The Ongoing Crusade Against Third Party Tools

posted by on 13th June 2018, at 2:13am

For the entire history that RuneScape has existed there has always been one or two questionable third-party tools in the spotlight. RuneScape is a game that was once played in your browser and now just loads up instantly on your computer when you wish to play. It’s not like World of Warcraft which requires a huge download on your system. Back in the early days of RuneScape this lead to a mindset that maybe because it runs in the browser the client could be modified in some way. It was and still is.

The large development team and the modern client that RuneScape 3 utilizes can be credited to preventing most third party tools from interacting with RuneScape 3. Most, however, does not include client overlays. One of the most popular toolkits used for RuneScape 3 is Alt1. Alt1 layers tools over your game client that provide many in-game advantages that players not utilizing the toolkit don’t have. Should players have such an advantage? Let’s have a look at some of the things on offer.

Having a quick look at the Alt1 website, here are some examples of tools they offer: clue solver, afk warden (notifies you when you need to click), xp meter, and drop logger. The clue solver apparently screen reads your clue and solves any puzzle under the sun (including the new towers and lockbox puzzle); this has an effect on the in-game economy as this tool is reducing the market size for tokens to solve these puzzles. The afk warden claims to track in-game activity and alerts when to click, even if RuneScape isn’t on your screen, this is enabling unattended RuneScape playing. The xp meter and drop logger are available in-game currently with RuneMetrics. The first two mentioned here (clue solver and afk warden) have a direct impact on gameplay and the game economy. The latter two are cutting into a potential revenue source of Jagex.

As a testament to modern web browser capabilities, Alt1 claims that the toolkit is “just a fancy browser with a ton of RuneScape related features”. This effectively means that Chrome is running Alt1 behind the scenes but there is also some capability to read the screen of your RuneScape client. Given the current security model of Windows (since Vista) it is almost impossible for an application to get a running list of what other applications are running without having elevated permissions. This means that if Jagex wanted to they would have no way (outside of RuneScape as an administrator) of determining if Alt1 was running on a system. I suspect the reason we haven’t seen any action against Alt1, given that it is screen reading the client and other things, is that there’s no easy way to know if it’s running.

Alt1 is claimed by many to just be an integral part of playing RuneScape because they have used the toolkit for so long. Alt1 is a piece of third party software, third party software can never be 100% independently verified as safe. When a large amount of people use any piece of software a single security vulnerability in said piece of software is amplified proportionally by the number of people who use that software. RuneScape accounts still fetch a pretty penny on the black market and RuneScape GP is still targeted by hackers and those with malicious intent. This doesn’t mean that Alt1 is going to harvest the data on their users, it does mean that Alt1 carries a higher target of malicious actors.

Old School RuneScape has had a different past with third party tools. Old School RuneScape sees two dominant third party game clients in OS Buddy and RuneLite. Recently Jagex attempted to shut down RuneLite but the creator was able to make concessions to keep the product alive. After concluding these talks, Jagex said, “whilst discussions and our investigations continue we are temporarily holding off legal action. Adam, the developer of RuneLite, has agreed to make the RuneLite client and obfuscation tool closed source and pause development during this time.” You can read the full statement here. Checking in on the RuneLite website it looks as though development has resumed with more features added that are unavailable in vanilla Old School. As time goes on we’ll have to see what happens with the Old School third party tools and clients.

This episode with Old School RuneScape and third party clients proves two things in particular. The first is that third party tools that do infringe on the RuneScape user agreement or just put the players at risk will at least see Jagex attempt to stop their development. Secondly, the rule on Macroing and Third-Party Software is incredibly grey: “Software that can be used to gain an unfair advantage in our games may not be used. This includes automation tools, macros, bots, auto-typers, and tools that circumvent any of our mechanisms designed to automatically log out inactive users.” Alt1 satisfies this clause with its treasure trail solver by providing the “unfair advantage” of solving clues instantly. RuneLite satisfies this clause by replacing the game applet. Two very different cases with two very different outcomes.

Jagex must be consistent with this rule rather than wavering in its enforcement. As illegal as RuneLite may be it is incredibly unfair to subject one individual’s work to a legal challenge while allowing others (Alt1 and OS Buddy) to go completely unchallenged. Having an easygoing policy for some tools and throwing legal challenges against others do no one any good. There should be no third party tools allowed for either version of RuneScape.

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