Saturday, May 10, 2008

Death of a gold spammer

(The next victim stands on top of a pile of dead spammers)

A curious scene has been taking place in the streets of Stormwind. The square between the Auction House and the Bank is by far the busiest place in the game, with dozens of players moving to and from the commercial hub. This is why the square is also the favourite location for gold spammers. The spammers are randomly generated Level 1 characters, operated as bots and programmed to repeat an endless stream of ads. The typical message gives the name of the site, and the current price of gold. The constant stream of chat spam is so annoying that it has become a serious problem for players. Most people ignore it, but there are some who have taken the law into their own hands.

It is not possible to hurt a character from your own faction without inviting them to duel. Even if a player from another faction got there, he would not be able to kill the spammer, as he needs to be flagged for PvP. However, someone found that a shaman can cast a totem that will give just enough damage for a few seconds to all around it, even players from the same faction. This will not hurt anyone else, but it will kill a level 1 character. Because these are bots, the corpse will sit there, and will not resurrect. One can't spam when one is dead.

There are several legal issues here. Firstly is the legality of killing another player in this fashion. Interestingly, this is an action that is considered to be a game exploit, and therefore it is a bannable offence that would fall under s B.7-8 of WoW's Terms of Use. According to that, users may not:
"7. Harass, threaten, stalk, embarrass or cause distress, unwanted attention or discomfort to any user of the Program;
8. Cheat or utilize "exploits" while playing the Program in any way, including without limitation modification of the Program’s files;"
Because the exploit is a bannable offence, the thread where it was explained was deleted, but by the wonders of Google cache, you can find it here.

The second legal question is one of regulation. It seems like WoW is somewhat reluctant to completely stamp out gold selling and spam; see Judge Ung-Gi Yoon's excellent article on the subject (thanks to Nic Suzor for the link). However, there are several regulatory responses to the problem posed by chat spam. The first one is to use the top-down, legislative and contract approach, which is to make this a bannable offence under the terms of use. Sections B.2-3 of the Terms of Use deal with that:
"2. Carry out any action with a disruptive effect, such as intentionally causing the Chat screen to scroll faster than other users are able to read, or setting up macros with large amounts of text that, when used, can have a disruptive effect on the normal flow of Chat;
3. Disrupt the normal flow of dialogue in Chat or otherwise act in a manner that negatively affects other users including without limitation posting commercial solicitations and/or advertisements for goods and services available outside of the World of Warcraft universe;"
While this is enforced, the solution by spammers is to create characters as soon as the old ones are deleted, which explains why gold farmers are all Level 1. As with email spam, the second solution is code. SpamMeNot is a WoW plugin which filters out most of the chat spam, and a very effective one at that.

The third solution is the vigilantism described. It is intriguing how virtual communities will revert to community enforcement when they perceive that the legal solutions are not working. Suddenly, it is the Wild West all over again.

I'm sure that Blizzard will soon plug this exploit, but on the meantime, all bots in the vicinity of Stormwind better beware. Avatars are up in arms, and they want revenge.


Unggi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unggi Yoon said...

Hi, Andres --

Thanks for referring my article to your blog.

I'd like to introduce my korean blog to you.

Time passed fast since we met at SOP V in last summer.

I hope we keep in touch.


Andrew said...

(Note: I posted a similar comment over at TerraNova, but since this is the original source and what I linked to in my blog, I thought I would comment here as well)

I commented and referred to this article over at my blog: The War Against Gold Farmers.
Please excuse some of the errors on the site as it's still in beta and we don't have all of the content and bugs 100% worked out yet.

I thought I would comment as this post ties in partly with the goal of our site which is to bring self-regulation (but with information not in-game exploits) to the RMT industry by making critical information about the (often shady, like most black market industries) industry available to consumers who can then vote with their dollars (Note: which we then get 10% of through affiliate programs). It also includes some cool charts in an attempt to create a WSJ/ feel to the virtual currency industry.

Right now we are putting together a database of companies that spam and planning to target them through SEO and Search Engine PPC along with a public publicity campaign to refer them to more reputable vendors. If spamming hurts a companies reputation enough that consumers go to competitors (and we plan to intentionally target the spammers potential customers to provide them with information to direct them to more reputable alternatives) it should decrease the rewards for spammers, and thus decrease spam.

Hopefully that wasn't too shameless of a self-plug. Oh, and I love your posts about Doctor Who (big fan, watched about every episode, even the old black and white ones)