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Dec 06, 2005



I recieve probably one in-game mail a week from someone trying to sell me gold or items, and have for a while now. I do, however, have yet to recieve a whisper about about it. I have not saved any of the mail, but perhaps I should, since they all seem quite similar and are probably the work of one or two dedicated groups.

Regardless, the mail has come at a steady rate, so I doubt things are going to be as severe by next week as you project. At least I hope not, I have to agree though that the potential is there.


Unsolicited mail, tells, etc., are always a pain. In Asheron's Call, it was common after creating a new character to be beseiged by storms of tells asking if you wanted a patron. Adding the monetary incentive of RMT just ups the probability of this occuring, I think.

I'm reminded of two of the older "laws" of MMOs: Koster's Law says the quality of roleplaying is inversely proportional to the number of people playing. And Hanke's Law reminds us that "In every aggregation of people online, there is an irreducible proportion of [jerks]."

Put these two together and it's not difficult to see that with a sufficiently large population (as on WoW) role-playing goes to zero and annoyance probability goes to one. Add a bit of stupidity (harassing others with tells is a quick way to get banned) and greed, and well, this is what happens.

OTOH, I think we're relatively safe from being spammed to distraction in MMOs for a while at least; doing so in email is orders of magnitude easier (and apparently, mind boggling as it is, still profitable).


Edward, I'm boggled that this is the first time you've seen anything like this. I've been deluged by this sort of thing for as long as I've been playing MMORPGs [*1], and the similar complaints I hear from others lead me to think my experience is fairly typical.

I hereby make a Prediction, in public and on the record so you can all laugh at me later: The first really commercially successful virtual world [*2] will have a Bayesian spam filter built into the chat channels from day one.

[*1: Admittedly that's only about 8 months, but you get the idea.]

[*2: Not WOW, which is successful only by Western gaming industry standards. Let's say, the first one that grabs a proportion of the population of North America and Europe comparable to Lineage in Korea.]


This could seriously ruin immersion for a game. Just would suck to take people off a major project of additional content for a game, just to account (and battle against) something like this.



I can't say it's really anything new. I think I may have experienced similar advertising via EQ OOC channels. Look at IRC spamming. The client scripting in WoW just makes it easier. And you know why people do it? Because it works.

One thing I will add in a related vein is that social networking sites are now regular targets of spear-phishing 419 spammer scammers. How long until 419 scammers make it into virtual worlds as their popularity increases?


I can see that happening. "Greetings and thank you for your kind attention to this matter. My name is Hilgurt Zugzug and until recently I was captain in the armies of Thrall until the nefarious alliance captured me. Before my capture I was able to hide our war-chest containing ONE BILLION (1,000,000,000,000) gold pieces. But I need your help to get it back. If you just loan me your account name and password I will log on as you, retrieve the chest, and deposit 10% of the money (100,000,000,000 gold pieces) in your bank as a reward."


Still, let's not forget that the toothpaste has been squeezed out of the tube by gold pharmers. First and foremost. Can anyone still deny that RMT, though innocent in its origins, at this scale becomes a serious pollutant of online games?

MMOs have had people, for probably 15 years, advertising other MMOs or MMO-related services to the players of a particular MMO. Due to the relatively small playerbases, many text MMOS have one or more global channels (newbie channel, 'shout' channel, etc), allowing people to advertise to the whole online playerbase at once. We regularly get people coming on trying to advertise another MMO or a service related to our MMOs (combat "systems" and whatnot).



Chat channel spamming was a constant problem in Diablo 2. At times it was difficult filtering through all the spam. This certainly isn't a new development.



Eve-Online charges game currency (ISKs) to send in-game email. I reckon this discourages unbridled spam.


As far as I remember, the charge for sending mail in EvE is very small. WoW also has a 30 copper charge for sending a mail but that is too small to make any difference whatsoever.

Perhaps a cumulative sum for sending a lot of e-mails within a given period of time could be a solution. Then again, you are effectively 'punishing' all normal players for using the mail mechanics for normal activities...


I've received some mail like this a couple of times months ago, and it caused me no end of pleasure to denounce them to the GMs. But as others have noted, there was no particular increase of this type or other types of spam since then. In fact, I haven't received anything like this in a long while.

Unless of course you count as spam receiving tells from low level toons begging for gold from my level 60 warlock...


I've gotten these a few times. IMMEDIATELY send in a report with the player name (which is why they do the random name BS - hoping you'll mistype it) under Verbal Harrasment.

WoW has gotten very serious about these lately - I've gotten a response from a GM in 5 min or less every time.


I feel stupid now that everyone says this is old hat, but honestly, I had never gotten these before. Maybe RP servers have been sacrosanct. I guess Mark Wallace has be talking about this on the blog already. Apologies for missing that. I do feel like this deserves fairly broad publication though, since now we have an entire (mainstream) advergaming industry emerging. I have not heard folks in that community discuss the use of in-game channels; at the very least, it may be news to them.


I've gotten a bunch of these tells on Cenarion Circle (also a RP server) over the past couple of weeks -- sometimes multiple within the same hour. Always different websites. GM response has been really, really quick on them -- heck, I wish GM response would be that quick for anything else.


My guess is someone's written a UI addon that does a /who and spams everyone on the server. I've gotten similar /tells for a while, pretty much once a night like clockwork, from throwaway accounts.

It's done this way because Blizzard crippled free trial accounts - they can't talk in General chat, but can send tells. Thus, this workaround.


Ah, free accounts + tells. Yeah that fills in some gaps, as it doesn't seem like a money-making proposition if they're paying for the account. To paraphrase Jurassic Park, "Greed finds a way." :-p


Eve-Online charges game currency (ISKs) to send in-game email. I reckon this discourages unbridled spam.

The problem with this solution is it only costs 30 copper to send a mail in Wow, which equals about 1g for 333.33 emails. Since the spammers in question are selling 1000 gold pieces for less than $100 dollars, there is no way to defeat them by charging in game money for email transactions, because to kill off the spamming you'd have make email prohibitively expensive for your majority of players.

I think the best solution will probably be constant vigilance and introducing spam filters in the email system and banning the transmission of website addresses that sell gold/in game items. And possibly Blizzard should move away from the amount of money sinks they've designed into the game. I generally don't like the idea of buying in game money, but with my Paladin looking at spending another 2-300g for the lvl60 Charger, my Hunter wanting a 60 mount, and two other toons charging towards 60 (one still needs a mount) -- the idea of buying a little gold is certainly tempting, since farming it is boring as hell.


I've seen a scant few ads like this before, and never a tell. One of the interesting things is that they seem to only show up in densely populated places like Stormwind and Ironforge, which makes them seem almost in-character -- the noisy hucksterism of the big city. Not that that makes me like them any more.

Advertising only persists if it's profitable, right? Between the crippling of free trial accounts, the possibility of getting banned by GMs, and the ire of players who want to maintain the magic circle, I'm hoping the profitability of spamming public channels will be minimal. I wonder if the percentage of people who'd bite at 419s and other normal spam is as high in MMOs as it is in the rest of the world. Probably not, fortunately.

Patrick McK: roflolzorz!


gus>I've seen a scant few ads like this before, and never a tell. One of the interesting things is that they seem to only show up in densely populated places like Stormwind and Ironforge, which makes them seem almost in-character -- the noisy hucksterism of the big city

I have screenshots of these tells happening in the boonies of Ashenvale and Hillsbrad Foothills. So I think it may have moved beyond that. Almost certainly itembay.ca has worked out a way to make their bots move.


Edward > "everyone says this is old hat"

Well, it's one thing to complain about it amongst ourselves while we're off hacking stuff in Azeroth, quite another to open it up for some (hopefully) insightful discussion. I'm with you, I think it deserves fairly broad publication -- which to me means publication beyond just MMO players themselves. Thanks for bringing this up.


This has been going on in WoW (from my p.o.v.) for a few months now in the /whisper format. I get 1-3 double tap gold seller whispers per day. As soon as I see those funky characters, and all that info crammed into two identical whispers, even if I'm in the middle of combat, I take a screenshot. Then I give the name of the spammer to my guild in guild chat, and everyone in the guild reports the spammer at the same time. Within a few minutes, at least one guild member reports contact with a GM and assurance that the spammer will be dealt with.

At first, the gold spammers had names that weren't in violation of the policy. Now, they come in all flavors. The latest: BFFFFFFFF.


A common tactic used by the more surreptitious individuals is to abuse free trial subscriptions (14-day, one month, free with registration on another site, etc.) to continually generate new accounts that they can use for in-game solicitation.

We are pretty harsh on those folks and don't allow it, and if a particular site is a common offender, then we do not even give them a secon chance. Still, though very successful and worth the headaches, this is the downside to registration code promotions.


One of the interesting things is that they seem to only show up in densely populated places like Stormwind and Ironforge, which makes them seem almost in-character -- the noisy hucksterism of the big city.

Last weekend I got one of these in-game whispers in the middle of the Mauradin instance - while I was busy being the secondary healer in the middle of a huge fight, no less - so I have to say it definitely happens elsewhere in the world. The constant item-hawking on the Trade channels in Stormwind and Iron Forge I have always viewed in precisely the manner you describe, but halfway through a huge instance out in the middle of nowhere? I can't see it the same way.

I've only received three of these tells in four months of playing WoW (on Durotan, a PvE server), but each time I've opened a GM ticket under "Verbal Harassment" and included the name and the exact quote sent to me. I have always received a very speedy response that they appreciated the notice but that I wouldn't be notified of any action taken (standard when dealing with Acceptable Use policies, from games all the way up to ISPs, so I wasn't surprised).

I have no idea what they can really do - these people have plenty of throwaway accounts to use/create for this purpose - but it strikes me that the playerbase is going to be likely to resent any sort of restriction on channels or whispers, even something as mechanical and relatively "hands-off" as Bayesian filtration. MMOs and the temporary social environments created as players experience something, or hear a rumor, combined with the Brownian motion of flight paths and quest-runs, are nothing if not rumor mills. The second any MMO's administrators propose adding a filter to in-game communications the grapevine will be working overtime to manufacture a million and one suspicions of their motives. I think it would simply blow up in the administrators' faces no matter how well-intentioned their effort might be.


"One of the interesting things is that they seem to only show up in densely populated places like Stormwind and Ironforge, which makes them seem almost in-character -- the noisy hucksterism of the big city."

If only /whisper didn't allow you send messages anywhere at any time on your faction, this would be more true.

In all likelihood, the spammers are working with something like WoW Census's trawling mod (www.warcraftrealms.com), appending another script that sends a /w to every "hit."


I hate to hijack a thread, but for some reason I don't see any discussion of this topic anywhere on TN. Apparently Sony's experiment with RMT in EQII has been so successful that it now plans to create a free MMOG. Game costs and so forth will be recouped via Sony's cut of RMT's. So at least now there is the potential of a major MMOG which will be free for the casual (possibly low income) player.


Edward said:

>> I feel stupid now that everyone says this is old hat, but honestly, I had never gotten these before...

I dunno, you may be onto something. Both my wife and I, on different accounts and on different (European) WoW servers, received in-game whispers regarding gold in the past ten days or so. Neither of us had had it happen before.


Ted: Yes, it's old hat, but very worthy of public discussion. Personally, I've been getting tells on a regular basis from spammers for a few months. Just received my first in-game mail spam a few days back, and forwarded the message to Mark. This on an RP server, so I don't think they've been considered 'sacrosanct'.

If I were a spammer, I think I'd be targeting 39-43s and 58-60s, and especially those in grinding areas -- who is more likely to be tempted to buy gold than someone working toward his epic mount?

Espie: I agree with you that technical mitigation would help. (I avoid the phrase 'technical solution' because this seems to be an arms race situation, and the goal is to make things onerous for the spammers with minimal cost to the developers.)

In some of the comments, people are assuming that the spammers are using an addon. Probably, but not necessarily. At one point on my own RP server, I spammed most of the online warlocks with an invitation to and instructions on how to join a warlock channel. Ctrl-V and /who are a deadly combination, and I could have sent out a tell every few seconds.

But as Vykromond pointed out, tweaking an existing mod would be near-trivial.

And, Blizzard has already introduced server-side code to deal with social abuses, so this is not a new precedent. (Technotrivia: It turns out clickable links in chat are formed on the *client*-side, include the color of the link, the item's internal ID, and the text of the link. You can display an altered link to your own chat box without repercussions. But if you try to send an altered link across a chat channel, you are disconnected from the game. I infer that this is a fix to an early flawed design that permitted social abuse.) In this case, one could imagine disconnecting an account which sends, say, tells to 50 different people in any 2-minute span. Or better yet, just drop those tells on the floor, without indicating in any way that they went unsent. It's possible to target things that actual players are very unlikely to do, but increase the machine time per spam for spammers.

Another possibility (floated by Mr Gates some time back for RL email) is to let players set a threshold currency amount for unsolicited contact. "Sure you can send me mail or a tell, but it will cost you one gold."

Will: I'm glad to see NCSoft is taking this seriously. And I'm glad to hear from others that Blizzard responded quickly to their concerns. I found Blizzard's response to be at their usual glacial pace.


Last thing I want are Bayesian filters. That just triggers an arms race that leads to whispers that are harder to ignore.

The advantage of the current situation is that the spam is obvious to the end user. When you start getting whispers that are almost indistinguishable from genuine whispers, except for there revelation that you can get round yellow metal objects really cheap somewhere, things get much more annoying.

Now, as for this: "which is why they do the random name BS - hoping you'll mistype it)", who was it who was claiming that unique names were necessary to deal with verbal harrassment? I think this just goes to see that it adds to the problem - lazy developers demand the player fill out a name field matching the source of the message. Of course, the developer can't even verify if the user typed it properly. If there weren't unique names, the verbal harrassment interface could instead require the user right-click the offending message, allowing the computer to handle identity cleanly.

- Brask Mumei


There's an easy soloution. One which isn't viable for email, but can be applied here.

Indeed, it's been mentioned and Eve-Online uses it. Communication charges. With white and black lists. And mailing lists.

What hasn't been mentioned is that to send an unsolicited mail or tell to 100 users? Great, be prepared to click on 100 "yes, I accept the charge" boxes, and pay a goodly sum of cash. If you force a delay and a click each time, it severely limits spammers.

Eve once had a spam problem. It didn't after this was implimented. (And you can just whitelist corps who are your allies in-game. And turn off the charge for calling you if you're, say, a trader who wants anyone to be able to contact him).

Other soloutions aer likely to hurt legitmate things players do. In any case, silently dropping communications WILL be seen as a bug, and be treated as such by your players.


A bit of a meta-comment on the article -

I don't read this site or play MMOs very often but normally find it pretty interesting. However, because of my unfamiliarity, I don't have the first clue what "RMT" is and you don't seem to have provided any means for me to find out.

As a matter of writing style, could you and your co-authors please make discussion a bit more accessible for those of us who aren't experts in this particular gaming niche? (I hope that doesn't sound too arsey, I'm just doing my best to say that I'm not asking for a definition of RMT now, but of future 'RMTs' when the article is written.)



SpiderMonkey > "could you and your co-authors please make discussion a bit more accessible for those of us who aren't experts in this particular gaming niche?"

I'm not a Terra Nova author, but I can tell you what RMT is. It stands for "real-money trade," the practice of using the money in your real-life pocket to purchase something that exists only in a game. For instance, gold spent in World of Warcraft can be purchased on eBay. Of course, the gold doesn't exist in the real world, so if you buy some, what happens is, you send your money to the seller probably via PayPal, then you and the seller both log into the game and the seller's character in the game gives the gold to your character in the game. People sell gold, weapons, armor, even entire characters this way.


The best chance for regulating this type of thing is to decriminalize RMT.


I do not find it too annoying as everyone says. It is just a simple whipser. Who really cares if we do not read the whipser.


An interesting comment from Robert Garriott, CEO of NCsoft North America (from a Hollywood Reporter story on new MMOG revenue models): "Medieval fantasy role-playing games -- which is the biggest category of online games -- don't readily lend themselves to Coke ads."

Hmm. So does this mean that more of the MMOGs being developed today and in the near term will have science fiction settings rather than medieval fantasy settings, purely because developers think that gamers are more willing to accept advertising in futuristic games?

If true, would that be a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?



It seems like Blizzard is doing a good job curbing spam tells (whispers) for me. A few months ago I started getting these gold seller ads and each time I would report it as verbal harassment (which it is) via the in-game contact GM mechanism. I haven't seen another in at least 2 months.

I suspect people who are still getting these spams are either too lazy to report it a few times or have a generally apathetic server population. However, it could be server population related. My server is in the middle to high range according to http://www.warcraftrealms.com/realmstats.php (19,500+), so maybe its worse on the really high pop servers (22+).

- Fandyllic

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