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New Buddies Online feature, old Active Players removed.

It has been a contentious topic, but for many years players have been requesting that we remove the Active Players list. There are a few reasons for this. One, guilds have exploited the list to build "alt-finder" programs, scraping the website and recording the information to a database to see what characters are never online at the same time. This practice has actually been fairly effective in the past, to the detriment of players trying to enjoy an incognito escape from guild politics or other in-game issues.

Another problem is simply that certain players would target others for attack, logging on to hunt them specifically. Other players would specifically avoid certain gameplay types (trading) when major pirates were online. Removing the list treats everyone equally: traders are no longer exposed as being available, pirates may or may not be present. Only the total relative quantity of online players is available via a graph, colored by faction.

The debate over whether to remove the list has been contentious. For one thing, people genuinely use the list to keep track of friends they want to play with. This is a worthwhile use-case, and we have attempted to replace it by adding a Buddies Online feature to the new Active Players page. This will now display all your buddies currently in the game (all buddies across all the characters of the account currently logged into the website). This, combined with the general graph, still shows overall activity trends and player densities, without exposing too much specific player information to data mining.

As a side effect, this will also break the active player feature of the IRC bot. Bots like this are not a specifically approved feature of the game (nor are they run by us); we simply haven't felt a need to establish a policy on them as of yet, and we tend to err on the side of letting people try interesting things whenever possible. We acknowledge that bots provide useful features to people in-game, but an active players list is one that people will need to live without. You can now see the general densities of players online if you want, but no specific names or numbers.

We hope people will see this overall change as a good thing. You can see if your friends are playing, you can see a general view of the game population, and you'll need to actually log in and explore to find out more than that. This keeps more to the immersive concept of our universe, without any special real-world knowledge beyond that which is socially useful. As time goes on, we may add more graphs and specific features to the link, such as the number of NPCs online (shows trends in Hive assaults and the like), the distribution of players by platform (Mac/Windows/Linux) and other data. We may also create an API (XMPP) for players to access buddy-online data and other information to use for their own purposes, as well as possibly building a facebook app to help VO players stay on top of game events, guild activities, and the actions of their friends.

Also, as a reminder, if people have issues with any specific individuals being abusive or egregiously annoying on 100, feel free to open a Customer Support Ticket and tell us about it. People need to report issues for us to take action. Of course, /ignore also works, but that isn't always a tenable solution.

I hope people like the change and the Buddies Online feature, if you'd like to discuss it further, post to this new thread, don't revive one of the old ones. We're always open to creating new features to try and help use cases that are impacted by changes like this. There is usually a middle-ground solution to be found, if people can patiently explain the issues to us.

As always, thanks for your patience and support.