Blizzard has banned 74,000 World of Warcraft Classic botters, but admitted it faces an uphill challenge in fending off cheaters.
WOW Classic has been beset by bots for months now, with players complaining to Blizzard that they're ruining the game and its virtual economy. There's a great article over at Wired that digs into WOW Classic's botting problem.
Now, Blizzard has taken the unusual step of detailing its battle against WOW Classic botters with a forum post that revealed during the last month in the Americas, Oceania and Europe regions, the company has closed or suspended over 74,000 WOW accounts that were found to be in violation of its End-User License Agreement.
The majority of these banned accounts were found to be using gameplay automation tools to farm resources or kill enemies much more efficiently than legitimate players can - aka, they were bots.
"It is a top priority for us to identify accounts that are botting and remove them," Blizzard said. "Our team works around the clock, every day of the week, and many of the suspensions and account closures over the last few months have gone out in the middle of the night, or on weekends."
"Like you, we play World of Warcraft," Blizzard continued. "We understand what it's like to spot a player in-game who appears to be botting. We always want to eliminate the botting player, if it can be proved that they are indeed cheating. And that raises a big difficulty in addressing this issue - we have to prove to ourselves that the accused player is not a person who's actually controlling a character with their hands on a keyboard.
"We use powerful systems to determine if the suspected player is using an identifiable cheat, and our heuristics (which we do not outline publicly) are constantly improving and evolving. But when we examine a suspect and these measurements aren't out of line, we have to manually gather evidence against the accused player, which can be very time consuming and complex. It's worthwhile though, because we never want to take action against a legitimate player."
Blizzard admitted there have been cases where a legitimate player appeared (to another player) to be botting. And the company acknowledged that, where a legitimate player is reported and then cleared of wrongdoing, it can be very frustrating to the reporting player to again see what they think is a bot. And of course you have that perennial online video game issue of a banned player quickly returning to do the same thing on a new account with the same character name.
"That's an infuriating sight for the players who initially reported it," Blizzard said. "We greatly appreciate your reports, and we understand how you feel about this."
So, what's to be done? Blizzard said it's working on "further improvements" to the game that might address cheating issues more swiftly and completely. But it stressed it faces an uphill challenge in the fight against botters - as most developers do.
"We're ultimately working to unravel a challenging circumstance," Blizzard said. "Real money trading drives third parties to put an enormous amount of effort into circumventing our detection systems. As much as this is a very high priority for us, it is the only priority for profit-driven botting organisations. The bans we issue are simply a cost of doing business for them.
"We're working on further improvements to every part of the game that might address cheating issues more swiftly and completely, and we'll continue to let you know as those next steps are taken."