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Timothy Burke

I have a list of "things we need to know" about computer and video games. The question, "Why do people cheat, and who are the cheaters?" is just about the top of the list. What's especially significant here is that the success of cheating depends on the predominance of non-cheaters. When there's nothing left in a game but cheaters, the cheaters also give up in disgust, because there is no one left to be differentiated from. This is one place where game theory might turn out to be a good theory of games.


I had heard of the SOCOM cheats, but never saw them in effect until last night, when a player kept hiding "inside" walls, rendering himself invisble and annoying the rest of us. The good thing about SOCOM is that it has a voting system for booting losers like that. However, not all systems have it.

Xbox Live has the 'reputation' system built in. Within it, you can send feedback about good and bad players, and for a while MS was making a big deal on the Xbox.com site about the good players, and making a list of the nasty players. Reports trickled in that "bad" players (those who received plenty of negative feedback)were losing their accounts for a month, but it's never been proven.

While the reputation system could work, MS's implementation is flawed, and I don't know if there's really any better way to implement it. First off, we don't *see* the effect of negative feedback on a player. Secondly, the system can be exploited, as bad players travel in packs, and the player and his buddies can easily just pound on the "send negative feedback" option about good players, just as easily as they can ride backwards in MotoGP.

I really don't see persistant gamertags and reputation systems working. What I see working is games that are less exploit-ridden (it's not just SOCOM, in MotoGP players could finish a race in 2 seconds) and small gamer communities forming. I'm a member of 2-3 small groups that basically will only play against one another, or people we've invited into the game. It sucks that the system isn't exploit-proof enough so that we could play against anyone, but that's the nature of the beast. Until the code gets tigheter, there will always be cheaters.


"There may be people who want to cheat in online games; let them play against people want to play that way."

The thing about cheaters is that they don't want to play against other cheaters. They want to play against innocent non-cheaters so that they win.

Richard Clifford

I heard some figures from Microsoft about online game playing, namely if only one percent of players cheat it puts off a further ninety percent from participating. This is also why Microsoft is very concerned about people who are attempting to hack their console, as they could cause irreparable harm to XBox Live. Online gaming has the potential to be great fun for players and a lucrative business. While the closed nature of Microsoft's system may be unpalatable, titles like Socom show that it is, unfortunately, necessary.


I really don't have any problem with the closed nature of Xbox Live, but due to sloppy coding, there are still cheats, even on Live.

For example, in Midtown Madness 3 (less than 2 weeks old) the developers left an easter egg in that makes a car go so fast, it looks like it is teleporting. No, it's not lag, it's an actual cheat that is documented. You'll know it right away when you're at the starting gate of an online race, and one or more guys just blasts through the gate before "Go" is signaled. You'll never catch him, and in some of the online gameplay modes, having a cheater in the game will cause *everyone* in the game to have the cheat effect, which has the side effect of making your car completely uncontrollable. It's happening pretty frequently, which means you'll have to play only in closed games with your Live buddies if you want to avoid seeing the effect of the cheat.

I guess it harkens back to my earlier point...social engineering against cheating isn't working on Live because MS is not following up on feedback, and technical engineering is really the only vague hope we have of stopping it (punkbuster anyone?)

I will say that most of the cheaters I've played against seem to be obviously very young. Most of the "grown ups" that I've encountered are in the game to show off their skills at a game, not cheat their way throug it.


QuietMob ....
I have seen the effect you're talking about, where a car goes blasting out of the gate before 'GO' ... I don't think that's an easter egg. Well-documented? I've never even heard about that being considered a 'cheat', since the host always just restarts the race. Got some links or anything? A search on google for an online MM3 cheat turns up nothing...

Timothy Burke

What's especially complicated is that every "social hack" that someone comes up with for defeating cheaters turns out to reveal something important about the nature of game communities. For example, many games enable the possibility of playing in closed "friends-only" games, but the problem with that turns out to be that one of the great selling points of online gaming is that there are always people out there willing to play when you feel like playing. When you have to coordinate a gaming session with friends, it suddenly becomes less an exercise of spontaneous personal leisure like turning on the TV and more like a complex social occasion.

So the non-cheaters need the people who often turn out to be cheaters--because they're online and available. And the cheaters need the non-cheaters. But their mutual need is also destructive: the cheaters, unless they're very subtle, drive the non-cheaters away because the non-cheaters never have a satisfying gaming experience.


IGN has posted the cheat/easter eggs, as has gamefaq's. To keep it short so we don't go off topic:

In Washington, go to the Lincoln Memorial. It should be near the reflecting pool. Drive up and go inside, and drive to where you can face the statue using left or right on the thumb stick. Wait around 20 seconds, and the screen will look scratchy, and everything will be at least 3 times faster.


Keep in mind that the Xbox Live service is very unfriendly to developers. Developers want nothing to do with a service that you have no control over, and moreover, that you have to pay to use.

PS2 online ability is there, and it's free to tap...but if you want to develop for Xbox Live you have to pay Microsoft.

No thanks...


I've still yet to dip my toe in the world of online console goodness, but I do have some experience with PC online gaming.

Look at Counter-Strike - this is a game that is plagued with cheaters. I was at a LAN party a few months ago and a fist-fight nearly broke out because a group of "script-kiddies" were cheating - they were asked to leave or play fair - happily they stopped cheating and everyone had a good time, all in all. But it raises the question: just how did they think they were going to get away with cheating at a small 60 person LAN party? The answer, unfortunately, is that they were probably just too young (and stupid!) to really be thinking these things through. And it's these same types of youngsters that ruin online gaming.

Nonetheless, a quick trip over to Gamespy tells us that Half Life currently has over 100,000 people playing, with BF1942 coming in second with under 10,000. Obviously the cheating isn't stopping the masses.


Make sure you read the EULA for Punkbuster. Unless they put some restrictions on the outrageous privacy invasions, I will NEVER allow such outrageous software to be anywhere near my computer. Please note the the EULA allows them to basically scan ANYthing they want, ANY time they want, and will change/upgrade their software and we will NOT even know they did it. The EULA DOES NOT limit the software to eliminating game cheats, rather, it gives them access to "publish" anything on my computer at their leisure. Either the writer of their EULA is a moron, or they have dishonest intent in mind. READ THE EULA!! Don't just trust me, and more importantly DEFINATELY DON'T JUST TRUST THEM!!!

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