Cheating, or Creative Playing?
Exploit. Verb. To utilize for one's own gain. To use selfishly or unethically for one's own end.
That definition came from the dictionary, but in gaming, it's a bit more complicated than that. I've seen a few varying definitions of exploiting in MMOs crop up over the years, but the basic gist is this, you are exploiting if you are using an existing in game mechanic in a way that it was not intended.
This brings in a very broad range to the term "exploits"! Technically, leaping off of a griffon mid-flight to reach an area that griffons do not directly take you to, would be an exploit, this is overlooked though because it is harmless, as are a good part of exploits. The exploits that we are talking about, are the ones that give one player an unfair and unearned advantage over another. Things like using a bug for coin or item duplicating are obvious exploits. No developer made a game so that the players in the game could create their own items and coin repeatedly, it's simply not fair to all of the other players in the game who take the time to earn their items and money fairly. Yet there are a good amount of players that find these exploits, and work their little rears off to gain from them before they are discovered and fixed.
Exploits, Hacks, Cheats, Etc.
There are differences between these various kinds of cheating. While exploits are using existing in game mechanics, hacks and mods use the altering of your game to get an unfair advantage, which are actually not all that common since hacking isn't all that easily accomplished in gaming. In fact, what most people think are hacks are actually exploits and other cheats. I find hacks to be the most offensive sort of cheating, since you have to be fairly skilled and knowledgeable to use them, it's never an accident when you get caught using a hack.
3rd party programs use outside help to do almost anything a player could do while they were actually at the keyboard, only the player doesn't need to be there. Gain levels while you are at work!! Don't like the tedium of tradeskilling? Use a trades bot to do the work for you! It's scary how often these are used, and how many people don't see anything really wrong with them. If a coin farmer and seller uses one, players flip out and demand justice, however, I cannot even count how many legit players I have known that have used 3rd party programs in game to help themselves along. Things like programs that show mob pathing and loot tables, are things that typical players might use, but they don't always think of it as cheating. It is cheating, by the way. Tsk tsk.
Unfortunately, unless MMOs start using broad spyware (such as the spyware that World of Warcraft has been known for using) there really is no reliable way for a gaming company to know if a 3rd party program is being used. Is this one case in which spyware is okay? There is a lot of argument there, and I haven't formed a strong opinion on this one yet, aside from the fact that I won't allow WoW on my comp anymore for the spyware and the open port requirements. I could just be picky and biased though.
PvE vs. PvP Cheating
Let's face it, exploiting is less of an issue on PvE servers. Yes, I find it annoying that there are those that gaining from exploits and are likely never caught and punished on the PvE servers, but it is vastly more offensive when players exploit on PvP servers, and it seems to me, that it happens there, far more often.
A good example of this is the recent hoopla over token farming on the PvP servers. Nagafen, home of the exploits, took it all in stride as just another way for players to screw each other over, but Venekor made a big, and loud issue of it, gaining attention from the red names and immediate promises of fixes and punishments.
This is one of those exploits that make us smack our foreheads and boggle at how the developers ever could have missed this being an issue. It's issues like these that show us that better testing of PvP updates need to be had in an environment that mimics that of the PvE test servers. Relying on a hand full of people to test out major PvP changes and adds when the PvP servers have such a thick population seems very half-assed on SOEs part.
Here's how this particular exploit went. Obviously, any character can have alt characters, and a lot of players have 2 or more player accounts. PvP characters have been using multiple accounts for a while to "spy" on the other faction when they play, which is also considered an exploit. So you have one account with a Freeport character, and a 2nd account with a Qeynos character, for spying, you just plant your opposing character in whatever zone you are hunting in and watch the chat channel chatter. For token exploiting, one can repeatedly kill their own characters, or alts of a friend, over and over again and gain a basically unlimited amount of tokens. Since one is controlling both the killer and the killee, this is so clearly cheating, I just want to cry. But it's still exploiting if you have an "arrangement" with a player of another faction, to farm them for the tokens (or fame, or whatever the PvPers desperately desire this week).
Player code of ethics says to me that this is the lamest exploit to be caught doing. Are you so poor at PvP that you have to farm your own characters, or friend's characters, to even hope of making enough tokens to get your gear? Stuff like this completely ruins the spirit of PvP gaming, and although quite a few players have been "caught" doing it, the vast majority of the playerbase is outraged and calling for blood. It's rumored that roll backs, item strips, and account actions were used as punishments for this exploit, and most of the masses cheered for the vindication. It's always nice when the big boys actually take a moment to set things right again.
Is It REALLY Cheating?
There will always be players out there that will defend obvious cheating. Like the above mentioned exploit, there were still a few players that went with the "Well, if it doesn't hurt YOU, why should you care?" logic. Believe it or not, I've heard that argument in regards to coin farming and selling as well. This makes me want to both laugh, and cry at the same time, it's just so stupid.
There is NO SUCH THING as harmless cheating in MMO gaming. Because we are in a virtual world that we all play in, anything that one player does, affects other players on the same server. While farming isn't cheating, and is acceptable per the EULA, it is still a clear part of coin selling, and does have an impact on our sever economies. In PvP, these sort of actions can have major impacts!
As a player in a PvE environment, it's not my biggest goal to be decked out in the best gear, or to have all master level combat arts and spells. When I play on PvE, I play to have fun, not to get stuff. This differs in PvP because in player versus player gaming, a class the same level as your own, with better gear, and better CA and spell grades, will whip your rear. It's vastly more important to be "the best". Because of this, cheating to get that awesome gear, has a much larger impact on your server community. Not only that though, PvP gamers are much more judgmental and mean, and they will just hurt you if you're caught being naughty. Something that a guild embarrassingly found out on Venekor in regards to the token farming exploit. Reputations matter kids!
Basically it comes down to this, cheating in MMO gaming is NOT cool. It's one thing to be funny and use "motherlode" in The Sims, it's a whole 'nother ballgame to cheat in a game where your actions impact hundreds, or thousands of others.
I'd encourage everyone to read that EULA at least once, and do keep in mind that quite a few of us are pushing for more stern consequences when players are caught cheating.
If you can't play the game within the stated rules, then you shouldn't be playing at all.
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