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MMOWTF: Lax on the HaXzors?

Dan Fortier returns this week to talk about his opinions of MMORPG cheating.

Editor's Note: This is an edition of a weekly column by Staff Writer Dan Fortier. The column is called "MMOWTF" and will look at some of the stranger or more frustrating events in MMOs as seen by Mr. Fotier. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of MMORPG.com, its staff or management.

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The are lots of great magical things that we experience in MMOs. Casters can summon giant balls of fire to burn their foes, healers can bring a fallen comrade back to life with a few muttered words and wily rouges can appear from thin air to stick a knife in between his opponents' ribs. Most of these abilities are defined by our character class or skills and determine the best way for us to beat an opponent. Other magical abilities are granted to players by virtue of game design, such chatting with another player in another part of the game world. Lastly, we have the powers granted by our real life skills, morals or income including purchasing in-game currency, having multiple accounts or choosing to log off as someone is about to kill you.

Now I'm not going to preach codes of conduct or attempt to encourage some kind of fair play standards, but I thought it might be fun to look at some of the ways players exploit game mechanics to best suit their needs. Everyone has a different moral compass when it comes to what is fair and what is cheating and what might be a perfectly legitimate strategy to me might me considered cheating to others. There is also a strange grey area of tricks that everyone has a different take on. In first person shooters for example, some folks cry "Camper!" if any person so much as stops to look around while others see it as a perfectly reasonable tactic for a defender to use.

Here is a quick list of some popular tricks that have been used by unscrupulous players through the years.

The Great Logoffski: (AKA Link Death, LD, and "Oops I disconnected right as you were about to kill me.") This is a classic trick in games with lots of PvP. What makes it great is that it shows that gankers aren't the only ones to use game mechanic loopholes to their advantage. Most games allow players the benefit of the doubt if their connection with the server is somehow severed. It's basically a free get-out-of-jail card for leaving any fight. Legitimate tactic or cheese balling? You make the call.

Training mobs :(AKA Death Parade, Teh pull from hell, TPFH) Not as popular these days, but definitely an oldie but goodie. It involves drawing aggro from every mob in the area and running them back to where other players are. This generally works best if the mobs are much higher in level than the surrounding ones since the players who get attacked by the train generally have no chance to fight back. Typically this falls purely into the griefer's bag of tricks, yet clueless noobs have also been known to accidentally execute this maneuver quite well.

The Zerg Rush : (AKA The Blob) Popularized by the Starcraft franchise, this is more of a cheap tactic than cheating. It involves getting as many characters as possible together to attack a target and overwhelm him with sheer numbers. Not only will you confuse and outgun your foe but also cause so much mind-numbing lag in the area that everyone moves like a mailman in a coma, further adding to the advantage. Most PvP games have virtually no level parity, which makes this a poor choice to overcome a vastly superior opponent, yet it's legacy survives on in some form or another to this day.

Buff Bots: (AKA The Silent Buffer and "Dude! I just doubled my armor and hit points!") This is more of an extension of the vastly popular dual-boxing tactic that involves using a much higher level character to make a party much more effective than their level would indicate. Depending on the situation, the Buff Bot can /follow a party with little management while still providing needed bonuses or leave the party on a moment's notice so that the group will get full XP for a fight. Used by solo players looking to get ahead or by undermanned squads who wanted to still try and play with larger clans.

Twinking : (AKA Super-noob and Polishing a turd) This is another relic from the early days of MMOs. Players would collect tons of epic loot and then give it to their alternate characters or friends thereby making them much stronger. While this was not very effective against other players, it made leveling a lot easier and didn't require the attention of higher level buddies. Most of the second generation games put a stop to this either by imposing level limits on gear, making them degrade much faster if you were way below the item level or simply making powerful weapons usable only by the first character to equip it. We can't ever say developers are totally oblivious now can we?

Other, more blatant examples of foul playing abound include making duplicates of rare items (Dupes), using map, stealth and lag hacks and attacking while invulnerable. Some players may freely embrace some of these while steadfastly reporting other players who use another. I guess hacking is in the eye of the beholder. The question arises: Is anything forbidden in the EULA you signed considered cheating?

I bet if we did a survey of active players, we would find that at least half had broken the EULA at some point in a game they played. Just like the real world, there are degrees of the law. While in principle the cops are supposed to give you a ticket for jaywalking or littering, few, if any actually enforce these simply because it's not worth it. The same applies to MMOs in a sense, as well since obviously not every person using item dupes, buying in-game currency or using exploits, gets banned. It's simply not feasible to police all of the rules all the time, even when you own the world.

This doesn't mean that online games are a free-for-all for criminal activity, but most developers have learned to only fight the battles they can win. Sure, every month they do some write up about "blah blah cheaters/botters/goldsellers/hackers were banned", but for every one they ban they know that several other continue to get away with it. Oddly enough the steps that would help solve the problem are actually scorned by players. Only a Few MMOs have toyed with the idea of putting a Punkbuster type program in their game since privacy advocates then will begin a campaign to boycott the game or at the very least scare off potential customer with false-positive stories.

All things considered, it's a tangled web for developers to tightrope between making a product relatively cheater-free and not having programs sniffing around in our hard drives. Typically they err on the side of making money. That's all for this week, I'm sure you fine folks can pick up where I left off and throw in some more dirty tricks you've used or had used against you. As always, I'm your love-hate writer signing off.

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