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The Bot-Busters

Adam Tingle Posted:
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People just don't like to play fair. The point of any MMORPG is to gain experience, obtain cash, and become the best goddamn' virtual adventurer you can be, but for some out there, this all asking just a little too much. Why toil relentlessly at your PC when with a few choice clicks, and with the flash of a shiny bit of plastic, all this can be done for you? Why actually enjoy the game you are playing when somewhere on the Internet all this fun can be had for you, and just for a fistful of bucks?

Like venereal disease, Bono, and the Republican Party candidates (go Black Walnut), Gold Sellers are just another unpleasant fact of life. Most online games have their defenses and their safe guards, but by-and-large an unwinnable war has been waged against the Gold Farmers and the bots: that is until now. The world's most popular free MMORPG is leading the fight back; its developers stripped naked to the waists, pumping their chests, screaming "RUNESCAPE GOTCHOO SUCKERS!" Well, that's what I've seen anyway.

Killing Field

A few weeks back, Jagex decided that enough was enough. Its Java-based MMO has seen unrivalled success, but with it has come the cost of cheats, scammers, and farmers - and this was just unacceptable. After many years of plotting and planning, the developer has come up with an ingenious new tool for combating those exploiters, their equivalent of SkyNet, and judging by the some 9 million accounts it has just destroyed it seems to be working.

"The protection is called Cluster Flutterer - you have to be careful how you say that" everybody I have spoken to has raised a cheeky smile at the linguistic links between this name and the rude sound-alike. Sat in the middle of a fairy forest, perched upon a comfy mushroom and resting my notes on a delightful grass coffee table, I am speaking to Jagex COO Daniel Clough.

"RuneFest is a great way for us to meet with the community, and it just happens that it coincides with the launch our bot-busting device". The annual RuneScape event explains our magical setting. "Cluster Flutterer" pause for giggle "has done amazing things for our security and it's so great to finally share it with the players and get it up and running in the game".

So now is the time to explain exactly what the piece of software is. In layman terms Cluster Flutterer, ahem, makes the game code harder to access, read, and exploit. Understandably Jagex are keeping the inner workings to themselves but the upshot of it all is that essentially RuneScape is all but free of bots. Exciting right?

Gold farming and the like has long been a hindrance for the Java-based MMO, like so many other games on the market. The affliction had become so bad that the developers had to remove core elements of the game such as the open PvP area, Wilderness, as well as the ability to freely trade any items amongst players. It is safe to say these choices were not entirely popular but cracking down any potential flash points for exploitation is key for the developer.

"It was hard to remove certain elements in the game for prolonged periods as it did harm our product in terms of enjoyment, but the integrity RuneScape was at stake". That word integrity seems all important to Jagex. Regardless of the mountain of revenue that these illegal elements bring in from advertisements, the developer's resolve doesn't slide into eyeballs illuminated with dollar bill signs; gameplay and the community comes first, which is very amiable indeed.

"Since Cluster Flutterer went live, we have banned 9 million accounts, reduced the amount of new bot users from the East from 750,000 a month to just 900: to say it has worked is an understatement. The game is almost bot free". The numbers speak for themselves, for a game that boasts the most registered players of any online game, the overall banished 9 million is a big number to carve out. The figures estimated are roughly about 60% of the active population has disappeared in one, virtual, hammer stroke.

But will this state of refreshing nirvana last within the game? Time will truly tell. CO Mark Gerhard has stated that he believes that the current security will last a year, other Jagex members say even more, but within each statement is the clear intent that the software will continue to mature and grow as the need takes it, even with hints of new systems already on standby when the inevitable breaks start to appear.

Jagex are clear in their mission, they are engaged in war with those that seek to exploit their MMO and they will fight back with everything they have got and as dirty as they can get. Could this technology be granted to other developers with similar problems? Daniel remained coy with this suggestion but the idea of a system immune to these undesirables is an exciting one.

Hopefully this development will be start of some groundbreaking strides in breaking the stranglehold that these exploiters bring to the genre. Certainly Jagex have taken the first clear steps, and how far they can travel down this path will be interesting to watch.

Now subscription and bot-free, RuneScape is easily one of the premiere MMORPG prospects out there. Now all the Cambridge-based company has to do is enforce a sort of "Challenge-25" software in the game to convince the remaining skeptics and they will dominate the online world.

If you want to avoid those tedious gold selling spams, you now know your only destination is in your browser.


Adam Tingle