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Over 20,000 Elite Dangerous pilots have organised against bot abusers

Elite Dangerous Odyssey screenshots.
(Image credit: Frontier)

A rampant AI menace is threatening interstellar space, according to the thousands of Elite: Dangerous players who have signed a petition against the game's apparent botting problem.

Beyond space trucking and bounty hunting, Elite Dangerous' 30th century galaxy is controlled via a system called Power Play—a meta-game that sees various factions and empires vie for control over the game's countless systems. Unfortunately, it seems some actors have been using third-party systems to manipulate the simulations that determine how territory is allocated, cheating politics to create favourable outcomes.

An issue that's allegedly existed since Power Play's introduction, many pilots now feel enough is enough. A community-led "Anti-Botting Agreement" over on the game's official forums has been signed by 162 groups and squadrons representing over 20,000 pilots since going live at the end of January—its signatories agree not to knowingly use or benefit from bot actions, and to report them on sight.

"The use of 'Shadow Wings' and 'Ghost Fleets' in Power Play and the Background Simulation is something we wish was not a part of Elite: Dangerous," Agreement creator Asamith wrote.

In a reply, volunteer forum moderator Jane Turned explains that there are multiple steps the community would like to see taken—from volunteer task forces and back-end systems to flag non-human behaviour, to more fundamental design changes that reduce the number of exploitable "repetitive game loops". For the time being, though, the initiative simply hopes to create a vocal wall against cheating.

Speaking to PC Gamer via email, Turner explained that the bulk of botting incidents may, in fact, be stemming from a single individual, and that much of the time trying to proving a suspected bot is genuine involves trying to link it to one of their known accounts. Over time, affected groups came together in a kind of "botting self-help group" to come together to take action themselves.

Frontier, notably, doesn't put out the same kind of mass ban announcements as games like Warzone. Looking for ways to combat the cheating problem, this group contacted the developer last October with ideas, floating plans such as pretending to hire the suspected botter to trap them—an idea that was discouraged by Frontier's community team.

Elite Dangerous Odyssey screenshots.

(Image credit: Frontier)

The impetus for a mass agreement came after one squadron told the support group that the botter had contacted them asking for a truce. As it happened, this actor was counting on the community to remain fragmented—to breathe a sigh of relief and move on after dealing with their operations without warning others. "He is already howling from the resistance of 10-15 players," the squadron representative explained. "Imagine what 30 to 50 could do."

"It's a safety in numbers, an 'I am Spartacus' sort of thing," Turner added. "We thought it might be possible to raise awareness of botting, make it easier for groups to report possible incidents to FD and possibly even start stretching the resources of the main botter."

Frontier has yet to contact the Agreement creator's director. But Turner tells me that there's no ill-will harboured towards the developer: "I think they are in an invidious position. Hence our angle is how can we help FD while we support each other."

When asked for comment, a Frontier representative told PC Gamer that it "actively monitors and acts on any developments that might unbalance the Elite Dangerous Universe, or offer any unfair advantage to some players. 

"Our investigation teams constantly monitor and will ban any players found to be cheating in game—the use of bots is no exception. We take care to ensure that the tools and methods used to detect the use of bots remain discrete in order to prevent malicious users finding ways to avoid them.

We are extremely grateful to players who have voiced their concerns over the use of bots in game, and encourage them to keep reporting any and all infractions they are aware of to our Customer Service team. Frontier wants to reassure everyone that we are committed to addressing these types of issue now and in the future."