Recently, the creators of Call of Duty: Warzone, PUBG, and Destiny 2 have announced significant efforts to combat cheating. Even though Valorant, the most popular game on Twitch, hasn’t even launched yet, cheating is already a problem that requires attention.
The practice of cheating in PC games is not new. Since the beginning of PC gaming, there have been game hacks and cheating programs. Aimbots automatically latch onto the heads of adversaries so that cheats can fire and end combat immediately. Wallhacks make every player on a map visible, giving cheaters a significant edge in anticipating your moves when you approach a corner or press a point. Even in peer-to-peer games, lag swapping makes cheaters exceedingly tough to target and allows them to stutter about a map.
The most prevalent types of cheating in online shooters are aimbots and wallhacks, which provide novice players or those with lesser skill levels a significant edge over other players. The more blatant exploits are a player flying across a game at an incredible pace or firing a gun quicker than everyone else. Some, like wallhacks, are much less visible and frequently sneak through game security checks unnoticed for weeks or even months.
Developers and communities that produce and market game mods and cheats engage in a perpetual game of cat and mouse. Cheaters frequently buy tools that behave like malware, hacking and inserting customized code into a contest to alter how it functions. In recent years, these tools have become more advanced, with entire underground forums and communities dedicated to guaranteeing aimbots and wallhacks remaining undiscovered in exchange for monthly subscription fees. Some of these cheat suppliers may be earning millions of dollars annually, according to a PC Gamer study from back in 2014, and some cheat developers now assert that they sell specialized tools for hundreds of dollars each month.
Recently, a pandemic that has assisted Steam in breaking its all-time concurrent user record on many occasions has increased the cat and mouse game. Call of Duty: Warzone and Valorant, along with many other battle royale games, have responded to the perfect storm of more players looking to play games and uncover cheats. Developers are currently searching for increasingly novel and divisive ways to stop people from cheating.
Infinity Ward is pitting alleged Call of Duty: Warzone cheaters against one another in a computerized competition to see whose aimbots and wallhacks are more advanced. There have already been over 70,000 cheats expelled, and Infinity Ward claims to have “zero tolerance for cheaters.” The developer of Apex Legends, Respawn Entertainment, has also recently dealt with cheaters and hackers. Hackers have discovered a way to get around hardware ID prohibitions from the Easy Anti-Cheat program that Apex Legends uses, which banned more than 350,000 cheaters a year ago.
Similar to how PUBG has spent months fighting cheaters. Taeseok Jang, the executive producer of PUBG PC, adds, “Last year, we spent time working on various techniques to thwart cheat tools. Most of these efforts centered on obstructing cheat program developers to make it harder for them to produce these extraordinarily profitable exploits. The coding for PUBG is now being improved to guard against manipulation, although the company acknowledges that cheat makers “excel at adapting to our efforts.” PUBG uses BattlEye, a self-described “anti-cheat gold standard” that hasn’t been effective in thwarting cheaters.
Competitive games in other titles, like Overwatch and Destiny 2, are also rife with cheats. The game’s creator, Bungie, acknowledged in a blog post last month that cheating in Destiny 2 has increased by about 50% since January. Since Destiny 2 became free to play about six months ago, cheaters have become a major problem on PC, and Bungie just revived its competitive Trials of Osiris game. Similar to other games with cheater issues, there is rising community resentment over Destiny 2’s cheater issue, and devs are hesitant to act. I spend too much time playing Destiny 2, and I never fail to catch someone cheating. Recently, a cheater in Destiny 2 was discovered employing wallhacks live on a stream and was immediately banned.
Around six months ago, Blizzard began identifying the Xion and Pentagon aimbot tools for Overwatch. In January, the company promised “big things in the next two updates going in to address anti-cheat.” Some community members have even taken on the role of virtual sheriffs to oversee Overwatch. To shut down cheating networks, the “Overwatch Police Department” infiltrates them and finds the most recent hacks. For those involved, it is a pastime and a component of the continuous fight against cheating.
Because many of these games are free to play, game makers must also consider how easy it is for cheaters to open new accounts after being banned. The well-known battle royale games, made to make it quick and simple to hop right into a game with a new account, are becoming more challenging.
Even PC games that have survived almost ten years aren’t safe from a hacker attention tidal wave. Since Counter-Strike: Global Offensive became a free-to-play title more than a year ago, Valve has also had to deal with a significant rise in cheaters in the game. Like many other companies, Valve has made significant investments in anti-cheat initiatives. It uses its automated Valve Anti-Cheat (VAC) system to find cheats that have been installed on computers. To combat CS: GO cheating, Valve has also developed alternative strategies, such as a system where veteran players might act as online judges who would examine cheaters and control the community.
According to John McDonald, senior software developer at Valve, “we eventually recognized that cheating itself was a goal for certain users, and they were going to return no matter how many of their accounts we banned.” “Starting in 2019, CS: GO switched to using Steam Trust, which makes even better use of deep learning and all of the data on Steam to identify the likelihood that an account was going to cheat, even before that account interacts with other players for the first time, regardless of whether those other players are free-to-play or premium users. We’ve already launched Steam Trust with a few partners, and later this year, we want to roll it out broadly to all Steam partners.