Top three takeaways from Adjust's GDC Summer Virtual Session hosted by Unbotify’s Alon Dayan
David Hartery, Senior Content Marketing Editor, Adjust, Aug 26, 2020.
Bots are a huge problem for apps in the modern era, with more users than ever turning to nefarious means to advance through levels or ranks. Our resident bot expert, Alon Dayan — CTO and co-founder of Unbotify — presented a GDC Summer Virtual Session that explained why app developers need to be vigilant against this growing menace.
Below we break down the top three takeaways from Alon’s talk, but you can also first take a look at the video here to learn more about Unbotify’s FairPlay product. Dedicated to catching malicious bots in mobile games, it includes a demonstration of the Unbotify system in action, protecting a Tetris app created by game developer N3TWORK. N3TWORK offers thousands of dollars in prize-money to winners of daily Tetris tournaments, so weeding out bots who could unfairly claim the prize is paramount. Find out how N3TWORK is using Unbotify to secure their app — and their users — in the full GDC Summer Virtual Sessions video.
Lots of apps use an in-app purchase based monetization model. And while many users are just happy to support your app, others buy things in-game because they get some benefit from it. That can be a cosmetic benefit to make their character look cool or a gameplay benefit like extra lives or consumables.
However, Alon warned that bots can put these monetization models at risk. He gives the example of a website called BoostBost, which he terms a ‘Fraud-As-A-Service’ solution. For a $50 a month subscription you get unlimited access to bots for all major mobile properties. Alon even shared a testimonial from a satisfied customer of BoostBot, who boasts that the service is both easy to use and works out cheaper than buying resources directly from the game.
And this is the crux of the issue — by using the supercharged abilities of these bots, they can undercut the economic viability of these monetization models. And if consumers think they can get a better deal, they might be willing to go to the black market to secure it.
The second problem Alon outlines is less hard economics and more philosophical. Apps with an unaddressed bot problem quickly end up with a bad reputation. But you can see this effect in hard numbers — your churn rate.
This problem is compounded the bigger the online community for your game — the more frustrated users there are, the more they are going to damage the app you spent so long crafting.
Alon says this is especially important for high-value users, ones that you spend a huge amount of resources trying to acquire. These kinds of users are the main spenders in-game, and if this user is spending hundreds of dollars a month, all for a small advantage over other users, they will become disenchanted very quickly if they’re constantly beaten or overtaken by illicit accounts.
Bots allow users to level up unfairly, give them superhuman abilities and bypass the usual barriers that keep things balanced. Every user is going to find this unfair, and annoying, but none more than your most valuable users. Sooner or later, your churn rate is going to become a problem.
The fake account market
The third problem Alon outlines is the fake account problem. While this is not a problem unique to mobile games — with fake accounts plaguing social networks and dating apps — there are unique incentives at play in the gaming vertical.
Why do people want to open fake accounts? Well, if you have a bot that can open lots of fake accounts, and then another bot that can level up these accounts, then you have the ability to sell these pre-levelled accounts on the online market. Many users don’t have the patience to level from level one to level 10. And they’re willing to pay a premium to buy an account at level 10 and continue playing from there.
Another incentive is to harvest new account bonuses. Many new users get a special item or some other kind of bonus, often from a pool of random items. By opening thousands of accounts, the chances you get a desirable free item increases, and you can sell these powerful items on the secondary market. Similarly, many gambling, casino or poker apps give free introductory offers. By creating fake accounts, these bots can collect introductory offers and sell them below face value on online forums.