Why Harboring Bots is a Big Deal

Earlier today, CCP Peligro, the face of Team Security at CCP, released a whole load of useful information regarding bots and bans in a series of tweets, including some great ban data, and specific callouts of alliances with high numbers of botters. This set off a firestorm in the community, especially regarding a comment about enforcement actions against alliances found to be harboring bots. This is one of the key components of my platform, so I figure now is a good time to lay down exactly why I think this is a good step to take.

I’ll begin with the initial two tweets that started the whole thing.

So one piece of the big news is that we have some more firm stats on ban totals, but I’ll talk about that later. The real reason you’re probably here is for the second part, where CCP intends to start going after bots. As you may know from my platform, I’m very pro going after the alliances and corps. While banning individual bots is definitely a good move, it’s also not fully effective. Especially now that alphas exist, it’s very easy for botters to simply cycle out characters as they get banned. I know this from personal experience, several of the botters I’ve caught have actively confessed to me that CCP had banned those accounts so they made new ones when trying to explain why they were unable to add their ESI keys when applying.

The solution to that issue is to deal with the corps, and the alliances if necessary. See, you can swap out characters all the time, but it’s a lot more difficult to change out a corp if it’s been negwalleted. It’s easier if the corp is in a rental alliance, because they’re a lot more fluid, but it adds a barrier, which is the goal here. Nothing’s ever going to be perfect, but you can minimize the problem. Alliances make it even tougher, as we saw during recent negwalleting events, as they have to deal with sov and similar, so you can’t exactly go dropping alliances left and right, when they hold sov, and holding sov is key to the most prominent bots. Basically, when you go after the corps and alliances that consistently permit, and in some cases actually train, people to bot, you’re going after the root of the issue, as opposed to the symptoms.

The other side of my philosophy on this is a simple fairness issue. Right now, corps and alliances are directly incentivized in the short term to permit and encourage bots, especially in rental groups, as they get tax and rental income from it, while being minimally affected by the consequences CCP lays down on the individuals. When a bot gets banned, CCP should at minimum nuke every bit of traceable isk they can from taxes and rent, removing that incentive. Most alliances are pretty decent about bots, and don’t actively harbor them, but even in that scenario, they should not be allowed to keep the isk. In the words of Peligro:

Now, there are some concerns about enforcement of this, and those are certainly warranted, especially after the recent Brisc issues. Penalties above simply removing the tax income derived should definitely be erring on the side of caution, especially at the alliance level, as a slipup would be catastrophic to trust in CCP. That being said, there are some easy ways to get indications, via the number of bots, reaction to bots when they’re exposed, pen testing, and if they’re literally posting botting guides on their forums. In the end though, it’s like pornography, where you have to do it on a case by case basis, as there’s no good way to define it.

The other big issue that’s been brought up is if corps can even police bots, and if so, how. To that, I draw from personal experience when I say yes. I take great delight in nuking every bot I can find, because when else do you get to kill blues. Generally, I follow a system of report received/bot detected>investigate>kill chars in space>kick>report to CCP. The key part there is taking action, rather than waiting around for CCP to deal with it. It’s a reality of the situation where CCP gets an overwhelming number of reports. Hiding behind that excuse to avoid getting rid of that tax income doesn’t fly. Basically, there’s a minimum level of activity that should be taken when dealing with a situation of this import.

On the subject of how, well, that’s why there’s ESIs. At this point, it’s a game-wide standard to put in API keys when you join an alliance. These give a whole lot of information, and allow you to spot a lot of bot-like activity, as well as automate detection. The other one, which does take a bit more work, is going and poking the suspected bot characters when they’re in space. Bots generally won’t respond to blues tackling them, while humans obviously will object to this action. You can also attempt to convo and similar, though many bots auto-reject invitations.

On a side note, I'm a big fan of this kind of transparency in terms of numbers and alliances. It’s really important that people see that CCP’s is acting on this problem, as if people don’t feel that CCP is invested in the issue, they’re less likely to take steps on their own to handle it. It’s the broken windows philosophy, but a lot simpler and easier because this is a video game. There’s a whole lot people can do to help out, so CCP should be actively encouraging it.

The other big side of it is the public shaming aspect. As mentioned earlier, penalizing the alliances and corps that thrive off the isk from botters is key to preventing the problem. However, these penalties don’t have to be directly financial in nature. Calling out the biggest offenders is an equally good option, as it drops their reputation in game, hopefully causing fewer people to join, as who wants to be known as a bunch of botters? For this reason, I’m glad to see Peligro plans to release more stats on bans in alliances and NPC corps.

One other big note from this is the stats on bans in this year so far:

From the looks of it, despite previous statements, they do seem to have reverted back to the wave system of banning.

If they can start disincentivizing bot harboring, then I think the wave system is pretty effective, but until such time as that happens, it’s mainly giving them free time to bot and get away with it. There are concerns about detection tools, and I admit I do not know how their detection works, but I’m not sure it’s worth the cost.

Another interesting thing about the graph is the number of permabans, that implies that most of the bans are for second or more time offenders, as the first ban is a short temp ban. This likely means that most of the botting is coming from the same people repeatedly cycling in chars, as mentioned before, rather than a broad swathe of botters. which hopefully means taking down their corps, alliances, and reputation will be more effective, as it’s concentrated into a few people.

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In the sum of it, I’m pretty happy with this, but there’s definitely room for improvement. I’m very eager to see if Peligro follows through on the harboring penalties and on releasing more detailed stats on bot counts per alliance.

Cornak Firefist