Archive for April, 2011

Virtual Currency Fraud Tips for Publishers featuring Ryan Smith from Super Rewards

Introducing Ryan Smith, Fraud Manager at Super Rewards Vancouver Office:

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Ryan Smith from Super Rewards over the last year and he has helped me get a handle on fraud in our games. He’s always been great to work with and a wealth of helpful knowledge and tips. So I thought it would be great if I could pick his brain and share some of the knowledge.

VSG: How did you get into doing fraud protection for Social Games?

RS: I had experience working for a couple of online gaming and casino sites, which is where I gained a lot of experience in online fraud prevention.

Then I was at the right place at the right time. With the industry being relatively young and open about 2 years ago, I figured that a fraud/risk manager would be needed, especially working in the Social gaming and VC monetization spaces. I originally started off as a Customer Service Rep working for Super Rewards, I expanded my role into fraud protection from there.

VSG:  So you you’ve been working in Social Games for 2 years? That sort of makes you a veteran in this industry.

RS:  Heh, well I guess you could say that. It feels like it has been a lot longer and the industry has grown substantially since my induction to the space.

VSG:  What is the most important thing for game publishers to know about fraud management?

RS:  I think one of the most important thing to keep in mind is that any app can be a target.  The more traction and popularity an app has, the more risk for fraud there will be, especially if an application allows players to trade bought items and currencies.

VSG:  Are there ways that publishers can stop fraud on their own?

RS: There are a few ways publishers can monitor and deter potential fraud:

-Keep a close eye on revenue spikes.  Publishers can usually narrow down and determine if there is potential risk or legitimacy behind various concentrations.

- Watch new players making very large VC purchases in close succession.  This kind of activity normally occurs with credit card/purchase fraud.

- Monitor players that set up multiple accounts on a given application, which normally is for the purpose of abusing gifting and other in-game trade type features. Players will do this to bypass having to pay for credits or VC sometimes even to sell gaming accounts.

- Watch community boards and forums regarding your application, as this is where you will likely find ill behaved players peddling VC or accounts. These channels are often used in spreading malicious exploits and bug abuse as well.

- Communicate with networks regarding abusive activity; whether your application is running an offer wall or you have direct payment providers, it is important to keep those channels open. Your earnings and application’s integrity are important and it is vital to provide and request information as you see fit.

- Think like a player who wants to get Virtual Currency for free. By doing so you can understand what lengths players will go to take advantage of these system.  Thinking like a player also may help to strengthen your applications features or economy.

- Remember, most players are well behaved, but there are some players who want “free” VC and will attempt to get it in abusive ways if given the opportunity.

VSG:  What games do you play personally?

RS:  I have played a lot of games to be honest. As for games that I play and like personally,

I have a soft spot for well rounded social games like Castle Age.  Game mechanics and UI are important things that if done well, keep players coming back and willing to pay for virtual currencies. If I do play a game, it is usually for a quick fix within the social space.  Or,when I want to relax at home, I play a bit of Red Dead Redemption or Fallout 3. It really depends on my mood – I also really enjoy hopping on Minecraft and griefing players on the public servers. LOL.

VSG:  Do you have any horror stories you can share?

RS: I don’t know if I have a real horror story but some players become very addicted to their games and will sometimes resort to threats and possibly more if they do not get their way.

A player once told me that he would personally sue me, because he claimed he was not issued his in game currencies. When we looked into it, he was not willing to supply proper information for me to help.  Rather than sending a standard claim, he decided to threaten me.  That’s what I mean when I say that players can be so addicted to games.

VSG:  Have you seen any amazing cases of fraud that blew you mind? Like organized virtual currency mafia?

RS: That is a funny question. But to be honest there are lots of small player organizations that farm VC for monetary gain. A lot of player concentrations will originate from emerging or developing countries and communities as a rule. VC black markets are economies unto themselves that are thought to pull in hundreds of millions of dollars annually on an international scale.

The MMO space has pretty much dominated the VC Black market economies.  But with the rise of social games in the last few years, the demand for in game items and premium VCs, fraud, such as secondary markets for VC have become more notable and prominent. It is interesting because there is no real established body governing or policing those markets other than the publishers themselves.  That’s why it’s important for publishers to have fraud protection systems in place, or to work with companies that do.

VSG:  Are there any warnings signs that you may be being targeted by one of these groups?

RS:  There can be some subtle warning signs, it sort of goes back to those steps I mentioned to help in protecting your app:  Watching player behavior; monitor the in game economies; take note and get accustomed to unusual patterns. These are steps publishers would normally do to look for players who are abusing bugs or exploiting.

VSG:  Have you been able to identify any trends in say, virality or monetization in your role?

RS:  Yes, most definitely. At Super Rewards, we work with thousands of players who are purchasing VC and completing offers for VC on a daily basis. We know a lot of the publishers and applications, so I can spot content releases and fraud risks.  We look at a variety of things, like the frequency and time period that players purchase, which can affect fraud risks.  New content releases, holiday weekends, and things of that nature can increase and indicate an application is monetizing properly.  Publishers should always look at their reports and statistics to monitor this information.

I also do a lot of app testing to see how players might interact within those games and how an application might monetize or spread in that viral nature. Sometimes it can be subtle, and sometimes it is really in your face. It depends a lot on the “publisher pushes” and also that coveted interaction from players.

VSG:  When you say you see spikes on content releases do you think that means content drives revenue?

RS:  From my experience, content releases have potential to drive revenue, for example if we are talking about an established app that has a somewhat moderate DAU/MAU (thinking of your favorite app).  It really depends on the form of release that might push revenue. New items/gifts and giveaways, social events, even a new UI or layout can have different effects on revenues or player interests, but they all play a similar role — driving the game.

Virality is also a catalyst. Announcements and board postings from the developers promote traction as well. I think that it is one among many of reasons that developers should have a really strong and active community management team. Players like to know there is someone human addressing in game specifics, and having a strong community foundation can really help to boost Daily Actives and in turn, revenues.