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First Person Shooters (Games) Entertainment Games

Valve Engineers Weed Out 'Lying' TF2 Game Servers 97

Posted by Soulskill
from the truth-in-fragging dept.
billlava writes "Tired of Team Fortress 2 servers that lie in order to attract players, engineers at Valve (creators of the Half Life franchise) have come up with a way to weed out servers that give false information about the number of players online, or custom server options. 'After kicking around some proposals, we came up with a simple system built around the theory that player time on a server is a useful metric for how happy the player is with that server. It's game rules agnostic, and we can measure it on our steam backend entirely from steam client data, so servers can't interfere with it. We already had this data for all the TF2 servers in the world, allowing us to try several different scoring formulas out before settling on this simple one that successfully identified good & bad servers.' Of course, this only works with their games running on Steam."
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Valve Engineers Weed Out 'Lying' TF2 Game Servers

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  • This would annoy me to no end. Now if Valve could just get their L4D servers in line...
    • by AftanGustur (7715)
      What's wrong with the l4d servers ?
      • by Xtense (1075847)

        Based on observation, L4D server searches are country-limited. Living in central europe, I find myself almost always connected to either german or russian servers, which to me isn't in any way good - i get >150ms pings from them, and most of the time they're filled with custom config files that allow such bullshit like three tanks/witches in a row on one map. I would love a server selection option for the lobby leader.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Add to that the unwillingness of many communities to host servers for L4D. Since people join a random server every time communities have no hope of establishing a regular player base and increasing the community size. Nor can they really justify using their resources and money to host these servers when their own community members will most likely end up joining a random server anyway. Also if the community is funded by donations or selling reserved slots or similar, then they have no chance of getting any
          • There is a connection option to join a server that is associated with a group that you are a part of. I have never used it because I dont do clans, but it is there for people who are part of them to join the same servers every time.

          • I find it particularly hard to get a campaign going with my friends. It takes ages to find a server and sometimes gives us servers where our ping is above 100ms. I think this is due to most of the local servers being set up for both versus and campaign, but they default to versus so the lobby doesn't find them.

            I've now taken to finding the IP of the servers manually and saving them on my computer. Now when we want to play, I open console and 'connect ip:port', then call a vote to start a campaign to get it

            • by rwa2 (4391) *

              It's not all that hard...
              Get one guy to create a private lobby, then invite the other friends in there. Once everyone is situated, make the lobby public to fill in any empty slots.

              Also, always select to host a local server rather than using a dedicated public server. Too many weird servers out there that change the game type or simply shut down in the middle of a good game.

              I actually appreciate some of the hacked servers, or admins who act as gamemasters with the sv_cheats bindings. But I'm kinda bored w

          • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Hearing all of this is making me more and more glad I chose to get the Xbox 360 versions of both TF2 and L4D. I did so in order to avoid the hassle of Steam, but apparently the PC versions have other problems.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by gid (5195)

          L4D server searches don't seem country limited to me at all. I play with 3 other friends all in the US and we get connected to German servers all the time, or some other server with a 150 ms ping. A manual server selection feature for the lobby leader would be a big step in the right direction.

          Another big desire for us is some way to merge lobbies for versus mode, so I can create a lobby of 4 people, and then connect us to another lobby of 4 people so we can play some decent players, not just the 4 random

        • by Djehuty3 (1371395)
          1. Start L4D
          2. Options
          3. Keyboard/mouse
          4. Enable developer console
          5. Press the tilde
          6. "openserverbrowser"
          7. Pick one
          8. ?????
          9. Profit!
      • It seems as though with every patch they release the servers get screwed. Horrible ping times if, you can connect at all, lobbies break and achievement usually go sour. My friend and I spent about an hour just trying to get a game going on the 11th, and when we finally got it going we had horribly high pings. Valve makes great games but I'm wondering if they do any serious testing before releasing patches out in the wild.
  • At face value it seems that this is wide open to abuse. All it would take is to have a large number of people connect and instantly disconnect. TF server operators better hope they never piss off 4chan.
    • At face value it seems that this is wide open to abuse. All it would take is to have a large number of people connect and instantly disconnect. TF server operators better hope they never piss off 4chan.

      Not really. This behaviour would be pretty obvious to detect, especially since a server would already have a history and reputation prior to the attack attempt.

      Not to mention that each of these people would need a legitimate CD key. As well as making it harder to mount the attack in the first place, once detected those keys (and thus the Steam accounts) can easily be disregarded (or punished) from then on.

    • Possibly, but I suppose it depends on how it's tallied, hoping that it's not as simple as: Player Stayed 10 Seconds (-1), or Player Stayed 15 Minutes (+1)... but if it worked on every 5 minutes, another point was added, then someone who stays for an hour, it would take 12 people to join and leave in under 5 minutes... which is "easy" if the server has only been running for half a day, but with even 4 dedicated players, say 8 hours a day, that would take 384 spam join/leaves after the first day, not includin

      • Re:Abuse (Score:5, Informative)

        by Norsefire (1494323) * on Saturday March 14, 2009 @05:30AM (#27191159) Journal
        From TFA:

        * New servers start with a score of 0 points
        * Each time a player connects to a server, it loses 15 points
        * For each minute the player stays on the server, it earns 1 point (up to a max of 45 points per player)
        • by discord5 (798235)

          * Each time a player connects to a server, it loses 15 points * For each minute the player stays on the server, it earns 1 point (up to a max of 45 points per player)

          Subverting the rating system using the steam client only:

          1. Connect to server
          2. Immediately disconnect from server
          3. Repeat until bored

          And yes, it's possible to do that on a lot of servers.

          • You dont think that would be easy to detect?

          • by ADRA (37398)

            You really think it won't be capped at -15 per person per day/week/month? Really?

            • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

              by Anonymous Coward

              Example event/db system:

              http://forums.steampowered.com/forums/showthread.php?t=822087

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Hadlock (143607)

      Outside of a couple instances of 4chan-ing it, there's absolutely nothing to gain from doing this. The TF2 community is already highly compartmentalized with only maybe 100 truly active servers and/or communities. The rest are either empty most of the time or empty most of the time and employing these awful tactics described above. This fix just makes it easier for people new to the game to find a non-shit server that's actually populated. Plus they already have a several week baseline that they've been mon

      • by Haeleth (414428)

        there's absolutely nothing to gain from doing this [...] This fix just makes it easier for people new to the game to find a non-shit server that's actually populated

        So, um, is there something to gain from doing this or not? Helping newbies find a decent server sounds like a benefit to me ...

      • That little fact is why after buying TF2, and being impressed with the fantastic graphics, I find myself going back to TFC for fun... The first few times I logged into TF2 servers, I wondered WTF!! nobody here....

    • Personally, you may see a lot of good servers get trounced by this system.

      back in 03, When I ran a CS Friendly Fire server, I had customized adminmod, statsme and hlguard scripts that would detect and punish abuse of the server. (Blatent Team Killing, Anti Cheat detection, ETC) This would result in a lot of 15 minute bans and the like. The server was full to it's 22 man capacity almost constantly for a year and averaged about 10000-20000 connections a month. on top of this, we had a very loyal and one of th

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Sage Gaspar (688563)
        There's not going to be enough kicks and bans versus active users in that situation to be significant. If you attract a consistent playerbase the score will be high. Just by the nature of TF2 I've seen vanishingly few cheaters able to make a noticeable impact on gameplay and you can't really screw up your own team short of just sitting in spawn to deny them a player.

        Anyway I doubt "score" will become favored over ping and player count in terms of players choosing where to get in a quick game of TF2, it's m
        • Sorry to make another post but there's a graph [teamfortress.com] illustrating their server score algorithm applied to the last week of TF2 games across all servers. I'm betting they generated a couple different versions of this with different algorithms until they settled on their current one. The graph confused me a bit initially, it's just a distribution of the server scores compared to the total number of connections on those servers. The point was to demonstrate that on really "bad" servers that sham you there are a high
  • While it is simple, it also has problems. What if I connected to a server and a minute later my PC crashed? Or there was a power outage and I turned off the game so my UPS would last longer? Or I thought I had time to play the game but it turned out I really didn't? Or ...

    • Hopefully one person wouldn't make a difference, in the whole picture of things (with ~20-30 people per active server, in my experiences).

    • Are you saying that such situations are common enough to be statistically relevant? Because, I'm calling bullshit on that.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by _Sprocket_ (42527)

      The other dozen or two players will balance out your erratic behavior. Or, you'll undo the damage you did by reconnecting to the server after whatever knocked you off is handled.

      This isn't about a server getting a high score or tracking points it is owed. This is about providing a tool that can provide an impression of the server's "quality" at a glance.

      • I would estimate that if the same person reconnects to the server withing X minutes of disconnecting either voluntarily or not then it doesnt apply the negatve points for joining. Simple fix.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Enokcc (1500439)

      While it is simple, it also has problems. What if I connected to a server and a minute later my PC crashed? Or there was a power outage and I turned off the game so my UPS would last longer? Or I thought I had time to play the game but it turned out I really didn't? Or ...

      Those kind of effects would spread quite evenly on all the servers.

      Even if some servers would have more restless players on average, isn't that exactly what the system is for, to warn players about a bad playing experience.

    • Actually this isn't a problem.

      IF only you crash once. Then the 25 other people playing in 45 seconds completely undo any damage you might have done.

      If lots of people crash all the time. (We found a server yesterday which crashed everybody's copy of TF2 every time you tried joining a team.) then you deserve to be low ranked.

  • A real annoyance: (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Wilson_6500 (896824) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @03:58AM (#27190889)
    Reserved slots--or, really, the way the server browser handles them.

    I don't actually have a problem with reserved slots themselves. They have no value to me, and I've never been kicked out because someone else who had a reserved slot joined. My problem is that the server browser doesn't understand reserved slots, and shows servers whose "public" slots are full as having free space to join. Steam has a rather good server browser that refreshes quickly and has other nice features, but joining servers only to go through the entire motions of connecting and _then_ being told that I can't play because there isn't actually a slot for me is annoying. It also breaks the functionality that auto-retires full servers, which is a very nice feature.

    Maybe it's a pet peeve of mine. On one other site I go to once in a while, pretty much everybody complained about getting into this kind of server once in a while--one of the ones that reports being full but is actually empty. I haven't once ever had that particular problem. It's a strange situation.
    • Re:A real annoyance: (Score:4, Informative)

      by Ailure (853833) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @04:20AM (#27190969) Homepage
      You can easily hide server slots from the public anyway, so this point is moot. You can have a 24 players server with two reserved slots to show up as 22 player one. Infact it might be useful to have a extra reserved but hidden slot just for admins to be able to intervene on a full server. People with reserved slots who wants to join have to use the console to join, but that's hardly a problem anyway.
      • by Wilson_6500 (896824) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @04:34AM (#27191007)
        Yeah, I realize that. The problem is that I don't run the servers. I join them, and if I ever join a server that's down by one or two people it seems to always be one or two reserved slots.

        I mean, I'm not going to quit playing or anything, but it'd be nice if Valve would realize that people have been using admin plugins to do this kind of stuff since--what? The Quake 2 days? It seems like just the kind of thing they would implement into their otherwise intelligent server browser system. Then again, the reason the plugins exist is because the games don't have features like voting and ranking and stuff that people want. It's really extremely bizarre. For all the other innovations that Valve pushes, they don't have these basic features that most modern FPSes have. And they've shown that they can roll out changes to all their Source-engine games at once.
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by realcheese (470506)

          I don't have a problem with it being off by 1 or 2 but lately I've been joining servers that say 31/32 and when I log on, there are 4 people...

        • For all the other innovations that Valve pushes, they don't have these basic features that most modern FPSes have.

          Valve has taken the approach that they are great at making fun action shooters, and others are great at making various types of plugins and mods, especially for the servers. They created the marketplace for those and over time the better software has more or less won out. There's nothing wrong with this model any more than there is with a model like Bungie's, where everything is strictly con

    • There is a way to configure reserved slots such that they don't appear as open public slots. The http://zendeath.com/ [zendeath.com] server is configured like this. I think a lot of servers don't do this because it requires that you open the console and type "connect ip_address:port". Really isn't an inconvenience, but maybe people are just too stupid to figure it out.

      • If you're important enough to a server to have a reserved slot, I'd hope you'd be smart enough to know the basics of using the console to connect, or could at very least be taught how...

    • It's actually dependent upon the server operator. I help out a gaming community and when we had a TF2 server we used hidden reserved slots. Basically if the server was full there was a hidden slot that you could get to by connecting manually through console. Not only that but the server would actually be full in the server browser, so you could use the auto-join feature for when a slot freed up. I know of one TF2 community which used both hidden and reserved slots, the idea being to generate revenue by gett
    • by ADRA (37398)

      Its not just you. Its stupidly annoying to the point that I simply remember to NOT go to their servers again. I don't even think its a matter of the servers trying to sucker you into paying for reserve slots (though some may be that racket), but simply that the server has no way of telling steam that these are reserve only join slots.

      You can be pretty sure that the -good- reserve slot servers use odd numbered player caps to let us know that that one slot was reserve, but sadly, many servers don't bother wit

      • by Xamataca (921539)
        Solution: favorites.
        Sometimes I go for a full refresh of internet games and pick a new one, If it's good enough for me, I add it to my favorites. Simple.
  • by spazdor (902907) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @04:56AM (#27191049)

    Once again, Valve has managed to find the upside to that god-awful Trusted Computing bullshit.

    Trust.

    • "The Administrator" (Score:1, Informative)

      by troll8901 (1397145) *

      The most obvious difference between

      • Valve improving end-user experience, vs
      • Google improving end-user experience

      would be, we paid for the Valve product, but IMO Google gives us more.

      ---
      Besides, please take a look at these two posts in the same Team Fortress 2 Blog:

      • "Now imagine how profound my disappointment, to be called back again so soon to administer justice to the melon-headed few of you who persist in fraudulence. I'd just sat down with the two things I enjoy most in life — the most recent issue of
      • by Elrond, Duke of URL (2657) <JetpackJohn@gmail.com> on Saturday March 14, 2009 @07:17AM (#27191447) Homepage

        Sounds to me like an Administrator who enjoys his powers a little too much. Not everyone would take kindly to being in the receiving end of these words, even if these words don't apply to him.

        I don't even play TF2, but a simple cursory glance at the blog in question will show in a matter of seconds that "The Administrator" is doing her writing "in character".

        So... is she a grumpy and gruff war monger who, as the post states, was taken away from the latest issue of Punishment Monthly and a carton of cigarettes to deal with cheaters.... or an admin working for Valve who decided to add a bit of levity to the announcement that some cheaters were caught?

        • by EricR86 (1144023)

          a grumpy and gruff war monger who, as the post states, was taken away from the latest issue of Punishment Monthly and a carton of cigarettes to deal with cheaters.... or an admin working for Valve who decided to add a bit of levity to the announcement that some cheaters were caught?

          I play quite a bit of TF2, I don't cheat, and I was still unhappy being on the receiving ends of those words.

          For the "Fail" blog post it was accusing players of 'illegitimately' farming achievements by using an external program. In case anyone was wondering, you need achievements to unlock additional weaponry to use in game. Now this seems fine in principle, but practically it makes no sense. Anyone can start their own server by clicking on the "Create Server" button and farm a ton of those achievements. Fo

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Kral_Blbec (1201285)

            If you really dont cheat, then you arent the target of those words so suck it up and stop being offended by nothing. Noob.

          • I'm ashamed to say that I'm wrong, and I deserved the "0" mod originally assigned to my original post.

            These words that "The Administrator" posted were in character style. I mistook the meaning behind the words and complained about it on Slashdot.

            I'm hanging my head in shame.

      • Sounds to me like an Administrator who enjoys his powers a little too much. Not everyone would take kindly to being in the receiving end of these words, even if these words don't apply to him.

        The game's in-game announcer is a somewhat sadistic woman who is obsessed with failure.

        In other words, these voice clips are written in the game style as the in-game announcer's voice clips.

        • In other words, these blog posts are written in the game style as the in-game announcer's voice clips.

          It's too early in the morning to think.

        • Triva note: The announcer woman and GLaDOS are the same voice actor!

          • Yes, so is the voice of the Overwatch government from HL2!

          • Advanced trivia note: Ellen McLain is the only voice actor to have a part in all five games included with The Orange Box (Overwatch announcer in HL2, HL2:E1, HL2:E2; GLaDOS/turrets in Portal; game announcer in TF2).
  • I haven't noticed this so much for TF2, but for DOD:S it can be a real nuisance. I like to play on servers with around 8-14 players, so that it doesn't feel too crowded. Unfortunately you get some servers advertising 9/22 players, but when you connect there's only 4 people on. If you're lucky. It's very aggravating.

    However, I have a low-tech solution to servers that do this - don't play on them. At all. The Steamfriends.com EU server pulled this a while ago. I don't know if they still do it or not, since

    • by gid (5195)

      One thing I've always wanted on the server browser for TF2, the ability to shitlist servers so they don't show up in my browser list anymore.

    • by Burnhard (1031106)
      It's really quite common on TF2. I've often joined a server when my favourite servers are full, where the number of players in game says something like 28/32, only to find that it's me against jombon00b1923, with nobody else in sight. I've complained more than once on the steam forums and I'm very happy that Valve are now taking this seriously.
  • Wouldn't anyone running a server have access to half a dozen clients? Can't they just automate them to re-connect every 45 min - driving their scores though the roof?

    • That's assuming it forgets you were just on the server. If it assigns each steam id as being able to contribute a max of 45 points per server per week, or per server per day, etc, then that sort of trick wouldn't work.
  • As great as this would be for TF2, this kind of thing has plagued games like Counter-Strike 1.6 for years.. What's so special about TF2 they put in the work to fix it? This problem hinders pretty much all Valve FPS games (CS 1.6, CS:S, DoD, etc). I can refresh the server list for CS 1.6 and get a few thousand servers for the east coast under a certain ping with "Has users playing" check marked, and even the servers that are listed as having no bots and plenty of players are often empty or actually, full of
  • This is AWESOME news! I cannot even begin to describe just now annoying this crap is to deal with! I usually filter servers by map for the map I want to play, with a good ping, not full, not empty, and not password protected. Then I order them by players and join one with a max of around 20 - 24, with an open slot and have fun. On TF2, having 30 players usually results in neither side winning. Anyway, I hate, hate, HATE, ***HATE**** it when I join a server that claims to have 20/24 players, wait about one m
  • Maybe it's because I don't play a lot of games online, but I'm completely lost as to why a server operator would want to do this in the first place.

    What would someone gain by "lying" to Steam about server stats?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by im_thatoneguy (819432)

      Because nobody joins a server with 3 people in it.

      It's really a tough social engineering situation.

      If the server is empty nobody joins. If nobody joins then nobody else joins. If you've never played on the server before you don't know if ayone will be coming in soon so you think the server is abandoned.

      As a result lots of new servers advertise that the server is active and a full of people. The idea is that enough people do join to 'seed' the server and hit critical mass to become self sustaining. The p

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by narcberry (1328009)

        If this is the problem (I think it's more complicated than this one factor), it could be solved another way. A "Quick-play" button, steam takes an empty server and puts the next 24 players into it. Steam could regularly cycle through servers, or just pick empty ones at random.

        Anyhow, I think the root problem is too many people have servers up. It's so easy, valve is basically a victim of their own success. Now they have a bajimmillion(10^13.5) empty servers for players to filter through.

  • http://www.facepunch.com/showthread.php?t=696514 [facepunch.com]
    A similar bug has been used maliciously with Garry's Mod servers. I sure hope Valve get around to fixing that bug... shit's getting out of control with all the kids GMod seems to attract these days...

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