Blizzard recently banned “several thousand” Diablo III players for botting. For those of you who don’t know what that is, botting is when you use an external program to control your character, allowing you to gain experience, money, and loot when you aren’t at the computer. These programs use very rudimentary A.I. schemes in order to keep the character wandering around in areas with a high enemy spawn rate but low enemy difficulty. Using a few very simple rules, these computer-controlled characters merely hack away at enemies mindlessly while the player is away from the computer, earning experience and in-game money.
Now, I don’t support botting. It’s been a problem that has plagued MMOs and other online games with an experience system for ages. It skews the power curve of the game and gives an incredibly unfair advantage to a very small group of people. So we can all see why botting is bad.
But where exactly do we draw the line? Botting is frowned upon because you can increase in power without actually putting in work. Why, though, is this bad? Is it because botting players have to spend less work to level up than other players? If so, does this mean that every possible method of avoiding work is against the rules?
Let’s take an example. Say your little brother likes Diablo III, but was too cheap to buy it. So you strike a deal with him. While you are at work, you let him play your character. You give him very strict rules, never to go out of certain zones, and never to screw with your equipment. You’ve essentially told him how to not die while still being able to grind for you while you are gone. That way, you get to go to work and come home to a stronger character, while your little brother gets to play Diablo III without actually having to pay for it, everyone wins right?
But isn’t this doing the exact same thing as botting? You are simply replacing the artificial intelligence with an actual intelligence. You still get to reap the benefits of power you did not earn during time you did not spend. Yet I know few people who would say that letting your little brother play on your account is a bannable offense. Why is that?
Some would argue that the key element is time. As long as some human being is spending the time it takes to level up a character, then everything is okay. However, if this is the case, why is selling a character on EBay frowned upon? The same argument of “you didn’t spend the time to make this character” is used, yet this seems to fly just fine when you let a friend or family member play your account for you. It’s just that, when the amount of work you have to do gets smaller and the amount other people do gets larger, somewhere a line is crossed where it becomes bannable and unsportsmanlike.
But where is that line? Is it money that is the problem? Would it be okay if I raised a super powerful character and just gave it away to some random person on the Internet?
Let’s complicate matters even further. Let’s say I’m using a bot to do my leveling for me, but I’m sitting at my computer the entire time the bot is running, perhaps because I am afraid it will screw up and get me killed. Sure, I’m probably spending my time watching TV or listening to music or doing anything other than actually playing the game while my bot does the work for me, but I am still there, in that seat, while the bot does its thing. Is that then permissible?
If not, then what if I am not distracting myself? What if I am actively watching the game screen as my bot plays, not turning away for a second? The only difference between me and a legitimate player is that I’m not actually touching my keyboard and mouse. Would that be allowed?
If not, let’s say I am touching my keyboard and mouse. I’m actively playing a game but I have a program that helps me target foes or watch my health when it gets low. Is that okay?
What about a program that lets me remap keyboard shortcuts in a way that lets me access them more quickly? What about special gaming keyboards and mice that allow me to quick-map keys and functions in ways that players using a standard keyboard and mouse cannot.
Where is the line drawn? What level of assistance is permissible in games like this? The sad answer is, we don’t know. Even the Terms of Service for games like this generally do not make it clear what is and is not permissible. They make reference to botting, hacking, using external programs, and more, yet many times fans come up with assistance and shortcut programs that the developers have no problem with.
As I said before, I do not support botting. However, the issue of what is and is not permissible in games like this is something that should be thought about. People will always try to cheat the system in any game that features leveling up. But if we were able to define what sorts of assistance are permissible rather than leaving the line of unacceptable behavior somewhat fuzzy and amorphous, we might not have to ban quite as many people.
Angelo M. D’Argenio
Date: January 3, 2013
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*