Where there are people willing to pay for a shortcut, you will always find others who are willing to provide that shortcut. From pyramid programmes to get-rich-quick schemes, the lure of being wealthy and having what you want without the effort of working for it will always be attractive to some people. Games don’t operate any differently. There are in-game currencies, ways of ‘earning’ your credits (missions, trading on the market, running dailies/operations), and possessions that are highly desirable to people. The latest mounts, cosmetics gearing, weapons and pets all cry out to be purchased and shown off to the other players. It is into this environment that the issue of Credit-Selling Mail Spam in SWTOR comes in. While mail is not the only way “Fast, Secure, Trustworthy” companies can get your attention, in SWTOR it is the only way to reach all players regardless of what planet or ship they are on. So what is being done about this horrible practice and how could SWTOR and BioWare Austin tweak their approach to better tackle it?
Disclaimer: Much of this is theory from observing how mail spam has evolved over recent months as obviously I shouldn’t have access to know what they are actually doing about it! I also provide a proof-of-concept tool later on for you to take for a test-drive!
What is SWTOR Doing About Credit-Selling Mail Spam?
Before the haters claim SWTOR/BioWare are doing nothing about this, what I have seen is to the contrary:
- There is not a SPAM Mail every day anymore.
I can’t speak for other servers, but on The Red Eclipse and Shadowlands Servers this has reduced to every 4 or 5 days.
- The subject lines employed by spammers have changed over the last few months
Spammers are having to apply unusual characters in subject lines to circumvent whatever system is in place.
- It appears to be harder for spammers to use ‘www’
This is seen by the more recent variant of -3vv
- Companies can’t use their full domain name:
Based on how split up the company name is in the subject line, this is a logical conclusion.
So I believe SWTOR are trying to tackle this problem. Here are some example Spam Mail messages. Subjects/Messages may be duplicated because I didn’t want to look through all the spam screenshots I have on my hard drive!
How Could this Process be Improved?
However I also have a hunch that the spammers are being blocked based on whole subject lines except where they also try to use ‘www’ (see above). Presumably based on users submitting spam reports through in-game mail they are adding the subject lines to some ‘blacklist’ or similar.
While effective for a time, this approach requires being reactionary. This means the spammers adjust their approach then SWTOR adjusts theirs. A better approach would be to think ahead – make the spammers change based on SWTOR’s systems.
Instead of blocking whole subject lines, or looking for whole words (i.e. www, or the spamming company name), it should, instead, be based on patterns. By identifying patterns that spammers are using you have a greater chance of catching them and stopping players receiving them. That would put SWTOR one step ahead, possibly more steps than that.
What Restrictions Could SWTOR Put in Place?
One of the biggest problems is that the use of mail and access to Republic/Imperial Fleet is too easy. All spammers need to do is register and they can get access to mail. They only need to reach Level 10 to get access to Fleet via the Fleet Pass.
My solution to this is to:
- Only allow under Level 10’s to mail their own characters and those in any Guilds they may be part of.
- Not grant access to Fleet (including via Strongholds) until they have completed the class story on the starter planet. Fleet pass can be awarded at the point of leaving the starter planet.
Although this would not stop the spammers it would delay them. This is still worth the effort since they would only get the access they need to get their sales message out, once they had committed 2+ hours of game play.
My Spam Testing Tool
I have built a web-based spam testing tool. I got my Patrons to test it out. Instead of finding a way to circumvent it, they did find that it flagged up some ‘false positives’ – i.e. likely harmless messages being flagged as spam. So my tool includes the following:
- Pattern matching to try to catch the most frequent mail spammer. I also updated it to catch the most frequent chat spamming company I’ve come across. BioWare can use the same pattern-matching principle in chat as it does in mail. (Only I think they’re doing less in chat than in mail from what I’ve seen).
- Instead of working off a blacklist, common typos or other false positives are added to a whitelist.
- My system includes capturing zero’s used in place of the letter O, and @ signs used in place of the letter A.
- My tool is case insensitive. Spammers employing upper and/or lower case letters will still get caught.
- Subject lines to have a maximum length of characters. The only exception to this would be where attachments of items are auto-populated with the item name.
The only extra work for SWTOR if they added a similar system would be looking out for bug reports from genuine users who find their mail caught by the spam filter. Players (as with my testers) would be the source of your ‘false positives’.
So to have a quick look at my tool tap the button below (it should be mobile-friendly). There is no database or machine learning attached to this so please provide any false positives or ways you got around it in the comments and I’ll patch my tool.
What Can You Do To Protect Yourself and Help SWTOR?
Tackling Credit-Selling Spam is not solely the responsibility of game producers and programmers. It needs to be a community effort.
Don’t Visit Spammer’s Websites
Firstly don’t give these ‘companies’ any encouragement of any sort. The worst thing you can do is buy into their services. The next worst thing you can do is reply to them in chat or mail. Instead send the spam report in mail/chat, add them to your ignore list, and don’t speak to them.. And don’t visit their website. So long as people visit their sites they will believe a profitable market exists.
Don’t Trust Them
Just because their chat message or mail says they are secure, does not mean they actually are. You don’t know who they may share your payment details with and once they confirm you’re an active player who wants to buy, they will likely continue to send more mail. As with anyone who knocks on your door at home, don’t give spammers any reason to come back again.
Don’t Be Passive
Submitting a spam report takes a few seconds – and gives the SWTOR Team extra data to help tackle spam. It really will take us all to keep addressing this issue.
TL;DR – Tackling SWTOR Credit-Selling Mail Spam
I am under no delusions that spammers will ever go away. But we, as a gaming community can make life hard for them. If the SWTOR Team at BioWare Austin can employ patterns and listen to the community on creating a whitelist to avoid ‘false positives’ and if we can keep reporting those we come across, we can reduce how much exposure these people get.
And remember, you don’t need credit-selling mail spam to make good credits in SWTOR. Go in and enjoy the game, not just for its rewards, but for the journey. Enjoying the game is of greater value than showcasing your latest creature companion or fashion accessories. And things genuinely are more enjoyable when you’ve earned them. Plus by not giving into the spammers, you’ve saved yourself some real life money too. Just never stop using your brain and you’ll be fine!