Sloth: Eve's Cardinal Sin

In Christian theology wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony are known as capital vices or cardinal sins. Catholics see these seven deadly sins as the origins of all other sin. In New Eden, the seven deadly sins are the origins of emergent gameplay and CCP has effectively incorporated five of the seven deadly sins (with lust and gluttony to appear in future expansions) to drive the player interactions that make Eve Online the preeminent sandbox in the MMO space today.

Sometimes players embrace these sins to such a degree that CCP steps in to protect their creation. The sin most likely to invoke the wrath of the Icelandic Inquisition is sloth. While in the canons of the Church of Hilmar greed is good, laziness in obtaining wealth by using bots and macros is not. Since the end of February 2012 these investigators, more commonly known as Team Security, have steadily battled those who see the EULA as just another challenge to overcome. Up until now the vision most players had of Team Security’s foes was of mission and mining bots mixed together with a leavening of ISK sellers, some of whom had infiltrated the leadership of a handful of alliances. But with the recent events and allegations coming out of Aldrat the inquisitors’ light now appears to shine upon New Eden’s financial sector.

The current controversy surrounds the use of cache scraping by the developers of applications and websites used by serious market traders and industrialists looking to maximize profits by purchasing the cheapest raw materials and components. The cache in question consists of log files that hold the same information found in the comma-delimited files players create by clicking on the “Export Data” button on the bottom of the market window. The only other way outside the cache to programmatically obtain the information is to use an object to mouse over the “Export Data” button to create a comma-delimited file. With the ability to read the cache a developer can write code to pull a character’s current outstanding orders from the Eve API, pull them into an array that displays in a web page, and then loop through the array, opening up the market for all the items for which a player has placed orders. In the process, the cache is populated with the market data for each item checked and thus available for other applications.

Is the looping code that utilizes the cache a macro? In a promotional video for Eve Mentat the developer demonstrates the Eve Mentat website looping through 67 items, opening up the market window 67 times. A player can perform the same actions fairly easily by putting all items of interest on the market quickbar. After the initial set up all that is required to create files containing the desired market information is two mouse clicks for each item, one to select the item and one to export the data. So in the example posted by Eve Mentat one click of a button executes the equivalent of 134 mouse clicks. 

However, the heretics in the financial community believe the EULA allows such automation. According to the rules CCP Sreegs upholds is this paragraph:

“You may not use your own or any third-party software, macros or other stored rapid keystrokes or other patterns of play that facilitate acquisition of items, currency, objects, character attributes, rank or status at an accelerated rate when compared with ordinary Game play. You may not rewrite or modify the user interface or otherwise manipulate data in any way to acquire items, currency, objects, character attributes or beneficial actions not actually acquired or achieved in the Game.” [emphasis mine]

Eve Online EULA, Section 6 Paragraph 3a

To the developers for the financial community the paragraph clearly permits automation as long as the code executes slower than a human can perform the tasks. In the Eve Mentat promotional video the full execution of the loop is sped up because the actual execution time for each price check is set to three seconds. Apparently the developer community for market applications and websites don’t feel bound to just finding ways to loop through data. As one aspiring developer recently wrote, “though some small amount of click/macro automation is expected and sanctioned, it's pretty clear the rules are ‘inputs should come from humans’.” Click automation, such as programmatically performing mouse-clicks? I believe the vast majority of players believe that all inputs inside the game client, whether the actions involve entering a price or just clicking on a button or item, should come from humans and that the faithful would cry out in anger if they believed CCP sanctions any form of automation.

Does the development community recognize any limits other than the speed with which their code executes actions? Not if the capabilities of another well-known online resource are an accurate indication. Goonmetrics, a technical solution designed to aid players in stocking Goonswarm Federation’s null sec market hubs, explains on its “Market Scan” page some of the tool’s capabilities. The “Full Scan” option loops through a list of approximately 7,100 items, gathering market information for upload to a central database. Looping through the list takes 5 hours 55 minutes using a 3 second delay option or 9 hours 51 minutes using a 5 second delay. The “Custom Scan” option allows users to create a custom list and loop through the list until the next downtime. The site claims, “We conform to the EULA and don't do anything underhanded, but feel free to verify this on your own if you wish. The methods used are similar to those used by several other public tools.” But does that type of performance really conform to the EULA?  Listening to the arguments of the supporters of tools like Eve Mentat and Goonmetrics, the answer is yes. For them, human frailties such as stamina are not important. 

Orthodox thought, however, holds that the phrase “ordinary Game play” in Section 6 Paragraph 3a of the EULA also refers to the length of time players can reasonably play Eve and not just the speed that users can execute commands within the game client. One of the reasons that bots are so attractive to the slothful is the length of time they can operate. While bots are usually less capable than a player sitting behind the keyboard, they make up for their lack of skill with inhuman endurance. That quality, however, is a double-edged sword and many bot developers believe that the typical bot behavior flags accounts for special attention from Team Security. Bot developers now include features such as randomized undocking delays and recommend reduced usage times (running a bot 23/7 now invites ridicule) in order to look more like a non-AFK player.

As an adherent of traditional anti-bot/anti-macro dogma I subscribe to the idea that Section 6 Paragraph 3a of the EULA actually means that players will not use any automation to perform tasks within the Eve client, with the clause “at an accelerated rate when compared with ordinary Game play” merely a justification for why “third-party software, macros or other stored rapid keystrokes” are prohibited. In terms of the EULA I do not see the difference between a mission bot running in high sec that performs complex decision-making and executes hundreds of tasks and a simple macro that opens up the market window 200 times to store the information for 200 different items. The heretics pushing what they would consider a more enlightened interpretation of the EULA would contend that automation is acceptable as long as the automation is not as efficient as the same actions performed by a human. My main objection to this line of thought is that one could extend the argument and that the EULA allows both mission and mining bots as long as they are less efficient than a human and follow the rest of CCP’s commandments. I reject any type of logic that could lead to such an outcome.

The way to bridge any schism amongst the developers over cache scraping is to make market data available via a CREST API while at the same time changing the way information is cached for use by the market window and removing the functionality within the in-game browser that allows massive looping to open market windows. Such a solution ideally would result in little if any loss of current functionality and would hinder market bots that rely on the built-in functionality of the IGB. But in the end, except for input from the Council of Stellar Management, the laity can only wait for signals to emerge from Reykjavik.

Horribly scarred by the use of mods in WoW I now scour the MMO landscape looking for games where I do not have to view automation. I found such a sanctuary in Eve Online's low security space.