Exile observations, China: Operators Selling Bots?

Recently I had to leave the country for the month of April to get a new visa. Fortunately I received said visa and all is well. During the month I visited Canada and then China and Seoul, Korea. I was hoping to post a long-winded travelogue, but didn’t finish it in a timely fashion and decided to trim things down for individual posts.

One tale I was told that boggled me was this; apparently a very large Chinese MMO operator (begins with S) has a very successful MMORPG that is overrun with botting (the practice of running third-party software robots to kill monsters and thereby gather up more goodies). Nothing new there, bots are common in many games. The Bot for this game is sold for ~$20. Fair enough, you say, underground Bot-hackers need to eat, too.

The incredible thing is that you can pay for this Bot using the official game-time cards sold by the operator. You can only pay for two things with the card; game-time (and/or in-game items, I believe their are switching models) and the Bot. Yes, the operator is essentially selling the robot. The implications for concurrent user numbers and revenue (where $20 is a lot more than the ~$2 monthly charge) are profound.

Somebody please tell me I’ve got all this wrong. It’ll help my poor eyes get a rest from boggling.

13 thoughts on “Exile observations, China: Operators Selling Bots?”

  1. It’s important to realize who these bots are targeted at. RMT companies.

    $20 is far out of reach for the average Chinese gamer, and it’s priced as such on purpose. I have a Chinese friend who makes his living through RMT, and I’ll ask him about this later, but the whole thing doesn’t really strike me as surprising.

    RMT companies are a legitimate part of China’s upward economic progress. This game company is simply trying to make a buck by partnering with the bot developers and supporting the industry of RMT.

    I’m sure I can get more information on this topic from my friend, I’ll post again after having talked to him.

  2. It depends on the game and how the economy and such operates as to whether or not you necessarily need such a bot to do well at the game, but it doesn’t strike me as too silly.

    First, it separates low demanders and high demanders into different payment plans, which strikes me as having a good chance at increasing revenue.

    Second, if the operator themselves is running the bots, that gives them a lot more control over botting in the game in general. High demanders who purchase the most bots will probably go with the offical bots rather than someone elses, (there’s less percieved risk, since it’s downright unlikely the game will shut down the bot it sold to you.) and of course the operator is less likely to make the bots do things that are gamebreaking.

    The fact that it’s marketed to Asians rather than Americans might be another mark in favor of the operator selling his own bots. I don’t know if there’s a cultural divide between English speakers and asians, but it wouldn’t amaze me if Asian-language speakers didn’t find botting to be very upsetting.

  3. “I don’t know if there’s a cultural divide between English speakers and asians, but it wouldn’t amaze me if Asian-language speakers didn’t find botting to be very upsetting.”

    You may want to break this generalization down further. Asia as a whole is incredibly diverse. Korea, Japan, and China (power players) are each unique in their own ways.

    While China is possibly more accepting of this idea, I feel that the economic situation is the driving force in that opinion.

    Korea on the other hand has it’s own cultural divide over the topic. They have their pure gamers, their “do anything to keep up” botters, and their RMT opportunity seekers. It all boiled down to a nasty court battle against Lineage 1 bot makers earlier this month.


    According to the article (and personal experience), many accuse NCSoft of secretly allowing bots to some extent. Some even accuse the Lineage1/2 design as being bot-friendly as a means to encourage players to pay for multiple accounts to bot with.

  4. I have real trouble with the idea that a company would foster botting rather than just selling the RMT-traded items themselves for fun and profit (like, uh, some other companies that we might mention).

    I suppose that this is yet another successful mutant parasite suckling on the subscription business model. Botting must surely be destructive to gameplay for the majority of actual players (maybe they are in the minority?), but if it sells more accounts (and the bots themselves) then… umm… yeah.

    I’ll keep boggling!

  5. WOW! I just got done talking to my farmer pal. The details seem hazy right now, but the Chinese government has deemed the 2 most popular Lineage 2 bots *ILLEGAL*.

    One of them has been shut down completely, the other does not have a central host server so it has been harder to shut down.

    He also said that he has just recently heard about this new time card bot, and called it “ridiculous”.

    I’m not exactly sure what the government’s motives are here, but perhaps they have decided that 3rd party bots are damaging the industry, but if a bot is created by the host company it is OK. Since RMT companies and many players rely on bots, this could be a boost to “legitimate” MMO industry in China. I’m not sure how taxes work in China, but assuming it is anything close to the United Stats, one could see a potential motive. Online companies selling bots are difficult to tax, and can fly under radar. If the game companies take that revenue it is much easier to keep track of, and far better for the government.

    Nothing is very clear right now, this is still “breaking news” even in China.

  6. One side always says “how does it affect YOUR experience, nosey person? mind your own business! it’s my money, I get to spend it on what I want!” and the other points out a few legitimate mechanical gripes (for example, the damage to a game economy) and the desire to enter MMOGs on a level playing field (it just occurred to me that the botting has some uncanny parallels with Affirmative Action, where one person’s legitimate achievements are undercut by the help others got . . . have to save that for the next flamewar on topic I find).

    I think, in the end, it will be decided by lawyers.

  7. It makes me wonder if there’d be a market – at least in some Asian countries – for an online game that consists entirely of a world of “bots” that you can purchase, upgrade and maintain, which act out all the actual gameplay (if you can call it that) for you. Some people seem eager to participate in games they can dominate without actually having to take the time to play, and they’re clearly willing to pay for it. If this kind of activity ruins the game for normal players, cut out the normal players…

    I’m being silly, but you have to wonder.

    On the other hand, the prevalence of bot usage is probably based on the presence of regular players who actually play the game.

  8. >It makes me wonder if there’d be a market – at least in some Asian countries – for an online game that consists entirely of a world of “bots”

    Sounds like an MMO SIMs of sorts, which I’ve always thought was a fabulous idea. The daftest thing they did with The Sims Online was make one avatar Sim ‘you’.

  9. >an online game that consists entirely of a world of “bots”

    It’s called Lineage 2 Thailand.

    Well that was a joke (true as it may be), but to take your idea seriously: A lot of people play L1 and L2 in this fashion. The normal gameplay isn’t fun so they end up running 9 characters (or more) by themselves to form a 1-man group. The challenge lies in hiding this group from the other players (avoid being reported) by hiding somewhere remote. Then optimizing the group. Lineage bots are so complicated that just getting your group optimized properly is a challenge in itself. Then you have to fight the evil GMs who try to trick you. It sounds like a pretty fun game 😀

    But if a game were designed this way, from the ground up, you would see that it looks like: An RTS!

    An MMORTS I suppose. You would have multiple units under your control, and you could give them a general order, but they would do most things on their own. If done correctly, it could have all the hands-free exping that botters love, without the stigma of being a bot, because you call it an “RTS”.

    The real question is, what kind of bots will bot programmers write for the game that was inspired by bots 🙂

  10. I had a boggling addiction before I had a pirates addiction. If you’re referring to creating words from a grid of letters anyway hehe.

    Used to spend hours playing at games.com until I got sick of the laggy servers, lack of support, pop ups and lousy interface design… uh yeah.. guess there really are quite a few things I don’t like about that site…

  11. First I must say that writing a good situated autonomous agent (read ‘bot’)is not trivial. Second they are going to happen no matter what. Third, if an NPC’s scripted behavior doesn’t itself detract from the game, then I see no reason why client side scripted agent should detract from the game.

    I find it fairly amusing that game designers don’t explicitly deal with the “problem” of bots within the game universe itself, instead of just adding a section to the EULA. EULA’s are a terrible way to enforce behaviors, especially when game creators can actually change the game. It would be trivial to punish bot behavior simply by adding components to the game that are actualy hard for the bots to deal with. For example, it’s very hard for bots to deal with unexpected situations, a little more randomness in things like spawn times/areas fixes this in your typical hack and slash MMO. Hell, even having dynamic content would make bot’s harder to code. Imagine if that midlevel area that the bot likes to use to gain gold/xp could change factional control as a result of player actions.

    Speaking of H&S MMOs, IMHO these really are the very games that only bots should be playing. The main argument I hear for not allowing bots is that it somehow cheapens the experience for everyone. Frankly, I can’t tell the difference between a bot and a power gamer in in these types of games. They both do things repetitively, and neither react with players in “social” ways.

    That said, I really like some of the comments here. I thought I was really the only person thinking about highly automated type MMO’s. I’ve been toying with the idea for some time. I think it would be amazing to have a game where most of the agents in the game were manipulated in some way by players. Imagine a world where you start with one underling, and the implicit goal is to amass an army of underlings, maybe in a way similar to Settlers (think bakers, farmers, hunters, smithies…). Build up a kingdom if you can, and compete with other players in your bid for followers. It would certainly make for a very interesting game.

  12. >an online game that consists entirely of a world of “bots”

    Just because no one else has said it yet… http://www.progressquest.com/

    In all seriousness, I am intrigued by the game mechanic of controlling multiple characters. I’ve…um…thought about this idea before, and I’m not…um…thinking about it anymore these days, but I’m still curious why I haven’t seen the feature…um…in any finished games.

    A big part of why I left the online game space is because I didn’t like working with designers who were adding features “because that’s how did it.” It’s pandemic across all genres of game development, but I’ve found it especially bad in MMORPGs.

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