and energy Blizzard (or any game company for that matter) spends combating bots. How much more content would we have if they did not exist in the first place? Would the game potentially be better off if they just ignored bots and concentrated on other things?

Or, if we'd like to get even more radical: What if Blizz just gave us all the ability to have our characters "forage" when we're not online?

Yeah, I'm asking what would happen if they made "botting" part of the game. What good, then, would third party bots be? Wouldn't this give them more control over the problem? And might this benefit everyone in the form of cheaper mats, etc? It's sort of like taking a page out of EVE's book and morphing it to WoW.

They could even still encourage and support "normal" gathering by limiting how afk-gathering works. Say you can only get volatiles from real gathers. Also, maybe our characters don't afk-gather from nodes, but from where ever in the nether they go when we're not giving them life. Thus, node competition could be negated. There could be some really clever ways to implement this that help people and still support an economy and what have you. I suppose the downside is that the more you limit it, the more bots would come back. It might be wasted effort as well.

At the same time, I've always wondered what my characters do in my absence. Why not be able to pad the bank or something? Maybe you could set choices where they "gamble" or "invest" or do other things besides gather, based on your personal needs and goals. Maybe they actively try to "hone their skills" so that you get a slow trickle of VP (if you're max level) or experience. It would have to been terribly slow compared to actually doing the activity, but it would provide another hook to keep paying, and maybe encourage people to take time off at the same time.

I don't know, maybe it's an awful idea. Maybe we should just keep doing what we're doing to limit bots. Like I said, I was just trying to think outside of the prejudice. What do you think?


  1. I think the main issue that isn't addressed in your article is WHY people bot. They bot so they don't have to work for some reward. WoW has a lot of things that are built to require a certain amount of time for the player to do. Bots negate that by allowing the player to let something else do it for them.

    In your scenario, I don't think it would help. Even if Blizzard implemented the "forage" botters would just create bots that could still do the stuff that wasn't meant to be botted. You'd have the same problem as now, except the names would be changed.

  2. I don't know that I necessarily agree with that. I think a lot of people bot because they don't have the time and the "work" isn't commensurate to the reward. 30 Volatiles required for a piece of Dreamcloth, for instance, is pretty steep (or expensive). The "lazy" excuse only goes so far, and at what point is doing "work" good for a game that is supposed to be "fun?"

    I agree that my idealistic solution probably wouldn't work, though. Like you said, it would just create more sophisticated bots probably.

    I guess at the end of the day, I sort of equate this conversation to piracy and DRM. A good way to combat those things is to make obtaining the good simple and convenient and cheap. If you instead invest tons of money into DRM and subsequently drive the price up, you actually encourage more piracy.

    It's a complicated issue though, and people smarter than me haven't figured it out yet, so I don't feel to bad at my crappy solutions :-).

    The "something for nothing" argument is something a lot of people love to make about "my generation," and I just disagree with it in principle... but that's a whole 'nother post.

  3. Great post, and I'm glad I got you thinking on the topic.

  4. Thanks for the prod. Though with the announcement of the whole tank bribe thing, I feel sort of trumped. :-)