Exploit or Not?

Posted: January 18, 2008 by Xeavn in General Game Concepts

Today I want to talk a bit about exploits, and to do that I think it is important to first define what an exploit is from my viewpoint. After all, what I consider an exploit might be different from what you consider an exploit. To me an exploit is any bug which happens to positively effect the player. This could be anything from some sequence of selling and buying back that results in duplicate coin being created to a typo that is allowing for those level 2 crafted bracers to be sold for 87 gold instead of 87 copper. This tends to happen once in a while, but for the most part I think it is somewhat rare. A majority of bugs tends to adversely effect the player, not help them. I also don’t count things like hacking the client, or writing bots as exploits, since it seems like those actions are fairly well established as being against the games terms of service, and to me seem far more like cheating.

In fact I think the whole idea of exploits in a game is something that has really only came about with the rise in popularity of MMO’s. In a single player game, if I found a bug that helped me out or say even a cheat code to make the game easier to beat, the only person I have affected is myself. Sure I might later brag to my friends that I beat whatever game it was, but if you have a history of cheating to do so, they are going to very quickly stop caring. With the advent of online games, cheating became a much bigger issue. Exploits still existed, but with a lot of the older games you played until the end of the match and any advantage that was gained was over when the match ended. Sure some standings might have gotten messed up, but eventually the bug would be fixed, and players using it would no longer have an advantage. If anything, cheating and hacking were probably a bigger deal for most games.

With the rise of MMO’s though, all of the sudden an exploit becomes a little bigger deal. Your character is saved, and everything is one big persistent world, all of the sudden abuse of an exploit can effect more than just your play time. Take the typo on the level 2 crafted bracers that I mentioned earlier. If 5 people have noticed and sold 300 each to the general merchant, they have made about 250 platinum each, and will begin to very quickly raise the prices on a lot of other goods throughout the server. It is for this reason that exploiting is not allowed in the Terms of Service, and can result in some harsh penalties for players doing so.

The biggest problem with exploits as I defined them above is that they are accomplished through simple in game mechanics that are used by everyday players. A bug has caused some portion of the game to not work the way the developers of the game had intended it to work. The problem is that we can only play the game given to use, and not the game the developers intended. Take for instance the wrongly priced bracers again, what if a new player just starting crafting makes 5 or 10 of them. He needed the experience, he had the materials. He doesn’t think to check the broker, but takes them straight away to the armor smith, hoping to recover his fuel costs. He notices they are selling for a huge amount to the armor smith. Well that can’t be right, but what do you do at this point? He may realize that 87 gold is far more than it should be selling for, but it isn’t like he can choose to sell it for less. What if he only has a couple of six slot backpacks, and needs to sell them to make room? Sure it is a very unlikely situation, but I think it serves well to highlight why exploits do not always seem as bad as cheating.

Now lets look at something a little more likely. The faction bug that existed in Rise of Kunark for a while. If you had max faction, 50,000 + with any given faction you couldn’t lose faction for killing members of that faction anymore. This has since been fixed, and you now lose faction correctly. Is this considered an exploit? Well by the definition above, I would have to consider it one. I was able to gain an advantage with a number of different factions using this. Does it have a huge impact on the game as a whole? Well I don’t think so, but I do have a lot higher faction with two different groups than I otherwise would have. This means I now have access to their faction loot, which I should have probably had to work harder to receive. Any new players will likely need to put in this additional effort. Still in the long run, the impact is somewhat less than the earlier hypothetical one where great fortunes were gained.

This exploit or bug highlights the largest problem with exploits in general. How do you know what the game is supposed to be doing? It seemed more like a feature than a bug that you wouldn’t lose experience after reaching 50K faction. Even if you knew it was a bug, it isn’t like you could easily avoid it, while still playing the game. I don’t know of anyone punished for taking advantage of this particular exploit, so does that make it alright? In any case there seems to be varying degree’s of exploits depending on what it allows the player to accomplish. How is a player supposed to know which ones are okay to use, and which ones are bad, and should be stayed away from? Is it ever okay to use an exploit? I don’t have a good answer to any of those questions, but I would like to hear what you think about it.

  1. Laldail says:

    Competitive people in almost any competitive environment, be it a game or real life, will tend to push the envelope of what is acceptable within the context of their chosen activity. Honestly competitive people will occasionally breach that boundary accidentally and be contrite without losing their honest desire to compete at the top of their field. You see this all the time on the sports field as well as in business.

    That said, there is that element that will intentionally seek the areas outside of the boundaries of accepted behavior for their activity. These types of people may get away with this behavior for varying periods of time, highly dependent upon the amount of scrutiny that the activity receives. A high school track star may use performance enhancing drugs and not get caught ever. That same track star moving onto the world stage at, say, the Olympics, is much more likely to be discovered and disgraced.

    I believe that the video game culture breeds the mentality that basically reads, “if the game allows it, it’s fair game”. In the absence of human deterence (referees, police, umpires, etc) the player basically looks to the code of the game to provide the absolute boundaries of acceptable behavior. This is why so many things which should be realistically allowable within an MMO simply cannot be allowed by the code. If it was, it would be assumed by much of the player base to be acceptable behavior, even if the rules say otherwise.

    Code has become the final arbiter of what is ‘acceptable’ within a game. My personal opinion is that the typical video game player prefers it that way because then all they have to think about is ‘winning’ and can blame the developers if the game allows something that it shouldn’t within the ruleset. “Hey, I’m just using the tools the devs provided me, whether it was intentional or not.”

    By the way, I somewhat disagree with your definition of exploit but only in that I don’t think it goes far enough. Yes, one can exploit bugs and some, perhaps many, players do so. Exploitation exists outside the realm of bugs, however, in that it could be, and often is, a behavior that was simply not thought about by the developers and therefore not guarded against in the code. No group of Developers has the imagination capacity of hundreds of thousands of players.

    Exploitation is not, in and of itself, a negative term. Professional sports teams ‘exploit’ weaknesses in the opposing teams defenses. It simply means to use a weakness or defect to ones own advantage. It can be with or without regards to acceptable behavioral or social norms. The question on the table, it seems to me, is not specific to gaming exploits but to player behavior in general and the seeming acceptance by the gaming population of gameplay ethics that would be completely unacceptable in any regulated gaming or sporting industry. It just seems to me that a very high percentage (personal perception only) of video game buffs are unethical in their playstyles. It is as simple as that, IMHO.

    I can only hope that this seeming lack of ethics is only prevalent in the context of the video game and not in the players’ real lives, but one has to wonder.

  2. Illuminator says:

    So very well said that I don’t think I could add anything, and the silence shows I am not alone.

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