Cheaters

Last week, CCP Falcon, the EVE Universe Community Manager, came down hard and very clearly against Twitch streamers who limit giveaways of EVE Online prizes to their paid channel subscribers, calling it a form of real money trading (RMT), and a violation of the Terms of Service (ToS) agreement. NoizyGamer covered the implications of this ruling very well on his always excellent blog, so I will simply refer interested parties to that resource, if you are curious. 

CCP Falcon, EVE Community Manager

CCP Falcon, EVE Community Manager

What I found more interesting beyond the policy change were the in-depth discussions that followed on EVE-Radio and other podcasts. I find myself rolling my eyes in disbelief when I hear suggestions that CCP Games' actions could result in a crippling of the in-game economy, and perhaps even the eventual end of EVE Online itself.

Whenever CCP takes aggressive action against RMT'ing or other marginal practices like automated input, broadcasting and multiplexing, we hear a few strangely hyperbolic complaints about unfair persecution of certain playstyles, even though CCP has ruled in no uncertain terms that all of these practices are verboten. Even if one grants the very flimsy point that these actions might not be wholly detrimental to the core integrity of EVE Online, CCP decided that they have no place in our community, as is their right. You would think that would end the argument, and those who wish to use bots and conduct RMT'ing would simply leave and find a more suitable sandbox elsewhere.

But I have learned that the ability of some people to rationalize their perceived right to an inequitable advantage is limitless. They can self-justify, usually with painfully contorted logic, just about anything. They are the masters of rules lawyering and sophistry. And their persistence and perseverance as they declare their arguments with oft-capitalized clamor knows no bounds. They seem to believe that if they just protest loudly and often enough, they will change CCP's collective mind, and win the day.

It ain't never gonna happen, as we say here in the southern U.S. But that reality will never stop the fanciful tilting at windmills of those who think that overt cheating should be an allowed playstyle in EVE Online.

Let me say it plainly: RMT'ing, botting, input broadcasting, and actions of similar ilk are cheating. And people who do it are cheaters. 

I am not fond of cheaters, in Real Life or in EVE Online.

The story of Mr. Clueless

Sitting towards the back of the high-school classroom, only halfway paying attention to my math teacher distributing the test pages, I wasn't anxious at all. I knew the material pretty well, having crammed a bit the night before, and besides, I was taking the class "pass-fail" as one of my senior-year electives. I only needed to score 70 percent or better and I'd be fine.

The junior-year student next to me was sweating bullets, though. This test counted towards one-third of the final grade, and it was clear he wasn't prepared. He was a bit of a moron, actually. He always sat next to me and was incessantly whispering questions to me during lectures. "Uh, what does that mean?," he'd ask nervously. "Polynomi-what? What did she say?," he'd plead. Every math class - all semester long. It was annoying as hell. I couldn't wait to finish the syllabus, just to be free of him and his constant conspiratorial requests for help.

The test started. I breezed through the problems, finding it not that difficult, to my surprise. I was better prepared than I thought. I silently cursed myself for taking this class "pass-fail", as I'd likely do very well and could have included this one in my grade point average for the year, which would help make my college applications a little shinier. I sighed. Oh, well, it was nice to take a class without a lot of pressure, anyway.

I glanced over at my clueless neighbor, curious to see how he was doing. I did a double take, as he was nearly finished - he was working much faster than his usual painfully lethargic pace. For a second, I was almost proud of him. But then, I saw the reason for his unexpected brilliance.

Every few moments, he'd pull his sleeve back a bit, while peering nervously in the teacher's direction. All over his palm and arm, in tiny blue ball-point notations, were the formulas that we were supposed to have memorized for the test. His duplicity ensured that he was going to get a great grade, unless he got caught.

I fumed silently. I considered raising my hand and calling the teacher over. It would be a dramatic scene. I was sure that the clueless wonder thought of me as a friend. After all, I had helped him out from time to time. If I pointed out his transgression, he'd certainly look incredulously at me, wondering why I had turned on him. After all, he wasn't doing me any harm.

I let it slide. The class ended, and the teacher collected the tests. I left, feeling disappointed, mostly in myself.

The price of inaction

Thus began my passionate hate affair with cheaters. Ever since that incident in 1977 (yes, dear reader, I am an old curmudgeon), I have felt nothing but quiet loathing for people who take short-cuts in life. Rude twerps who cut in line. The smartass who hijacks premium cable TV channels for free. The jerk at work who pads his expense report and brags about it.

I hate them, but not due to any deep-seated sense of righteous justice. The real reason I despise them is because they put me in the uncomfortable position of having to make a choice that I would rather not have to make - a decision to act, or let the unwanted infringement pass.  And most of the time, due to expediency or convenience, I choose inaction, which always makes me feel uncourageous and compromised.

Cheaters claim space in my head, and squat there, rent free. And I usually let it happen, even though it annoys me greatly.

The rogues gallery

At Fanfest in March, I joined my friend Noizy at the roundtable discussion following the presentation on security. Noizy had been one of the presenters, talking bout real money trading (RMT) trends.

I joined the Q&A session mostly because I wanted to see what kind of people attended. They met my expectations perfectly. People who want to ask CCP Games about how far one can push the fringes of policies - policies that CCP just explained in explicit detail - without being called for a violation, make a very suspicious-looking group. I was reminded of the "rogues gallery" caricatures from the old Dick Tracy comic strip. In a similar vein, I began to privately label the attendees with appropriate nicknames: The Goatee, The Black Cap, Big Mama, Shifty-Eyes, The Goth, Pale-Face, Mr. Hollywood.

It's hard to exaggerate the incongruity of this gathering. Here you had more than a couple dozen people looking for ways to preserve their shady playstyles, talking to devs and dedicated experts committed to exposing and expunging that sort of bad behavior. I found the dialogue hilarious, with lots of questions starting with: "I have a friend who...," while everyone winked and nodded at each other. I felt like I was in one of those old gangster movie scenes where all the mob bosses meet - except the police were the hosts, and the press were welcome guests. It was very strange.

I became increasingly incredulous as this surreal meeting progressed. I kept asking myself if what I thought I heard was really happening. Did The Black Hat really just ask what "every input must be by a human" meant? Yes, amazingly, he did. Did Big Mama just suggest that flying a bunch of automated stealth bombers with ISBoxer was OK, under limited circumstances? Yes, amazingly, she did. Did The Goatee just inquire if some market trading macros could be allowable, if they ran a bit slowly? Yes, amazingly, he did. (For those of you who may be wondering, the answer to all the above is "definitely not allowed".)

I turned to Noizy after the session and asked if he was as bewildered as I was. Did people really not understand what CCP Games means by their policies, or are they just trying to rationalize their bad behavior? He simply sighed and shook his head. "I think they understand," he said, "but they won't or can't admit that they understand."

The Cheating Disease

To be fair, EVE Online does encourage and reward players who find ways to achieve an advantage over other players. Theory-crafters exhaustively experiment with fittings after every module or ship change. People agonize over the ever-evolving "meta" of certain fleet compositions or doctrines. Small incremental advantages have potentially large implications for success or failure. New Eden is a harshly competitive place, by design.

Cheaters often rationalize their behavior by saying they are simply playing the game as intended: the talented, smart and dedicated "professionals" succeed over the unmotivated, less attentive and casual players. Isn't that what EVE Online is really all about? Even CCP Seagull has said, "It's a sandbox game where your actions really affect what others experience." So what's wrong with doing exactly that?

Some cheaters justify their actions by saying they are actually providing a valuable service. They suggest that bot-operated mining fleets keep mineral costs down, or that RMT activity simply fulfills a market demand. They argue that people should be fairly compensated for their efforts, and that CCP is over-reacting - or even worse, CCP is imposing control over the market because they are greedy and want to maximize their profits.

These arguments have no merit, simply because they are based on the assumption that players are operating in a free, unrestricted and open market. They are not - the market, in this case, is created, maintained and owned entirely by CCP Games, and they make all the rules - they explicitly reserve this right in their EULA and ToS agreements. Cheaters conveniently decide to ignore or deny this reality.

Ignoring or denying reality is, at best, unwise - and in the worst cases, it Is a symptom of a significant mental disorder. Draw your own conclusions.

What to do?

I've never been tempted to do anything in EVE Online that could be considered a violation of the EULA or ToS. I've never even pondered the possibility. I have plenty of fun just playing the game, chatting with my alliance-mates, and helping out new players from time to time. I go to Fanfest and other player gatherings. I write this blog. EVE Online is my primary hobby, and I've enjoyed every minute of it, without doing anything that could be considered cheating. In fact, I've felt a little guilty about buying and selling PLEX, even though that is perfectly allowable.

This is why I find cheaters in this game to be so interesting. Their attitude is so different than my own. While I can understand why they may be tempted to do bad things, I marvel at their inexhaustible inability to see the flaws in their choices. But villains rarely see what they do as evil - they think they are just misunderstood.

That doesn't mean that we need to tolerate bad behavior. If I see an obvious bot or automated input violation, I report it to a CCP GM. I don't like doing it - submitting a report takes me away from my game for a while, and it is inconvenient. Fortunately, I don't have to do it very often. But I've found that by doing so, I evict that cheater from living rent-free in my head.

I encourage more of my fellow capsuleers to do the same. Cheaters should feel very unwelcome in our community.

Fly safe! o7