Gold farming can wreak havoc on players’ experience of a game especially when bots are involved.

In Greek mythology, Hydra* was an ancient serpent-like water monster with more than one head. As the story goes, if you cut off a head, two would grow back in its place. Gold farming in massively multiplayer online games, (MMO) is a little like Hydra. It’s an insidious issue that can quickly grow out of control and over run a game.

What is Gold Farming?

Simply put, gold farming is playing an MMO specifically to obtain in-game items or currency that other players can purchase with real money. In general, gold farmers tend to be located in developing countries, while buyers reside in more developed countries.

Gold farming can wreak havoc on players’ experience of the game especially when bots are involved. This is an issue that Kotaku touched on in their post about The Elder Scrolls Online. In general, bots create real issues for human players by impeding player progress and by controlling in-game resources. They also create a break in a player's immersion into the game world. Bots are computer controlled characters that have been programmed for maximum efficiency to monopolize in-game resources. Bots never stop and never take a break.

It’s an issue that game developers want to get in front of before a proliferation of bots creates a bad experience for legitimate players and they move on.

Some game developers try to manage gold farming in-house by creating their own fraud tools. The problem is it means getting developers up-to-speed on fraud prevention best practices. That approach also takes development time and focus away from the game itself—which isn’t an ideal solution.

When game developers don’t have the right tools to fight gold farming, they can end up banning good players and not adequately stopping the bad guys. Without precise knowledge into how accounts and devices are related, banning players can be taken too far.

How to Stop Gold Farming

Device-based intelligence done right, gives game developers the power to quickly find all related devices that need to be removed from the game. Here’s a glimpse at some of the measures we suggest to the gaming companies we work with to stop gold farming.

The first is to make sure that when a gold farming account is identified, that evidence (a record of confirmed or suspected fraud or abuse) of the behavior is placed on the account. This simple step propagates out through iovation’s cross-subscriber network to all related accounts and devices. Placing evidence on just that one account provides insight into every account and device that’s related to the original “bad” one. We’ve found over and over again, that once just one of the devices a bad guy uses is identified, then our technology is able to uncover all associated devices and accounts.

Next, we encourage a business rule configuration that immediately stops the bad guys but still allows good guys to play. Our business rules can stop bad guys AND flag a good customer related to a known device with evidence of fraud. Instead of creating friction for a legitimate player, a business rule can quickly flag the issue so that it can be reviewed to determine if any action is needed on the account. Good players can be associated with known problem devices through power-leveling. In this instance, it’s important to let the good player into the game with the least amount of friction possible.

Applying device-based intelligence to stop gold farming can dramatically impact a game developer’s ROI in a number of positive ways. The cost of fraud, and the time and resources needed to manage fraud effectively, can all be significantly reduced by bringing device recognition and reputation into the equation. When a game is first launched it is vitally important to make a good first impression by keeping gold farming bots to a minimum. Players will quit a game if they don’t feel the developers can control bad, overt bot behavior. Device recognition can help make that happen.

On March 2-6, iovation will be at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, California. Stop by booth #2137 to find out more.

*Hydra—not to be confused with the world-wide subversive organization dedicated to global domination in Marvel Comics.

Additional Resources: Read our case study and find out how one gaming company shut down 1000 plus fraudulent accounts with iovation.