Cheating in online games

From Academic Kids

Cheating is a common problem in multiplayer, online computer games. While there have always been cheat codes and other ways to make single player games easier, most game developers focus on making multiplayer games "fair". With the release of the first popular Internet multiplayer games cheating took on new dimensions. Previously it was rather easy to see if the other players cheated, as most games were played on local networks. The Internet changed that.

Contents

Definition

In online games, cheating is generally regarded as modifying the game experience in some way in order to gain an advantage over the other players. Because almost all games today allow some level of reconfiguration, the amount of reconfiguration which constitutes "cheating" differs between different games and communities. Changing the keyboard layout to make it easier to use is for example generally accepted. But issues such as changing in-game player models and textures, or modifying the brightness or gamma in order to make it easier to see in dark areas are often contended. There are hundreds of ways to make things easier in an unfair way, and it is practically impossible to block all of them without complete control over the computers the games are run on.

Usually included in this concept of cheating is the exploiting of existing bugs or unintended gameplay known in leet as "sploitz". Gamers are divided on whether exploiters are cheaters, though most agree that especially unfair exploits are cheats. Exploiters have argued that it requires no changes to exploit bugs and thus anyone can do it. They also say that it is not obvious that their style of play is unintended. Opponents disagree and might argue that the exploits ruin the game the same way a cheat does and that the only reason it is possible to do them is because they have not been fixed. Duping (commonly a bug) can ruin a synthetic economy, is rarely intended, and therefore is usually called a cheat.

The problem

There are many aspects of cheating in online games which make the creation of a system to stop cheating very difficult.

"Never trust the client" is a common maxim among multiplayer game developers that summarizes the problems client-server games have. It argues that programmers should assume that information sent to the client game will be known by that player, regardless of whether or not the player should know that information. For example, the server might tell a client in an FPS game that a player is hiding behind a door and cannot be seen, but a wallhack cheat can reveal the player. Similarly, data from the client might indicate that the client teleported from one side of the map to another for no reason (possibly a change made to the game's data). The server is responsible for sending only the necessary information and for maintaining the game's continuity. (See "Efficiency versus security" below for the drawbacks.)

The game software

Many cheats in today's games are changes to the game software. While the software (for most games) is distributed in binary-only versions and encrypted to make it harder, reverse engineering is always possible. Also many of the data files for the games can be edited without editing the main program and thereby circumvent protections in the software.

Wallhacks and maphacks often function by modifying the software. Other cheats can analyze or change the game's state in RAM, such as some aimbots and programs that give infinite ammo or health.

The hardware

Turning up the brightness on the monitor or using specific graphic cards with drivers that allows you to look through walls ("wallhack") are examples of using hardware tricks to get an advantage. These are frequently impossible to track with software, but they also have limited effect.

Packet tampering

Some cheats completely circumvent the protection of the software by running in real-time and changing the game data while in transmission from the server to the client. Many aimbots, in first-person shooters use tricks like this. Some newer games encrypt the network data, but this uses up computer resources that could be used to make a faster-running or better game instead.

Efficiency versus security

The more of the game code that is run on the server, the more secure the game will be generally, as the server's operator has control over what happens. However, a game server has limited bandwidth and limited resources, which makes it necessary to distribute code to the clients. It's a tradeoff between security and usability, where going too far either way might break an otherwise great game.

Combating cheating

Game developers and 3rd party software developers have created technologies that attempt to prevent players from cheating. Anti-cheating software is most commonly used in games such as Half-Life and its various mods, Quake and many other common games. A few examples of anti-cheat software are PunkBuster, Cheating-Death (http://www.unitedadmins.com/index.php?p=content&content=cd), and Valve Software's VAC ("Valve Anti-Cheat").

Some companies elect to ban suspected cheaters from their servers. When this is done by blacklisting the game's serial key, the player is effectively prevented from playing online the game he purchased. Blizzard Entertainment and Valve Software are known to have banned an unknown, probably numbering in the thousands, number of players. Interestingly, these companies chose not to restrict these players to "cheating allowed" servers, even though it would be just as easy to implement.

Sometimes the anti-cheating fervor leads to embarrassment, such as when Phil DeLuca, America's Army executive producer, drew parallels between cheating and Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, and threatened FBI and Secret Service involvement. [1] (http://www.eurogamer.net/article.php?article_id=57584)

It might not be financially wise for a company to fight "cheaters" in its games. Multies are frequently banned in free games but they bring in revenue just like normal players in games that require subscription fees. Gamers have speculated that this is the reason why "two boxing" is not a bannable offense in major MMORPGs. Players are often less concerned about these circumstances because it might be debatable if the actions in question are a form of cheat.

See also

External links

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