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Video game cheating: an epidemic

Posted by Jay Cox on 2nd November 2021

Whether it’s your Christmas game of Monopoly or playing football on the world stage, most of us would agree that cheating is not a welcome addition to any game. It’s a sure-fire way to p*** people off and ensure that any trust in you vanishes.

We’ve seen many examples of cheating scandals in top-tier sport. Take seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong for example, he managed to pull off the “most sophisticated doping programme in the history of sport”. This obviously looks terrible on him. But there was also huge reputational damage for the sport, with many questioning how did they let this happen?

Well, the gaming industry is suffering the same problem. As the gaming landscape evolves and games become increasingly sophisticated, so do the cheats. And like sports organisations, games companies can suffer from serious reputational damage if they don’t deal with those exploiting the game.

Call of Duty Warzone is an example of a game that’s come under fire recently — with many saying it’s been riddled with cheaters for far too long. For those who don’t know, Warzone is a free-to-play ‘Battle Royale’. Think of the Hunger Games – essentially 150 players drop onto an island and the winner is the last one standing. And people are going the extra mile to make sure it’s them.

There are so many ways people are cheating. From running software that automatically aims at enemies (aimbots), to turning dirt bikes into heat seeking missiles. It’s obviously infuriating running into a cheater as a casual gamer, not to mention in tournaments where there’s big money on the line.

The increasing number of cheaters obviously hasn’t gone down well with Warzone fans. Many players, including high profile streamers, have decided to give up on the game. And there’s a lot of people out there criticising how the developers have handled the situation. I’m not sure players would be as patient as they have been if Call of Duty wasn’t such a massive franchise.

Until now, there’s been limited acknowledgement of the problem – with the sporadic correspondence being pretty vague. What exactly is a zero tolerance to cheating? There is a time and a place for keeping quiet about an issue – but I’m not sure this was it. When there’s been so much negative conversation, occasionally popping up to announce fifty thousand accounts have been banned simply won’t do. That’s a drop in the ocean, and almost undermines the issue.

So, there’s a lesson to learn here for the gaming industry on reputation management. Sadly, there’s no fool-proof solution to video game cheaters – most players will be understanding of this. But they want to know that the developers of their favourite games are doing everything in their power to limit it.

How can players be sure this is happening?

First there needs to be clear, open communication. Game developers should start by acknowledging the problem. While I understand brands may be reluctant to admit an issue with their own game, it’s better coming from them than allowing speculation from players on social media. At least they get to somewhat own the conversation and demonstrate that they’re siding with the legitimate community.

Once the problem is acknowledged, the game’s community needs to know the plan of action – not just that there is a plan. Players want to know what developers are doing.

They also want to know when. I know there’s always the fear of giving cheaters a heads-up but keeping players completely in the dark gives them less incentive to stick around.

There’s a lot to lose if games don’t properly address the cheating issues they’re facing. Numerous games have already experienced a drop in players. This obviously means less revenue for developers, which is especially damaging for the free-to-play model.

And when it comes to getting promotion from streamers, nobody wants to watch players who constantly die at the hands of cheaters.

Jay Cox