Video game cheating has been around for as long as video games. But the eternal issue has once again hit the headlines – and developers are struggling to cope.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Destiny 2, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds and Valorant have all been under the spotlight recently for cheating, with players reporting matches ruined by aimbots, wallhacks and other prohibited power ups.
Cheating is a prominent issue for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and its free-to-download battle royale Warzone, with Infinity Ward recently announcing it had banned over 70,000 Warzone cheaters alone. And just this week, under pressure from its community, Infinity Ward announced it had stepped up its war on cheaters, saying it had devoted extra resources to combat cheating, and it would force suspected cheaters to play against each other.
"Cheaters not welcomed in Call of Duty: Warzone," Infinity Ward declared in a subsequent blog post. "There's no place for cheating in games. Warzone has zero tolerance for cheaters."
Bungie has also come under fire from its community over cheating – this time in Destiny 2. It responded with a lengthy and unusually transparent post on Bungie.net, where it revealed cheating in Destiny 2 is up roughly 50 per cent since January, "and significantly more in the highest skill echelons".
The reasons for this rise are interesting. Destiny 2 recently released super hardcore PvP mode Trials of Osiris. Here, teams of three are charged with "going flawless" – that is, winning seven matches in a row – in order to obtain the best rewards and unlock the Lighthouse social space. This is virtually impossible for a huge number of players, and so, according to Destiny, "when winning every match is more important than ever, it's no surprise that there are some who are willing to cheat or pay others to cheat for them".
"When your pinnacle achievements are denied by encountering a cheater on a high Trials ticket, or devalued by seeing someone else with ill-gotten goods, that's frustrating," Destiny Engineering Director David Aldridge said. "Those frustrations are happening too often right now, and the vengeance of the Banhammer is often too far behind."
Bungie outlines some of the worst types of cheating it's trying to stop. On PC ("where most cheating occurs, unsurprisingly"), Bungie is fighting infinite ammo, infinite ability energy, infinite respawns, teleports, aimbots, wallhacks, and lag switching. But cheating occurs on console, too. Here, players are suffering distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) attacks in Trials, as well as lag switching.
Bungie, like Infinity Ward, is shifting more people to help fight cheating. It's also changed a key policy: fireteammates of cheaters are no longer innocent. "We now reserve the right to restrict or ban any player who has benefitted from cheating, even if they didn't cheat themselves," Aldridge said.
"This includes scenarios where players group up with or provide account information to a guide or carry service, which then cheats on their behalf. We want you to find new friends out there, but be sure they have your trust before you go. If you LFG your way into a fireteam with a cheater, get out and report them. If you ride them to a flawless, the Banhammer will come for you as well."
Bungie is even considering requiring a much higher player time investment to play Trials. "What if you had to have ~100 hours of play on an account to participate in any Trials match where a ticket with more than four wins was at stake on either side?" Aldridge asked.
One of the reasons Bungie is having a hard time fighting cheaters is because of the way the game itself works. Some of the memory-poking attacks (e.g. infinite ammo, infinite ability energy, infinite respawns, teleports) take advantage of Destiny's hosting model, which Aldridge admitted "comes with some unique challenges in providing PvP security guarantees"
"This is a subtle point we've struggled to convey over the years: we do have servers hosting every match, but in our hosting model, those servers don't have complete authority over the game simulation to prevent all of these sorts of attacks naturally. This makes it more difficult (but not impossible) to mitigate these attacks."
Bungie also admits it may have made a mistake in not having Trials behind the Season Pass paywall, which would have created more friction against free-account-recycling cheaters. It's looking at potentially changing that. "… if we're forced to choose, we will choose for Trials to be a sacred space, even if that means fewer people can play."
This week, the developer behind PUBG issued an open letter to its community about cheating in the battle royale. Executive producer Taeseok Jang admitted the company had "struggled against a relentless onslaught of cheat programs", before outlining countermeasures for hacking and cheat programs.
"The fight against cheat programs is never-ending," Taeseok Jang said, "and something we've been trying very hard to find a solution for". PUBG has been criticised for apparently doing little to fight cheating, but Taeseok Jang insisted work had gone on behind the scenes.
"As these cheat developers excel at adapting to our measures, we chose to keep these efforts secret to increase the time it takes for them to react, as much as possible. The unfortunate side effect of this is that it makes us look like we're doing nothing against a high-priority issue."
To improve matters, PUBG is adding a two-factor authentication system to help prevent account hacking and improve security overall. "Your account will need to have two-factor authentication enabled in order to participate in ranked games to help ensure the fairest environment possible," Taeseok Jang said.
"To date, we've banned millions of accounts for using cheat programs. However, even with bans happening on a massive scale, cheaters still make it through and in some cases remain for much longer than they should. This year, we're focusing on enhanced detection for our automated ban system as well as improving our hardware ban systems."
Valorant, Riot's new competitive multiplayer shooter, is in closed beta, but it's still suffering from cheating. Its controversial anti-cheat system must be installed on a PC before the game will run, but even so, cheating has emerged in this fledgling game.
In an interview with IGN, Riot programmer and anti-cheat lead Paul Chamberlain said cheating in the game started even earlier than he anticipated.
"My estimate before launch was that we'd see our first real cheats within the first two weeks of the beta," Chamberlain said. "It turns out I was optimistic and instead we only had a few days of quiet before we had to be working at full steam ahead."
In response, Riot has offered hackers up to $100,000 to find vulnerabilities in Valorant's anti-cheat, dubbed Vanguard.
With video game sales and playtime up during the coronavirus lockdown, more people are turning to cheats to win online. Call of Duty, Destiny, PUBG and Valorant have hit the headlines for cheating recently, but in truth all online games suffer from cheating to some extent. With the makers of video game cheats determined to stay one step ahead of developers – and with millions to be made in sales – the problem is here to stay.
The question is, will developers be able to cope?