So, with the dust settling from my last post on botting where I controversially recommended developers to be less oppressive in banning players for botting if they want a stable in game economy, or else not have a player driven economy, I thought I’d carry on my look in to Digital Economies. This time I wanted to look into exploiting.
Exploiting overlaps with botting in many ways, which is why this is really Part 2 of the previous post. Although you don’t have to have read that post before this one necessarily for it to make sense it would probably help it all make sense.
So, what is exploiting?
Dictionary time! The OED definition says:
2) make use of (a situation) in a way considered unfair or underhand
That covers quite a lot of activities, even if you narrow it down to just in video games. GW2 has had some notable examples which have received very stern responses from the development team, such as the Wintersday 2012 Snowflake-gate. Yet, you could argue that champion farming is also an exploiting activity – something which the developers are implicitly promoting through the Champion Killer achievement repeatedly popping up on the Monthly Achievements.
There was a recent surge of players playing an event at Jofast’s Waypoint in the Cursed Shore, which if failed would immediately trigger again; giving players huge rewards over time. Technically speaking its exploiting in the sense that it’s making use of a situation to gain more reward than the developers intended – basically making hay with their mistakes and oversights.
So, in a round about way there’s a contradiction going on with exploiting. Exploiting experience and loot chests is promoted, perhaps incidentally. Yet, exploits which relate to the Black Lion Trading Post are heavily ban-hammered by the developers.
The Wintersday 2012 Snowflake-gate is a good example of an exploit which got a big developer response. Players found out that making items such as a Mithril Snowflake Ring and then salvaging it would often give you an Ectoplasm, which didn’t go into the original recipe. Selling these Ectos on at a profit was judged to be a serious exploit and thousands of perma-bans were dished out that week. A not so Merry Wintersday for some that year!
A statement from the developers at the time read:
I’ve seen the numbers, and the damage to the economy could have been substantial, if the exploit wasn’t closed down and if these people were allowed to use their ill-gotten gains.
But would it?
The interesting thing about the developer’s comments is that its quite a misunderstanding of the idea of a free market. With the Black Lion Trading Post they’ve tried to create the perfect free-market, driven by player’s supply and demand.
In a system of perfect competition, such as that which they aim for, the free market is always tending towards equilibrium, where the price reflects a balance of supply and demand. If the supply suddenly rockets then the price shifts to reflect it and a new equilibrium forms. Textbook Adam Smith says that through price mechanisms, any excess supply does not affect equilibrium.
What does that mean in layman’s terms?
What it means is that if there is a sudden influx of Ectoplasms into the GW2 economy because of the Snowflake exploit it shouldn’t actually affect players in the long term. Some individuals, most likely the first to catch on to the exploit, will make a reasonable profit in the short-term; but the market will balance out the sudden change in supply. So really, although the price of Ectoplasms might change absolutely, they won’t change relatively to what you can afford – the market will work it all out over time.
So maybe exploiting isn’t as bad as is often painted for Digital Economies. The perfect free market would suggest that it isn’t and that developers should just let it take its path. Of course, many exploits aren’t too dissimilar to Trade Post Speculation. What really is that different from buying yellow items on the Black Lion cheap, salvaging them for Ectos, and making a tidy profit compared to the Snowflake exploit? Not a lot of difference really other than the intentions of the developers when they made the original item.
The trouble is is that exploiting is emotional, much like botting. The definition of ‘exploit’ doesn’t help much with this, as something ‘considered unfair’. Developers have often said that exploiters “knew what they were doing” – that it must naturally twig that when you find an exploit it must feel wrong. The fact is is that it often doesn’t.
Does the average player joining in with the Jofast event farm exploit feel that they’re doing something that is judged as wrong? Does the average player stumbling across the fact that you can make a margin by salvaging a particular item feel that they’re doing something judged as wrong. None of these players felt that they were damaging the game or its economy. But emotionally, those looking at them, and especially developers, want to paint exploiters as bad – not playing the game as the developers wanted, regardless of how they’ve allowed it to be played.
So, essentially what the message of this post is is to say that many exploits aren’t all as damaging as is often painted to digital economies. As with botting, emotional responses have often clouded the argument, and that’s pretty much unavoidable.
A cold hard look at the reality of exploits shows that there isn’t a nasty undercurrent in MMO communities looking for a slight crack in the game’s armour that they can ruthlessly use to their advantage. There are only ordinary players who find what they think is a bargain, just like finding a £100 RRP item on sale for £10 in a shop. We need to understand that, that there isn’t ‘evil’ players out there looking to scam the game – anyone could be an exploiter.
I don’t mean to encourage players to break the rules with this, or my botting post. Both activities remain strictly against all MMO rules, so don’t break them! I want this post to be a message to developers to encourage them to look at their rules unemotionally. Exploits aren’t always all that damaging, so maybe be a bit less heavy on the perma-bans and make sure that you test your games rigorously. Game testing is generally declining over time, huge glitches remain in modern games that are released for sale – so they shouldn’t all that surprised when exploits develop.
Digital Salad – https://lifeasadigitalsalad.wordpress.com