Of Devs and Bugs

Asheron’s Call was born of high hopes and the supposed absence of mistakes learned from other games. In the very first Zone Chat on 8/6/99, we were assured:

Stucco@Zone: We will NOT release to the paying public something that is buggy. When we roll it out, it will be of high quality….

Of course, after a scant few months of release, on 12/1/99, that illusion was shattered:

Stucco@Zone> We will not rest until every bug is gone.

Since then, the community has known a laundry list of bugs and exploits that greatly alter game play. Many of these bugs have existed from day one.

I am tired, flat out tired, of hearing people tell me again and again that Asheron’s Call is a game where bugs are minor and are usually fixed quickly and efficiently. This is bullshit. Various ranting sites have undeservedly praised Turbine for its approach to bugs while denouncing UO and EQ for theirs.

The key factor setting AC apart from the other two is that Turbine has no approach to bugs. It’s easy to be consistent in policy when you have no policy at all. Frankly, Turbine won’t take any decisive action with bugs unless the server is practically on fire. Unless players destroy a significant portion of the game, dev action on bugs is slow in coming. The two most recent cases of emergency are the platinum scarabs fiasco and a server-crashing exploit.

A bug free game? Hardly. A game where Turbine deals with bugs intelligently? Not by a long shot.

When Exploiters Dictate Your Game

Turbine\’e2\’80\’99s approach to its player-base was a simple one in the beginning. In light of bannings by OSI and Verant, Turbine decided that its player-base was not at fault for any bugs or exploits. If exploits existed, they were simply the fault of the programmers, and any players using them would not be punished for their cheating ways.

This is an interesting approach by any dev team for any ORPG. It removes a basic unit of morality recognized by American law and society for over two centuries and introduces the following mind-boggling concept:

If you commit a crime, it is not your fault. It is the fault of those who enabled you to commit such a crime.

Friendly? Yes. Functional? Not quite.

The end result of Turbine’s permissive policy is the creation of a player-base beholden to exploiting. Indeed, exploiting is so prevalent in the game, a player must be well versed in the various bugs and exploits in order to even have a fair chance against his fellow player. In a PvP environment, if a player does not have knowledge of god-mode, run-healing, and various jumping “techniques,” he or she might as well not bother showing up.

The exploits within Asheron’s Call are not placing boxes in front of monsters, pre-casting, or using trapped pouches to ruin a paralyze spell. Those are common sense techniques which any player might learn on his or her own. AC exploits are somewhat more complex and subtle. Combat exploits within the game require a series of very well-timed keystrokes. The exploits are so complex in places that players simply set up macroing programs to perform the exploit for them.

Some will argue the bugs (and they are bugs) add an element of much needed skill to PvP. With Turbine’s tacit endorsement of bug abuse, I would think such “features” would appear in the game’s basic documentation so that all players might have an equal opportunity to take advantage of them. No such documentation exists, thus leading to groups of players who use more and more bugs and hoard knowledge of them with no fear of reprisal.

It is the lack of fear from exploiters that has slowly worn away the integrity of the game. When the platinum scarab bug was introduced in January, scores of players ran to the Tethana mage shop to earn billions of pyreals. The player base is now brazen with their exploiting; yet Turbine stands idly by.

What has this earned the company and AC? It has earned them third party programs replete with cheating mechanisms that ruin the game. Don’t want to fight? Set up a bot to do all the fighting for you. Don’t want to spend time earning the necessary materials for quest armor and weapons? A bot will do that for you as well. Tired of earning money the old fashioned way? Set up a portal bot which players pay you for transportation, even though you personally could be a thousand miles away from the game.

These are not UO macros used to take out the endless clicking of using one skill over and over. These are macroing programs used to effectively eliminate vast quantities of game material. The prevailing attitude creeping into the game is that players should not have to work for anything, and damn those who insist otherwise. These bots are the tip of the iceberg. As time moves on and players realize there are no limits to third party exploitation, the bots will become more complex, further undermining the quality of the game.

I Love You, Man

There is nothing inherently wrong with a company being friendly with the player-base. Actually, it is something each company should strive for. With the coming of Calandryll and Melantus at OSI, and the departure of Abashi from his customer-relations position at Verant, the two kingpins of online gaming have made great strides towards maintaining a positive relationship with its customers. The days of “Ban them all. Let God sort them out,” seems to have passed. Yet, these two games continue to ban exploiters and maintain the integrity of their games. (Well, with a few missteps here and there).

Turbine, from the beginning, fed off the illusion of mass player ill will towards OSI and Verant. Not only would they not ban exploiters, but they attempted to foster a relationship with certain notorious persons for the good of the game. The company believed exploiters would share their bug knowledge if there were no fear of reprisal.

The exploiters took great advantage of this policy. Soon after AC’s release, rumors flew about a certain
discovering a dupe bug. The players dutifully reported to the devs the nature of the bug, thus allowing them to fix it . . . only after said players exploited it into the ground. There was the required denial by the exploiters, and the devs took no action against them, as promised.

However, can there be a doubt that exploiters maintain this practice? Before the platinum scarab bug was released for all the community to see by some sites, it was undoubtedly abused over and over well before the devs put in a hot fix. Before releasing the details of a bug, exploiters profit handsomely, then guarantee no other players might have the same opportunity.

The devs are now another tool at the disposal of exploiters. Interesting trend, no?

Because of an unreasonable desire to be liked, Turbine has time and again refused to take any decisive action against exploiters. And so the exploiters use them and destroy the integrity of the game. If a person can cheat, knowing that even if they are caught there will be no consequences, what is to stop them from doing so? That KoC is now the head guild of Darktide speaks volumes about Turbine’s policy. A guild banned from UO because of mass duping is king in a world where negative actions go unpunished.

We won\’e2\’80\’99t even get into what KoC did to reach their position on Darktide. (See Myschyf\’e2\’80\’99s comment)

What It All Means

There is much a company needs to do to maintain the integrity and spirit of its game. Banning must be an unfortunate and hopefully rare aspect. To tell players you will never punish them invites exploitation. Exploitation invites the unfair advantage of some players at the expense of others. Exploitation ruins a game. People at the short end of the exploiting stick will quit playing. The integrity of the game is worn down as the very spirit of the game is destroyed.

In future competitive games like Shadowbane and the Dark Ages of Camelot, where solid consequences come with PvP, the companies must take decisive action against exploiters. Otherwise they will see their game destroyed by rampant cheating and the wearing down of in game systems.

The only people praising Turbine for its vapid approach to exploitation are exploiters themselves. Of course they don’t want the bugs fixed. Of course they are perfectly happy with the way the game is. They do not want to see their advantages taken away.

Turbine hears this siren song and wrongly interprets it as their doing something right.

It is very, very wrong. Anyone who thinks that Turbine\’e2\’80\’99s policy bears repeating in any ORPG needs to take a good, hard look at the effects of that policy in game. I hope future games and current ones learn from the great mistake that Turbine has been making.

To be continued in the near future. . .