Hacking EverQuest Part One - The Problem

As hackers have their way on the newest EverQuest servers, Benjamin J. de la Durantaye jumps in game to uncover what exactly is going on and how it is affecting the community.
One August evening my guild and I had spent several hours working our way deep into one of the biggest, most complex, and certainly challenging dungeons of EverQuest's Time-Locked Progression Server. We had dealt with several trains, a few deaths, and a lot of teamwork. But we were close to our goal. One of our clerics needed the Singed Scroll from Overlord Bathezid in Chardok and we were closing in on it. We were on the verge of getting our first epic cleric in the guild and spirits were high.

For those of you who may not know what the TLPs of EQ are check out my article from earlier this year, Chasing EverQuest. To summarize it is a special ruleset server for EverQuest which launched in February with just the classic game; no expansions enabled. As guilds defeat certain content a vote is activated and anyone playing on the server who is level 30 or above can vote to unlock the next expansion.

So on this August night we had set ourselves the goal of getting one of our clerics their epic piece. With this quest complete it would allow our cleric to rez our members without the high mana cost, so it meant a lot less down time during raids which in EQ is a huge deal. So there we were, deep in Chardok, with no competition at the time. We could taste victory. We pulled the last few mobs in our way, and then started buffing for the encounter.

Suddenly a group of 8 characters appeared right in front of us. Before we had a chance to ask any questions the group ran ahead, pulled all three bosses on top of our raid and poofed out of existence. We fought valiantly, but without being fully prepared we fell. It was a wipe. Lucky for us we had managed to save a rezzer from the train, so after things looked safe again we began rezzing our raid. Then, again, this mysterious group of 8 suddenly appeared in front of us, and began killing the targets we were setting up for.

As you can imagine, the guild started becoming a tad anxious. "What the hell is he doing?" my members asked. We tried more communications with the group, at which the only response was another train, and then poof! the players disappeared into oblivion again. Recovery at that point was no walk in the park as our safety net had been killed in the next train. As I tried to get things organized for the corpse recovery I watched the group of 8 kill the rest of the bosses we were after and then magically disappear again.

We finished our rezzes and teleported the raid out and called it a night. Sure, we had wasted several hours of the night to come out empty handed but the real frustration felt was that all of our efforts were botched by a hacker. We fought our way down legitimately and this guy who we suspected was boxing all 8 characters due to synchronized movement and casting, was able to simply warp in, train us until we were no longer competition, and warp back out to safety.

Hacking by use of third party programs has become an epidemic in our online world of Norrath. We even had one of our main tanks decide he no longer wanted to be a part of the guild so one night he trained our raid, warped out, and disbanded from the guild. I have to hand it to that guy though--might as well go out with a bang.

Official and unofficial forums for the game are filling up with complaints of hackers. Rare mobs that only spawn once every 24 hours are being de-spawned by these folk before they even render fully in game, preventing legitimate players from completing quests (where they've sat for days on end waiting for the NPC to spawn). Guilds are being beaten down by unfair competition.  Some even go so far as having scripts set up to automatically warp dozens of shadow knights on top of a contested spawn as soon as it spawns and death touch it, downing it within milliseconds - without anyone actually at the keyboard.

Sadly, this sort of behavior has become common on the TLPs. Competitive guilds cannot compete against computer scripts, so some have chosen to fight hacks with more hacks, leading to an automated battle of computer vs. computer where the end user may or may not even be watching. The feeling among many is that these hackers have largely gone undisciplined by Sony Online Entertainment, so what's stopping anyone from cheating?

In an effort to swing things back to a positive community, however, some end-game players decided to put a stop to the hacking at least within their own guilds. Leaders and officers were demoted or removed from the guild and efforts were made to reach out to the rest of the community to say "hey! We're not hacking anymore!"

In a fundamentally socially dependent game, not seen in most modern titles, community policing and player reputation were paramount to success within the game... at least back in 1999. However today with more advanced technology which enables even the most modest computers to run multiple instances of the game these elements have been made largely obsolete. When a player can run their own boxed group, or in some cases even guilds, reputation has no consequence. As the game is also maturing past the 12-year mark, its popularity has suffered which in turn means a decline in resources SOE can put into customer service staff. With these limited resources players may feel that community policing has become an uphill battle with no chance of victory in sight.

So what can be done? Check out Part Two of our three-article series as Ten Ton Hammer talks to Sean "Rogean" Norton and "Haynar" of Project 1999 fame to see what they've done on an emulated server to combat their own onslaught of cheaters.

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