Manfred has been making a very good life for himself by finding exploits in massively multiplayer online games, and selling it to gamers. He has been doing this for over a decade.
Twenty years ago, Manfred started playing Ultima Online, the game most consider to be the mother of all massively multiplayer online, role-playing games. He was continually being beaten by players with better broadband speeds, and was feeling frustrated with his continued disadvantage because he had a poor dial-up connection. If you're an MMORPG junkie like me, and you're connecting from South Africa, then you know exactly what he's talking about. Except, Manfred didn't want to be at a disadvantage, so he found an exploit in the game that would delete other player's houses, he would then repossess it and further use the exploit to repopulate the real estate with more houses than the game legitimately allowed.
One day, Manfred decided to see what would happen if he tried to sell his Ultima Online castle on eBay. He sold it for about $2000 in 1997. It was his first income from a video game exploit, but not his last. He continued to sell around 100 house, each at an average price of $2000. In 1997 that was a lot of money. Naturally, Manfred decided to make video game exploits his full-time job.
Last month at the DEF CON hacking conference Manfred decided to come clean. He told his story to motherboard.vice.com, you should read it. When asked why he's coming clean after tewenty years of making a living from hacking MMO's, he said that he wanted video game developers to take security more serious. That's after he made sure he could walk away as a rich man is my guess.
Among the list of games he hacked (although he doesn't like calling it hacking, it's “finding unintended features in the protocol”), are games we've all played. Rift, Wildstar Online, Guild Wards 2 and so on. “I was a wholesale supplier on the backend for majority of these games,”explains Manfred. “It's a “wild west,” right now,. There's a lot of money to be made, and there's a lot of people doing this every day.”
So he isn't the best hacker on the block anymore, and now devs have to smarten up. We can all agree that it is far too easy to either find an exploit or bug and get an advantage over your fellow players, and that it is a serious issue. Looking at games like Overwatch where players are treated like Sports stars with salaries that include health insurance and a $50 000 annual paycheck (that's without prize money), then raising the bar against exploits and cheating become one of the most important things in a game. Dota 2 The International 2017 boasts a prize pool of $23,833,592! eSports aside, as I don't think players use exploits at that level – Steam reported in 2015 that 77 000 accounts are hacked every month – with the purpose of selling cosmetic items on the black market. My point being, there's a helluvalot of money to be made of gaming by direct hacking or in-game exploits, and there I agree with Manfred, devs need to up their game.
“It's kinda like groundhog day, you play a game, you find some exploits, you get banned and then you move on to the next game,” Manfred explained during his talk at DEF CON. In his interview with Motherboard.Vice he explains how the business model for online gaming has changed and that microtransactions are now part of the experience. Which according to his reasoning makes his 'service' to gamers obsolete. “I wasn't comfortable doing what I was doing.”
Took him long enough to get to that point.
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