Developer Diary - Redefining and Addressing Unattended Gameplay | Star Wars Galaxies Restoration

Developer Diary Redefining and Addressing Unattended Gameplay

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Updated June 13, 2022.

Since Restoration III launched, we've had a lot of discussions internally and with the community about both what should and shouldn't be allowed with regards to playing "AFK" (Away From Keyboard) (aka unattended) and how we should go about addressing it. The initial iteration of preventative measures included Thimble, an NPC that could attack you if you didn't answer him, and a series of rules which were overly broad followed by countless exceptions carved out for different scenarios which made the entire system even more confusing.

We've focused a lot over the past several months on how to redesign this system so that it is simplified and clear while still providing appropriate coverage for our goals of protecting the in-game economy and keeping the game world equitable, accessible, and fun. We also need to fill in some gaps our existing implementation created and fix some things it broke. This Developer Diary discusses how we're approaching it.

Foremost, we want to identify the two key factors that have always informed our decisions around unattended gameplay and automation:

SOE never intended for macros or other character automation to be a source of enabling unattended gameplay.

We do take the unattended macroing issues seriously, and this ability will go away... I think that unattended macroing doesn't belong in our game and it will be removed. I have committed us to this, and I remain committed to it. When more people play AFK than ATK, we haven't done our job very well, and we need to fix that... Not everyone on the team (or in the game) is going to be happy about this change.

SOETyrant / Gordon Walton (2004) in From TH & SOETyrant - Recursive Macros
You may not decrypt or modify any data transmitted between client and server; you may not use or distribute macros or other programs which would allow unattended game play.

Sony Online Entertainment (2004) Star Wars Galaxies Terms of Use

Allowing unattended gameplay has broad, adverse implications to the game world and economy.

If the use of [automation macros] mostly made play more convenient, then why were game admins opposed? Well, it meant, fundamentally, that players were more efficient, and the game had been tuned to a given player efficiency rate. A higher efficiency meant that the game ran out of content faster on several different axes — not only did players finish the levelling process faster, but at any given moment, there were fewer monsters left alive, and therefore less for everyone else. The social pressure for everyone to bot could get quite intense, as nobody likes being worse at something than everyone else.

Raph Koster (2008) A brief history of botting
Our observations of interaction patterns in two SWG locations (the cantina and the starport), however, reveal that some progress remains to be made for these places to be completely successful. Our data reveals a relatively low level of interactivity between the players, characterized by short interactions centered on instrumental purposes (e.g. getting healed; purchasing services). We believe this stems in great part from a lack of incentives for players to actively engage in non-instrumental interactions in these two locations. In particular, SWG’s powerful macro system automates the performance of instrumental action while stripping away any reason to converse with other players.

Nicolas Ducheneaut and Robert Moore (2004) The Social Side of Gaming: A Study of Interaction Patterns in a Massively Multiplayer Online Game

Additionally, allowing unattended (and therefore unlimited) play creates issues with the virtual economy, such as inflation because too many generated credits enter the economy and deflation because some items become too common. If you're interested in this subject, you might like some great videos about it from Extra Credits, including MMO Economies - Hyperinflation, Reserve Currencies & You!, and MMO Economies - How to Manage Inflation in Virtual Economies.

The TL;DR is:

  1. SOE never intended for you to be able to start the game, leave for work, and come back home having been connected for 8 hours and earned resources, credits, or loot; and we don't intend for that to happen either.
  2. The implications of allowing it can harm close to every aspect of the game, from social interactions and gating/progression to the virtual economy.

So what should and shouldn't be allowed?

Here's how we're changing our Community Standards to make clear where we're placing the line:
You may use the mechanics provided in-game, such as macros, to play the game unattended to the extent permissible by the respective systems.

"Unattended" means you are not physically providing input at the computer with your keyboard and mouse inside the game client (e.g., pressing the keys to move around or typing chat messages to other players).

If you do play unattended, you may not derive system-generated benefits as a result.

A "system-generated benefit" is anything that benefits your player and is received from a game system (i.e., not from another player), such as loot, credits, or experience points.

June 13, 2022 Removed : You may use the mechanics provided in-game, such as macros, to play the game unattended to the extent permissible by the respective systems.
  • "Unattended" means away from the keyboard (AFK) and not providing user input for a period of 90 minutes.
  • If you do play unattended, you may not derive system-generated benefits as a result.
    • A "system-generated" benefit is anything that benefits your player and is received from a game system (i.e., not from another player), such as loot, credits, or experience points.

How is unattended determined?

Players are no longer considered active at the keyboard when they haven't provided input from the mouse and keyboard for more than 15 minutes, regardless of whether they are running a macro). When you're considered inactive, you can't loot or harvest from corpses or loot or gain credits in space.

How will players be prevented from playing unattended? Will Thimble still attack us?

Thimble has been retired.

We have approached removing AFK play with two prongs: deterring (preventing the use of macros to play unattended for extended periods of time while balancing the need for certain player-to-player transactions to remain in place and the legitimate purposes macros have in automating certain game features) and demotivating (removing the incentive, e.g., loot and credits from players who aren't at the keyboard).

How have macros been changed ("deterring")?

  • All macros will be dumped at a random interval between 40 and 60 minutes after you begin using a macro. There are no more "no macro" zones or exclusions. This applies universally across the galaxy at all places, for all players, doing anything while logged in.
  • Your macros will not be dumped if all of the macros running consist of ONLY the permitted commands, which are enabled to allow entertainers and doctors to remain connected. As a reminder, player-to-player exchanges do not create system-generated benefits and thus are not subject to the unattended gameplay rules.
  • If you start a macro at any time that contains commands that are not on the permitted commands list, the 40-60 minute timer will start and will trigger a dump of your macros, regardless of if you dump them before then.
  • You will receive a system message warning you approximately 60 seconds before your macros are dumped and again when they are dumped.
  • After your macros are dumped, you will be disconnected within 15 minutes if you are not actively playing the game.

How does loot work if we're AFK ("demotivating")?

When you're considered inactive (no input for more than 15 minutes), corpses will no longer generate loot or harvestable materials, and space will no longer grant credits or loot when you destroy a ship.

Is X thing a system-generated benefit in the context of my profession which may subject me to ATK checks?

Combat Leveling and/or Gaining Combat Experience Points
Yes. Combat levels are achieved by experience points, which are a system-generated benefit.​
Farming Mobs for Loot, Collections, etc.
Yes. Loot is a system-generated benefit.​
Hand Sampling
Yes. Hand sampling generates experience and resources, which are system-generated benefits. We are aware of an immediate concern raised by those in the Artisan professions that some planets do not allow harvesters and therefore this necessitates hand sampling. Our position is unchanged. This keeps the resources on planets without harvesters rare and creates pricing diversity in the economy, both of which are intentional game mechanics. Hand sampling is intended to be slow, as it is a manual process for new Artisans or to be used where harvesters would be functionally impractical; That does not change the fact that to gain system-generated benefits, you need to be playing the game.​
Doctors Buffing in Hospitals or Other Places
No. Doctor Buffs are a player-to-player service, not a system-generated service; However, if your player is not a Master Doctor, because you can gain experience from buffing, the system-generated benefit rules apply when earning experience points. In short, a Master Doctor providing buffs will not be ATK-checked.​
Entertainer Buff Building and Image Designing
No. See generally, Doctor Buffing in Hospitals or Other Places. But the profession exception is for Master Dancers and Master Musicians.​

What does the 90-minute modifier mean when defining "unattended"?

June 13, 2022 Removed : It means we don't consider anything you're doing to be potentially unattended unless it has been happening for more than one hour. This means any time we may "check" if you are at the keyboard or not (as we discuss more below), it will only be after you've been something that creates a system-generated benefit for your character for 90 minutes or longer.

In other words, you can play unattended for up to 90 minutes before we're going to still make sure you're there.

How will players be prevented from playing unattended? Will Thimble still attack us?

June 13, 2022 Removed : Thimble is retiring. Instead: When a player has been doing an activity that may not be done unattended for more than 90 minutes, they will be subject to an "ATK Check" which works as follows:
  1. A player will see a "Presence Check" Flytext.
  2. A popup will appear on the screen asking the player to solve a simple math problem (e.g., 12 + 7).
  3. A timer will also appear on the screen with a 60-second countdown.
  4. If the player does not answer the prompt within the 60-second countdown or answers the prompt incorrectly, they will be prompted again randomly within 15 minutes.
  5. If the player fails the prompt twice within the 15-minute window, they will be disconnected, and they will receive a 1 point infraction for playing unattended which has a 6-month expiry. This will repeat as applicable. Multiple infractions will result in suspensions as defined in our Community Standards.

Why infractions instead of just disconnecting us?

June 13, 2022 Removed : Unfortunately, certain automation used by players to circumvent AFK checks will simply reconnect them. Without a secondary disincentivizing mechanism, the behavior may continue in a cycle. Consequently, this left us with either the option of using a mob such as Thimble or choosing a different approach. The Development Team ultimately decided we did not feel comfortable with continuing an "in-game" punishment for violating our Community Standards, as it comes across as abusive, is less easily reversible consequences, and is inconsistent with how we enforce any of our other rules. To avoid infractions, players should ensure they log out when they will no longer be at the keyboard.

We'll be implementing these changes over the coming months and look forward to sharing more with you soon.

May The Force Be With You,
The SWG Restoration III Development Team
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