« Death and Taxes | Main | Virtual Theft and Earth Law »

Sep 29, 2003



Okay, though as an English major I know languages are living things and word usage changes, the use of "dupe" here (and I know it probably wasn't Edward's word choice) screeches like nails on a chalkboard to me.

Duping originally meant an object was duplicated through some metagaming (or accidental) trick. This object could be a big pile of gold, of course. the real and significant difference between this and FedEx exploits or finding exactly the right monster to kill easily over and over very fast is this: the latter two are linear; the former is exponential.

I will assume everyone here needs no explanation of the difference. If one can create a dupe event at will, one can literally "own" the world overnight (if one is silly enough to be so greedy as to so unbalance things that it's immediately obvious who is behind the sudden event).

I suspect it was duping, not linear exploits, however. Duping is very BAD. It can literally destroy balance overnight.

I can understand the drastic measures taken, but I suspect they could have found more targeted means of re-leveling the field a bit.

I sort of like the idea of a progressive tax. (IN GAMES!) Of course, it won't stop the budding capitalists, it will just force some behavioral changes (as it does in real life). Instead of accumulating capital in the form of taxible assets, the capital will move into untaxable assets. Crafters will hold their capital is crafting supplies and inventory. Merchants will load up on inventory. And the really adventurous will go into banking, loaning out all their capital to those in lower brackets and playing off their income from the loans. With a really high tax rate, risk equations change. If you would pay it in taxes anyway, why not take a bigger risk in making a loan than you would otherwise? Set up a payment program and turn a lum sum into an "annuity" of sorts.

But this would still aid balance. It would spread the cash around (even though it wouldn't spread around the net worth), which would put avatars on more apparently equal footing. Who's to know my Greatsword of Instant Death is actually property of JimBoB LoanSharK? All anyone cares is whether or not I can swing the thing when I get all GIDdy.

I doubt this would affect the meta market much either. It might actually stimulate it, since moving gold from me to you, and dollars from you to me, levels the ingame field nicely. It might change the average transaction size downward.

but these game companies have to take security REALLY seriously. They still toy with it (much like Microsoft, so who can yell too loudly?) Sessions should be encrypted, even if not at terribly high levels (to prevent massive performance hits on both ends). That would prevent a lot of account hacking. Real authentication systems are overdue. They can curb account trading anytime they want to, if they really want to. With a bit of marketing they can even get the players to foot the bill, I suspect.

And, of course, keeping the code as clean as possible is the impossible task. With games this huge, and with the constant changes, keeping every possible exploit (exponential or linear) out isn't likely. But they can have monitors in place that will spot unusual blips in the stream of riches. With some tools for querying the database, created in advance (hah!) they could find out who is behind it pretty fast, and focus on punishing those actually causing the problems, not the "innocent bystanders" who end up harmed by the punitive actions for no fault of their own.

But very few companies think preventatively. Despite the historical record of these games, they secretly believe their code is exploitproof. It won't happen to us! So they don't put in place the disaster recovery and world continuity plans that they should, to truly serve their customer base. And to protect their own revenue stream.

but that's not so unusual in business. In fact, it's the norm.


Both games I've worked on had extremely agressive anti-duping efforts, the only thing given a higher priority were server-crash bugs (and many dupes involved crashing the server). The theory was that if we let the economy get blown out by duping bugs, Bad Things would follow. Some of the investigations were straight out of Kafka, but we always found the exploit and got it fixed within days of the breakout.

The problem with progressive taxes as a fix is that an exploiting guild would spread as much gold as possible across as many characters as possible, and if possible dupe more. In the end, only the genuinely and honestly rich characters would take the hit, and the cross-server power balance problem would remain.

The lack of bank or inventory items are equally a consequence of the dupes, high-value items would be used to smuggle the ill-gotten gains to the new world, again across as many fully-loaded characters as possible.


While it is an unconfirmed rumor, I have heard that the recent deprecation in SWG Credits was due to a similar exploit. Additionally, as the rumor goes, to drain the economy of the excess, they have seriously decreased the loot drops and will probably keep them low until both the exploit is fixed and the money supply is at a reasonable level.

This is an interesting response, but I think they will feel it in lower retention numbers and higher churn.

Even so, I would expect a sharp rebound on the currency market if they are actually draining the economy. Last time I checked, eBay prices were between $30-$50/M. It will be interesting to watch this one.



Wouldn't people naturally and initially pair the taxed currency to some non-taxed commodity and then subsequently trade the currency at a discount with regards to the initial pairing?

Another comment...
The problem with dupes, as well as linear exploits is that they can be done with all manner of ingame objects. You would dupe/exploit the game's currency because it has more immediate value. But let's not forget that there is stored value in every single virtual banana peel out there, and it may be compelling to an exploiter (or easier) to obtain massive amounts of banana peels instead of the game's 'official' currency.

Having said that, the actions of the Shadowbane team are totally irresponsible -to their players and to the industry - and only serve to taint and even lower the bar for the rest of the industry as well as cast a shadow (no pun intended) of doubt upon future purchases of online games where the time investment is significant.
In a sense, the SB team decided that fixing their worlds, or adding more worlds, or changing the map or (*insert favorite excuse here*) was a cost they didn't wish to pay and they were going to offload to the player and developer communities.


Further thinking about SB server wipes... Bridget and others in the past have wondered why there is no insurance or other advanced financial instruments in these worlds. My response has usually been "the absence of law." No courts = no sophisticated contracts. (Which is actually counter-evidence to political theorists who feel that reputation systems are sufficient to support some complex transactions [e.g. Avner Greif]).

But I suppose that SB itself could have offered insurance against its own caprice. "Give us $20 now. Then, if you lose a character for any reason, or if we have to wipe a server, we will restore the character completely."


It's interesting to hear insurance mentioned. Through the work on my current project (to be announced shortly?), I stumbled on the idea of wipe insurance. I was speaking with a few TSO players who were moping about the sad day one of their servers was wiped (although in searching I was unable to figure out which one and when - perhaps it was one of the betas). I started running numbers and figured that someone could probably charge a small fee (proportional to the amount of coverage) per month for a cash payout if and when the server crashed. Rather than worrying about getting their entire account back, they would get a chunk of cash and have the option of moving to a new game - or simply packing it in.

The trouble as I see it, is that it's either selling insurance or gambling, both of which are regulated in Canada. Too bad really, since it might have actually made me some cash.

Anyone in a non-regulated country interested? :)


Alright Jamie, what's this project?????? C'mon, there's only a dozen of us working on this stuff, we are lonely. Promise you will fill us in.


Only a dozen? You mean this isn't the social hotspot of the universe? :)

I hesitated because I'm anticipating similar troubles with it as I was with the insurance.

So shhhhh. Don't tell anyone. This is top secret...

I'm a trader at heart. Sure I'm a software guy, but I love trading stocks and options and all those groovy things. When I first started reading about these VW economies and the whole EBay thing, I was trying to figure out if there was a way to get into it. The games are fascinating in the trainwreck sense - I shudder to think about how many hours I've spent already. Anyways, the cash market for virtual goods is clumsy to say the least. EBay auctions make it difficult, and the "Buy Now" prices are usually inflated. And the dealer sites are no better.

I'm putting together a site that will behave like a cross between yer RL run-of-the-mill discount brokerage and a commodities exchange clearing house. People would open accounts with me and deposit their goods or their RL cash. Markets for the individual issues (eg. 1million UO gold Great Lakes shard) would be displayed in full so that users would be able to see exactly who's selling and for how much. Click to fill an order. Click to confirm. When you're ready, schedule a withdrawal.

My intention is to make it extremely cheap (cheaper than EBay), fast and secure. I have a fee structure that should make it very appealing to all. The fees are set up so that I only see about $0.10 per trade - the rest of the commission goes to PayPal and to seller incentives. The only problems are a) getting people to use it instead of EBay, and b) convincing the big name dealers to trade through us.

I hope that by making it easily accessible and cheap, I can attract a lot of business. And by attracting a lot of business, I hope to help make the market a hell of a lot more liquid than it is. And when we have a more liquid market, we should be able to trade at prices far better than on EBay and dealer sites. At least I hope so.

$0.10 a trade is barely enough to pay my hosting. But if I can make a liquid market, I can trade it. :)

The only questions that remain unanswered are these: Will I be acting as a bank in the legal sense? And is it a problem that Joe Nobody from Canadia has started his own bank for video games?


I love it! Virtual monetary policy.

I can think of a number of ways to minimize the impact of virtual counterfeiting, some could make a game more interesting, especially in combination:

A game could allow players to find out which ones are the wealthiest. Rich players could be major targets for thieves, assassins and certain monsters (Dragons, for example). If a player becomes super wealthy, he either will need an $$$ army for protection, or will certainly lose his money.

Gold is heavy. A player should only be able to carry so much. If a player finds a trick to instantly create an unreasonable amount of gold, they would have to abandon most of it. Abandoned gold would likely be found and taken by others. If a player wanted to have more gold than their carrying limit, it would need to be stored and protected at a “bank.” Protection costs money. If it isn’t protected well enough, it could be stolen. So more money = more protection = more protection cost.

Market costs and limits: No store should have an unlimited supply of anything, no store should need an unlimited supply of anything. If a player keeps buying widgets from one store, the store should run out, or increase costs. If a play keeps selling a widget at another store, they only should need so many – and only have so much gold to pay for it.

Ditto with monsters – a player should only be able to find a limited number of each type of monster per day, or they become nastier and/or less likely to carry gold as the player becomes more wealthy.


Hi Jamie,

Feel free to add me to your list of potential customers. I am looking for a solution that would allow the inexpensive exchange of virtual goods.

One challenge I have been looking into is how to link various Virtual Worlds Currencies. Right now it is easy enough to buy a currency on eBay for US$ or other real world currency. What isn't possible is to buy one virtual world currency with another. For example, at some point I would love to be able to buy SWG Credits with EQ Plat and vise versa. I would love to see a central currency market for all the different currencies. Would be a great way to measure platform crossover and all.


I've been involved in duping schemes in no fewer then 3 different mmorpgs. Plats, Golds, +5 swords of doom. I've made copies of them all. My motives are simple. $$$. In the last 3 years i've made about $72,000. I don't do this as a living, im currently in grad school working on a phd in mathematics. In my experience, most games use relativly similiar tactics for tracking duping that relates to the amount of money the character has in an instant or over time. Generally, item duplication is far far more lucrative and untrackable then currency duplication. The databases that hold character information cannot uniquely track individual items. The volume of items is simply far too large and 1000s of players calling a database of millions of items every second would bring any system to its knees. When a character loads into memory each instance of an item in its inventory is assigned a dynamic identification number. This makes tracking a duped item almost impossible. You can convert these rare and valuable items into currency simply by selling them below their market value and then reselling the currency in its liquid form. All three times ive been caught after several months of successful duping it was loose lips rather then game mechanics which busted me(obviously, you'd think i would learn my lesson, but in these situations it often requires a group of players collaberating and i cant keep everyone silent). In one instance, the game management threatened to call the fbi under the auspices of fraud, I called his bluff pointing out the potential liability he was opening his firm up to and he quickly shut up. I'll follow up this forum if anyone has any specific questions about the duping world.


I have to admit I find this incedibly interesting, in my other life as a finance geek, I watch busness news, read the FT, etc. But my reasons for doing this is that I'm fascinated by the underlying system, in the "secret" life of money, rather than accuiring, saving or spending the same.

I suppose what you have now, is like multiple China's, whose currency the Renmimbi, (stupid name or what? :) isn't tradable on the international markets, neither is direct inward investment realy possible for the average investor. Yet it does produce goods, and consume large quantities of raw material. Clearly there is money to made both in and from China, the question is how?

Seems to me what you effectively have to do , and what the US seems not to be doing, is going to the big players in-country and talking to them, offering them a stake in the enterprise, becuse if this does take off then even a small fee will make you fairly wealthy. The only problems I can see as those of classical ecconomics, such as inflation, market bubbles, speculators, etc. "Tulip Mania" I don't think you should see this a real world enterprise, more an exercise in VW politics/diplomacy, rather than contacting people in RL, contact guilds in game, there is really no reason why if a currency is freely tradeable that you can't actually hold the government of those worlds to account. Or why you can't parley success in one world to riches in another.

A system like this one already exists, (the HAWALA/HUNDI system) but it's hundreds if not thousands of years old, and it addresses the fundamental issues of just such problems in the real world. How does a poor immigrant send money back to a country where the currency isn't exchangeable, and or the person has no bank account, etc? The answer is that you give money to person A in country X, and then person B in country Y gives money to the recipient. A few times a year persons A & B get together and exchange cash and or goods to value owed. The whole system works on trust and is very difficult to penetrate becuase of that.

Look it up, it really is fascinating.

I don't see why that can't be done in game, set up a shop, and then trade/ Save & prosper. You effectively become the back office, you mediate between worlds, in effect. You are open to the problems of world closue, counterfitting, etc. and being left with goods you can't keep or trade, but that's just risk management. Perhaps you'd need to set up an analog of the Secret Service to actually police the money or goods supply. Imagine being a covert ops team that got to go from world to world looking for felons, backed up by real in-game financial muscle...

Now I don't play online games, mostly becuase I'm 38, and I can't be bothered with trash talking 15 year olds, cheats, or anything of the other maldy's that affect MMORPG's etc. I'd love a decent multiplayer version of Elite but that's about it..

However what I find most interesting, is how easily the "real world" problems of finance seem to effect VW ecconomies. Things like taxation and the rule of law. I remember a long time ago helping somebody in my first foray into a Mud, he performed some arcane right, and I pulled a gem from a hole, but he had to be outside the dungeon. I gave him the rock, he gave me a better sword. He probably did better out of the deal, as the rock was, I found out later, worth a lot more than a cheap sword... :)

But the whole Idea of having to hire bodyguards, or of hiring mules to carry the loot you can't etc. is facinating to me. From that point of view if you're rich why do you need to go out at all, why not just hire mercenaries to do it for you? Having made your riches in EQ, why can't you then move into another world like AO with some force, etc. Much like expanding into the US/Europe/Aisa, etc. It's not so much Twinking as import/export, a new form of "venture" capitalism perhaps :) I imagine it would be quite exciting to set up shop in a new world, it would be very much like opening a bank, and would require without the rule of a law, a lot of muscle or tacic guild acceptance/approval. Perhaps it could be a guild perk, the ability to offer services in another world.

Really interesting read. Thanks!


MoD: I guess my first question would be how do you find the opportunities. My guess is that for the items to be worth anything at all, you have to find them before anyone else and get them to market and sold before anyone figures out that a particular item is no longer rare.


Tangential but relevant…

Tailor RaDadGunr hands you your purchase and says “Yeah, Not like the old days. I was a big shot once, you know, on Scorn, before they came. We ran, no time to take anything, they burned it all down. The strong ones, we escaped. The weak ones, they didn’t have the strength to start again, so many of them. My best friends, my mentors, subscription cancelled. From my guild, only my cousin and I made it here.” He stops to wipe his eyes.

“Imagine if the gubmit said you were going to be kicked out of your town. What would be your expectation regarding compensation? Surely you would expect not to be worse off materially. Things you couldn't take with you - your house (SB allows real estate ownership) - you would expect compensation for.”

Nothing like a little pogrom to instill a base of lore in a society.

Sure, it wreaks devastation on the social fabric of the community and yet I wonder if in some perverse way it also satisfies that need for permanent effect on the world. Will the players who “survived” (read “stayed on the new server and started again”) be sworn to vengeance through griefing? Will they form such tight bonds that they will be the last players logged on when the last server switches off someday?


"Will they form such tight bonds that they will be the last players logged on when the last server switches off someday?"

Gotta admit, your post has 'inspirational' value. But the SB team's actions have direct impact on the people that play those servers and have ripple effects on their entire playerbase, and as that playerbase moves or the news spreads it also affects other VWs. Can it be a positive message? I can't see how. Perhaps you could spin the collapse of a VW as a positive event somehow. I seem to be having a closed-minded day and only perceive very negative things; Specifically I see the message being: "We told you in the click-through contract that you couldn't trust us, now we're proving it to you."


Perhaps I haven't worded this clearly.

I am not implying that this is a "positive" event in any way, just wondering what effect it will have on the players and community in terms of their own virtual history.

Michael Sellars, of Online Alchemy, gave a talk at the Austin Game Conference a couple weeks ago saying - "Emotions cements shared experience" and that feeds off of MMO specialist Patricia Pizer's observation that "Shared experiences are compelling experiences". While it certainly is a PR disaster, and I can't imagine anyone being happy about it, I'll bet for those players it was a VERY emotional experience and thus perhpas a bonding one. Could it be something like the survivors of an earthquake coming together through their shared adversity?

Like almost every topic on this site, it is the old "compare and contrast" human behaviors in VWs vs RL. We are lucky to be front line observers, and commentators.


I started cracking copyprotection schemes when i was in the 6th grade. I've developed quite a knack for pushing and pulling things until they fall apart. Its obviously different game to game, but the intuitive places are the best to start. Login/logout, character death, Character Saves, zone state saves, etc. If there is a bug, its going to be at least tangentially related to one of these systems. As far as acquiring items to copy, its trivial once you figure out the dupe. With items it works just like the exponential model described in one of the earlier posts. Dupe 10 copies of the best item you can get your hands on, trade them for 2 items that are twice as good...and climb the ladder like that. There are so many servers and so many items in these games any reasonable person can limit their production so as to go undetected.


By the way, if eBay is any indication of the health of a game, Shadowbane is flatlining.


>By the way, if eBay is any indication of the health of a game, Shadowbane is flatlining.

Actually we have a deal with Ebay now where all Shadowbane auctions that we consider illegal are immeadiatly removed, and this is done several times a day.



That explains the numbers. You are slowly disuading the traders from using eBay. That also explains why Shadowbane auctions are now free over at Playerauctions.com - they're rising to the challenge and capturing market by lowering entry barriers.


Beyond all Intellectual Property considerations and protections they may wish, what I see here is UBI solving technical problems with social solutions. If two extremes here were actually possible, and given enough competing offerings, I wonder where players would flock to: A bug-free game or an auction-free game.


I've spoken with someone that has done massive dupes, at least 2 billion gold.

Its real.

Its really a two edged sword though, ubi needs to clean up the servers, as players want to leave because of the cheating; and yet wiping or forcing transfers with no gold makes honest people want to leave because they are being punished for the acts of the dupers.

I suspect that most honest players don't realize that they too are actually benefiting from the duped gold, they only see the massive prices on auctions, etc. But at the same time, so many expensive cities (in Shadowbane the city owners have to pay a weekly fee for the city that increases with the power/utility of the city) continue to have the fees paid, despite those cities not actually having enough players to support it honestly.

Perhaps there are some that feel that if they pay real dollars to someone on ebay for in game gold, that somehow makes the gold they get honest; but I'm left thinking, that gold that is constantly being sold had to be generated somewhere, be it from internal to the company sources (ie scandal) or with duping or other in-game automations (running multiple computers with macroing programs, outright client hacks, or what have you).

Ubi is in a tough situation, time will tell if the path they've chosen keeps players or kills the game.


"Ubi is in a tough situation, time will tell if the path they've chosen keeps players or kills the game."

If the duping is the cause, then one can only assume it was too expensive to track down the dupers, technologically inviable tracking down their spoils, or it cost too much to fix the hole... So everyone gets nuked, the good with the bad. Interesting approach.
Trouble is, the 'guilty' lost nothing they consider themselves entitled to, while the 'innocent' lost everything they were entitled to, and Ubi lost the faith/trust/goodwill of those 'innocent' players. Who do you think is more likely to come back? A masochistic 'innocent' player or a vengeful (or 'nothing to lose') guilty player?

I bet if a few more companies do this the industry will go down the drain, with the only possibility of rescue coming from granting players rights and assurances that their virtual efforts will be protected.


@DS -
I agree that the innocents are less likely to return, particularly since they have already "paid the price" of switching to another VW, which is more about having to give up your character than the $40-50 for the game usually.

If Sony/Verant had wiped my characters out, I'd have switched to a new game far sooner than I did, simply because the wretched decision to throw away all that invested time and familiarity with my character had been made.

Wouldn't it be neat if VWs had a conversion tool that allowed you to move from VW to VW similarly to the new requirements that telcos in America must allow customers to keep their number when switching cellphone carriers?

I think then you'd see a lot more concentration on "real" features and content and a lot less on addictiveness(aka The Grind) of gameplay.


What exactly is duping? I play Eve Online too and I've been reading they are busting Dupers there too. I guess there was some exploit where they could somehow duplicate minreals? How does it work when you dupe?



What is it? At the lowest level it is manipulating to your advantage the fact that computers don't operate on discrete objects - they shuffle around electron streams that must be present in more than one discrete location at once to actually move/operate.
Example: When you tell a computer "Add 1 to 2" it selectively lets through parts of your "1" and "2" into a destination place where this selection of signals (based on the "add") will look like "3", which it will later send down some wires again. The problem: At one point in time it actually has your original "1" it also has your original "2" and it also has the resulting "3". Contrast this to saying "Add some olives to my Martini" in the real world: You may have a Martini, and later in time you will have a Martini and an Olive, and later you will have a Martini WITH an Olive. At no single point in time you had: A martini, an Olive, *and* a Martini with an Olive.
If you were to somehow "trip" or stop the a computer in mid-operation, you would be able to "see" your original "1", your "2" and your "3" all at the same time. If you managed to "trip" or tackle the waiter bringing you the olive, you would never see the "olive", "martini" and "martini with olive" objects at the same time.

This way of working is part of the nature of current computers, and is carried all the way up to the programs that you use. If inside a game you move "a gold coin" from point A to point B, there is a moment in time where there are two coins, one at the origin and one at the destination. If you manage to trip or cause a disconnect on the mechanism that maintains the integrity of the information the gold coin in point A never gets deleted, so you now have "a gold coin" in point A as well as a duplicate coin in point B.

Do be aware that there are other ways to cheat the system, but again they all relate to the very basics of the technology at hand.

Hmmm... I wonder if quantum computers would solve duping permanently. Need to think about that one...

The comments to this entry are closed.