ROE Mobile, Developer's Log

Earth date 4.26.2013

HELLO FELLOW STRATEGISTS!

Realm of Empires mobile companion app is almost ready to launch! Some of you have already downloaded it, in fact, in spite of the big “DO NOT DOWNLOAD” sign and a whopping $1.99 download cost which we thought would discourage everyone! :)

As you may have read in my previous developer's log post, we've developed the app in HTML5, thus allowing us to be on more mobile platforms quicker. We will be launching on Android first, then soon after that on the iPhone.
Launching on Android first, soon on the IPhone
Next, we hope to bring the app to BlackBerry and Windows 8 devices. We will also modernize the desktop version – including releasing our amazing new map! The desktop version will get much, much quicker and easier to use - prettier too. :)

>> The good, the bad and the ugly - what works well, what will get better <<

As alluded to in my previous post, we had hoped to offer you very similar game play on mobile as on
desktop. We wanted all power features to be there, and we wanted to make it easy to perform all the functions in your empire.

Unfortunately, we are not there... yet. Many power features are still missing, like summary pages or mass features. Also, the interface -this is critical to understand - is not yet optimized for managing a large empire. We had so many issues and interesting hurdles with cutting edge HTML5, that we've decided to first concentrate on getting things running well in general. In this first release, we've focused on the early game play – up to about 10 or 20 villages.

Things like recruiting all troops from one page, or upgrading all buildings on one page are not yet available. Why? Because its a lot more manageable to work out many wrinkles with fewer pages, popups, and interface functions.

So when it comes time to defend against 100 attacks, or recruit in 100 villages, please don’t get frustrated – it will become easier to do shortly!

>> AWESOME NEW NOTIFICATIONS! <<

Mobile devices give us a chance to send you important notifications such as incoming attacks. This is much more reliable than email. I am very excited to be able to offer you much improved notifications system that allows you to select what notifications you want.
Ever wondered if a person you are stewarding is under attack? Well, now there is a notification for this! The account owner must enable attack notifications, you must enable steward attack notifications, and voila! You will be a very good steward. :)

We were really focusing on creating a snappy interface. I believe we've achieved that on IPhone. Android is still lagging a bit behind IPhone as to HTML5 support and the game runs slower. We will keep working hard to improve performance and optimization!

Data entry on small screens is not easy. We wanted to provide really innovative ways of entering data for such functions as attacks, communication, recruitment etc. Again, this is hard to make perfect and we are still perfecting the interface. Over the next little while, you will see this improve significantly with a few innovative solutions already in the works for things like attacking.

>> Game play not the same on mobile as on desktop <<

The important things to keep in mind is that the game plays differently on the phone than on the desktop. There is no way to simulate
a large/multiple screens + multiple browser tabs + keyboard and mouse experience on small devices. It is very hard to allow you to send attacks with the same precision and volume as on the desktop. It is much harder to write long emails on a small mobile keyboard. We are already working on many improvements but we  also hope you guys can provide us with a lot of feedback and ideas - the sooner we get the app in front of you guys, the sooner we'll be able to make it better.

If you primarily play on the desktop, this will be a companion app for you. But we plan to offer realms for mobile devices only and we are really excited and eager to find out how the game-play will change when played exclusively on the mobile!

So, please keep in mind that the mobile app is still in its infancy and please take the time to send in your feedback. Please download the app when it becomes available, and help us make it better!


Oh, and before I forget – please give us a good ( ideally a 5 star! ) rating on the app stores! We know we've got lots of wrinkles to work out, but a good rating will go along way towards a better RoE. We love making this game for you guys, and enjoy playing it ourselves, but we have a very limited advertising budget and rely almost exclusively on word of mouth promotion. If you like the game, and want to see it grow and be awesome, please give us a 5 star rating! Many thanks in advance!


Cheaters Beware! Part 2

In part 1 of this series, I introduced one of the new tools we have to catch cheating and gave a quick overview of cheating in Realm of Empires. Today, I would like to elaborate on the types of cheating we’ve observed.
mikerinder-cheater-300x267Most of the cheating involves using multiple accounts
 
Realm of Empires is designed so that one player controls just one account on a Realm. Certainly being able to control more accounts and thus more silver production and troops is a big advantage and an irresistible option for some. They create -or otherwise get control of- other accounts and use them to their advantage.


 HOW PLAYERS CHEAT

“Purse Snatchers”

Unsophisticated cheaters create multiple accounts to send silver and troops to their “real” account. Eventually they take over all the villages of their fake accounts. This is very easy to spot. Not much to say except, “what the heck were you thinking?!"

Example: We had one player who created over fake 80 Facebook accounts. Each was named similarly, were started next to the 'main' account, and were exploited to benefit that one account. Just creating so many accounts seems obsessive-compulsive, but to login to each account daily is just plain stupid.

 

“Wise Guys”

More sophisticated cheaters will also create or take control of multiple accounts, but will not cheat in obvious ways. They will lay low, playing each account independently - at first. They will use the fake account to infiltrate enemy clans, attack enemies, etc.. Basically, they try to appear as separate people playing each account. 


HOW PLAYERS CREATE / CONTROL MULTIPLE ACCOUNTS 

 

Simple and Stupid

The simplest method -but also the easiest to spot- is to create multiple Facebook accounts. (Note that this can also get you in trouble with Facebook and your free e-mail provider)

Family and Friends 

 

“My mom, dad and sister and brother play and we are all attacking the same guy… seriously… I am not cheating.” You have no idea how often we heard this explanation! 

 

To avoid having to create fake Facebook account, and to give legitimacy to the other account, some players have their family or room-mates enter the game and then use those accounts as their own. That is also easy to spot, although it can sometimes be more difficult to prove foul play.

Stewardship

Kingdom kitty_gives_helping_hand.png (496×333) - Google Chrome (03-02-2013 14.42.44)Stewardship, a wonderful feature, was quickly exploited by cheaters. This is why over the years we had to severely limit what stewards can do. At first, stewards could do everything the account owner could do. Rules were in place to prevent obvious abuses such as coordinated attacks between a stewarded account and the steward's own account.

Such rules proved to be extremely hard to enforce, and after countless brain storming sessions, we decided that we rules were not enough. We had to limit what a steward can do, so now stewards cannot attack or support other players. This is a very lengthy topic on its on, but in the nutshell - stewardship was exploited, and we had no choice but to limit its powers to prevent cheating. I still remember the many lively debates with players on top topic!

I will add one more thing: Stewardship allowed a person who had never intended to cheat to be tempted into cheating. Sometimes a player leaving Realm of Empires would give another stewardship and leave. The steward would then have the whole arsenal of the other player at his fingers tips… such power is difficult to resist!

Account Sharing

 

When we set limitations on stewardship, a new form of cheating came to the forefront - account sharing. Players would share their Facebook login, either temporarily or long term, to allow one player to control multiple account.

This is strictly against Facebook's own rules, and can get a player banned from their Facebook account if they are caught. It's worth mentioning that many times the players who report this form of cheating are the very ones who gave their login information away... only to be betrayed by the person they trusted to run their empire.

Crime Don’t Pay, Boy!

If you snatch an old lady’s purse once, you may get away from it. But if you make it your business to do it regularly, eventually you will get caught. 1angry kitty.jpg - Windows Photo Viewer (03-02-2013 14.30.45)How often have you heard: “the suspects got too greedy leading to their arrest.” 
 
Well, it is very hard to not get too greedy cheating in Realm of Empires, and impossible to get a large advantage from an occasional purse snatching.
When players allow themselves to cheat, they keep cheat over a very long time in similar ways, and eventually clear patterns emerge.
This is critical to understand: Inexperienced cheaters are trivial to catch, and the sophisticated ones will still eventually get caught because we can see lifetime patterns of play. Even if they do not get on our radar right away, they will eventually get greedy, make a mistake and get reported by other players.

Even with account sharing, login patters show very clearly and easily what is the real situation - either your room mate is a Siamese twin, or you are cheating. Either your mom, dad, sister all check their account at 3pm after school, or you are a kid playing them all.

With months of history, clear patterns emerge making it plain to spot cheating. We are creatures of regularity and no matter how much you try, given enough time, a patter eventually emerges. It is not only login patterns but play patterns, communication, everything and anything you do in game.

Cheating - The “Human Cost”… Oh No!

 

Unfortunately, the more sophisticated cheaters can do a lot of damage before they are caught. They can often eliminate and discourage many players before we can react. It is very difficult to have much compassion for a player who has ruined the game for many others. In such cases, we ban players permanently. An illegitimately acquired empire will be cast into abandonment, left for legitimate players to pick apart at their leisure.

Thank you for sticking with me this long! In part 3, I hope to give you a history of the arsenal of tools we developed to catch cheating players and make the game a better one for everyone else!



















Cheaters Beware! Part 1


Clip from For Richer Or Poorer (good movie btw!)



Jr IRS Agent : Sir, I may be new at this, but I don't think we shoot people for cheating on their taxes!
Sr. IRS Agent : Oh, you are right.... you are new at this.
commic relief  


Last week, I finally snapped, and personally updated one of our “cheater-finding” tools (at Realm of Empires, we do not believe in political correctness)

It was not an easy decision when you are just getting ready to launch ROE mobile, a product of many months of hard work. But our support team finally gave me the kick I needed, showing me how hard it is for them to investigate one particular issue.  



The problem

It was very slow and cumbersome to investigate attacks made by player, or set of players. We either had to 
  1. sift through reports, one at a time
  2. or look at way too much detail in a  database-level report


The solution - battle log!

We've created a persistent, detailed log of attacks, with all relevant information in one place - who attacked whom, with what strength, who supported at this time and with what troops, results etc etc






It was at this time that I again realized how much effort goes into making Realm of Empires a fair game. Unlike big studios, we don’t have a dedicated team for this; we have to pull developers from other tasks.

We expend a lot of effort to keep the game fair
This is a big topic, and I hope to give you an overview of what we do, and of bit of history in a multi-part blog.

Why players cheat?

Realm of Empires is an aggressive, highly competitive game. I play competitively as well, and I know full well the adrenalin rush, when you are about to make that risky move that could cost you your empire. I also experienced the anger and frustration when a player fights back in a way that suggest cheating (a strangely immediate counter attack from multiple, similarly named players, for example)

If it quacks and walks like a cheaters, well... it is sometimes not a cheater

Having been in this situation, I personally used our tools to analyze such players to get a better idea of the state of the game, better understand players, our perception of possible cheating etc.

Often, well, you just pissed off a very good player, with a very well organized clan. Perhaps a clan with a pre-determined plan of action for many scenarios - one for all, all for one.

Often, players reported to us as “cheaters” are not really cheating at all. They are just very, very good, with very good network of friends and clan mates. However, some players are cheating and we investigate all your reports, as well as proactively look for such players.


Some players play together for so long, that they actually choose similar names in new realms to show their solidarity.


From purse snatchers to battle hardened, cyber criminals!

Some players cheat in obvious ways, some got to extraordinary ways to cover their tracks. Over time, we’ve sent countless development hours and built an array of tools. 

However, more on this, in the next part!

Blog shall return in “part 2, of the blog”

[ this was a geeky bond reference if anyone missed it! :) ]

P.S. The movie clip included in this blog is a movie recommendation from the author of this blog. Players should not read into any hidden messages, and mostly likely the Realm of Empires team shall beat Greg a little bit on monday for even including it.