Thanks to EVE Online's player-driven economy, botting is a exceedingly complex issue. To understand what they are, how they work, and how bots negatively impact EVE Online, check out our full report.
Last week I wrote about how bots, programs that automate human input, are threatening EVE Online. For a decade, players have been using these scripts to play the game for them and farm incomparable amounts of ISK (EVE's in-game currency). After a group of players took down an alleged ring of bots that was raking in exorbitant amounts of money, the discussion boiled over as players fumed at CCP for not doing more to combat them. During that initial report, CCP declined to comment saying that the next time they spoke on the issue it would be to present a new plan that would alleviate the community's concerns.
Today, a new developer blog by CCP attempted to do just that but appears to have only stoked the community's frustrations even more. In the blog post, CCP announced that in January it had banned over 1,800 accounts. It's a promising start to culling a problem that many believe is running rampant from bots who mine asteroids, kill NPC pirates to collect their bounties, and even monitor and update trade orders on the marketplace.
But changes to CCP's policy have also raised a few eyebrows. On March 1, CCP is changing its punishment on those caught using third-party scripts to play the game for them. For the first offense, players will only be banned for three days to give them a "painless chance to mend their wicked ways." Up until then, the punishment for a first offense was a 30-day ban, but CCP is saying this new, softer penalty will somehow streamline the process and make it more user-friendly. Anyone caught using bots a second time will be banned permanently.
At first glance, it seems like the company is doing the exact opposite of what the community wants. "I like how, in their effort to crack down on bots, they have decided to reduce the first offense from 30 days to [three] days," writes Combat_Wombatz on the EVE subreddit. "Seems like a winning move, CCP."
But lead community developer Sveinn 'CCP Guard' Kjarval clarified its actually a harsher punishment: "We used to have more strikes in the past but they were reduced down to two which is plenty enough," he writes. "This policy covers all automation that we detect, and we're not bound by it in case of serious offenders so we still one-strike when we need to. It's good to refer to in cases where an otherwise regular player is likely to be educated and straightened out. Our goal isn't to punish but to end the behavior that breaks the rules for the sake of the game. If we can do that without barring someone from EVE forever, great! If we catch them fast, even better."
So while the length of time first-offence botters are banned is being lessened, overall they're getting less chances. Two strikes and you're out.
Attempting to rehabilitate botters rather than banning them outright is a contentious move, but it's clear that CCP doesn't want to immediately turn away a potential customer when the MMO has historically struggled to retain new players. Given how many players I've spoken with are convinced that botting is widespread (community manager Paul Elsy even called it a "plague"), it could be that CCP doesn't want to gut its own small playerbase by handing out permanent bans.
What the dev blog is noticeably short on, however, is any discussion of how CCP is going to catch more botters. A major part of the community's concern is that bot reports seemingly go unheeded, with suspected botters never facing punishment for their actions. Instead of rolling out a more concrete plan, the blog reiterates how how players can report bots.
The dev blog has sparked a new discussion surrounding botting over the past few days. One player identifying himself as a programmer who makes bots in other MMOs came forward to offer insight into how they work and what CCP could do to stop them. Meanwhile, The Mittani, the player who leads The Imperium—EVE Online's biggest player-faction—came under fire when someone leaked an audio log of him telling his players to, under no circumstances, report fellow Imperium members for botting.
Perhaps one of the best points of discussion stemming from this issue was this thread by renowned pirate Tikktokk who points out that the prevalence of bots in EVE is a symptom because of how predictable and boring EVE Online's PVE activities are. For example, mining bots, which accounted for the vast majority of January's 1,800 bans, are often used because the activity is so passive. Your ship automatically shoots an asteroid with a mining laser until its cargo hull is full and then you unload and start over. It's pretty understandable why someone would automate that process so their time can be better spent elsewhere.
While all MMOs struggle with chores like this, EVE's sandbox is especially full of tasks that are mandatory but boring. It's the necessary yin that makes the exciting yang—like huge space battles—possible and meaningful. Botting is a complicated knot of issues, but it's clear that CCP's updated stance on the problem leaves much to be desired and the threat is far from over.
Correction: In a previous version of this story, we misinterpreted CCP Games' policy change as a softening of the punishments. But as CCP has clarified, while the initial length of a ban is being shortened, players who break the rules can only receive two strikes instead of several. We regret the error and have since amended the story.