Art by Redline XIII
It’s an unfortunate fact that bots are a loathed part of every multiplayer game I’ve played. From idlebots in Team Fortess 2 farming items and ruining team balance, through leveling bots in League of Legends gumming up the 3v3 queue, to mining macros in Runescape. But it seems botting is something that uniquely effects EVE Online, and as a result of that it’s something that is rallied against at every turn, as we saw with the relentless finger-pointing over who harbors the most bots over the past few weeks.
This comes down to the fact that not only do bots generate an advantage for their user, they also serve to lessen the advantage other players get for the same amount of work, as both bots and players produce by and large the same thing. This means players have to deal with bots devaluing the work they themselves put effort into doing, which is understandably a frustrating thing to feel, as it can mean the difference between being able to play as an Omega instead of as an Alpha for players with limited time availability.
Something I’ve noticed in those other games about the bots however is that they were significantly worse than players. Idlebots were easy to kill after the game was over, LoL bots were free wins to the point it was boring, even Runescape bots could be tripped up if they were hogging one specific spot. This contrasts with EVE, where players typically complain that bots are nearly impossible to catch, which is something that clearly contributes to the perception of bots being a problem within the community.
Given that other bots perform so poorly vs players, and bots in EVE seem to perform so well, I am going to dive into a little bit about why I think this is the case. But to give a brief overview of my main conclusion – EVE doesn’t have a botting problem. It has a game design problem.
How Do Bots Make ISK?
There are a lot of bots for different purposes in EVE, and whilst Intel bots and DPlex bots are problems, they aren’t nearly as widespread or as economically impactful as the big four;
- Mining bots
- Market bots
- Mission bots
- Ratting bots
Unfortunately I don’t have a great deal of experience with the first three, and I hope other people can pitch in with their own expertise on those subjects, but for now I’m going to focus in on ratting as an income source. Ratting is also the main way in which bots add raw ISK to the game directly, which causes everyone else’s ISK to be worth less, so it’s also one which impacts every single player by effectively raising the price of PLEX.
Ratting bots are also a lot easier to find, as they have to spread over a wider range of systems than the other three, which can be centralised in one particular location. In fact I’d wager most people who have even simply roamed Nullsec believes that they’ve encountered one, regardless as to whether or not that is what happened, which is symptomatic of the overall problem.
Bot accounts can be trained on a large scale as alpha clones, or injected up to being at what the person running these bot accounts believe is an optimal skillset. These fresh accounts can then be applied to corps with access to Nullsec, either by purchasing rental space, or simply joining a corp/alliance that has existing access to Nullsec that’s good to rat in and an open doors policy.
These bot accounts are then placed in a ship such as a VNI or a Gila, as those are the most cost effective ways to make ISK in the game currently, especially considering that they can be piloted by Alphas and still rat using the same strategies as an Omega pilot. This is done by simply warping from site to site, dropping drones, and killing ships in a pre-determined order that matches the known spawnlists of said anomalies.
If an unknown pilot enters local – or a local that the bot has access to via a relay – it will immediately pull its drones in and warp off, then wait for a set amount of time, before warping back to the site and continuing.
Why Is This a Problem?
I don’t know about you – But that doesn’t sound any different to how I fly a VNI or Gila myself.
Bots are able to do everything that a player does in order to maximise their efficiency and safety whilst ratting, because almost all of it simply relies on the ability to press buttons in the right order, as fast as possible. Due to the mismatch in optimisation between PvE fits and PvP fits, there’s no reason for the PvE ship to engage a PvP ship (as it will lose), and there’s no reason for a PvP ship to engage in PvE (it will suck at it).
The static spawn lists that contain no tackle that can’t be easily dealt with or avoided means that there’s absolutely no thought required in running the content either, which means running anomalies boils down to a simple binary operation of ratting when local is clear, and getting safe as soon as possible when it is not. Money is even transferred directly into your wallet for every single rat you kill, meaning that even if you are caught, you retain all of the money you made so far. The cherry on top of this is that bots are always paying perfect attention to local, unlike players who can focus in on watching Netflix in their other screen for half a minute too long and end up getting caught, they’re able to warp off the tick you enter local every time.
Currently one of the few ways to deal with bots that exposes the sheer lack of decision making that it was necessary to program the bots with is using log-off bubble traps in their safespots, which I demonstrated in a video last year. As you can see, once you’re able to lay your hands on a ratting bot, it’s almost trivial to take out.
The way in which I was able to do it also demonstrates how poor bots can be when compared to players in terms of decision making. In that particular video I had logged my Sabre off in front of those same VNIs as they sat in the PoS, then simply waited for the NPC/h deaths to go back up on Dotlan, logged in and killed the one I was able to catch. A player would almost certainly never do that, and would at the very least consider changing systems/safespots.
This shows the main advantage players should be able to leverage over bots, their ability to adapt and make better decisions based on the information they’ve been given. However, as we explained above, the best way to keep yourself safe whilst ratting is simply to not get caught in the first place.
What Can CCP Do About It?
Not as much as I’d like. I doubt CCP is going to entirely strip and replace the anomaly system in the foreseeable future, so I wanted to take a look at a fix that I think could be done with CCP’s existing structure and technical limitations. I also think it’s something that would be of benefit to the health of the game in general, regardless of it’s impact on bots, which I think is an important thing to consider—Penalising regular players to own the bots isn’t a good strategy long-term in my opinion.
But that’s only one option. There are others, and they have their downsides as well.
This has been bandied about, but there’s a problem: it’s basically impossible. There are just too many ways to transfer value in EVE. Eliminating rental fees just means you move the payout to market fees and fees to join the ‘rental’ group. Or to get onto the ACL. Or any one of a number of other ways to pay. Yes, all of these things can be tracked, but at the same time, they can take enough forms that anything that includes ‘you do X and we don’t kill you’ can be the de facto rental agreement.
To give a recent example of just how hard it can be to draw the line on renting, many reading this article will remember how Sort Dragon was mocked as a ‘renter’ after paying the Imperium for an end to his last war with them. Whilst that was not entirely serious, can we expect Team Security to understand the nuance of a large amount of ISK being transferred not as rent, but as part of diplomatic tribute – Or conversely, that the pomp of something like this wouldn’t merely be used to cover up the now ‘banned’ renting practice.
Make the Alliances Do It
This runs into problems, too. For this, we’ll just go through some points:
As recently noted by Elo Knight, for many years the leader of Black Legion’s various forms, Alliance leaders do not have tools to monitor for botting activity that Team Security has. In addition, most bots do not rat 23/7. They’re not that obvious. As such, all accusations will have to be done based on hearsay and suspicion. So rather than reporting this to CCP, Alliance leaders are now forced to immediately kick upon suspicion. This is because, as CCP Peligo’s reddit post indicates, the wallet impacted is the main Alliance bill wallet. If the wallet is empty when a bill become due, all Sov will drop.
This, in turn, means an end to open door recruiting policies, realistically. People who wish to rent will set up alternate ‘client’ alliances (ala B0T/PIBC) which are not run by the same people as the parent alliance to protect their sov. And that means that this actually achieves nothing: the ‘alliance leaders’ being given the responsibility aren’t actually anything of the sort. As such, this mainly impacts large alliances, without impacting alliances which contribute more bots overall to the ecosystem.
And then there’s the metagame: weaponised botting. Using VPN, groups can put ‘rental’ corps into their enemies renters, then bot up a storm. CCP then punishes the targets of the meta-scam. CCP gets meta’d. The initial community reaction from the masses will be great—most players only look at immediate intentions and don’t think of the bigger picture. But in the wake of the Brisc Rubal episode, does CCP really want to step into that pitfall when organized groups use Team Security to wage their wars for them?
The TL;DR is simple – Remove a significant percentage of bounty payouts from all NS anomalies, but add a guaranteed spawn at the end of each anomaly, which holds the equivalent ISK in Overseer Effects.
I’m always hesitant to add numbers to ideas this early on, so let me know what you think the breakpoint of percentage would be there, but adding a physical component to the rewards that ratting provides would have a number of positive effects;
Firstly, it will give an immediate option of a reward for players who are able to push a PvE player off of a site, regardless of their ability to catch the player. As someone who has hunted nullsec ratters (both botting and not), there’s nothing more frustrating than seeing a VNI enter warp just as you land, knowing your work has been for nothing. Adding a potential reward for the intruding pilot if the site is near completion, by allowing them to get a reward that the PvE pilot helped them work towards. Currently the total reward for a Sanctum is only 40m, so this reward is unlikely to be a huge motivating factor for older players, but it will provide a way for players who specialise in hunting bots to gain an income even if they fail to secure a kill.
This also has a number of knock on effects to the way PvE plays out. It adds an effective “upper limit” to how fast you can clear sites whilst still making sure that you have 100% ISK retention, as you’ll need to stop to collect the Overseer’s Effect in each anomaly unless you wish to use MTUs or alts to pick it up. This in turn then makes defending these systems and stopping hostiles from getting inside them more valuable, as it allows you to better make ISK if there’s an active defence force keeping hostiles away from your system, as them entering the system will leave any MTUs or unlooted Overseer wrecks easy to be probed and looted, taking a percentage of your hard earned ratting ISK for themselves—If they can get it back to Hisec!
I’m curious to see what you think of this suggestion, and with a wider lens the problems more generally outlined, as I want to be able to give CCP direction and feedback on how they can let us – EVE players – do what we do best;
Exploit predictable behaviour for our own gain.