Virtual detectives stalk in-game spammers

Thu Sep 3, 2009 1:03pm EDT
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By John Gaudiosi

LAS VEGAS, Nevada (Reuters) - Gamers competing against rivals around the globe in online multiplayer games have a new force protecting them -- teams of virtual detectives.

While some companies cause havoc with PC users via e-mail spam and viruses, a new type of spam company is targeting the huge worlds of massively multiplayer online (MMO) videogames like Activision Blizzard's "World of Warcraft."

In-game characters controlled by individuals working for spam companies infiltrate these virtual worlds and bombard players with unsolicited ads for the sale of in-game virtual items like swords and even playable characters.

This type of activity is forbidden by all game publishers within their player rules of conduct so Sony Online Entertainment (SOE), which oversees MMO games like "EverQuest," "Star Wars Galaxies" and "Free Realms," is flexing its online muscle.

SOE has created the Norathian Underground Gnome Investigation Team or NUGIT, which refers to the fantasy world of Norath in "Everquest."

This nine-member team focuses on in-game fraud, working like detectives as they police SOE's game worlds in search of spammers and try to uncover their entire operations.

"People get very frustrated when they see spam. It's the equivalent of junk mail and you're getting this in-game and it's very frustrating," said John Smedley, president of Sony Online Entertainment.

To date, SOE has closed 295,000 subscription accounts across its MMO games as a result of NUGIT's patrols.   Continued...