Anything goes: How Destiny just went Free-to-Cheat
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
Everybody who programs and feels an attraction to the beauty of Math has probably heard of Chaos theory, which is more of a bundle of theories that cover a wide range of scientific fields, than one theory to rule them all.
One of the most prominent Celebrities of Chaos-theory is the Butterfly effect.
To put it simply: it states that a small change in the intitial conditions of a deterministic nonlinear system can make huge differences in the outcome.
Online Games with an active community definitively fall into this category.
MMOs and their derivatives are paradigms of highly sensitive nonlinear systems.
To ensure the Longevity of these kind of games you have to make sure as a developer that you get the risk-reward spiral right, meaning: your players must always see the next goal and feel that reaching it is worth the effort to play your game just a little longer, until the next goal pops up.
You will always have a certain amount of Players who will circumvent your business model totally by hacking and cheating their way through your rulesets.
There are two Extremes how you can deal with these kinds of Exploits: Panic-banning and completely ignoring them. I will argue here that both extremistic approaches have a high probability of not being in your game's best interest.
A prominent example oft the "ban everyone who looks suspicious" is Trion Worlds "ArcheAge". I´m not a Player so I rely on the info my son gave me (he is an avid player) and good articles like this.
The other Extreme is Bungie's Shared-World-Shooter Destiny.
Since I am more familiar with this example, I will concentrate on this one and recommend the above linked article for readers that are not interested in Destiny.
The Story so far.
Bungie's Shared-World Shooter went live on the 9th of September last year.
It was a commercial success and a critical failure. Nothing exciting really.
The only thing almost all critics agreed upon was the concept of the endgame content, the so called Raid. It was a completely fresh experience in the beginning and some critics went even so far to claim that –while Destiny was a disappointment as a whole, the Raid alone was worce the price tag if you had enough friends on your list to organize it.
3 Months later the second Raid was released among the contents of the –again critically bashed- DLC "The Dark below". And Again, all people kept talking about was: how good this Raid was.
Then during the first week Players discovered all kind of ways to "cheese" the Raid, to he point that you could practically join a Raidgroup and go AFC and nevertheless get all the Raidloot. These cheeses were nothing new, the first Raid had them also to some degree, and they were fixed, but this time one of the "Cheeses" crossed the Line, where using the "Cheese" violated the Terms-of-Service of both XboxLive and PSN. To apply that cheat correctly the Host of the Fireteam had either to pull the network cable or quit the game, then rejoin the party to reap the Loot.
What then happened couldn`t be foreseen. While most Cheaters in a game are a minority, the "Crota-Cheat" that let you completely circumvent the game mechanics and reap the most valuable Loot this game has at the moment, exploded in popularity.
During the first week 700 Players beat Crota, that are 120 Teams of dedicated Players.
During the second there were 160,000, now in week 3 there are over 1,000,000.
Cheaters practically took over the whole game, they even talk openly on the forum about how often they cheated (pulled the cable), they belittle the developer and some even go so far to demand payment from Bungie, because the Developer seems incompetent to beta-test his highlevel content.
During all this humiliation Bungie kept it quiet, a minority of Players, which knew Bungie from Halo-days, where they banned thousands of people for credit- and XP-exploits were confident that Bungie just gathered data and would in some way punish Players that clearly went too far. The Majority of Cheaters were confident in the anonymity of the masses: Bungie could not afford to "piss off" estimated 90% of its Hardcore-Cheater-community.
They were right: Bungie shrugged the humiliation off with a snarky comment ("I’ll bet you noticed, even though you’ve been busily swinging that sword into poor Crota’s big shiny green mug between dainty bites of soft, warm cheese.") promised/announced to fix the cheatability and went to business as usual. ( http://www.bungie.net/7_Bungie-Weekly-Update---01082015/en/News/News?aid=12483 )
What happened here? Bungie just signed a carte blanche to all exploits, cheats that will most certainly pop up now on a regular basis. By not reacting at all they removed the incentive for Players to play fair. They did the exact opposite from Trion World.
Anything goes now. Destiny became a big, fat Loot-Piñata you are allowed to beat blindfolded from now on. They trivialized their endgame content, made their rulesets bendable to the breaking point and practically signed off.
With a 10 year-Plan ahead of them and a 500 Million $ Investment.
Here is our cookie-jar: Feel free to grab it all with the least effort possible. Loot smarter not harder!
Good Luck, surviving that Butterfly-Effect!
There are some good threads that explain why Cheesing/Cheating affects the whole playerbase and why you should think twice which examples you set.