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The Million-Dollar Business of Video Game Cheating 102

An anonymous reader writes "If you play games online against other people, chances are you've come up against somebody who's obviously cheating. Wall hacks, aimbots, map hacks, item dupes — you name it, and there will always be a small (but annoying) segment of the gaming population who does it. Many of these cheating methods are bought and sold online, and PCGamer has done some investigative reporting to show us rule-abiding types how it all works. A single cheat-selling website manages to pull in $300,000 a year, and it's one of many. The people running the site aren't worried about their business drying up, either — game developers quickly catch 'rage cheaters,' and players cheating to be seen, but they have a much harder time detecting the 'closet cheaters' who hide it well. Countermeasures like PunkBuster and VAC are sidestepped quickly and easily."
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The Million-Dollar Business of Video Game Cheating

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  • 300 Large? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by CanHasDIY ( 1672858 ) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @05:19PM (#46884145) Homepage Journal

    $300,000/yr posting game hacks?

    Damn, I'm in the wrong business.

    • RE: 300 Large? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      $300,000/yr for being a middleman between those who find game hacks and those who want them. If you're not a middleman you're in the wrong business. Nothing to do with games.

      • If you're not a middleman you're in the wrong business.

        Until the cost-cutting comes...

      • It wont be long before game devs code cheats into the builds themselves.
        Once done, enables a new revenue stream:
        - "Unlock level 2" = £2.99
        - "More game time" = £0.99
        - "Overpowered Armor 2.0" = £5.99

        I can really see this catching on.....

  • NASA bot in FFXI (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sandytaru ( 1158959 ) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @05:25PM (#46884203) Journal
    It was the players who nicknamed it that, not the provider. Whoever it was sold an entire external server with a packet router on it that gave an entire linkshell (guild) of people the extra millisecond advantage needed to claim monsters first. The company sold the system for $3000 a pop, and only sold one per game server to ensure that the group using it would have no competition.

    The reign of terror lasted about six months before SE finally figured out who was selling the NASA bot system and sent a pointed cease and desist letter. The programmer and designer of the system complied and all the servers were taken offline. Many of the users were ultimately banned.

    To this day I cannot believe people would pool together three grand just to get more monsters in a video game.
    • To this day I cannot believe people would pool together three grand just to get more monsters in a video game.

      Really, you don't? Let me introduce you to a new way for bored people to spend shitloads of money: in-game purchases. I'm pretty sure people spend much more than a few thousand on stuff.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      To this day I cannot believe people would pool together three grand just to get more monsters in a video game.

      Microtransactions cut both ways.

      To this day, I cannot believe people would buy hats for TF2 characters.
      To this day, I cannot believe people would buy random shit in Farmville.
      To this day, I cannot believe people would buy $item in $game.

      I don't cheat because cheating costs extra money and detracts from the fun of the game.
      I don't buy extra, useless crap in-game because buying extra, useless crap in-

      • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @06:20PM (#46884693) Journal

        To this day, I cannot believe people would buy hats for TF2 characters.

        That's because you don't realize just how fabulous those hats look on my heavy.

      • I don't cheat because, ultimately, you can only lose.

        If you win, you won because you cheated. Not because you're better, not because you're faster, not because you in any way trumped the other player. The cheat won. Not you.
        If you lose despite cheating, you're the loser of the losers. Not only did you lose, but you had an advantage over the other one and he STILL whooped your ass.

        • by drkim ( 1559875 )

          ...The cheat won. Not you.

          Thank you for expressing that... something that was nagging me as I read the article and these comments.

          I understand why people cheat in Vegas: they might walk away with real money.

          I understand why athletes take steroids: million dollar contracts, fan adoration, groupies.

          But, the point of online gaming is pure competition. It's anonymous, you don't even get the adoration of strangers. (and you're losing money, to boot!)

          Cheating online just seems like bringing a pistol to a 1-on-1 basketball game, gunning do

          • But, the point of online gaming is pure competition. It's anonymous, you don't even get the adoration of strangers. (and you're losing money, to boot!)

            Cheating online just seems like bringing a pistol to a 1-on-1 basketball game, gunning down your opponent, shooting the ball through the hoop a couple of times; and then telling yourself what a great basketball player you are.

            It's not about winning. It's an inferiority complex. It's about dominating other players. It doesn't matter to the cheaters what methods they use, they want to have the feeling of that power over others.

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      People are generally stupid, and in particular no-skill people often believe that faking it by cheating elevates them somehow above the competition, while all it does is to ensure they never develop any real skills. Quite a few no-skill people also something similar to "advance" their careers in management positions. There is a reason the economy is so bad at the moment: We have allowed the cheater-scum to take it over.

    • To this day I cannot believe people would pool together three grand just to get more monsters in a video game.

      Haha, in EVE Online its pretty common to see people spend couple of grand on one ship, just to have it permanently destroyed the next day.

    • Three grand is peanuts. How about spending $100,000 []?

  • by UnknownSoldier ( 67820 ) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @05:33PM (#46884271)

    I run a 16 player (coop) L4D1 server, a 32 player TF2 server, and a 32 player Insurgency server.

    I *really* wished Valve would provide better out-of-the-box tools to admins. Plugins like "TooLateTooBan" to ban disconnected players shouldn't even be needed in the first place -- they should be built into all Source games.

    For example, why doesn't the server automatically log Steam Id, IP, and Handle? Why the hell do I have to write a SourceMod plugin to do this? And then I can't even use this on newer Source games like Insurgency because SourceMod doesn't work (yet).

    When a community on a server has more then a few admins we can self-police. But we can't do this if the admin tools are lacking, broken, or "unsupported" !

    • by Joe_Dragon ( 2206452 ) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @05:38PM (#46884315)

      As people can easy bypass it by doing something as easy as rebooting the modem.

      Also it can flag the wrong person and it can get tripped by user behind NAT / proxies

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        A modem reboot won't reset SteamID.
        • A modem reboot won't reset SteamID.

          Ipconfig /flushdns ?

          • A modem reboot won't reset SteamID.

            Ipconfig /flushdns ?

            Nope, that won't change your SteamId either. The only thing that will is signing up for a new steam account and buy the game again under that.

            What you can do though it to log the MAC address of the card, IP, SteamID and cross reference all of them across all steam games. That way if someone gets caught cheating then tries to set up a new steam account without changing their MAC address then the ban comes with them.

            You should also make that information available to users so every player can lookup any other

      • That is why we ban by Steam Id which is a) unique, and b) persistent, since it is by Steam account.
        i.e. STEAM_0:#:######

        We also use this utility []

    • Wait... people still run Insurgency servers?

      Well, guess I know what I'm reinstalling tonight!

      • The HL2 mod is now a stand alone 2014 game.

        * []

        • Definitely going to check that one out, I remember playing it when the crew first developed it, and I thought it was probably the best "war-sim" FPS out there at the time.

          Side note regarding Steam - I'm really digging how they've embraced the modder community by folding them in as full (for lack of a better term) games - Just Cause 2 MP being another of my favorite examples.

          • Valve has always understood the long tail. Ubisoft/EA is the complete opposite of Valve -- smegging clueless about what customers want.

            Ubisoft: We'll sell you same shit year after year. Map editor? Mods? 4+ coop support? Begone because "obviously" _everyone_ pirates our game; we have complete and utter contempt for our PC players even though they helped build our company before we could do shitty PC ports!

            Valve: Here are yearly dirt-cheap sales so you can play with your friends. You can run your own serv

  • Criminal justice systems, perhaps understandably, aren't preoccupied with people cheating in online games. “Especially when it’s international,” Gibson said. “Then you’re talking about the FBI and Interpol. If someone stole $10 million in diamonds, call them. If someone is hacking your game, they don’t care.”

    Really? Isn't FBI bound to pursue possible CFAA violations? I mean, cops already used it for a number of other idiotic things already, haven't they?

    • by mysidia ( 191772 )

      Really? Isn't FBI bound to pursue possible CFAA violations?

      As soon as you can show $10,000 in damages from one instance of cheating, perhaps.

      • by PIBM ( 588930 )

        Possible lost sales from this and future game because people are cheating and those noticing it will make bad publicity out of it and prevent sales ? A single instance with 63 other people seing it can be worth quite a lot I expect :)

        • by MonkeyBoy ( 4760 )

          It can, but it'll only happen once the media companies get serious about computers. Right now they're content to let their software divisions bring in profits without any need to legislate laws to protect their antiquated, broken business models.

          Once they realize their software divisions are doing poorly due to, well, because they're the ones running the companies, they'll start prodding their lobbyists with sharp sticks to "protect" their software divisions too.

      • by Kaenneth ( 82978 )

        Online cheating is to buying/participating in DDoS attacks as torturing animals is to serial killing.

        Best to stop it early.

  • by Bob_Who ( 926234 ) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @07:14PM (#46885197) Homepage Journal
    MSN Rated Backgammon doesn't even charge extra for cheats. Anyone who can figure out the bugs in their poorly written and administered code can employ the well know "Stalled Time Out Exploit". In this case, a "staller" who refuses to complete their turn can make the game "time out" on their legitimate opponent. This awards them the rating points and takes them away from the victim. I have been documenting and reporting every instance of this cheat every time it occurs to me for two years. But its been happening since 2003. At this point, I have a folder full of screen captures and one hundred unanswered letters to the "Zone Master" and it is all I'll show for this effort. I feel like I'm in jail with Tim Robbins in 'Shawshank Redemption' writing to the department of corrections for a library fund.... Its always AMAZING to me when an institution remains totally, willfully IGNORANT of a widespread problem. What is even MORE egregious is MSN's complete DENIAL that the problem even exists - so that when you pursue answers to why you keep experiencing this, there is NO MENTION in any of there FAQ or help forums. At one point I was so pissed off I took the issue up in a Microsoft Dev Forum (which pissed them off) and finally an admin admitted to be that Microsoft had in all likelihood purchased the application from a third party vendor and that they did not have the ability to repair the code. These bugs were not a problem at first, until they were discovered and exploited, and as Microsoft has proven to the world, a defect exists only after it does damage to the customer, and only then if it becomes widely recognized. Screw you MSN. I gonna play opera in the jail yard and expose the warden as a crook. Now if I could just get a pile of cash burieded by an oak tree...
    • Either this is one superbly-crafted joke, or there is actually someone playing backgammon on Microsoft's network. Hard to tell. A cautious kudos to you either way.
  • by number17 ( 952777 ) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @10:01PM (#46886103)
    How many "hacks" are created by the devs of the game and sold out the back door?
  • Well, the problem is the same as in securing your hardware: Physical access = Game Over.

    You've got folks running software on their hardware, they're going to be able to do whatever they want with that. I can see the ethics behind punishing people who cheat against other non consenting folk, but this statement bugs me:

    I told Gibson that I found [repetitive cheating] behavior mind-boggling. He isn’t confused by it. He’s just angry. “Give me five minutes alone with a hacker or a hack writer,” he laughed. “That’s what I think about that mindset.”

    If it wasn't for hacking and cheating in games I wouldn't have taught myself how to program as a child. In fact, the first thing I did when I got any new game was save the game, do some action, save it again and do a hex-diff to scan for the change, and edit the byte values to give myself more ammo or items or money, etc. I'd still take pride in beating the games without cheats, and in competitive servers I wouldn't cheat, but amongst other hacker friends, or on my own servers I see nothing wrong with cracking games. I've added new game modes, weapons, and levels to games via patching the EXE and data files.

    Lots of folks bought Doom when they already had Duke3D and Quake just to play with new weapons I added to the game: Flame Thrower: Replace rocket launcher projectile with imp fire ball frames, limit its range by making it disappear after a duration [use the frame tables], increase ammo counts, reduce the damage and reload for VERY rapid fire, replace the projectile's death frame with Archvile flame attack, FIX the damn Archvile flame animation sequence so it animates smoothly. The sound effects preempted itself, so rapid fire would make a great whooshing sound as big beautiful gouts of fire shot out and went crackling up the walls. It was beautiful and all done with just a hex editor using in-game graphics, and I couldn't for the life of me imagine why the game makers didn't have it in the game already... High Explosive Ammo: Set the bullet puff / bleed frame to be the rocket launcher explosion, great fun in co-op w/ specially designed insane difficulty levels. Then there was the Tactical Force Gun: Plasma rifle bolts w/ no damage, high HP, partial invisibility, and high mass, but slow speed. You could make a time-limited wall of force by strafing. You could maintain a barricade, trap folks against walls or via encircle them, great for escape. BFG mines: Zero speed BGF blasts, without the bright bit set - they look small but have a big radius for hit-detection, and just twinkle as a little dot until someone walks into the detection range and they explode -- When these mines go off, invisible kill rays shoot from the "owning" player's current location even elsewhere in the map, but aimed in the original direction the blast was fired at (because that's how the BFG code worked, yep, the biggest and "best" weapon is/was fucking buggy as all hell, ruined would be a better word for it, come the fuck on Carmack, do you even algebra? []). So, I'd do a binary diff and produce a binary patch that worked against a certain executable version to avoid distributing modded EXEs themselves so as not to break copyright. Soon DEHACKED came out, and even more folks were able to mod the EXEs. Thus when Doom2 just gave us one more shotgun barrel, everyone was fucking pissed! The hackers had shown off what the engine was capable of, so the game felt like a half-assed attempt to monetize the same game twice.

    My most successful hack was when I finally managed to fix the BFG in Doom2.exe by having the rays shoot out from the blast instead of the player and gave the ray direction the reflection vector of the surface it struck or reversed it if it was a player. This required reverse engineering the fixed point math format, and I had to find some unused area for my machine code to be inserted -- which was easy because Carmack

    • Very well written entry on the topic. I agree on almost every single point you have made, esp. the "control fuckery" part. From my experience modern games are even less effective at keeping cheaters away than games made 10 years agoe. Tools like PunkBuster allowed you to vote out players even without the presence of an admin, perfect for servers without constant monitoring. The weird thing is that when I have asked more recent players about these features, it scares them; "I do not want to vote anyone out o
  • and it's very hard. We had good success not in stopping a commercial cheat system directly, but identifying the cheaters correctly. Our game was small enough that by making the cheat developer work too much they eventually decided it wasn't worth the money they spent on development. Most big online game companies don't care enough to even bother doing anything, other than maybe buying some commercial product that's easily bypassed. They make enough money up front that pissing off some customers isn't import
  • I have a solution, at least in part. Have a circle of trust so that:
    1. You can only play if you know people in the service (or at least have a few very notable seed individuals which dev's trust)
    2. If an individual is reported (and verified) as cheating, have a non-trivial penalty on the individual(s) who are in said friend group
    3. If the upstream peer continues to be penalized for their peer's cheating, they can choose to drop their association essentially stopping the other guy from playing (unless they h

  • ... online DRM'd games lead to this naturally. Game devs/pubs brought this on themselves by taking servers out of the control of players hands because of greed. Many people get hacks to get around paying for anything in online DRM'd games. Who'd of thought it, cheats being cheated by the original cheats (game pubs/devs).

  • ie: CoD MW2, It's not easy, then you toss in recoil of the weapon and it just becomes a war of words, very hard to prove. We had two people who's function was to judge weapon recoil and only they could ban or bless the player.

    For me it was also important to recognize a good player, as my son was banned from just about every server he played on, he's just freaking good. This is an old clip I made proving an accused cheater was really just a good player. []

    But just goes to show

  • IDKFA was more than a phrase, it's how I started my games. [] is my source of faq's and other unknown tricks of a game.

    My son brought me into CoD, he's good, and cheat free. I not only set an example by following his lead but I see no sense in cheating in these types of games and honestly I'm one that would benefit from doing so. I'm not a good shooter, if in an engagement I'll almost always lose be in on foot, armor, or aircraft. (were talking CoD or BF3).

    I have a lot of BF3 friends a

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