Note: This post is in response to a question that was raised on a podcast that I frequently listen to. On a website called Epic Battleaxe, the question was asked, “How severely should cheaters be dealt with?”
Cheating is something that we have to deal with every day, even in our adult lives. For someone to be a winner, there ultimately has to be someone who loses to them. It’s this exact concept that stirs angry thoughts about used car salesmen or lawyers or CEO’s of multinational companies. One way or another, we know that most of them had to cheat life to get to where they are. There is truth to the statement that last guys finish last, in the business world and in gaming.
The real issues however is, cheating is not Boolean. We may often look at someone as a “cheater” but how far did they take it? In the gaming world, did that cheater use an aim-bot in a skill-based FPS or did they hack to the game to give themselves a 10% boost to their hit points? Are these equally as egregious; who makes that call? If a kid hacked his game so that all enemies show up as Bender robots instead of military soldiers, but it did not effect the collision volumes, is this just as bad? If someone altered their field of view so that he could better see the battlefield, is that cheating because he modified the source content to do it?
Personally I do not cheat in multi-player games. I do like to find exploits in the AI, if only to satisfy the programmer in me, but this is an exploitation of the original game content. On that note, some people would consider exploits as cheating. If someone wrote a script for their programmable keyboard that allowed them to perform menial tasks in an MMO like fishing or crafting, this is seen as cheating, even if those actions are not directly effecting any other players in the game. Should a player be banned for using hardware and software he legally purchased and is using in an unaltered state? Is a gamer cheating if he bought a controller with a turbo button that allowed him to rapidly fire pistols and other weapons that require repeated trigger pulls?
There are so man special cases with cheaters that I feel the solution most publishers take is to simply revoke their license to play for a short period of time. We are starting to see this splintering, where some developers are pushing cheaters onto their own servers. Some developers are taking a stronger stance by completely shutting them out of all products made by that company. In the podcast I mentioned earlier, there was the suggestion of a financial penalty for cheaters beyond their $60 purchase.
I don’t think that publishers will ever completely shut out anyone who is willing to spend money on them. I also don’t imagine publishers filing suits against their customers since it would only take 1 wrongful accusation to make them stop out of fear of bad PR. With thousands of cheaters popping up every day, it would be far too expensive to chase after each cheater and build a winning case against them.
Unfortunately banning and segregation from the legitimate players may be the only solution. In that solution there may be varying degrees of penalty for the severity of the crime. But when you enter the gray zone of “severity of the crime” it may raise concerns that cheaters may still gamble with their chances of receiving a sentence that is better/worse than the crime they’ve committed. In the end, everyone agrees that combating cheaters is a good thing, but the vocal minority (often the cheaters themselves) seem to swing the penalties to be much softer than they should be. No publisher wants to look like the bad guy, especially when they are trying to do the right thing.
My solution is simple; I don’t play online in random servers anymore. I’ve always been someone who plays cooperatively with friends or solo in a story-based campaign. Beyond that, competitive multi-player will always draw in the players who want to look better than they really are. Cheaters can always be found huddled around the games that test your skills in some way, which is often competitive games. If you don’t want to get mugged don’t play in the ghetto, and I’ve got better things to do with my time.