Automation and Scripting - An investigation into further abuses of BGS and Powerplay

What I keep asking myself is why some people are so invested in arguing that there is no botting, or that it's hugely exaggerated, or even proposing that there's evidence being fabricated?
I can't think of many reasons. Those that I can think of aren't exactly pretty.
 
The botters mission is now complete....they aren't botting to win the game....they are botting to destroy the game.
I don’t think so.

Realistically: “It’s no big deal until it happens to you”

There are very few groups that have been on the receiving end, and some accusations have no foundation - no one is collecting or analysing data.

So Yeah, these threads will keep reviving now and then.
If I see one on the front page, I’ll put in an update.

But for the most part it will be liveable.
The teams who come under fire deal with the consequences in different ways.

I don’t think it’s going to be much more than an annoyance for the vast majority of players.

Unless, of course the capability is copied and is used in retalliation.
Then you’ll have a rapid escalation and spread.

It might even work in Frontier’s favour for a while.
I have three accounts now, and I was talking to another investigator and they have ten accounts.
So, you know, in the short term there’s money to be made.

Elite Dangerous is a pretty “niche” game already and the BGS strategic aspect is even more “niche”, so if that became like uh Polo on horseback, where it’s the province of those who can afford multiple PCs and accounts, you know uh “the sport of gentlemen”, it’s not going to kill the game, just change it.

You’ll still always be able to be a space trucker, gun for hire, wanderer of the deep black, saviour Fuel Rat or seal clubber in Eravate.
 
The vertical intervals are weeks.
Each colour is a different system.
Each data point has a supporting screengrab.

Do you need to be spoon fed?
Yes, but not from an empty spoon that isn’t even a spoon, but an imaginary spork.
Only data drawn from Frontier’s side has unbiased raw data. Anything done player side does not.

Need a crayon drawing?
 
Yes, but not from an empty spoon that isn’t even a spoon, but an imaginary spork.
Only data drawn from Frontier’s side has unbiased raw data. Anything done player side does not.

Need a crayon drawing?
Ooh yes please - can I have one of a cat swimming in an aquarium :)

(I may have been drinking)

Carry on with the bickering discussion, sorry
 
Only data drawn from Frontier’s side has unbiased raw data. Anything done player side does not. Need a crayon drawing?
You demanded they get proof, now you rule it impossible for players to satisfy your demands... Dude, you're not helping anything by shirt-stirring. (Are you just bored or something? If you're having a rough day, sorry, that sucks, but also try to chill a little)

If an issue doesn't affect you, let people be squeaky wheels for an issue they care about. When you want to contribute, contribute substance. You're more than capable.

You have been a squeaky wheel for issues you cared about, as have I. And this has often been useful and effective. Extend the courtesy ;)
 
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Yes, but not from an empty spoon that isn’t even a spoon, but an imaginary spork.
Only data drawn from Frontier’s side has unbiased raw data. Anything done player side does not.

Need a crayon drawing?
The moment FDev would give us access to their data, we will be able to provide it to you and the rest of the community.

We've requested tools from FDev to track the bots better. We've made suggestions about how they could be identified. But the communication is entirely one-way only, by FDev's choice.
 
You demanded they get proof, now you rule it impossible for players to satisfy your demands... Dude, you're not helping anything by shirt-stirring. (Are you just bored or something? If you're having a rough day, sorry, but try to chill a little)

If an issue doesn't affect you, let people be squeaky wheels for an issue they care about. When you want to contribute, contribute substance. You're capable, you're no n00b.

You have been a squeaky wheel for issues you cared about, as have I. And this has often been useful and effective. Extend the courtesy ;)
While I have no truck in this BGS thing, I do have a truck in the coding of tools for Elite. I have an extensive collection, which in the main rely on the Journal as their data source. So how does that and botting effect me? Well... History can show that every company that faced a problem with botting couldn't fight it, so they reduced all access to possible data streams.

As a coder, I can tell you right off the bat, that FDev cannot hope to fight the botters. It's a fight they cannot win, and the reason are many, but mostly down to the 'need' element. People who bot and write bots, do it to annoy, or to make real cash, by selling the tools or the code.

The problem for FDev is this; a small group of players claim there is botting, which by and large does not effect the huge majority of players. Now, given you are the financial controller in said company, are you going to allot a huge resource from existing work to tackle the claim? Bear also in mind, that when there is one way to do something, there are other ways. So you would find yourself constantly allocating resources to a problem that is constantly shifting.

To go back to what I said earlier, I have no truck in this, it doesn't effect me from a BGS point of view. How-ever, I do 'sympathise' as I know to you, it is a huge problem. I mean that sincerely, but I also know, from a business standpoint, allocating resources to such a shifting problem, bring in no money. And money is what a keeps the game afloat.

Now lets briefly look at how you catch the thief? You have to catch them in the act. No amount of 'our records show' is useful if you cannot prove the theft. A simple, I wasn't botting, contradicts the entire argument. To catch them in the act, you need an FDev employee online and in the same instance, to watch and record what can only be 'an automated act'. Most MMOs have online GMs who do this.

And the other problem is shifting claims. Previously, it was claimed they were in open, and recently (above) the claim has shifted to'only in PG and solo'. I could claim anything anything I like. All the beautiful graphs in the world mean absolutely nothing if they cannot be backed up by proof. Unfortunately you have none, and what you do have is circumstantial at best.

There is no doubt that FDev probably have a historical log of activity, but that itself requires resources to monitor and find the 'proof'. I don't envy you problem or how it going to be solved. I just hope, FDev don't make the knee-jerk reaction and start limiting the data we currently have. Because I know, it would not fix the problem.

o7
 
You are saying a lot we already have come to understand ourselves. You do have some bone in this, as you say yourself you're scared they would cut off data streams you need. But the situation is even worse.

This is a prime example of misaligned incentives. Bots are full paid accounts, so each bot brought in some 25 EUR or so, at least. Moreover, each running bot helps with the magic "daily active users" metric, especially since they'll be online for hours on end.

Of course, Frontier Support says the regular thing "cheating is very important to us, we are actively working against it" but we see no real evidence of this, while through side channels we hear they are dismissing claims saying we're simply facing "professional player" opposition.

Not doing anything is in their interest. We are fully aware of that. This is why we've asked for tools so we can identify bot accounts that cannot be seen or communicated with even when run in Open (ie. not visible and comms attempts will error out). It's the perfect bind, we're in: we only have circumstantial evidence because that's all the info we can gather. Frontier has all the data but doesn't share any, is not even responding to suggestions for a detection model, nor will they discuss any anti-cheating/botting approach or outcomes.

So, short of the BGS and PP simply turning into a full bot fest if you want to play at all, the costs to Frontier need to go up. Community demand for action is one such. Getting the gaming press involved is another. We can question their DAU numbers, by challenging to show how much of those are real users and not bots.

But I fear that none of that will have any effect, and we'll see come Chapter 4 release a bunch of well-known large factions simply be decimated.

Despite a big joint effort of Alliance groups, the war in Gateway is clearly lost. PowerPlay is at least partially through botting falling apart. Now, with Chapter 4 the same is going to happen to organized BGS play. I get that not many will mourn the demise of AEDC's PMF. But wait until the botters turn to other juicy targets. They may just go down the list of big factions present in many systems. Let's see whether FD is still so reticent to do anything when their Cambridge Driver's Circle of friends get hit. When the Truckers, the Sovereignty, the Hussars or the different Mikunn factions get reduced to ashes. At what point is ED losing more daily active human players than there are bots to paper over the gap?
 
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@sollisb I understand what you say, and it's indeed a major problem that this is usually the case. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

I do hope they don't start restricting access to all sorts of data, that would be unhelpful and it would only be pulling the wool over the eyes of the players.

What we requested was an investigation by FDev to see what they can find out and if they can find a way to stop it. Definitely a hard task at hand, and one that'll be complicated to resolve. As Mangal seems to have just pointed out, it's not an easy decision to make to try and combat these bots, both financially and in terms of complexiy.

One of the main issues with not fighting this behavior is that it may quite well invalidate a lot of the work being done in the upcoming patch by making it irrelevant (if the BGS starts being dominated by bots). In the end the incentive to fight this might be to prevent the abandonment of two of their primary gameplay modes (BGS and PP).

Another, perhaps more positive approach to this problem (at least in terms of feasibility), would be to figure out the game loops these botting initiatives are exploiting and change them in a manner that is harder to be automated. Sure the automation is sophisticated (OpenCV is quite a complex piece of kit) but if the game loops require more decision making then they become less permeable to botting attacks. Other things that increase complexity like moving/de-spawning czs, etc, could be used in a similar fashion. I'm pretty sure my examples are crude at best but I'm not a game designer.

It's complex, but perhaps that's a better way to deal with it. And better minds than mine at these problems will likely find better, more innovative, solutions.
 
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I wonder, what's the motivation for these players creating these bots? They pay for a game that they put on some computer, and let it run for days on night to ... win the power play? That's it? And how do they transport so much. You only get a new quota every 30 minutes, which means they fast track them all and spend millions of credits? Just to tilt the game. That's nuts. Lot's of money, computer power, time, and effort for some game tokens or whatever.

Isn't it just a game after all? What is it that they gain by this?
 
Han Zulu;7148874And how do they transport so much. You only get a new quota every 30 minutes said:
It seems a lot of the BGS impact of these bots are automated mission running to make money for that fast tracking. At least that's the running theory. As to their motivation, I really can't answer, not for these or any other gaming bots really... they ruin games.
 
While I have no truck in this BGS thing, I do have a truck in the coding of tools for Elite. I have an extensive collection.
My collection is pretty small, mainly because I don't really have the time and coding skills. It's getting bigger though.



which rely on the Journal as their data source.
(they) couldn't fight (bots), so they reduced all access to possible data streams.
Yeah - I'd hate to see that functionality disabled.
The journal, the API and the public databases like eddb, edsm and INARA really enrich the game.



From a business standpoint, allocating resources to such a shifting problem, brings in no money. And money is what a keeps the game afloat.
I agree, and aside from money - implementing a lot of client-side monitoring and confirmation / authentication routines tends to slow things down. There's lots of reasons Frontier will struggle to find long-term solutions to the problem.



To catch them in the act, you need an FDev employee online and in the same instance, to watch and record what can only be 'an automated act'.
If you care about the issue, please listen to JTrinity give a full briefing from the 58 minute mark in this Podcast. It really does give a solid grounding in what has happened so far. Including "catching them in the act".
http://laveradio.com/lave-radio-episode-216/



No amount of 'our records show' is useful.
I disagree.
There is a lot of useful information to be gained by analysing data if the data is captured consistently with a high resolution.
There are other people who are looking at different data sources, but I am concentrating on what is publicly visible.

As time goes by, and the automated accounts continue without interruption, the cumulative weight of data brings a higher degree of substantiation to the claims.



And the other problem is shifting claims. Previously, it was claimed they were in open, and recently (above) the claim has shifted to 'only in PG and solo'.
This is correct.
Please listen to JTrinity on the Lave Radio Podcast episode 216 from about the 58 minute mark for a full briefing of the state of play and the timeline.
In September - December last year the automated accounts were not only active in Open, but they also had public visibility through EDSM. Lots of good "direct evidence" was obtained at that time and there were two ban waves, that lasted one month each.



what you do have is circumstantial
I don't disagree.
But I challenge the notion that there are teams of "Professional Players" who can sustain Cutter traffic numbers of over 160 24/7 for days at a time.
Name a team?
- Actually don't, as that's the fastest way to get moderated on this topic.
But my point remains - who has the capability?



There is no doubt that FDev probably have a historical log of activity.
I used to think that too. Really.

Again - I urge you to listen to JTrinity from the 58 minute mark in Episode 216 of Lave Radio podcast.
Actually if you pull it up on the twitch stream, you get some of the videos they are talking about as well.
But her briefing will undermine your confidence in Frontier's ability to monitor individual player activity.
I have completely moved to the position that Frontier have very little active telemetry, and zero historical telemetry.



I just hope, FDev don't make the knee-jerk reaction and start limiting the data we currently have. Because it would not fix the problem.
Yeah - I agree with you there.
In fact - in the scenario where botting becomes commonplace and normalised, data limitation will just benefit those who already have a head start.


But in all, I don't think you'll see a lot of action.
Elite is a niche game.
BGS is a niche activity.
The targeted groups represent a tiny minority of the player base.

Yeah it's sad that some people are giving up and leaving the game, but there's really not that many departing.



And in the meantime you have people like me, who are trying to "think like the botter"
How are they doing this?
What tools are available?
Which one are they using?
Why did they have their non-anonymised data linked to EDSM?
How can I parse a menu?
What do the "steps" in the data tell me?
How many instances of Elite could my PC sustain simultaneously?
How would I do this?
How can I make my traffic monitoring macro more robust so it can run while I'm at work?

I'm still having fun, and last night spent a bunch of time in Gateway with some good Alliance CMDRs flogging away at some pew pew.
But three hours during the day was spent doing data entry and tinkering with macros.

If you look at the graph, you'll see they've already moved on from the last system.
They've been gone for a day already, so they should be solidly into their next deployment.
Wherever they are - Cutter traffic should be showing at least 50 by now,
So if anyone knows where they've moved to, please PM me and I'll move my monitor guy.
Thanks,
much appreciated.
 
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The moment FDev would give us access to their data, we will be able to provide it to you and the rest of the community.

We've requested tools from FDev to track the bots better. We've made suggestions about how they could be identified. But the communication is entirely one-way only, by FDev's choice.
Don't take this the wrong way, but I wouldn't want that data from you.

I'd want it direct from the source, and from no other source. Data is just that - data, and it can be manipulated easily enough by someone, anyone, with an axe to grind, a point to prove, or to influence people to think or do whatever they like. Politicians and Corporations have been doing it since they began.

Not saying you, personally, are someone who would do something like this - to me this is just chain-of-custody thinking. Frontier could publish whatever data that would be relevant for everyone to see, and no one would be able to call foul on anyone for potentially misrepresenting that data.

Of course, they don't do this. And I've seen many a suggestion, request for this and that, and I'm still left with a few questions. The first being:

Are you absolutely sure, beyond a doubt, that "that" is a bot? Because I know for a fact, I am really good at ignoring people, sitting idle in strange places for extended periods of time, doing things that might not make any sense at all to anyone except me, for any number of reasons, or sometimes no reason at all. Case in point - I once sat for nearly two hours, firing rounds off at nothing at all. Why? Because I was playing Elite from my hot tub, on a 100" projecting screen, and one of my cats was bound and determined to catch that munition, and I laughed my sitting muscle off.

My next question, and this is a big one that, to the best of my knowledge, has never been answered:

What is it these supposed bots are doing that is having some effect on the BGS?

Because as far as I know, you either have to shoot another ship, complete a mission, deliver cartographic data, or otherwise perform some service for a faction to have any effect on the BGS. Pretty sure any Combat-Bot is not only going to have little luck even against NPC's. Missions - I just don't see anyone scripting something to run back and forth between stations and accomplishing anything after even a short time, as the galaxy is in continual motion.

So shine a light here - what exactly are they doing?
 

What is it that they gain by this?

"Salt mining" - some really like to annoy and frustrate others.

Since the start of the game this attitude ("salt mining") has been nourished and defended by FDev - attracting a toxic minority that even got adamantly defended by other players. The goal is the same, just the methods change.
 
I wonder, what's the motivation for these players creating these bots? They pay for a game that they put on some computer, and let it run for days on night to ... win the power play? That's it? And how do they transport so much. You only get a new quota every 30 minutes, which means they fast track them all and spend millions of credits? Just to tilt the game. That's nuts. Lot's of money, computer power, time, and effort for some game tokens or whatever.

Isn't it just a game after all? What is it that they gain by this?
Delusions of validity? Dementia Praecox?

These people are mad as two boxes of frogs. Any dozen hatters, or March Hares.

One method of making a predator extinct, is to remove play.

How many persons use Power Play? Would they be willing to undergo a reset, or clean save of the game? Or even downing Power Play for a period, to deny the botters their jollies. A reset of the BGS would be needed as well.

If the botters are as obsessed as they seem to be, they would probably go dormant, then return.

Sollisb has summed it up: It's not worth Frontier's time, unless a mass exodus of PP/BGS players occur.

Yes, the botters are cheating. Yes, your gameplay is being trashed. It's the old stoplight problem. Enough people have to die, or a celeb has to die, to get a stoplight installed at a bad intersection.
 
Because as far as I know, you either have to shoot another ship, complete a mission, deliver cartographic data,
Point A to B data delivery missions with their autoflight bot, to get the cash to fasttrack on PP. That ruins the whole pack.

Are you absolutely sure, beyond a doubt, that "that" is a bot?
The videos I saw were, beyond any doubt. Has clear patterns of a very simple script trying to align a ship and then clicking controls, a human can do this once, twice, not every jump, not everytime it gets off the station, because humans make mistakes, this was flawless, and not one commander only, several of them having the same behaviour.
 
Isn't it just a game after all? What is it that they gain by this?
Probably entertainment and the self-satisfaction of feeling they've contributed to something that holds some significance for them. There is no accounting for taste. Frankly, I'm more puzzled by things like sports fans and nationalists, who have little to no individual responsibility for the current state, or future fate, of the imagined communities they've chosen to support.

Plenty of things I've put more time and effort into in game than it would take to build and maintain a botting farm, and if I valued the game's rules and fair play as little as botters do, I'd be botting too.
 
Don't take this the wrong way, but I wouldn't want that data from you.

I'd want it direct from the source, and from no other source. Data is just that - data, and it can be manipulated easily enough by someone, anyone, with an axe to grind, a point to prove, or to influence people to think or do whatever they like. Politicians and Corporations have been doing it since they began.

Not saying you, personally, are someone who would do something like this - to me this is just chain-of-custody thinking. Frontier could publish whatever data that would be relevant for everyone to see, and no one would be able to call foul on anyone for potentially misrepresenting that data.

I understand what you are saying, and agree in principal.

However look at the sarcastic response from the community to frontier's 2.8% of the playerbase appear to use board flipping...

There may be an academic definition of proof. But you can rarely use proof to argue with belief. Some people just will not believe anything that does not fit their own personal anecdotal view of their world.

My next question, and this is a big one that, to the best of my knowledge, has never been answered:

What is it these supposed bots are doing that is having some effect on the BGS?

Because as far as I know, you either have to shoot another ship, complete a mission, deliver cartographic data, or otherwise perform some service for a faction to have any effect on the BGS. Pretty sure any Combat-Bot is not only going to have little luck even against NPC's. Missions - I just don't see anyone scripting something to run back and forth between stations and accomplishing anything after even a short time, as the galaxy is in continual motion.

So shine a light here - what exactly are they doing?
Not sure anyone other than those responsible can answer your question definitively. My understanding - and it is entirely third hand from the published claims is that they are running cargo missions to earn the credits to buy PP merits which they can then ship in volume to affect PP. The effect on BGS is thought to be incidental. This is somewhat supported by anecdotal evidence of system traffic where the presumed bots run BGS in the early part of the week, then stop. This fits with collecting credits to then run large volumes of PP merits just before the weekly PP tick.

One of the reasons I would speculate that they chose to do so against a player faction is that the player faction resists the effects of the BGS changes. So what you get are pretty stable systems that do not fluctuate massively even though you might be running a very large number of missions. If this was done in systems without the response of the player base the effects on BGS would mean ongoing state changes. Its ironic that one way to persuade the bots to go elsewhere might be to stop fighting them and force the BGS into undesirable states. Its damaging to the pmf though and is likely only going to be temporary. With the alleged bots returning


As to the creation of the bot its remarkably straightforwards - there are a number of tutorials on line including some youtube videos. All the human needs to do is load the missions and press go, then unload at the other end. And you can run multiple instances of the game simultaneously so its not inconceivable that one person could run several accounts.

One of the issues is that the technology to create a bot is surprisingly simple It's effectively a key stroke emulator. It reads the screen to determine what is going on and then uses real game inputs to fly the ship, jump, navigate, SC to a station then just activate the docking computer and ED does the rest. The issue is that because it is mimicing control inputs its indistinguishable from a player other than by its exact routine nature. It's not like bot that is manipulating code within the game itself and might be traced.

Youtube video of an example autopilot

As to what frontier can do - you're right very little. The only thing that might be identifiable is the level of repeatability that can be seen. We all fly differently and even though we have habits, the actions of a bot should be much more routine and perhaps therefore traceable. FDev could track lots of things like time played... not many CMDRS are going to run 12 hours straight every monday doing the same mission runs. But that doesn't mean they are bots, they may be 'professional players playing in shifts'. However if you can see that they always turn "22.3 degrees to satrboard when 150m clear of exiting a station" then you might realistically recognise that as a bot. But you would need to actually be able to see that and measure it... or see the evidence of it in a log somewhere. Even then adding a few random maneuvers or random length delays may sufficiently mask the routine nature.

Given that the tracking evidence is suggestive that FDev have enacted some 30 day band on this issue, its reasonable to assume that FDev have a method where they can and have satisfied themselves that something they do not like is happening.


As an aside and an example of the extremes some people will go to... there was an issue in clash of clans some years ago. In CoC you had to build a city to defend and then you got to raid other cities. But if you were online you couldn't be attacked, so could not lose. So you had some players playing in shifts where they ensured that friends and family memebers were awake at all times to ensure they did the minimum for the game to register them as online - I believe that was a game input every 10 minutes. It was so robust they didn't even bother to build a defensive city. No bots but an example of the lengths some people will go to to be top of a completely in game leader board with no real world benefit in what was basically a casual mobile game.
 
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