Players of The Elder Scrolls Online have found a cheap way to level up their characters, and they don't even have to be at the keyboard to do it.
In the image above we see a group of The Elder Scrolls Online characters whose players are away from the keyboard, doing battle with absolutely nothing. Eventually enemies will spawn, and these players will get credit for killing them. That's a problem.
The characters in the GIF atop the article each wield a staff. Holding down the button assigned to 'heavy attack' causes an equipped staff to send forth an endless stream of magical bolts. So these players find a safe spot where monsters spawn regularly, like the Lluvamir Dolmen in Auridon, and then either set up a macro or use a rubber band to keep their controller button held down.
Since Dolmens, areas with regular special creature attacks, are popular places for players to grind, the staff-wielders generally don't have to worry about getting hit. And since experience points are shared by everyone in an encounter, they can set their characters on auto-battle and wander off, racking up levels while AFK.
Though some may split hairs over the definition, this is botting. Players are using external means to play the game without being actively involved. It's a dick move.
Reader C.K. brought the issue to our attention, sharing a video of a particularly congested area on the PlayStation 4 version of the game.
The GIF atop the post was taken on the PC version, about a half-hour before this post went live.
Not only is the practice unfair and annoying to those who fight with less exploit-y weapons, it also screws with the game's sense of immersion, what with random clumps of players standing about shooting at nothing.
It's an ongoing issue that needs to be properly addressed, and C.K. has a couple of suggestions for easy fixes.
The staff exploit could be solved in the following ways: Make staff heavy attacks (and melee heavy attacks) work like the bow, in that R2 must be held to wind up, and then released to deliver the attack. Player inactivity is currently monitored by looking for lack of controller input. It should also look for lack of player movement.
Pretty simple, right? Now all we need is for Zenimax Online to take action, which they did not do when I requested a comment on the botting behaviour. Hopefully they were too busy getting this issue taken care of to respond.
For now, as the forums recommend, reporting the offending players is the way to go.