Well, things are calming down a bit… we’re starting to count exactly how much supplies our guids need to throw away, St. Twister is jumping up and down in the corner wanting everyone to know how persecuted he is, and I’m getting set to turn the web site over to a small, cute puppy for the weekend. Time to dredge up old ghosts.

Origin vs. Macroing – an old song. The latest stanza is the now-confirmed rumor that Origin is actually implementing macro detection code on its servers – and using it as an investigative tool.

I think this is precisely the wrong thing to do. Here’s why.

Look at why people macro. They don’t do it because there’s some illicit thrill in playing the game incorrectly; they do it because they want their character to be where they want them to be. Be it the 7x GM Tank Mage of the powergaming PvPer or the merely adequate survival skills of the casual monster basher; it’s no secret that without macroing, playing UO on the standard shards is well nigh impossible.

Why is macroing in UO a problem as opposed to, say, EQ? Well, macroing is actually *possible* in UO. If it were possible to macro the main tedious “play” of EQ, namely camping spawns, you can damn well bet everyone would be doing it within mere seconds. Unlike EQ, UO is actually a somewhat well-behaved application that can multitask, thus it’s possible to write robots such as UO AutoPilot and datastream parsers such as UO Assist for UO.

Here’s an interesting anecdote, totally true. A programmer friend of mine from work, whom I recruited into the UO cult, and who has no conception of the “community” or the “controversy” surrounding UO (he’s barely aware that I write this website, I think) actually wrote his own macro bot program, simply because he was tired of hitting his Spirit Speak in-game macro key to raise intelligence. He had no idea such a program would get him banned. He saw it as the logical thing to do… he had better things to do then sit in front of his keyboard mashing a key every 30 seconds, but he wanted to participate in the world. Thus the macro bot.

Designer Emeritus Dragon said it best: No matter what you do, someone is going to automate the process of playing your world. Everything else is reaction. The question then is; what will the reaction be?

Origin is opting for the punitive approach, and is wholly unapologetic about it. Gordon Walton, aka Tyrant, the friendly face of online fascism, has stated in no uncertain terms that everyone who “macros unattended” (the code words for macroing in a fashion that can actually be proven) will be banned from the game. The GMs have, in violation of their own stated guidelines, gone after otherwise unintrusive macroers with a vengeance, driven to a great degree by reports from other players seeking to gain advantage by eliminating their opponents in a more permanent fashion than any Corp Por. (This happens on a regular basis to my guild and I personally; until recently I thought that we were targeted because of this site. Alas, no St. Lum here; an enemy guild uses macro reporting as an alternate form of warfare.) UO Assist, the only approved third-party macroing utility (you have to seek out an unapproved third-party addon to force it to continue macroing repetitive tasks), has as its tip of the day “TIP: Don’t macro unattended if you value your account.” And, in case you forgot, Eurasia is at war with Eastasia.

When a corporation goes to war with its own customers, it knows one of two things: either it has its customers addicted to crack, or its customers must be cowed into submission to keep them. With Origin, it’s both. UO is trapped by its own design cycle; to attract new players, the playing field must be level, yet the virtual world model requires that player skill usage be below a certain level for those new players to have a hope of skill gain. Macroing defeats this, since it relies on overloading the skill curve for personal gain. Macroing must be stopped. To do this, player behavior must be changed. Thus the police actions.

The fact that, in the face of this, the entire UO playerbase has not quit out of disgust, speaks miles about the game itself. However, Origin would be wise to not wholly count on this. As UO matures and more online games come out, UO will recruit less and less new players, and become more and more dependent on its veterans. Banning someone does not encourage them to give you money.

So what should Origin do? The answer is obvious, and will make many people furious – implement Siege Perilous’ Rate-over-Time skill gain model to all shards. A tweaked model, to be sure, which would be far more forgiving of skills below 50, but I can tell you from personal experience, it is a delight to be able to actually have control of your own skills, and not have to macro night after night trying to make GM Anatomy. By firmly removing the reason for macroing – overloading the skill gain curve through constant use – you turn over enforcement of the game’s systems back to the game, where it belongs.

Yes, people will continue to macro trying to defeat the system, but in far fewer numbers. And the GMs might have to find something else to do with their time then checking with their stool pigeons to see which players to penalize for actually playing the game they paid for. And you know what – we’ll probably find something else to bitch about. Lord knows, from the looks of it, we aren’t ready to run out any time soon.

Just some random thoughts, from a guy who can’t ever macro again.