Greedy Goblin

Friday, July 28, 2017

Corrupt developer career path

Wilhelm and his sidekick Syncain are mad at me. No, they don't just believe that I'm wrong, then they would just unsubscribe my blog and leave me like we leave the homeless who explain government conspiracies to pigeons. But for some reason he had to write 1360 words about my 740 and 1280 words, to somehow debunk my idea that game devs are corrupt.

His first argument is "where are the stories" of scandals? The answer is simple: there are no scandals because it's not illegal. If for example a CCP dev would come forward and say that t20 is still handing out rare blueprints, the only thing that would be broken is his NDA. Neither t20, nor CCP games would be guilty in any wrongdoing, criminal or civil. Hint: t20 was not fired after he was found giving out rare blueprints. So being a whistle-blower ends in nothing but being blacklisted and maybe even sued with nothing but some bad PR for the company. Not many saints will speak up.

You have to understand that video game players waive all their rights when click that Yes button. None of the promises and claims of game companies are enforcable. I can't just point at some dev statement and demand refund. There was a pretty big P2W scandal in Black Desert that clearly and openly promised that they will never implement certain kinds of microtransactions in the Western Game (that's why it was buy-to-play instead of free-to-play like in Korea) and then they did just that and refused refund based on fine print. The players were so outraged that they pushed a mass chargeback campaign and the company just issued legal threats. I don't know how many people actually chargebacked and if the publisher actually sued them or let it slide, but it's besides the point. The point is that the current video game law(-lessness) means that none of the ethical standards in our head have any legal standings. At best you can bang your drum as a player. No dev will risk his employability to stand up against completely legal practices, just because they find it distasteful.

Secondly, let's consider the size of the RMT market. A researcher found 2 BILLION dollars worth of RMT in 2007!!! Imagine the size in 2017. Nosy Gamer estimates $400K per year RMT in the niche game EVE just on player auctions, a place where small time nobodies openly offer their ISK to anyone wanting to buy. We are talking about billions of dollars stolen here! Do you with a straight face claim that billions of dollars are stolen from the companies without internal help? Let's say every corrupt dev makes $100K from corruption. From a billion dollars, you can pay 10K corrupt devs. These are numbers.

Wilhelm calls me ignorant for demanding bugfixes and claims that some bugs take long to fix. However in the referred Ghost training issue, CCP not only fixed the code very slow, but didn't even warn players not to exploit. Also, stopping Ghost training would be trivial: every Ghost training account is non-payer Alpha that doesn't log in. What damage would it be to ban every Ghost training accounts and then later unban if the player petitions and GMs finds that his case is innocent enough and takes away the illicit SP? But no, CCP did nothing until there was a huge scandal on a bug that happened once already in 2009.

However he asks an important question, which warrants this post, instead of just ignoring him and stopping following his blog like I do with that useless Syncaine. What is the corrupt developer career path? Do I mean that little kids walk around dreaming "one day I'll be big and rig video games and make millions of dollars from RMT"? No. Ladies and gentleman, let me provide the career path:
  1. Non-profit exploiter: he is a simple player with no connections to anyone and making no money. He just cheats for himself. He is the guy who uses wallhack in an FPS game or runs a homemade bot to grind honor all night in Alterac Valley for his own account. He does it either because programming is hard and challenging. Or because he is a dirty little punk who wants to look l33t front of his peers.
  2. Small time RMT-er: most exploiters outgrow it when they go to college. But some realize that his bots and exploits can net him some side money on player auctions. Or selling "roses" to guildmates. He is a little fish in the pond, but he is already making some money. This is still not illegal (besides some trivial amount of tax evasion that no one prosecutes), running bots and selling gold is not against the law. At worst he can be banned.
  3. Protected RMT-er: one day our little botter goes home and finds his 64 clients disconnected. In his e-mail accounts there are the standard "dear X, we found violation of ToS..." mails from the company. In his main character's e-mail address there is a mail from an unknown sender: "Sup X, i pwnd u. U can be dumb and just toy with proxies but it wont hepl. Or... you can be smart and send 50% of your income to this bitcoin address and your bots will never be banned again".
  4. Connected RMT-er: knowing to be safe from banning, he is now running 256 accounts, 24/7 on 8 computers that cover all his room. He quit college or at least doesn't care about failing exams anymore since he is making more than any entry level jobs can pay with his degree and sees this as a career now. He regularly chats with his dev "protector" who once asks him if he wants to play with the big boys. There will be an entry price and he has to give out personal info to be sure he is trustworthy ("full API pls") but then he won't have to grind gold with lousy bots anymore. He gets access to portions of the source code and 0 day exploits, so he can make much more gold to sell. Also, forget player auctions, the crew has its shop with its own well-established buyers and small-time resellers doing the busywork. They also teach him how to launder serious money so the tax authorities won't break his door one day. Either by dark web concealment or with legitimate front business.
  5. The final step: he now makes more than his dad and learned how to kung-fu both in software and money. Then the final call arrives from the familiar face on skype: "hey dude, our dev team has an opening. Interested?" By saying yes, the video game industry just found another developer who will work enthusiastically for half wage, between horrible conditions.

Now I'm not saying every or even most developers are like this, especially on the art field where there is little opportunity to rig. However these punks run the show and upkeep the low wages, high hours and abusive environment to prevent any clean guy coming to their turf. They are ready to take formal pay cuts to keep applicants away, they rather work long hours to cover for an empty position than fill it with someone clean. If someone needs to be hired and they don't know a guy, they make sure it will be a newbie with zero experience who is simply too incompetent to realize what's happening right under his nose. If he turns out to be too smart to be kept in the dark and too honest to be recruited to the crew, they just bully him out. So the industry will finally devolve into what it is today: a bunch of crooks surrounded by incompetent yes-men hired right out of college in a toxic hellhole living on pizza, laughable formal salaries and slave hours, knowing that their RMT will make them able to retire by 30.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Killers vs Achievers in PlayerUnknowns Battleground

Warning: they just announced for money loot crates. The game is still Early Access and can change, based on community reactions. Since there is large element of randomness in the game (who finds good weapon, who hits and who misses from long range, who is concealed by a bush and who is not, who finds himself in the middle of the circle and who has to walk half map to get in), rigging the game would be trivial. We can only assume fair matches as long as all players have the same value. If some can spend extra money, even on cosmetics, the company has reason to increase their satisfaction to keep them playing = paying. And it will be done by helping them killing you. Add that loot crates are the worst kind of predatory monetizing and anyone is low enough to do it is low enough to do any rigging. I strongly advise you not to buy the game if you haven't already. I already paid, so it's sunk cost anyway, there is no purpose not to play.

Now to the post for today. There are awful lot of FPS titles. Yet PlayerUnknown's Battleground gained popularity in shocking rate, despite both the graphics and the actual player versus player combat is pretty dime-a-dozen FPS. PvP games are all cursed by the PvP spiral: the morons and slackers are killed and they ragequit. The most common answer for that is participation reward PvP, where even being totally obliterated comes with rewards. While you get purchase points for even horrible games and you can buy some non-monetized lockboxes, this would only make PUBG another random FPS instead of the big hit of 2017.

The reason is they successfully designed a killers vs achievers game. I realized this scheme half decade ago, but of course I don't claim they learned from me. I don't even claim they understand what happened, they could just bump into it by implementing a Battle Royale / Hunger Games scenario. In short, the killers vs achievers scheme means that the players can choose between conflicting but not mutually exclusive goals. The achievers want to reach some objective that is set back by being killed while killers want to just kill while not caring for the goal. This allow both of them to win by their own conditions.

In PUBG you are dropped to an island with nothing along with 99 (minus those whose client crashed) players and can loot weapons, armor and tools. The goal is to be the last survivor and your win rating is depending on how close you get to it. The game area is constantly shrinking so you can't hide forever.

Or to be correct, this is the achiever goal. There is another toplist, the killer which contains K/D ratio. What is the genius? That the two goals are uncorrelated until there are only two players left when you must kill him to win. Before that happens, your best chance to not die is to avoid PvP. Every time you engage, you risk losing or at least losing HP. You also expose your location to other players even if you have a sure kill, like sniping someone from afar. Finally and most importantly, killing someone who isn't in the process of killing especially you, you get the same reward for killing him as every other living player: one less competitor. If Adam, Bob and Cindy are in game and Adam kills Bob, Cindy got just the same reward (being in top 2) as Adam, while Adam paid all the costs of the kill.

This means that an achiever avoids PvP, becoming game for hunt for killers. If you enter the game with the intent to get kills, you probably succeed because there will be awful lot of players in the game who aren't trying to kill you but are busy to get into the safe zone or getting items or whatnot. At the same time, killers risk dying early by ignoring the safe zone or getting into unsure 1v1 or killing Bob just to expose their location to Cindy and die.

Despite I'm already in the top 20% in winrate (#180K out of approximately a million players), I have a 0.4 K/D, meaning I provided entertainment to the killer community, while they did the same for me by dying fast and making me a last 10 survivor. I'm just as happy and proud of my winrate as the guy who killed me once but rarely got into the last 50 is happy for his K/D. So unless you are horribly bad, you are ahead in your chosen statistic, be that achieving or killing.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

So I'm playing Playerunknown's Battleground

I promised I won't touch more pre-released games. But I had no game at all and not only the player count was very high for PUBG, but also the top dev (Brendan Greene aka PlayerUnknown) did something shocking: he enforced the game rules. In the age of rigging, where devs openly share beers with "content creators", 24/7 bots swarm the games unmolested and you can get away with streaming exploiting, such approach is very welcomed.

On the one hand, the game is very alpha. I mean on peak time 1 out of 3 games crashed on me. Often I can't even get to the "send crash report" launcher screen because the screen freezes, the sound repeats and not even Ctrl-Alt-Del or Alt-F4 works, I have to reset the computer. It's particularly annoying when the game is going well. Off-hours it's better, so it's probably load related. There is also no reconnect feature like in League of Legends, where if you restart your computer, log in again, you rejoin the game. Oh, and crashed games count into your statistics as losses, even if you crash before the match starts (airfield before the airplane fly).

On the other hand the game is/will be the biggest hit in the year, one that will completely redefine not just the FPS genre, but all kinds of multiplayer PvP games. Post will come tomorrow (spoiler: the genius is using the same blueprint that I proposed half decade ago, probably without ever hearing about me). The implementation is also great, there are awful lot of different weapons, tools and vehicles. The playground limiting feature is also spot on. I guess I'll stay here for a while.

The match scheme is simple: 100 (minus those who crashed pre-match) airdrop to an island with nothing. You have to search buildings for weapons, armor, medkits and such. Then it's free for all. The goal is to live as long as possible, preferably being the sole survivor. The island is huge and probably you wouldn't see another player for a day, but a force field gradually shrinks, killing everyone outside, forcing everyone to the move. Finally the zone is tiny, forcing the last survivors to fight till the end. Despite I play only for 4 days, 81 rounds (about 20 crashes), I already managed to get to top 10 13 times and #230K on wins (out of about a million). I've yet to be the last survivor (highest rank was #3), but I'm working on it.

So far I didn't find any persistence between matches, but there are official toplists for both winning and killing and assuming the game will be huge (it already is), it will become a social reward "OMG ima l33t" without any further in-game reward. If the only way to get this wanted reward is playing well, I already have a project!

Now the bad: the above listed match scheme is horribly easy to rig. The game has World of Tanks like detection scheme (I either see the opponent or not, depending on concealment) so they can decide he sees me and I don't see him. They can also center the shrinking zone on a player they want as winner. They can generate the randomly distributed weapons to spawn right in the building the selected winner(s) land on while other buildings have only crap. Assuming the game has no microtransactions, the company has no reason to rig. If they will have, they will do, with only the "personal ethics" of Mr Greene standing in the way. I wonder how much trust I can place into one guy, when my only information about him is once standing up against a single exploiting streamer. Individual rigging is less likely since there is no gold to sell in the game and the only thing you can sell is highly ranked accounts. This doesn't really allow botfarms, as botting many accounts to the top in a PvP game is probably very hard. Worst case some exploiters who do it for personal rank get away with cheating due to GM friends or devs giving hints how to exploit. Nothing massive.

Update: this is my luck. They announced real money loot crates. The game is still Early Access, so we can hope it won't be in the final version. There is hope, because they are obviously scared of backslash as they announced it "just for event and charity". Of course if it's left in the game when published and they actually collect money for loot crates, I quit and advise against the game as "easy way to rig" + motive = "they rig".

While this could be 30 Euros scammed out from me, I still find some value in the stuff I'll write tomorrow. While this particular game might go down the toilet, the genuine idea can live on.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Art, hobby and "cool" ... nope, its corruption

Yesterday I wrote that the game devs working for low salaries, long hours and in bad conditions are having a very lucrative side business of RMT and other exploiting. The comments were either social or at best calling them "dumb socials": they are doing art or hobby practically for food or they suffer for the high social status of being a game dev. In there eyes, the game dev is like the doctor who chooses to treat malaria with Doctors Without Borders for free, between horrible conditions, fueled by either internal goodness or the belief that after his year of suffering is over, he can collect fame, respect and girls with his awesome hero story.

Can a video game be art? Sure can:

Are there indie games out there, made as self-expression? Of course there are! Would it be cool to tell on a school reunion "do you know that awesome game X? I made it"!

The problem is that everyone knows Last Guardian (even those who never played it, like myself) because it's an unmatched gem in the sea of filth. What would be "X" in the sentence? Name one game you would be proud to announce as yours to your mother or a prospective girlfirend!

If games were prestigious, they would attract workers-for-food. If they would be awesome, they would attract artists. If they would be passionate, they would attract true believers. But they are not, this is why the blogs are dying, this is why we are bouncing between games, this is why there is doom and gloom in the game scene! Do you think anyone is proud to code lockboxes? Or nerfing his game to the point where even braindead monkeys can play it? Or putting in microtransactions? Can you imagine anyone bragging about working for Daybreak, EA or CCP?

Sure, someone can love an ideal and join with bright eyes, but he should make a passionate speech when the manager says "and we now implement lockboxes" and get himself fired. But they don't. They just sit in their cubicles and code lockboxes for crappy salaries, 80 hours a week.

I can imagine that indie developers are coding their dream game for just enough to buy food, from donations and whatever they can make on Steam. Some succeed (Minecraft), most don't, but either way, they are living the dream. But it's not them I was talking about. I'm talking about those who are working for big studios, for a formal salary, with a boss. They aren't living any dream. They aren't doing anything resembling art. They aren't getting anything from their peers but hate and abuse for the garbage they make.

I can imagine being a game dev was a source of pride and a hobby a decade ago. I remember how outspoken the original Wow devs were when the corporate execs ordered them to give out welfare epix. They bitched about it for some time and then quit, because it was no longer "fun". Those who enter the industry now probably didn't play a single good game since early childhood, because they aren't made anymore. Everything is about "accessibility" and monetization now. A decade is more than enough time for even the most stubborn idealist to wake up.

Yet devs are still working 80+ hours for crappy salaries. Why? Only one explanation remains: corruption. They are doing this for the money, just not their formal salaries. They make a lot by implementing bugs and exploiting them with their RMT-ing friends. They make a lot by turning a blind eye on botting. Some very socials may not even doing it for the money, but for "being powerful" front of friends: "hey dude, since we are pals, I give you 10 zillion gold and a Sword of Uberness". That's the only "coolness" that remained: the ability to appear as an e-thug, someone who holds criminal power over the game.

I repeat what I wrote: show me someone who is not paid, abused and overworked and not quitting when there are much better opportunities for him and I show you someone who is on the take! Show me a dev who can't catch a literal 24/7 bot and I show you a botter. Show me a dev who can't fix "Ghost training" in 15 weeks and I show you someone running a ghost farm - or at least getting money from those who do.

Monday, July 24, 2017

No, it's not the free market

One of the blogs I've found during the crawl, is pretty rarely posting, but has valuable content when does. This post is about his tribulations as a game dev:
Prepare to work 16 hours a day for perpetual crunch because of the incompetence of management and producers. Prepare never to see your loved ones. Get used to sleeping on the floor in your cube. Prepare to see your health decline as you eat bad food and stop exercising. If you don’t like any of that, just realize there’s a line-up of hundreds of naive fools standing right behind you that will gladly replace you and sell their souls to be part of the video game sausage factory.
He also quoted a long post of another disillusioned game dev:
  • The gaming industry is a meat grinder... The reality is, you will work for 80-100h hours a week during crunch periods.
  • You have no job security. Your game tanked? Oops we need to find a culprit, might be you. And boom you are fired. Studio failed to secure that contract? Hmmmm we need to downsize, you are out.
  • I doesn't pay; especially for programmers ... I can tell you will easily see a 60%+ raise just by switching domains. My current job is by no means boring, even though I don't make games anymore, and I make 70% more, and my overtime is paid when I have to do some.
  • lot of places are extremely toxic. With such low job security, backstabbing is constant.
  • In the later years, it has become extremely PC, especially smaller studios. I've seen HR telling me how great they were, because they had a 40% females studio.
  • The management is horrible ... co-worker get threatened by HR because one of their friends posted something negative about the studio on their facebook wall.
  • Don't rock the boat. You can't afford to make a statement ... you do it, even if you think they are garbage.
I do not question the validity of his experience, nor the quoted or the countless others. But then he gets to the conclusion: "the state of the video game industry is a symptom of our progressive culture and an example of the worst excesses of capitalism." I get to the liberal culture in a different post. But in the "excesses of capitalism" he is dead wrong. He now works in a different field without these problems. Is that a government agency? The highest paid programmers works for banks. Are they not the poster children of "excesses of capitalism"?!

The question isn't why the game companies offer these atrocious work conditions and pay. The question - always - lies on the other side: why are there lines of wannabe devs going through the same suffering? Why there are anyone who doesn't quit. Most importantly, why can't the banks get away with offering the same? Why would it be bizarre for a bank boss to tell the employees to work unpaid overtime?

The conditions he described aren't rare, but not in capitalism, but in crony-capitalism and semi-criminal capitalism. Like when the night club doesn't pay waitresses at all, and they work for free for the opportunity to catch rich and drunk customers for "escort". Or when border patrol agents made half of cops in several Eastern European countries and still the applications crushed the desks, because one could make a monthly salary from one night patrol by not searching the right cars. Or the plague of the Hungarian health care: doctors work for pennies, but still don't quit, because queues are long and patients pay into their pockets to skip it.

The reason why game devs are underpaid, overworked, abused and still line up is corruption. You can make much more than your salary by making a deal with RMT-ers. Even a lowly GM can make some extra for not banning certain people. Programmers can make much better money for exploitable bugs. Higher ranked devs who can actually design systems can make a fortune. Remember when someone gave CCP intellectual property to a "book publisher" with zero publishing experience?! Even if he was just offered 10% of the money, 10% of 150K is pretty nice for a month of shilling for the book on streams.

Show me someone who is not paid, abused and overworked and not quitting when there are much better opportunities for him and I show you someone who is on the take! Show me a dev who can't catch a literal 24/7 bot and I show you a botter. Show me a dev who can't fix "Ghost training" in 15 weeks and I show you someone running a ghost farm - or at least getting money from those who do.

The problem is the usual moral hazard in financial investing, which means that the shareholder has no clue of the company he buys and just buys a black box based on previous stock prices and dividends. In this case the actual company management is done by employee managers who are also selected for previous management experience. The problem is that the typical CEO-for-hire has no clue about video games. He might sold sugared water or television programming or hotels but not video games. He comes with the attitude "I don't care, production is production, doesn't matter if box of soda or box of video game".

The problem is that video games are fundamentally different from soda: the sold experience is directly linked to experiences of other players. If you sell something that lets Adam pwn Bob, you see a successful sale at Adam and a discontinuation of service at Bob, but the connection isn't obvious. Usually Bob gives the useless "I'm not having fun" explanation for quitting. However while video games are special, by no means unique: sports have or had the same problems. I'm pretty sure that a successful boxing promoter or horse race director would be a wonderful gaming studio CEO. So would be a casino manager who understands the damage that a single card-counter can do.

On the employee side, the problem would be more capitalism. You see the problem is self-inflicted: the employee sees himself miserable only because of a rule in his own mind: don't steal. This rule isn't existing in the current game development, I haven't heard a single case when a GM or dev was fired and charged with embezzlement after found to be in league with cheaters. I hear of the same in professional sports and gambling, every time when there is a cheating scandal. If he would do everything that is possible, he would be just as happy as his colleagues. Or, if this isn't the path he'd choose, he'd quit and work at a bank. I have no doubt that there are many honest devs who don't steal, just work for free until burned out "for the team". If only they'd all shrug as Atlas one-way-or-another, the gaming industry would burn overnight.

But fear not! Capitalism will fix this. At first, many managers reach CEO age who played games as young (or even still play) and understand how RMT and exploiting damages a game. As soon as they get to power, this problem will diminish. Please note that being completely heartless and game-hating CEO wouldn't change that, he would indeed squeeze every dollar out of the whales in the item shop, but would not leave a cent to third party exploiters. Also, it's only a matter of time before a privately owned studio makes something good that goes viral, via word-of-mouth advertising of satisfied customers.

Finally, the political climate is changing fast removing the final obstacle. But that's for a later post.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Weekend minipost: maybe playerunknown's battleground?

Shooter genre - not really my thing.
No permanent results - kind of "for fun"
Alpha/Early access - I promised that I won't touch any of those.
But they handled this rule breaking streamer so perfectly that I must give them some support. I look up some more info and if you have some personal account, please share. A game that enforces the rules is quite a sight in 2017.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Pictures of your in-game food

When I announced the new crawl, digging through the blogs, to find inspiration and information, I greatly underestimated the task. Almost a month passed and it's far from done. However a milestone is reached: I finished the blogroll of biobreak:
Ouch, it was looong. And I clicked on every single one of them and checked its contents. Many are dead. Surprisingly many died last July, tricking me as I saw the "July X" as last post date, read them and they felt outdated, checked again and saw that the date is actually "July X 2016". Weird.

I've found some inspiring and intelligent blogs, you see how my blogroll grew from the 5 pre-crawl entries. I've even found one that made me laugh for minutes. Really check it out!

But most of the blogs are just "pictures of your in-game food". They are alike the facebook pages of random nobodies that are full of everyday busywork that no one cares about (not even the poster) and literal photos of food. Why does someone cares to share a meal? Or a minipet? Or a storyline. This is the last one on the roll and a good example of these type of blogs. (no need to check it out, check out the previous link, really!)

The trick with these blogs is that they are identical, since the adventures of the bloggers are identical. "Everyone" started to play Secret World Legends and got surprised that the tutorial is lengthy and the outdoor area is dark and feels like a dungeon. I believe the bloggers considered their stories worth sharing, but they are the same, which is kind of the problem with non-competitive games: there are no unique stories. There are no highs of victories and lows of defeats, just the boring, dime a dozen grinding over on-rails, piss-easy content.

Seeing these blogs, I can explain why my blog survived the lulls of non-gaming: I always tell something unique. Maybe hilariously wrong, but definitely something that you can't read on every random reddit page. Of course I'm not satisfied with that, (hey, nobody ever wrote "ak,fmg;ldsmL:ASmf;lssdl;fkadl;" before, I'm unique!), but it's a start. I keep crawling until I find something worthy to finally settle down. I've already got my eyes on Fortnite and got info to cross out many titles that looked good.

Speaking of which, there goes Ark Survival Evolved. While it wasn't a primary target anyway, I kept it as an "if all else fails" option. Obviously not anymore. It seems the "evolution" of games over the past decade is
  1. we are fair
  2. we give clear advantage to those who pay in the shop
  3. we break our own rules and support some players secretly
  4. we can't even be bothered to stop exploiting when there's a scandal
There is nowhere to sink now, so there must be an investor who says "I have $100M, I believe there is a niche for a non-rigged, competitive game on the long run".