Thursday, September 25, 2014


    For a long time I have been wanting to explain, give some insight and share my opinion on viewbotting. Considering I have been live streaming on and off for about 7 years on several different websites like Ustream, Justin TV, Twitch and Hitbox I have seen it start, adapt and sadly enough grow very popular over the last few years. In this post my main focus will be on Twitch, because that's where I had my most recent experiences, with Twitch being the world leading live online streaming service at the moment and having been part of their community for over 2 years. Viewbotting is however certainly not limited to Twitch, it happens with other streaming services as well, just to make that very clear. With coding being one of my hobbies and a history with companies involving security in online gambling, I can clearly see how viewbotting is being done. I am however amazed to see how even the biggest streaming service fails to implement security measurements to prevent this from happening. Although this makes me wonder why, lets not forget this is the internet, full of money hungry people making multi millions of dollars go round and plenty want a piece of it. As long as complaints can be kept to an acceptable minimum and the big companies get their fair share this is probably going to be 'tolerated' for a long time. The majority is ignorant and the internet is shady as fuck, who gives a shit, enjoy the ride!

    So what is viewbotting you may ask? Well, apart from still not being properly recognised by spell checks, it is a way to increase viewer count during live streams. The increase of viewers is of course not real, no actual real viewers are being added. To accomplish this a program/code is being used to inject fake viewers on a channel. I first noticed its existence about 5 years ago when Twitch did not even exist yet. About 3 years ago I started to notice a sudden increase when streaming started to become more popular. Viewbotting back in those days was very easy and no actual accounts were needed at all. A bot could easily connect to the streaming servers delivering the content to the viewers. Initially a proxy to hide IP address and thus origin of the source where code was ran from to add fake viewers was not even needed, although preferred of course. Viewbots had free play for a long time, not yet noticed or considered a problem. With streaming in general growing popular and streaming gaming content in particular with the arrival of Twitch, the amount of bots increasing viewer count on channels grew as well. The increase of bots was certainly not limited to live content being streamed though. YouTube had grown very popular for being botted to grow fake audiences to increase views as well for example.

    Over time botting changed from just creating multiple connections to the content servers to increase viewers. With security measurements being implemented to try prevent fake viewers being added, the bots were forced to change. First steps against viewbotting on Twitch were taken about a year ago by limiting the amount of connections per IP address to 10. This was of course needed since it became way too obvious and the amount of bots had grown to an unwanted huge amount. The same code would still work though with the changes made, but it now needed to be altered to achieve an increase of over 10 viewers. So they made changes to the code to create multiple proxies, each adding 10 viewers. This was an easy change and if done smart did not even lead to quite an increase of computer performance needed for the code to run. They could for example just create a loop, knowing once a connection was made with an IP, it would be a valid count for an amount of time. During that 'valid' time disconnecting to start another proxy IP for 10 and so on. When valid time to be counted as a viewer would expire, you would start the loop all over again. Other smart ways worked even better however. Do note that connections made do not even take up a lot of bandwidth since the channel(s) the bot would connect to are actually not watching any content of course. With the amount of bots ever increasing and multiple ways of achieving results using different coding languages created by more and more smart coders, botting became too obvious. Viewbotting had to change even more to become less visible/obvious.

    More advanced bots started showing up now to hide their existence from the viewer and Twitch. Instead of not using actual accounts to connect to content servers, they now try to fool everyone using real accounts. Code was made to automate the creation of accounts using the Twitch API and actually show up in the viewer list of a botted channel. Code already existed to automate creation of email addresses as well as name generators which are now used to achieve this and actually quite simple. Since it was obvious the viewer count did not match the viewer list at all causing channels to be reported too often, this was a smart move. Reports of botting to Twitch for channels with those smart bots is way less, although their appearance is often still obvious for the not so ignorant. Of course this has been going on for so long many stopped reporting them altogether. Account names used usually ended with numbers, for example 'JaneDoe1045' or 'IamFake746'. Also obvious was the fact their profiles were completely empty, no followers, following no one, no profile pictures etcetera. So how could they hide even better? Well, using more advanced (user)name generators as well as developing even more code for ways to hide even better. "The chat is death" is something heard a lot, but that is for a reason, duhhh. You will now notice that smart bots can actually follow channels and even talk with random lines in chat as timed events. These viewbots are so smart nowadays and by slowly increasing the amount of fake viewers being added over time, it's hard to even truly notice them any more and a channel being botted is rapidly growing. Most noticeable at this moment is still the lack of real chat, but I am sure improvements are being made. Not everyone is using a truly smart bot either of course, since they are hard to get a hold on for free. Another reason is that not everyone viewbotting a channel is smart enough to spend time on their acquired/created program to actually fully go unnoticed. Most actual 'real' viewers will not even notice anyway, or just don't give a shit. Those that do care and being strongly against it will leave those channels. Often some of the usual regular viewers have disappeared after finding out viewbotting is being done with the broadcaster knowing about it and being ok with it.

    Reasons for using a viewerbot do differ and I would split them into 3 categories.

  1. To hopefully get a channel removed.
    - Some do this just for fun and hope to get your channel banned from Twitch. They are very annoying and will usually add as many 'fake' viewers as they can. Usually people who got butt-hurt for whatever reason. They are usually not too smart about their ways of doing so and often get caught themselves.
    - Some already accomplished and partnered channels 'might' do this to limit competition. There have been rumours about this happening in the past, I am undecided on this. This is very rare in the first place and I truly doubt this actually still happens to be honest. They would make others do it for them or hide really well for sure. Too much is at risk of course.
  2. Just to see if it actually works.
    Some people are very interested to see if it actually works. They made a program themselves to test or found a program somewhere to try out. The ones developing and testing code for a viewbot will try on any random channel with hardly any viewers. Those who downloaded some program will usually do the same.
  3. To increase/maintain viewers on their own channel or to help someone else's.
    This category is the most persistent category of them all.
    - Non-partnered channels, unless caught they will continue to try increase viewers to hopefully get partnered.
    - Partnered channels may revert to using a bot when their viewer count starts dropping and income decreases, which is rare. On very rare occasion they will use a bot to increase their viewer count even further, thus earning more.
    Let me explain a bit more about the last category I mentioned above. To be more precise, those who actually use a viewbot on either their own channel or using a viewbot on someone else's channel, do so with only one goal in mind, to get that channel partnered. This is the most common use of viewbotting. I am not even going to discuss or share my opinion on the other two categories mentioned.
    Many believe not enough is being done by Twitch to get their channel noticed. I can partially agree with that, Twitch is not doing much at all to get small channels noticed and other streaming services do a way better job at that.
    Others believe they can get away with viewbotting anyway and think this will be a guaranteed way to success or at least partnership. "Those bots are out there, so why not use them when nothing seems to be done about it?". "Many use them, so why should I not do the same?".
    Some believe they already deserve to be partnered with Twitch, considering they used to have a decent viewer count already without viewbotting. They have been turned down and feel disappointed after applying for partnership.
    A combination of any of the above is very likely and comes down to the same. They all start using a viewbot to hopefully become a big enough channel to get partnered with Twitch. However, becoming a popular streamer with a large viewer base, takes a lot of effort and time and even then only few will succeed. There is just no guarantee for success and you certainly can't blame Twitch for that. They will most likely be disappointed eventually when never getting that partnership they so hope for.

    I believe Twitch truly knows well enough which channels are being viewbotted, although it is often hard to prove who is actually behind it. As long as Twitch can't proof the broadcaster is involved in any way, they will not be able to take a channel down. That is why so many channels get away with it in the first place. Often viewbotted channels are not given the transcoding options aka 'quality settings' even though they would normally most likely deserve those. You will also notice how all of a sudden the total view count dropped. Checking the viewer list then shows names having disappeared. Of course those controlling the viewbots will quickly try to fix this by using a new database or set of accounts to be added. Twitch will also deny partnership even though the viewer count can be considered high enough to deserve it. Plenty of streamers have applied and been turned down on grounds of suspected viewbotting. They will of course not inform their viewers usually about the true reasons for having been denied partnership. Now they are sort of forced to continue viewbotting to not lose face of course. A sudden decrease of viewers would be very obvious when the viewbotting is suddenly stopped and their community would not be happy. Slowly decreasing 'fake' viewers through the bot to eventually stop, will get noticed as well. Even if they used to do well without viewbotting, they will find themselves stuck in the situation they created.
    Why do they not show the numerous emails to Twitch support asking them to do something about it? Or show screenshots of their posts in Twitch's help section referencing the issue they have with being viewbotted? There are plenty ways to reduce suspicion, yet many fail to show they care. Those who viewbot their own channel or have someone else doing it for them will usually come up with all kinds of excuses instead. They will hardly ever try hard enough to get rid of the viewbot or show obvious signs of frustration for this happening to them. They will not restart their broadcast to force a viewbot to reconnect. They will say they have proof of the viewer count being that high, referring to the Twitch API or some other site showing channel statistics like SocialBlade or similar. The Twitch API and other sites all show the same numbers including the fake viewers nowadays when a reasonably smart bot is involved. Besides, some of those websites they will refer to do not even show current live statistics. They will instantly time you out or ban you when you mention the viewer count or viewbotting in general instead of kindly asking not to mention it and explaining the situation. They will not show their Task Manager with processes running on their computer. Although this is no proof at all of course, many not involved with viewbotting will try almost everything. Some streamers do know how to contact certain admins on Twitch as well, yet they never show in their channel. Some even blamed Twitch once deals were made with mobile, iOS, Xbox and PlayStation, saying those viewers were counted, but not showing, which was only true for a very short period of time. Just continue to pretend and blame Twitch if you wish, you will however most likely never get partnered, those days are long gone!

    How does it make you feel anyway to viewbot your own channel or have someone else do it for you? Do you really feel proud of yourself when having all those 'fake' viewers in your channel? For me broadcasting has always been about having fun time with my community, no matter how small. I never even wanted to aim for partnership, never been my goal and never will be. Not that there is anything wrong with wanting to become popular, have a big channel, earning some money through partnership and maybe even being able to make a living of it. I just don't understand how someone can actually feel good about themselves when knowing part of your viewers is not even real. Having to keep up an appearance, constantly worrying about getting caught and the continuous fight with some of the viewers that are on to your scheme. Forcing yourself to become big enough to become partnered sounds like a job to me. I have a great feeling of accomplishment and am proud of myself whenever a viewer decides to stick around. Those that enjoy being there with other 'real' viewers and having a good time with me and the others, gives me great pleasure. Means I must be doing something right or am interesting enough to just watch or talk with. I love streaming as a hobby and prefer to keep it that way at all times. I might not even mind growing popular enough to earn some money. However, having a lot of real viewers I care about and wish to interact with would become hard to achieve at some point. I would hate to end up feeling like I have lost touch with them. As if they turn into a side-gig not getting the full attention they deserve. But hey, that's just the way I feel about broadcasting in general and using a platform that involves a public I can interact with.

    There are actually several risks involved if you decide to use a viewbot. You could of course get caught and have your channel banned. Maybe not even that big of a deal when you first start out streaming, since it's easy to change IP and start over with a new channel. Another risk is to get scammed, since most bots being offered require money to be paid. How can you be sure to actually get a working viewbot after paying some random person on the world wide web? Viewbots are big money and easiest way to actually make money is not to even provide a working viewbot or anything at all after payment is completed, leaving you with nothing. Plenty of such scams going around, just baiting you. Some websites can actually even infect you without downloading anything, just paying a visit can be enough. Have fun on your searching quest, curiosity killed many an internet cat. Then of course some will actually provide you with code, coughing up or not, but it is very likely this is not even a working bot at all, but instead some nasty disease. Malware can be anything of course, but you sure don't want your computer to get infected with whatever. Worst case, your computer gets hacked or infected with maybe a key logger or similar to steal sensitive info like passwords and usernames or even bank account info without you even noticing in time if at all. Other times you think you got lucky, you might have paid, but received an actual working viewbot, but haha, same malware can be implemented, have fun! If you search hard enough you might be able to find an actual working bot and if you hit the jackpot, you do not even have to pay for it. The latter being truly rare, but hey, you can now viewbot channels. Are you willing to take all these risks? Is it worth it?

    Twitch is 'hopefully' working on ways to prevent viewbots. They are very aware of the fact numerous viewbots are abusing their service trying to increase viewers and ever growing smarter to hide their ways in doing so. Because those bots became so smart and hardly anything has obviously been done about them, I am seriously doubting Twitch is actually willing to get rid of them completely. Not enough complaints are made about the existence of viewbots to force them into taking action. So far Twitch has basically only limited the amount of connections per IP allowed to be made. Other obvious ways to add security features to further decrease ways to viewbot on Twitch have yet to be implemented, or so it seems.
    Twitch fares very well by them being in the top 5 for US internet traffic, reaching over 25 million people last month world wide (25% is US based). Those statistics (according to Quantcast) are great of course, but how real are they actually? Do those statistics include traffic generated by viewbots? I tend to believe this is the case. Although it's hard to show actual numbers of 'fake' traffic, if included, it does make your company look even better. Even without actually being able to prove it (sadly enough), I did do some decent research into their ways to measure audience traffic for Twitch. The actual numbers Quantcast comes up with do mostly reflect actual view counts as shown on Twitch channels as well. Other companies do use those exact same numbers. There is no other company measuring statistics for Twitch to prove them wrong either. Google analytics comes as close as it gets I guess, which makes me actually wonder why Google balked at their initial $1 billion deal with Twitch due to antitrust concerns. Increased ad revenue is of course big money already, but being a company showing huge numbers leading a certain branch has all kinds of benefits, like making great deals with other companies to expand and grow even further. No matter how fake those numbers may be, as long as you remain credible and nobody truly cares or knows about it, ... you catch my drift?

    I believe a lot can actually be done against viewbotting. Twitch and other services could implement security measurements like forcing people to log in on their website only. They could add Captcha to it and even recognise a new browser, computer or device being used that needs to be verified first before actually being able to watch any channel. Implementing an option to then hide would still allow for remaining invisible to others, which would be similar to not log in at all the way it is now. It is also possible to check if proxies are being used to then deny connection if wished for or needed. None of these ideas are new, yet Twitch has not even tried any of those or possibly even considered them. However plenty other companies dealing with internet traffic have such security measurements in place or other ways to reduce or fully prevent possible hacks or system flaws as I know from experience. Some I will not mention though and of course it will usually be an ongoing fight.
    Instead, Twitch got rid of the possibility to set a password on your channel which would have certainly prevented some viewbots being able to connect to your channel. A new feature has been implemented to host a channel, offering new ways to increase viewers and resulting in viewbotting becoming even less obvious. A channel being hosted is only announced to the broadcaster through chat for example from what I understood. No clear ways are being offered on how to possibly prevent viewbotting yourself as a broadcaster. Twitch is not making the whole issue a public discussion at all. Even in their help section with broadcasters asking for help, no answers are given. Maybe Twitch is directly contacting them in private, but who is to say? Although I can understand it is not always a good idea to openly join the discussion or mention ways to possibly avoid/prevent viewbotting. This has been going on for ages now, people stop to even care or report the issue. Viewbotting has become part of every day live streaming. Who gives a fuck?
    Well, I do care and even though I am no longer streaming on Twitch, viewbotting most likely happens on other sites like Hitbox, Livestream, Ustream and plenty others as well. We should not allow viewbots free play and we should continue to fight them. Keep reporting whenever you suspect a viewbot to be in a channel. Shut down your stream if that makes the bot disconnect even if only temporarily. Demand security measurements to be implemented or anything being done about it. Keep discussing this subject and ask those sites/services involved to publicly join in. Maybe broadcasters should stand up and declare a world wide strike when the issue of viewbotting continues to be neglected. Together we stand strong #viewbot

    Those who set their mind on becoming a big star to make money through partnership need to know one thing. Unless you are one of those rare stars that naturally attract a lot of interest, you will have to work hard, be patient and most likely offer something special besides streaming alone. Creating YouTube videos, having a website/weblog with other interesting content or something else that is special enough for your community to use often helps a lot. A community usually loves being treated well or being part of something that makes them feel special, not limited to just your live content when streaming. It helps to be part of the streaming community by hanging out in other channels and interact with others through chat. Seek to get in touch with other broadcasters more privately, or maybe even kiss some ass. Organise special events, with your viewers, other broadcasters or a fund-raiser for a good cause. Communicate with the people offering the streaming service itself and try to be positive about what they offer. Use social media to its full potential to grow a community outside your channel as well. Make sure to stream regularly using a schedule with set times. Be creative and come up with a good unique plan. All of this will help your channel grow and even if you are not that boy/girl-wonder, you still stand a chance! Some however, will still never make it for whatever reason. You are warned!

    I know some probably hoped I would provide all the info needed to create your own viewbot including example code, because I can. Hey, I am not even going to link full code, example code, mention existing viewbot names, provide links to websites offering them, link YouTube videos about them or whatever else. No, nothing at all, you are on your own for that matter. I am sure as hell not going to help you in any way. I hate those damn bots! If however, you wish to start viewbotting, go ahead. I am most likely not going to stop you, but do know one thing, ... you can be sure to not earn my follow or ever even see me in your channel.

    If you are still reading this and made it all the way here, hurray! I wanted this post to be as informative as possible by sharing my opinion and knowledge on this matter. I have been planning to write this for a long time and finally finished it. With you sticking with my writing all the way through, I accomplished what I hoped for. Judge for yourself, comment if you wish.

"An orgasm is a lot better if you don't have to fake it!"

Enjoy yourselves out there, thnx for reading ;-)

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