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After being prodded by my fellow Dtoiders, it’s finally time for another installment of Tales of an Omnipotent Public Servant! If you’ve missed out on previous installments and would like to catch up, feel free to check out TOPS — Part 1, TOPS — Part 2, and TOPS — Part 3, and TOPS — Part 4!
“AAAAAHH! Beware, foul beasts of the… oh! It’s only you again. You really shouldn’t sneak up on demigods like that, you know. I almost clicked the ‘Slay’ button.
I should have known you’d be back. You really do have an appetite for nostalgia, don’t you? I’ll be happy to shepherd you back into the time of the MMO genre’s infancy if you desire more knowledge of the early days of the realm of Britannia. Please wait here while I change into a fresh set of red-robes — you really startled me!
There! Much better. Now, I have prepared an incantation to summon the time-portal. Be cautious, I have never even heard this verse used since 1997. It is a harbinger of great evil, but if you stay close to me within the confines of the mystical circle we shall be protected from its dark malice. Fortify your courage — as I recite the words of the profane demon order of Chumbawumba!”
“I get knocked down
But I get up again
No, you’re never going to keep me down (x 4)
Pissing the night away…
Pissing the night away…”
He quaffs a whiskey potion, he quaffs a vodka potion.
Deep Cover and the Phantom Zone
As a GM, I always enjoyed the process of investigation more than I did the process of enforcement. Getting strings of help pages regarding a particular player or an undocumented bug/exploit always got me fired up to figure out not simply what was done by whom, but also how it was done. Until we knew how a scammer or exploiter was working their unholy magic, we as GMs couldn’t ban the player and the developers couldn’t fix the exploitable code.
Many times simply following the player invisibly for a while was sufficient to get the information we needed. Other situations required a craftier approach. One player had figured out a way to scam other players early on via the trading window. This player would place a large amount of gold or a single hyper-valuable item in their half of the trade window after striking up a deal with when another player. When this second player reciprocated, placed their items on their side, and ok’d the trade the exploiter would get all the other items without losing his own.
Now, we could watch the conversation, and we knew when the transaction was taking place, but we couldn’t see the trade window. This made it so that we couldn’t prove that a cheat was taking place, or prevent it from taking place again. The pages kept coming and coming, so I was eventually forced to attempt a risky gambit to get the information we needed for the developers.
When we needed to speak to a player in violation of the Terms of Service in private, we teleported them to the “jail”. The jail was a block of stone rooms with no doors or exits of any kind. It automatically disabled any spellcasting, so mages could not teleport out to escape. While the other GMs and players called it the jail, I called it the Phantom Zone because it existed in a black void outside the boundaries of Britannia and because I am old enough to remember seeing Superman 2 in the theatre.
Shaking down a perp for information.
Players (particularly exploiters) knew that if you showed up in the jail you were about to be either shaken down for information, reprimanded, or out-and-out banned. This is also where a GM would put a player if they had multiple offenders to deal with. Since it wasn’t unusual for multiple players to have to sweat it out together in the Phantom Zone for a bit while the GM tracked down accomplices, I decided to play on this fact to figure out exactly how the trade scam was being perpetrated.
They say that when working undercover there’s a huge temptation for the cop to cross over to the other side for money or power. I had no such concerns as a GM, being omnipotent already! However, to pull off this dupe, I was going to need a partner, so I found another GM who had cleared their queue and enlisted their help.
Phase 1 — Incarceration
The arrest itself was easy. When you had a player’s handle, tracking them down was as simple as a single string command. Once you had their location, you made yourself invisible and teleported to their co-ordinates. Click on freeze, target their avatar, click again. Teleport the perp to the co-ordinates for the Phantom Zone, then teleport there yourself, and become visible.
I did it almost on autopilot. It was time to set the stage.
GM Backlash (becoming visible) : Wait here, I’ll be right back.
Perp : why am i here?
GM Backlash : You know full well that scamming is against the Terms of Service, and that I’m required to perma-ban any player who uses exploits.
Perp : i didn’t use any xploits!!!! how did i xploit??
GM Backlash : I don’t have time to go through this charade with you right now — I have to round up all the other exploiters so I can handle you all at once. I’ll deal with you later. (turning invisible)
Time to declaw another exploiter!
Phase 2 — Infiltration and Deception
After leaving the perp to sweat it out for a bit, my fellow GM and I prepared for the the next phase. I went about making my avatar look like a regular player, and my partner copied my GM trappings to the ‘T’, even changing his handle to GM_Backlash while I changed mine to ‘Slick Rick’. We got our scripts straight and then it was showtime — I teleported myself into the jail-cell with the perp.
Me : ?????
Perp : ur in the jail, man
Me : for real?
Perp : yeah, gm backlash said he was gonna bring all the exploiters in and ban them
Me : not gonna happen to me, man
Perp : what you mean?
Meanwhile, in the Origin Systems office. . . I cued my partner/GM Backlash ringer to teleport in with us.
“GM Backlash” : Wait here, I’ll be right back.
Me : what the hell, backlash? this is bs
“GM Backlash” : You know exactly what this is. Exploiting = banning.
Me : Really? And what exploit have I been using?
“GM Backlash” : Well, I know you didn’t have the keys for the house I caught you in alone, and that’s enough.
Me : How do you know that the owner didn’t let me in and then leave? don’t make me laugh. you can’t ban without proof.
“GM Backlash” : We’ll talk about this later, I’ve got to pick up the others first.
Me : haha, whatever
With my credibility established, I cue my ringer to teleport out before the perp gets overly suspicious.
Me : what a joke
Perp : so if they can’t prove the exploit they can’t ban?
Me : naw, players would sue the hell outta Origin
Perp : whew
Me : hahahaha so you’re breaking into houses too?
Perp : no, i found a scam with the trade window
Me : bonus! and GM BackWASH doesn’t know how you’re doing it?
Perp : don’t think so
Me : awesome!
Perp : why?
Me : backlash will come back and lecture us for a while, but then he’ll have to let us go
Perp : cool
Me : this is bs though, wasting my playtime without having any proof, guy’s a tool
Perp : haha yeah he sucks
Now that I’ve got the perp warmed up, it’s time to go in for the kill.
Me : hey, you wanna help me piss gm backwash the hell off???
Perp : how?
Me : he’s a dumass, and he’s prolly gonna keep checking up on us now to make sure we’re not using the sploits, right?
Perp : ya i guess
Me : so even though we got away this time we’ll eventually get caught prolly, right?
Perp : ya prolly i dunno
Me : so we gotta stop using the sploits, man
Perp : that’s stupid, i get SO much loot this way
Me : no dude, you have to stop using YOUR sploit, and i gotta stop using MY sploit
Perp : ?
Me : backwash is looking for you to cheat in trades and me to break into houses, right?
Perp : ya so?
Me : SO, if we trade sploits, he’ll be looking for us both in the wrong places
Perp : you mean you teach me how to break in an loot houses n i teach you my trade scam?
Me : hhahahaa! yeah! we stay rich and that tard backwash wont be able to stop either of us
Perp : yeah great idea!!!
Me : ok, so we prolly don’t have long before he gets back with the others, i already got my pen n paper, hurry and tell me how to scam! this is badass
Perp : well its pretty easy dude, you just. . . (explaining)
Anything you say can and will be used against you, tough guy.
Phase 3 — Confirmation and Execution
Before an exploit could be considered a banning offense and passed on to the devs for analysis/repair, it had to be proved as an exploit, which meant it had to be duplicatable. So while I chatted up the perp and gave him an old housebreaking exploit (already fixed) to write down, two of my fellow GMs were testing out the trade scam.
It turned out the perp’s instructions were golden — the exploit was duplicated, documented, and sent off to the programmers. Once I got the thumbs up from my partners, I was free to administer justice to the perp. I put my red robes back on, equipped my staff, and changed my handle back to GM Backlash. The perp knew that it was game over and didn’t even argue the banning, which was a nice change of pace.
Most of the time there were more cheaters and exploiters than a single GM could ever hope to contain or stop. The only way to keep the game playable for the population of your shard was to figure out how things were done and cut the cheating off at the source. In that sense it was a lot like bringing down a drug ring.
Putting a stop to that exploit was one of the most satisfying things I ever did as a GM. I felt as smooth as a 1950’s gumshoe. A game within the game within the game. Pure, unadulterated meta.