Mutually assured destruction

Yesterday was “Bot Nuke” day on Runescape (a very large multi-user game that has been around since about 2006).   The idea was that people were complaining the game was no longer fun because of all the accounts using “bots” to cheat in the game, doing the pointless repetitive tasks in the game, like chopping trees.

Paying customers who were detected using the bot software were sent this letter.

Dear Player,

We have strong evidence that you may have purchased and used botting software in the past, specifically ibot software.

Botting and the cheating it brings is destroying your game, violates Jagex’s rights under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), and any player that continues to engage in botting activity has no place in our community.

As part of bot nuke week we are offering you a 1 time amnesty and settlement lifeline, which is a chance to reform and change your ways. We’d like you to contribute to the community in a positive way, to compete on a level playing field as everyone else does and play in the true spirit of the game, with integrity. All of your accounts, main and otherwise, are now on our watch list and will be monitored for the use of ibot and all other inappropriate third-party software. Regardless of who you are or how long you’ve been with us, if you decide to cheat and bot ever again we will have no hesitation in: (1) permanently removing your account from our wonderful community in order to protect Jagex’s rights under the DMCA, and (2) naming you as a defendant in Jagex Limited v. John Does, which is a lawsuit based on DMCA violations that is currently pending in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California (Civ. Action No. SACV11-00969-CJC).

Please note that this amnesty and settlement offer is protected under Fed. R. Evid. 408. If you ignore our offer and instead continue use botting software, we reserve our rights to pursue statutory damages against you for between $200 to $2,500 per act of past, present, and/or future botting in accordance with 17 U.S.C. 1203(c)(3).

We do hope you make the morally sound and lawful choice of turning your back on bots. We look forward to seeing you in game having fun in a way that is true to the spirit of fair play and respectful to your fellow players.

Yours sincerely,
Mark Gerhard”

(This is from the forums, not from email – I don’t cheat and did not receive this).

Threatening the users of a game with a $2,500 DMCA prosecution is a great way to destroy your business. This type of a threat against your own paying customers is something you don’t recover from. (Jagex is based in London, not the United States)

Runescape RIP 25/10/2011

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13 Responses to Mutually assured destruction

  1. Art Stone says:

    A year ago, Jagex’s demand for an injunction was thrown out of U.S. Court

  2. Art Stone says:

    Jagex has taken their forums offline, and brought down the chat system that allows customers to talk to each other.


  3. Piquerist says:

    I couldn’t demur more with the poster’s conclusions, namely that this company’s decision to act against Terms of Service violators is somehow wrong and that doing so spells (you should forgive the pun) ruination of the game. Indeed, not moving against cheaters, especially bot players, would seem to bode those very same dire effects. Honest players, after a period of complaining, get frustrated and leave, or worse, get their own bot! These same losers-cum-uber-players also buy “gold,” usually from Chinese gangsters and wind up with hacked accounts. The company mentions a level playing field and appeals to honesty and good sportsmanship while offering a second chance. Sounds reasonable to me. These steps are precisely what I expect from, and constantly lobby for, in the MMORPG that I use. Bot players are uniformly despised and killing their accounts and taking other actions, including legal remedy, is exactly what I hope to see, which is why I report them by name, time, and realm every single time I see one. I don’t play Runescape, but I fully commiserate with their TOS-abiding players and with Jagex’s attempts to clean up the field. If a player doesn’t like some aspects of a game, either petition for change, or — what’s the parlance? — GTFO.

    • Art Stone says:

      You realize you just crossed the line between fantasy and reality, right?

      We now have U.S. courts taking up their resources to try to punish a 13 year old in New Zealand for cheating in a game run by a company in England?

      The judge rightly (but politely) told Jagex to go pound sand and get the hell out of his court.

      What other transgressions in make believe land would you like to send people to prison for?

  4. Piquerist says:

    Wow. Nerd rage. GTFO.

  5. Piquerist says:

    Inductive logic, sometimes called “jumping to conclusions,” allows its users to short circuit logical thinking in order to declare as truth things that neither necessarily follow … or even might follow. Inductive logic is convenient and is usually emotion driven and is fallacious; however, it is sometimes effective, especially when fired from the hip with a pious ad hominem implied or attached (You want to jail little children, you cad!), aimed at shushing a disputant in an ongoing difference of opinion.

    That some thirteen-year-olds indulge in online games does not mean that all players are thirteen or that even a significant portion is thirteen. That a small cohort of the thirteen-year-old set, however large or small, may cheat, use bots and damage a company’s intellectual products, drive away customers, spoil the game for others who don’t cheat, impair income, harm reputation, and – worst of all – infiltrate adult criminal players into the game, using hacked accounts to spam-entice others to malicious websites where identity theft and other harm often occurs can be tested, quantified and proved.

    Discover Magazine, for example, reports that in China alone some 60 criminal companies, employing upward of 100,000 “employees” achieve millions of dollars this way. Discover reports that, “The largest eight virtual-supplying companies have a yearly turnover of $10 million each, and there’s upwards of 60 firms with $1 million revenues.”

    About fifty percent of this currency is generated by automated game-playing computers (bots) and twenty percent comes from hackers who steal goods and then sell them, Discover says.

    I’ve merely touched the very top layer of the problems, exemplified by bot users in MMORPGs, that expands far beyond innocent children using bots to chop wood. Thirteen-year-olds won’t go to Gamer Gulags, as you unfairly and peremptorily suggest I want, Art, but they, and by extension, their parents, may be called upon to pay damages and be banned from the realm. I support that; I call for that.

    Adults offenders, on the other hand, are the run-of-the-mill computer hacker-types, and I truly do want them in a cage. If you don’t like a game’s TOS that you agree to abide by in order to play, then LEAVE the game to those who do.

    • Art Stone says:

      Do you literally want people sent to prison for cheating in an online game that only involes make believe money? Should we send people to prison for running over prostitutes in Grand Theft Auto?

      The “why” is becoming clearer…. Back in February, the company accepted money from two venture capital funds who now control 3 seats on the board of Jagex, the owner of Runescape.

      The details of how this worked out – Jagex (not an American company) went to a court in California and made the claim that the makers of one of the bots was infringing their trademarks and copyright. Based on that, Jagex got a court order to force Paypal to turn over the names and credit card numbers of every person who bought that bot program.

      Based on that list, Jagex is amending their DMCA lawsuit to now name specific individuals and seek $2,500 statutory damages for each use of the bot. Statutory means Jagex doesn’t have to prove any actual damages – just that the bot contained the Runescape logo.

      Is that really what you want?

      • TheChairman says:

        I’ve played RuneScape (free), and to me it is a ‘time-soak’.

        Not being much of a gamer, I had to look up MMORPG… the operative words appear to be: “Online Role-Playing Game”.

        That, right there, is where fantasy begins and reality ends.

        It seems Jagex doesn’t like the fact that some players want to ‘play the role’ of spoiler or ‘game the system’ for an advantage.

        To me, it advances the ‘state of the art’ and is nothing new… they could reward players with the booty from ‘outing’ a bot.

        Jagex = “Just About the Game Experience”

        Well, apparently not… it is about real money.

        “We seized 6 billion in RuneScape gold by banning real-world traders last week! Unfortunately, these people are obliged to work such long hours and are paid such low wages that if even a tiny fraction of gold makes it to the market, those running the sweatshops will be encouraged to continue…

        “Therefore, we are going to be cracking down HARD on people who breach Rule 12 (no real world trading). We can catch people who break this rule, because we have a sophisticated trade monitoring system and we can trace suspicious activity all the way back to the original bot accounts.

        “If you break Rule 12 and buy RuneScape gold you are directly funding this problem. You are funding underground gangs who run Chinese sweatshops, and creating the black market which causes this botting problem. Therefore, this rule will now be enforced as a priority, with no second chances.”

        WHY are players trading real-world assets for virtual gold?

        What if they discover Arab bots are funding terrorist cells?

        The comments in the RuneScape forum are truly astounding and disturbing… virtual players demanding real punishment.

        What it shows me is we have a LOT of -dissociative- people!

        Under what premise is Jagex prosecuting a bot for ‘damages’? Is not the existence of the game itself just a monolithic ‘bot?

        How is it that a virtual game firm (Jagex) in the U.K., where PayPal is held to more stringent banking rules, is able to obtain real names and credit card numbers of U.S. account holders?

        How can they prove the account holder is the actual ‘criminal’? why isn’t the software coder of the bot named as a defendent?

        What I want, is PayPal forced to abide by U.S. Banking laws.

        Jagex can go pound real sand (silicon)… into virtual gold.

        • Art Stone says:

          The maker of the most popular bot is now working for Jagex. Perhaps he was working for Jagex all along, if you’re really cynical.

          Without the bots and the 7 mllion accounts they deleted, the number of “people” online has dropped from 200,000-400,000 to 25,000-50,000. Before about 10 am (eastern) when children in both Europe and the United States are in school, the place is an empty cavern…. echo…. echo… echo….

          I think the trigger for all this was that in February they took on two VC firms as “investors” – those folks have probably now realized that what they bought was a mirage filled with bots and few people actually reading the advertisements and are trying to find out just how little actual value there is to the company.

          That’s at least the third time the founders have said in public the “Chinese Sweat Shop” line. About the only real person I have regular contact with from there lives in Sinagpore and is Chinese – she takes great offense to theit notion of the Asian stereotype. Who is to say that a person playing the game in China to earn money is on a lower moral plane than some college kid from from norway?

          The “going rate” – at least in the random advertisements I get spammed with is $.59 per million gold (about $3500). 6 billiond gol is nothing compared to the 60% of the paid accounts they nuked which is probably in the $10s of millions per year. Most of the people I’ve run into with paid accounts do not plan to keep their account active when it runs out.

          I wouldn’t have played for more than a few months except they incorporated an item exchange system, kind of like a stock market where people buy and sell things. Jagex is terrified of a “free market” as it would allow the smart to earn wealth without doing manual labor and accumulate valuable things without spending 20,000 hours doing repetitive meaningless “work”. Bots existed because the game was fundamentally flawed from the beginning, rewarding mindless reptetitive actions done for hours on end, rather than skill and intelligence. Since the two years when I quit, I can see they have dramatically “dumbed down” the game yet further, making it so a 9 year old can play it and no be overwhelmed by the complexity.

          It’s interesting to watch the economy collapse – it may will be a parallel to real life. Without the bots, the supply of raw goods has dried up. That means the prices of anything that relies on doing work are shooting up as the existing stocks dry up.

          People like me are completely unmotivated to start producing goods no matter what the “income”. The sudden disruption of the entire place leaves me wondering what wil happen next. I’m not wiling to risk “investing” my time in a game where such draconian heavy-handed intervention might happen again. Kind of like why banks have tons of money to lend, but nobody will take out a loan, no matter how low the interest rate.

        • Art Stone says:

          “Role playing game” – that’s one of the curious things about it. There is no evidence that I can see that it is a role playing game – meaning that people inside the game take on a persona inside this make believe world and pretend it is the reality they know. The converstations are always about “What’s your level”, “how much gold do you have”, “how long will it take to get from level 40 to level 60”, etc… If you reference things inside the game “I heard the plague may be coming back to Ardougne”, it freaks people out – in part because they either bought their entire account and have no idea about the story line of the game or they did all the things in games by reading “cheat sites” and were paying no attention to the narrative of the story – or they’re afraid that if they start to talk about things inside the make believe world, they will get sucked into it like the world of Tron.

        • Art Stone says:

          Why buy gold? It’s an amazing thing. Jagex has been hard line that it isn’t going to sell gold itself because that would allow people who have money in real life just buy their way to the top of the game, and that’s not fair. (Despite being made rich by owning the game, there is a very strong theme of socalism in the game)

          Many other games do not try to hold that moral high ground. I just started playing an iPhone game called MyTown2, a sequel to the clever but not so well thought out MyTown. In that game, buying stuff to advance faster is an integral part of the game. Why do people do it? You got me. Some are just children of wealthy parents who are being babysat by video games. You can buy a lot of runescape gold for the cost of a nanny.

          Back about 10 years ago, I spent time at a place called There ( – it was a much more sophisiticated system technically which I found fascinating as a programmer – it was a disaster from a real life business model – but even there, I heard stories of people spending $1,500 to buy “stuff” inside a make believe world. Me, I just ran around in a tshirt….. how you behave in a make believe world often gives lots of insight into what a person is like in real life – things they don’t necessary intend to disclose.

          Just remember the rule: On the internet, all women are men, and all girls are FBI agents.

        • Art Stone says:

          Jagex is using the DMCA law – that’s the legal theory. It’s extremely tenuous, and the judge in California gave them standing, but refused to issue an injunction against the bot maker they tried to sue who works in Florida. They have filed another lawsuit in Massachusetts on the theory that’s the state where most of their customers are.

          Their logic goes something like this: The existence of bots is ruining the “game experience” and costing Jagex money. Because the bots have the Jagex Logo and use the word “Runescape”, that’s a violation of their trademark and copyright – hence it is the same as the guy who broke the encryption on DVDs and people who run music downloading sites.

          It’s an extreme stretch – the events of the past 3 weeks show the opposite – that probably the only reason Runescape didn’t die sooner was all the bots and the Real World Trading – that was what was motivating a lot of people. There aren’t a lot of ways for 13 year old boys to make money.

        • TheChairman says:

          Art, thanks for expounding on Jagex… my questions were intended to be of a rhetorical nature.

          You’ve affirmed almost all of my assumptions.

          I quoted their official statement on bots because they’ve already contradicted themselves by offering a one-time amnesty ‘lifeline’. (Who Wants to be a Millionaire?)

          Socialist indeed… endless mundane ‘work’, and nothing is done to my avatar when it repeatedly bludgeons the village idiot to death for asking stupid or suggestive questions. I check-in every few months to see if my avatar is still sitting on the grass, listening to the minstrel. The chaotic village reminds me of OWS.

          The whole Chinese sweatshop thing, while plausible, is really quite laughable in another sense… I’d think Jagex would be happy about ‘rich’ Americans transferring real money to Chinese kids by purchasing virtual gold. On the other hand, perhaps that ‘sweatshop’ wouldn’t exist were it not for Jagex/RuneScape? 😉

          As mentioned, IMO bots advance the state-of-the-art… if players don’t try to fight back with bots, then we’re in much bigger trouble on the real cyber battlefield. If anything, that is what the Chinese are doing.

          It seems to me it would be better for a 13 year old to learn how to discern between real people and bots, and to get those lessons in a game, where stake are low.

          Suing players via contract law? Can a 13 year old be held to such contracts, involving a temporal product?

          “Artificial Autonomous Agent” is the term being used by the legal profession… case law is expanding rapidly, and bots are just a small segment of the specialization.

          Trademark violation is the only area where I believe Jagex has a case, and that implicates bot developers.

          Jagex seems to have ignored the problem for quite awhile, either because they knew how much money it was bringing in, or didn’t have the know-how to stop it. (Their ‘announcements’ hint at a laissez faire attitude, combined with a parent scolding a precocious child.)

          Anyway, it appears Jagex has shot themselves in the foot, and are now aiming at their head.

          Let the MME (massive multiplayer exodus) begin…

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