Why Is Cheating Almost Impossible to Stop in Video Games?

Abhimannu Das
Published On: 
  • Cheating has been a nuisance in gaming for the longest time and it is becoming increasingly difficult to detect the latest cheats.
  • The unfortunate reality is cheaters can never be stopped for good despite a developers' best efforts.
  • Legal measures and cooperation from the community can go a long way at dealing with cheaters in video games.

According to research by Irdeto, gamers in the APAC region are the most likely to have their gaming experience affected by cheaters. Players in the region are very concerned about the security in online multiplayer games and feel strongly against cheating in multiplayer games. South Korea (88%) and China (85%) are strongly against cheating compared to the global average of 76%. Cheating has always been a major problem in online games, and developers are constantly trying to keep things in check. But why is it so hard to stop?

88% of Gamers Are Affected by Cheating

According to the Global Gaming Survey by Irdeto, only 12% of respondents revealed that they were never affected by cheaters. Over half the respondents revealed that they faced cheaters multiple times when playing online games. Almost half the respondents talked about how cheating makes them less likely to buy any in-game content due to cheaters who can directly affect revenue flow.

According to Eugene Harton from Bohemia Interactive, "Ninety-nine percent of the issues we encounter are usually solved by getting our hands on the cheat, and reverse engineering it to find what vulnerability is used and finding a way to put a sanity check on it, or moving it server-side.” He also claims that most of the time, most players' reports are false flags or nearly impossible to prove that they were. But it should not discourage players from reporting any suspicious plays.

Why is Cheating so Hard to Stop?

We know developers invest millions of dollars into games, yet Valve struggled for years to halt cheating in Team Fortress 2. A simple $20 cheat called LMAOBOX left a part of the playerbase demoralized with Reddit going up in flames every day about cheating in the game. It had aimbot, wallhacks, and a bunch of other gimmicks up its sleeve. In April 2016, someone passed on the source code from the cheaters to Valve, which eventually became a part of Valve’s anti-cheat system. It led to 200 players in the Team Fortress 2 UGC league getting banned. But how come Valve’s anti-cheat system was not able to detect the cheat? And why did it need someone to leak the code to offer players respite against LMAOBOX finally?

Eugen Harton of Bohemia Interactive revealed in an interview in 2016 that some cheats go for up to $500. Perfectaim.io is a popular cheat maker that sells cheats for Apex Legends, Battlefield, Rust, Escape for Tarkov, among other popular titles. Harton revealed that his team suffered death threats, doxing threats, and more. Most of the needed files to implement proper anti-cheat mechanisms are on the players’ PCs, and it is hard for developers to constantly monitor players’ files. Since cheats run in uncontrolled environments, it becomes difficult for developers to keep up with the best cheats constantly.

It becomes a cat and mouse game between cheat makers and a game’s developers. Once a developer catches a cheat, something better comes along, and the ball goes into the developers’ court to find a fix. Most anti-cheat software look for unusual player actions in games or potential third-party apps that may be running in the background. Riot’s Vanguard caught negative attention when Valorant came out due to its invasive anti-cheat. Still, despite it being one of the most advanced tools ever made, the game’s developers have admitted that there are too many cheaters that are ruining the game’s ranked mode.

Why Is Cheating in Esports Less Prevalent?

One reason why cheating is kept in check in esports is the high level of scrutiny that goes into esports. More importantly, there are thousands of players competing in events versus millions of players in some games. ESL’s Marcel Menge, the SVP Play and Platforms at ESL – Turtle Entertainment, is responsible for ESL tournaments and online platforms. He revealed in an interview with Esports Observer that “Compared to traditional sports, where a referee might have a broader view than just the five or so screens of an esports game, there is a higher chance of missing something. But I would say, over the course of a full match, there are enough situations and interactions to see it.”

At esports events, referees are present to ensure there are no rogue connections to the internet. Any peripherals that allow code to be installed are not allowed by the event. Some unfortunate events have crept into esports, but the likelihood of cheaters going undetected at events is very low. There are multiple spectators, and each player’s POV is visible to referees.

For Valorant, the developers revealed how they ensured their massively popular First Strike event was free from controversy. In a recent blog, Riot’s Senior Anti-Cheat Analyst Matt “K3O” Paoletti revealed, “We were able to perform an in-depth review of every participating account in every region, both before and after First Strike. The learning curve was steep. The logistics behind a massive open qualifier tournament for every region was more resource-intensive than expected. To review every player, we needed to know who every player was. Coordinating with every region was not a task Anti-Cheat specializes in, but luckily, we had our heavily experienced friends from the Esports team to assist us. We had to make the precedents and rules almost as we went, deciding what exactly constitutes a disqualification and how we’d handle those.”

Is Cheating Limited to Competitive Games Only?

If things go out of control, it can ruin the player experience and hurt the games financially. Players are less likely to play the games or invest more time in them if it hurts their enjoyment. Thousands of players are banned in Valve games every day, with most of them being in CS:GO, and you can track the number of bans on SteamID. Valorant has had a huge cheater problem, and the developers are trying to bring things under control. Riot Games has partnered with Bungie studios to deal with cheaters in Valorant and Destiny 2.

There is a common misconception that developers sometimes don’t invest too much into anti-cheat technology because it helps get more game sales. Banning accounts means that a cheater is likely to buy another account, right? Wrong. While it is true that a banned player might buy another copy to keep playing. Players leave in droves if cheating becomes a rampant problem. Destiny 2 is a popular online game that features PVE content primarily and boasted of a healthy PVP community of over a million players when it launched on Steam in 2019.

While the game maintains a steady playerbase, the player count in PVP has dropped off from over 1.5 million to around 750K. Trials of Osiris, their competitive endgame PVP mode, has seen player counts of over 800K players and has dropped to under 100K due to various factors, including cheaters. Cheating has been a major problem on PC for the game, and it has been over a year since the game has been on Steam, and it doesn’t even have proper DDOS protection.

Here is a demonstration of how crazy things can get in the game:

Cheaters don’t even spare games like Among Us, a casual game that became massively popular in 2020. The developers were quick to implement Easy Anti-Cheat, a tool used by Apex Legends, Halo, and other popular FPS titles. Fall Guys is another example, and the devs decided to add a funny way to deal with cheaters – a cheater island. Hackers were forced to play against each other, keeping the rest of the playerbase somewhat safe. Apex Legends has implemented something similar in the past. But despite these measures, cheaters are everywhere. Losing customer confidence means that games will suffer revenue loss over time if players keep leaving.

How Cheats Work and How Can We Stop Cheaters?

Fans can get very vocal about cheaters, and sometimes, developers can’t do much to stop them fast enough. In Valve’s case, the only way they could stop the LMAOBOX cheat in Team Fortress 2 was from leaked source code. Anti-cheat programs monitor actions like bullet trajectory, movement, and other in-game elements that show unintended behavior. Anything out of the ordinary can get flagged, so how do wall hackers and aimbotters get away with their antics?

It turns out that server-side code is only as secure as the server. The only way to make a game almost perfectly secure is to have a server-side game constantly being monitored. But even that is not possible as packet injection and manipulation can occur. Most cheats can bypass anti-cheat programs by finding flaws in the system, tricking the anti-cheat program, and making it seem like no shady third-party cheats are running in the background.

Anti-cheat programs can get better, but privacy concerns are raised by the community and for a good reason. If you wanted a more secure gaming experience, would you be willing to give up your data privacy? That would be a no from most PC users concerned about data security. Riot’s Vanguard was bashed for being too invasive, and BattleEye was caught prying through personal files. A BattleEye rep responded to the backlash by the ARK: Survival Evolved community saying that the anti-cheat system needs to be invasive to do its job fully.

Developers can’t have full access to your files due to data protection laws, and server-side games are not ideal. So, what’s the best option? Many developers go after cheat makers legally, but a “cease and desist” letter from lawyers gets the job done. In terms of being actually effective, it does not completely stop cheating. These cheat makers can sell their products to competitors or set up shop under a different name, considering how anonymous the internet is. From private Telegram groups to obscure forums, cheats are available for nearly every online game if you look hard enough.

Players Are Less Likely to Cheat in When There Is A Paywall: Putting games behind a paywall and having good anti-cheat measures can bring down the number of cheaters. While not perfect, it’s not as simple as making another account in a free-to-play game.

Hardware Bans: Games like Valorant hand out hardware bans, meaning if you are caught cheating, your entire hardware gets banned, and all subsequent accounts that log in from your PC will get flagged. While it is not completely foolproof as hardware id spoofing is a thing, it can be more effective than just ban accounts.

Developer and Community Efforts: Updates to anti-cheat programs and actively monitoring the types of cheats can be effective. But this also needs to go hand-in-hand with community efforts. As a player, if you don’t hit the report button and leave the game when you die to a cheater, you are not helping solve the cheater problem. Players should be more active when it comes to reporting players.

You can go out of your and clip gameplay footage of cheaters and submit them to customer support professionals or community managers and expect faster results. Respawn’s Connor “Hideouts” Ford (@RSPN_Hideouts on Twitter) carries a ban hammer to deal with Apex Legends cheaters, and reporting to him if you find cheaters in your matches, you can expect guaranteed results. The same goes for nearly every game with good community support out there.

Legal Methods: South Korea made it illegal for cheat makers to create and distribute cheats, and breaking the law can land you in jail for five years. Law enforcement agents in China have arrested people for making or distributing cheats in PUBG and having a legal framework for the issue can go a long way.

The war against cheating is an ongoing process. While it is unlikely that your next favorite shooter will have absolutely zero cheaters, efforts from developers and the community can go a long way to keep cheaters to a minimum.

RELATED:  Indian Valorant Pro Admits to Cheating

Abhimannu is a part of the content team at AFK Gaming and a lifelong obsessive gamer. He currently covers esports titles like VALORANT, CS: GO, Call of Duty, Fortnite, PUBG and more.