29 October 2015

Gravity EU changes XP rates to prevent botting

Gravity Europe is the company running the European Ragnarok Online (euRO) server. Players can play on euRO for Free or by subscribing to a Premium account for 5 euros per month. Premium accounts also provide perks such as more character slots, more space to store items in the game, and a lower XP penalty on character death.

Gravity EU sent an email on October 22, 2015 to notify their players of a change in XP and drop rates:

Dear Adventurer,
As we have been aware that bots are polluting our server more and more every day, we've decided to act and make botting less attractive than it has been so far. From now on, the XP and Drop rates will change for both our Free and Premium users. Indeed, below you will find the comparison between previous and new rates:
Previous rates: Free Players: 100% XP and 100% drop. Premium Players: 150% XP and 100% drop.
New rates: Free Players: 75% XP and 75% drop. Premium Players: 175% XP and 150% drop.
As you can see, we also increased the Premium rates as a thank you to our loyal players and we hope that these changes will make our server a better place to live and play on, for everyone.
Enjoy your time on Ragnarök Online!
Gravity Europe Team

This decision is wrong for several reasons:

  • Reducing the drop and XP rates for bots from 100% to 75% does not solve the botting problem. Bots on Free accounts are now simply 33% less productive, while bots on Premium accounts 50% more so. Bots are still here.
  • The gap between the Premium and Free rates was moderate. Now it is more than 2x. Why would anyone play for free now?
  • Using botting as an excuse to change the rates is a marketing ploy. If Gravity EU had increased the rates without mentioning botting, and only as a thank you to our loyal players, it would have felt like they were forcing players to go Premium. In contrast, by justifying their change with botting, Gravity EU is telling their players: go Premium to fight the bots!
  • RO came out in 2002, so its graphics and game mechanics are a bit outdated. Yet, like any MMO, RO must attract new players for its community to survive. Having made the game free was a good first step, but Gravity EU also has to work on players acquisition. Most new players start playing the game for free, to try it out. Reducing the drop rates for the free players certainly hurts day-1 retention.
  • The decision to change the rates is framed as a loss for Free accounts and a small gain for Premium accounts (and not as a solution against bots). The decision could have been framed as a large gain for Premium players and no change for Free players. Make it a reward! In fact, the Premium Service page frames it as a 100% vs 230%, not a 75% vs 175%. Why was it not framed that way in the email?

Finding a solution to botting is actually easy. Some private RO servers implemented periodic captcha popups: every 30 minutes, the game kicks out the players who fail to answer a random but easy test (such as 1+2=?). A bit inelegant, but very effective.