Greedy Goblin

Friday, July 28, 2017

Corrupt developer career path

Wilhelm and his sidekick Syncain are mad at me. No, they don't just believe that I'm wrong, then they would just unsubscribe my blog and leave me like we leave the homeless who explain government conspiracies to pigeons. But for some reason he had to write 1360 words about my 740 and 1280 words, to somehow debunk my idea that game devs are corrupt.

His first argument is "where are the stories" of scandals? The answer is simple: there are no scandals because it's not illegal. If for example a CCP dev would come forward and say that t20 is still handing out rare blueprints, the only thing that would be broken is his NDA. Neither t20, nor CCP games would be guilty in any wrongdoing, criminal or civil. Hint: t20 was not fired after he was found giving out rare blueprints. So being a whistle-blower ends in nothing but being blacklisted and maybe even sued with nothing but some bad PR for the company. Not many saints will speak up.

You have to understand that video game players waive all their rights when click that Yes button. None of the promises and claims of game companies are enforcable. I can't just point at some dev statement and demand refund. There was a pretty big P2W scandal in Black Desert that clearly and openly promised that they will never implement certain kinds of microtransactions in the Western Game (that's why it was buy-to-play instead of free-to-play like in Korea) and then they did just that and refused refund based on fine print. The players were so outraged that they pushed a mass chargeback campaign and the company just issued legal threats. I don't know how many people actually chargebacked and if the publisher actually sued them or let it slide, but it's besides the point. The point is that the current video game law(-lessness) means that none of the ethical standards in our head have any legal standings. At best you can bang your drum as a player. No dev will risk his employability to stand up against completely legal practices, just because they find it distasteful.

Secondly, let's consider the size of the RMT market. A researcher found 2 BILLION dollars worth of RMT in 2007!!! Imagine the size in 2017. Nosy Gamer estimates $400K per year RMT in the niche game EVE just on player auctions, a place where small time nobodies openly offer their ISK to anyone wanting to buy. We are talking about billions of dollars stolen here! Do you with a straight face claim that billions of dollars are stolen from the companies without internal help? Let's say every corrupt dev makes $100K from corruption. From a billion dollars, you can pay 10K corrupt devs. These are numbers.

Wilhelm calls me ignorant for demanding bugfixes and claims that some bugs take long to fix. However in the referred Ghost training issue, CCP not only fixed the code very slow, but didn't even warn players not to exploit. Also, stopping Ghost training would be trivial: every Ghost training account is non-payer Alpha that doesn't log in. What damage would it be to ban every Ghost training accounts and then later unban if the player petitions and GMs finds that his case is innocent enough and takes away the illicit SP? But no, CCP did nothing until there was a huge scandal on a bug that happened once already in 2009.

However he asks an important question, which warrants this post, instead of just ignoring him and stopping following his blog like I do with that useless Syncaine. What is the corrupt developer career path? Do I mean that little kids walk around dreaming "one day I'll be big and rig video games and make millions of dollars from RMT"? No. Ladies and gentleman, let me provide the career path:
  1. Non-profit exploiter: he is a simple player with no connections to anyone and making no money. He just cheats for himself. He is the guy who uses wallhack in an FPS game or runs a homemade bot to grind honor all night in Alterac Valley for his own account. He does it either because programming is hard and challenging. Or because he is a dirty little punk who wants to look l33t front of his peers.
  2. Small time RMT-er: most exploiters outgrow it when they go to college. But some realize that his bots and exploits can net him some side money on player auctions. Or selling "roses" to guildmates. He is a little fish in the pond, but he is already making some money. This is still not illegal (besides some trivial amount of tax evasion that no one prosecutes), running bots and selling gold is not against the law. At worst he can be banned.
  3. Protected RMT-er: one day our little botter goes home and finds his 64 clients disconnected. In his e-mail accounts there are the standard "dear X, we found violation of ToS..." mails from the company. In his main character's e-mail address there is a mail from an unknown sender: "Sup X, i pwnd u. U can be dumb and just toy with proxies but it wont hepl. Or... you can be smart and send 50% of your income to this bitcoin address and your bots will never be banned again".
  4. Connected RMT-er: knowing to be safe from banning, he is now running 256 accounts, 24/7 on 8 computers that cover all his room. He quit college or at least doesn't care about failing exams anymore since he is making more than any entry level jobs can pay with his degree and sees this as a career now. He regularly chats with his dev "protector" who once asks him if he wants to play with the big boys. There will be an entry price and he has to give out personal info to be sure he is trustworthy ("full API pls") but then he won't have to grind gold with lousy bots anymore. He gets access to portions of the source code and 0 day exploits, so he can make much more gold to sell. Also, forget player auctions, the crew has its shop with its own well-established buyers and small-time resellers doing the busywork. They also teach him how to launder serious money so the tax authorities won't break his door one day. Either by dark web concealment or with legitimate front business.
  5. The final step: he now makes more than his dad and learned how to kung-fu both in software and money. Then the final call arrives from the familiar face on skype: "hey dude, our dev team has an opening. Interested?" By saying yes, the video game industry just found another developer who will work enthusiastically for half wage, between horrible conditions.

Now I'm not saying every or even most developers are like this, especially on the art field where there is little opportunity to rig. However these punks run the show and upkeep the low wages, high hours and abusive environment to prevent any clean guy coming to their turf. They are ready to take formal pay cuts to keep applicants away, they rather work long hours to cover for an empty position than fill it with someone clean. If someone needs to be hired and they don't know a guy, they make sure it will be a newbie with zero experience who is simply too incompetent to realize what's happening right under his nose. If he turns out to be too smart to be kept in the dark and too honest to be recruited to the crew, they just bully him out. So the industry will finally devolve into what it is today: a bunch of crooks surrounded by incompetent yes-men hired right out of college in a toxic hellhole living on pizza, laughable formal salaries and slave hours, knowing that their RMT will make them able to retire by 30.


Anonymous said...

I still do not think your explanation makes sense. Several problems I see:

1. Even if game devs were corrupt this only applies to MMO companies. But single players and non-mmo multiplayer are the majority of the games so the devs working on those games can't use their corruption to gain anything.

2. Even devs working on an MMO, not all of them has access which will allow them to carry out corrupt activities. A graphics or tool developer would not have access to the servers/databases/bot detection code running in production. While it's possible in small company the security is lax, I doubt many people have access to the WoW production environment compared to the whole WoW team.

3. Finally the company leadership has an incentive to root out the corrupt devs and fire them. The existence of botting RMT market shows that there are clearly people who care enough to spend money on the game but they are giving it to the botters rather than the game company. It would make sense that company leadership would rather the money went to them. So they have an incentive to make sure the corrupt devs are found and the botters have a harder time making money.

Alessandro said...

I found this supposed "Career Path" pretty fun, it might even be niche novel material.

But I'm skeptic, if it happens like that I think it must be a dismissal number of programmers that follow that path... I think the odds are very low.

Anonymous said...

If there are no stories with actual facts, how do you (and everyone else) know about T20?

You think you are the only person who does not like CCP?

Carson 63000 said...

I have to ask, have you ever had any personal interaction with anyone who has ever worked in the games industry, beyond being insulted on Reddit by CCP Falcon?

maxim said...

I do agree with the general sentiment, but this is not the real danger here and the path you are describing is really not the case in 99.9% of studios and employees in them.

There is, however, a different way to essentially achieve the same thing. You replace actual game design with "player metrics" and then have data scientists point you at stuff that seems to have the highest correlation between doing work and earning money, while game designers are reduced to essentially glorified tech task writers. This sounds good on paper, but in practice it subverts the ultimate goal of the exercise from being a vehicle of entertainment to being a one-armed bandit.

This thing then proceeds to install RMT, if it wants to, or do other things, if it doesn't want (or see the means) to, all in the name of making money. This is, for example, how Call of Duty franchise operates since CoD 4: MW2.

The career path then becomes:
- inspired game enthusiast with no skills - gets some skills, becomes ...
- jaded game professional with some skills - appreciates and agrees that the goal of game-making is making money, becomes ...
- jaded money machine professional with some skills - grows to enjoy the benefits of money more than actual game-making, becomes ...
- inspired money machine professional, who will use anything in the name of bringing in the bucks

At this point, the "corruption" isn't even corruption anymore. It is just something the overall system promotes and rewards.

Gevlon said...

@Anon: while traditional RMT is indeed the land of MMOs, practically every competitive games have its hacking-related secondary markets: you can buy rating boosts, l33t accounts, wallhacks, autoaim bots. Someone is making and selling these.

@Alessandro: then who makes that several billion dollars I wonder

@Anon: T20 was found by a hacker who illegally broke into their computer and stole incriminating logs.

Just because I don't like CCP, it doesn't mean I have the skills to hack their systems or that I'd risk a criminal record for doing it.

In retrospect, I damn my decision to not accept the beers of CCP Falcon. I could get into the 4th level and could get first-hand info about their operations. Too bad that I neither saw this opportunity back then, nor I'm really that undercover agent type who socializes his way into the heart of the monster.

@Carson: no, just like I was never beheaded by ISIS. But I still see the effects of their work and can make conclusions.

@maxim: this is all true and explains company level rigging like WoT and LoL matchmaking or lootbox optimizations. However you still have to explain the literal RMT marketplace with billions of dollars. Can you give me a reasonable alternative why game companies tolerate third parties stealing their money? Especially the same magnitude of money as the profit of the industry itself?!

Cathfaern said...

"Can you give me a reasonable alternative why game companies tolerate third parties stealing their money?"
Maybe those are not real third parties...

Gevlon said...

@Cathfaern: so your response to "RMT-ers are connected to the devs" is "no, they are connected to the CEO". Wonderful!

Cathfaern said...

I did not say it's a positive alternative, but definitely reasonable. Also I think it's more possible. Because in a company the CEO is always right. If the CEO says that we don't deal with RMT sites now, well then noone will deal with them. In the opposite if a developer don't want to deal with an RMT sites but the CEO says you have to deal with them, they can't really do anything. Also you need only one honest developer who goes to the CEO and tell everything and then the whole corrupted team is in trouble.

maxim said...

By "alternative" you mean "explanation"
My explanation is simple. As soon as you adopt the "money > morals" policy, everything else follows in very short order, including RMT
For a $100bill+ market without scruples, having as much as $10-20 bill shadow market should come as no surprise. Some devs are allowing it because they don't have the competency or tech to really fight it, some are allowing it because they are scared of the inevitable pushback in terms of lost customers and bad PR, some are, indeed, on the take (but not really a large amount, we are talking maybe 1-2 instances a year).

Gevlon said...

@Cathfaern: no, because unless someone speaks his mind, you can't differentiate between incompetence and malice. Protecting RMT botters and being unable to catch them are indistinguishable from the outside. Similarly, the CEO can declare that RMT must be hunted an the devs can just provide a few small time botter scalps and claim they are doing their best. Remember that I played EVE for 4 years without having the slightest idea that CCP Falcon is my enemy. Sure I saw that some CCP decisions were wrong, but I attributed it to incompetence. Hell, when Goons committed a real World crime and try to frame it on me and got away with it I said "meh, CCP is really soft-hearted with these thugs". I only realized Falcon is after me when he literally came yelling slander at me.

The low salaries guarantee that honest and competent people aren't in the industry (you can get passionate dumbasses and crooks). The honest developer coming to the CEO is also indistinguishable from a brownnose who just spreads libel on his coworkers to suck up to the brass.

@maxim: for some reason Wal-Mart and TESCO aren't losing $10-20 after every $100 to theft. I wonder how is this possible?

How would banning cheaters be BAD PR? It should be a good PR and increase the playerbase as players hate the cheaters. I repeat that behind every (non-trivial sized) RMT-er there is someone in the inside protecting him. It's totally impossible that someone can farm and give away $1000 worth of in-game assets without being recognized.

Shalcker said...

I think another flaw in this reasoning is that programmers generally suck at being crooks.

Those are people's skills and programmers do not practice them, instead focusing on pure-intelligence tasks like programming. Often they don't even talk with "players", so cannot be "corrupted".

And the ones most susceptible to being crooks and getting favourites (who are then fed news and projections to do insider trading, like with your assumption in Albion Online), community management positions, do not actually get much input into workings of the game itself - in fact in many cases they have exactly none, they are only in position of "explain away" any dev changes they are given.

vv said...

Bot developers usually are smart dedicated people, they find a way to bypass any anti-bot protection in a week maximum. Developers who fight them usually aren't experts in hacking so finding a way to detect them takes more time. Developers can't use anything that illegal or suspicious on player's computers, so scanning entire memory for example isn't allowed. And most importatnt thing is that any anti-bot defence must have zero false positives.

> What damage would it be to ban every Ghost training accounts and then later unban if the player petitions and GMs finds that his case is innocent enough and takes away the illicit SP?

Losing players who let their subscription to drop for a time, bad PR from those who didn't intent to use ghost training or didn't know about it and much more work for GMs.

Gevlon said...

@vv: bot detection should have done nothing with the client. Bots should be detected by behavior: repetitively grinding whole day.

"Zero false positives" is silly requirement and those who push it are probably botters themselves, since it makes ANY detection impossible. People on DEATH ROW are found innocent 20 years later and no one says that we should just stop the criminal justice system completely and let all criminals run.

A few false positives are OK, especially that they would be - by definition - bot like no-lifers. If they try to make bad PR via forum whining, the devs can reply by releasing his logs, showing that he grinded mobs for 70 hours a week, which point everyone will agree that he was botting or had very bad life choices.

How much bad PR did CCP get from Ghost training. Compare it with a few random dudes whining over having to post a petition. GM workload should be minimal with an internal instruction: "unban everyone who request it and had 1-2 accounts violating."

Esteban said...

You should have a look at Ramin Shokrizade's stuff if you haven't already. Some of his observations are reminiscent of your own, in particular the 'if you can't beat them, join them' attitudes to RMT among many developers.

Sacula said...

Gevlon you don't need a corrupt dev to RMT serious amounts of money. Look at this guy from Star Wars Galaxies over 10 years ago. He made enough RMT to buy a house.

Anonymous said...

next time answer those trolls with memes.
I suggest Risitas "shocking interview"

they are to far gone and really believe in their lie. welcome to IT charlatanism. it's the plague since personal computers where not sold as a kit any more. but some devs will loosen up after some drugs and alcohol and there you will hear stuff. comparable to CNN debacle and russia (Project Veritas)

vv said...

> How much bad PR did CCP get from Ghost training.

Nothing basically. There's almost no mention of it outiside of few eve-specific forums and blogs. You can't ban people because you can't fix your own bugs. And you can't declare it as an exploit. Exploit is something that players do on purpose. Putting lots of skills in queue and letting your account expire isn't. Too many false positives.

> If they try to make bad PR via forum whining, the devs can reply by releasing his logs, showing that he grinded mobs for 70 hours a week, which point everyone will agree that he was botting or had very bad life choices.

Most players don't read forums. Developers usually don't read it too, objective metrics are much better. If game is big enough then there's a guy whose job is to read forums and communicate with players.

> GM workload should be minimal with an internal instruction: "unban everyone who request it and had 1-2 accounts violating."

And every SP farmer just got his accounts back in expense of few hundreds tickets that GMs have to process. And some causal player with one account who just returned from vacation won't play your game anymore.

Gevlon said...

@vv: you somehow missed the reddit rage and the continuing login drop? The worst PR is if your players quit

The few people who put on lots of skills and let their accounts expire could receive an automatic mail on ban "we had to ban lots of suspicious accounts who were offline for long, if you were not ghost training, please contact a GM and you get your accounts back"

Also, "false positive" whining can be prevented by releasing the in-game name of every banned people with reasons and logs, so everyone knows already where to check and if he whines on X forum, the other forum goers will troll him with his statistics

No, because it's trivial to recognize an SP farming account: its skillset makes no sense, like only long perception/willpower skills with zero support. They are also totally inactive, didn't play even when logged in. A real player has playing history.

Finally, Ghost trainers cut directly into CCP income (every skillpoint made without paying subscription is subscription money lost), so losing 50 1-account honest customers is acceptable for stopping a single 51-accounts farmer.

vv said...

> you somehow missed the reddit rage and the continuing login drop?

Reddit rage means nothing usually. Forums of any kind are for vocal minority. Most players don't know about their existence. Logins are dropping by other reasons, not because ghost training I think. I think that entire idea of trading SP is destroying one of the most important aspects of EVE. Other is that CCP is caring about "content creators" too much, despite that they don't create any real content or conflict anymore.

> so losing 50 1-account honest customers is acceptable for stopping a single 51-accounts farmer.

Not if some of those accounts are real subscribers, who pay with real money and not with PLEX.

In the end CCP fixed that problem. As far as I can see it was an old bug in really old code. It wasn't really a problem until longer skill queues and SP trading. Then they have found that it creates problems and spent time to find a solution and test everything, because touching really old legacy code might break a lot of things anywhere. That might be a reason why it took so long. Even then they had to stop everybody's skill queue.

Provi Miner said...

meh whatever this perhaps your most pointless blog entry to date:

What you are talking about is ethics and the ethical slide.

What you just described is identical to every single case of larceny done from with in. The huge difference the only difference is that as of today there is no ramifications for these activities.

Here is all you need to know

5% are so stupid there is no way they would "break" a law knowingly

15% are so smart they will game (read "break") everything they come into contact with.

80% are on a perpetual sliding scale and internal moral compass "yeah ok I will rmt but I won't steal from my neighbors veggie garden even if they are on vacation" To "It is a victimless crime so I see no reason not to as long as it benefits me". And anywhere in between.

In merica we have class's in college (university) called ethics class, the idea is to instill ethical behavior (stupid idea and totally pointless) what the class really does is explain the consequences of their actions.

Till devs are held to fire for their actions there is 95% of the group who will lie steal and cheat. If there are consequences your number drops to only about 15% who will risk it.

this has been known since social studies conducted 1950 to today and common sense would tell you the same thing since the stone age.

maxim said...

Wal-Mart is not alone, it is part of a huge supply chain and distribution network. Some parts of of it use benign stuff like sweatshops. Others can go as deep as selling drugs. Did you know Coca-cola actually hired death squads at some point? All in the name of having these coca-cola bottles in wal-mart be just a bit cheaper
Show me a free capitalist market and i'll show you unethical exploitation and shadow transactions. Competition is all good and fair, but don't get me started on the extent to which law is no longer able to really deal with all the new and "fun" methods of doing it people have come up with in the past half a century

Regarding PR, the decision process (faulty, i agree, but still) looks like this. A person considering mass bans in the company is, in most cases, not the company's owner, but one of the managers (sometimes on CEO level, but still). That person weights two sides against each other. On one hand, there are vague considerations like fairness and profit for company in general, but not to the individual personally. On another hand, the individual has the basic technical hassle of proceeding with the mass ban, an understanding that it be a short term loss that the individual in question will have to answer for and also a vague fear that people who earn money with faults in the game system won't just take exposing their faults lying down and will start a shitstorm, which, again, the individual will have to answer for.
Everyone who is not an owner of the company or a particular believer in the ideas behind the game simply chooses to not bother

NoizyGamer said...

Looks like I'm going to have to write a post explaining why the profit margins are not close to what you imagine them to be.