September Bot Tales Pt 1: MPN Releases Game Integrity Stats

The impact of poker bots (automated playing software) on online poker is back in the news in a couple of ways, including over at the Microgaming Poker Network, where MPN’s Managing Director of Poker, Alex Scott has taken the bold step of publishing several recent years of game-integrity statistics related to play on MPN sites. While “game integrity” is a catch-all phrase, here it applies anti-cheating efforts used to rid MPN of illicit play, with a heavy emphasis on MPN’s ongoing rooting out of bots and bot networks.

As we’ve detailed repeatedly over the past several years, policing illicit poker-bot play is an ever-growing concern, and the Microgaming Poker Network is one of the online-poker operators that’s taken bot situation seriously; if left entirely unchecked, bots could become an existential threat to the online game. That’s part of why we try to amplify the message of sites and networks that are willing to dedicate the resources and take on the botting threat.

MPN’s Alex Scott

Publishing this data, as Scott notes, might not universally be viewed as a positive. “Previously, there was a fear in the industry about publishing this information,” he wrote. “There was a sentiment that to do so would have no upside – you can never be perfect at detecting and preventing cheating, and any shortfall from perfect is a failure. Players would simply jump on the failures without recognising the successes, or so was the received wisdom.”

That’s very true, though Scott chooses to omit the reason that certain segments choose to jump on or magnify any such failures: because it’s very self-serving for those interests to do so. The truth about the escalating battles against bots are that it’s going to be a learning process, but as long as the wins outnumber the losses, it’s all good.

Scott added, “I give a lot of credit to the operators who stuck their neck out by publishing the information first. It made us think; we’ve been having debates ever since about whether we should do the same.”

Not that many operators have chosen to follow a similar path; though Scott downsells his company’s efforts a bit, MPN has been one of the leaders in taking public its battles against the bots. Another one of the leaders has been partypoker, one of GVC’s offerings. Scott blind-referenced party’s bot-chasing efforts and those of a couple of other operators when he explained why MPN chose to release the information in the form that it did:

“The downside of course, is that the information that has been published so far is very subjective. Imagine that I told you that we’d locked 1,000 bot accounts in the month of August. Is that good? Perhaps there were 10,000 bot accounts operating on the site in August, so I only caught 10% of them. On the other hand, perhaps there were only 900, and so 100 were false positives and I actually seized money from innocent players. The number on its own tells us very little.”

So Scott and MPN served up its game-integrity stats, on a month-by-month basis, going all the way back to the start of 2016. The numbers themselves show that during any given month over the last nearly-four-year stretch, more than 5% of MPN’s monthly active users, or MAUs, were flagged for some sort of game-integrity review. While MPN’s internal threshold for being deemed an MAU isn’t disclosed, the implied statement is that if you’re a high-volume user at MPN, sooner or later your play is going to be audited.

The numbers themselves also show that around the start of June 2018, MPN stepped up its anti-cheating efforts. From May to June 2018, the percentage of MAU accounts jumped from 4.2% to 12.1%, and it’s remained between seven and 17 percent ever since.

That increased dedication of resources paid quick dividends. In August of 2018, MPN identified what Scott described as “a large bot ring,” seizing €318,784 from botting accounts. That single month’s seizures represent nearly 30% of the €1,090,421 MPN has seized from cheating accounts over the past 44 months.

Still, Scott and his MPN cohorts felt the need to put those numbers in context: “First of all, any time you seize a large amount of money it generally means one thing. Cheats who feel like they are unlikely to be caught leave large sums of money in their accounts. Cheats who feel like they are at risk of being detected deposit the minimum to achieve their aims, and cash out as soon as possible. So if you see an operator seize a large amount of money, it generally means that they were behind the curve for some time, and finally caught up, catching the cheats unaware.”

Scott then related that back to the August 2018 bump, explaining, “You’ll see an example of this in our own data from August 2018, where we caught a large bot ring due to advances in our processes and procedures.”

MPN’s approach might not be the best or only solution to botting and related issues, but there’s little doubt it’s a positive development. There’s also little doubt that MPN is one of the industry’s good guys on this topic. MPN’s controlling forces recognize the long-term threats botting and related activities pose, and the company has dedicated resources to the fight.

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