February 12, 2012

On Cheating in MMOs

PvP is a pretty straight forward affair. People that have been at it for a long time and experienced know the difference between good PvP and bad PvP. While opinions may vary, it can be easily placed that a game that doesn’t allow for PvP to be one or two shot game fests but doesn’t turn into forever lasting slugfests tend to be the most fun, which also end up utilizing more skills and abilities on the part of the player. However, this is also something to be weighed in on the MMO market to, where a game that only has a few useful builds or powers in PvP, then one can argue the game utterly failed at balance.

However, there is a darker side to PvP, one that is generally occupied by the less skilled who would rather do anything they can to win instead of actually doing the basic, most fundamental thing of gameplay; learning to actually play. These are the people that generally argue in favor of easy kill almost unavoidable mechanics or play whatever the cheapest load out combo is for near insta-gibbing of anyone regardless of build or spec. These are often the people you see using the words Learn2play as their battle cry most of all on the forums in defense of an obviously overpowered spec or ability.

Unfortunately, it’s also this crowd that tends to also produce the highest level of the worst type of players to encounter in a game experience like this; commonly called a hacker, but universally known as a cheater. Generally this is a catch all term for someone who will abuse bugs, exploits or third party programs to gain whatever unfair advantage they can in an environment. Their only goal is to win and they could care less about the actual rules or skill required or the actual challenge involved. They only care about the win in the end, not about actually proving they can play well.

Now the first thing I want to make clear. Not everyone that is better than you is a cheater. Some people just either know how to use their skills well, know how to place themselves better, or just many other factors. Even luck can boil down to who wins or doesn’t. So in the end if you get outplayed, then it might just be that, you got outplayed. If you are new, it might be confusing at first if you don’t understand how the various classes work or something, but in the end, you have to come to understand, there is always going to be someone better than you in the end. But that doesn’t mean that everyone who beats you isn’t doing it legitimately.

Now there are certain things one could universally say are bugs and exploits of broken mechanics, and the amount of action that will be taken in those cases is relative to the amount of dollars that a company will lose. In the Pay to Play environment (P2P) this, unfortunately, often leads to the game rarely taking action against these obvious game shattering exploits. This tends to also cause more harm than good, realistically, as instead of making examples and proving they are taking a stand, they allow these people to continue abusing said bugs and exploits and state common excuses like, “It was our fault, and we should not punish people for doing something.”  While I am certain in some instances this is true, such as if an entire class’s commonly used ability is the cause, this is not the case when an obscure ability or combo of abilities produces an obviously broken effect and only a small handful of people abuse it. And instead of actually immediately fixing the issue they let it linger. This produces the effect of no confidence in the developers and tends to hurt their longevity when it concerns the PvP arena, especially when no action is taken in the concern of this.

Exploiting a bug can be many forms, and almost all the time results in gaining an advantage that would otherwise never be had. For instance, abusing the stuck mechanics to avoid an otherwise lethal situation, especially in the realm of PvP or using a specific bug to allow a character to produce ludicrously high damage that even the most robust tank can’t withstand. Many try to claim that it’s just using the system to their advantage and sadly in many circumstances, instead of actually punishing the people abusing these exploits. Most game companies decide to weigh towards the dollar value and let it slide thus continuing to send a message that they allow this to happen instead of making an example of those people and maybe even curtailing some of the more fearful exploiters, and thus losing potential dollars and those who prefer a fair and even environment without having to rely on bugs and exploits for a level playing field don’t want to belong to. Hysterically, most of the people that abuse the bug will do whatever they can to defend it.

Now, the final type of cheater is the hacker type. They use third party programs, most of the time illegal, but sometimes legal, to actually gain an advantage that could not normally be had in the game. Anything from super bursts of speed, to inhuman levels of target, to even magically knowing where everything is in a game that no one without spending hours doing the timing themselves and setting up a clock could know. People abusing these types of programs sometimes are doing it to see how long they get caught. However, there are groups of people who go out of their way to find these cheats and the first question almost always asked is, “Is it detectable?”

Blatant hacking is almost easy to see. People moving faster than it would be physically possible or healing impossibly fast or magically hitting you regardless of location are all examples of hacks that you could see. Hacks come in many forms and vary from game type to game type, but they all basically aim at one thing; to give a ludicrous advantage to make winning easier if not guaranteed. Hacks aren’t limited to just those, either, there are hacks designed to run and do errands for people and these are also universally riled.

At the end of the day, the reality is that cheaters are everywhere. They know they are doing it, and many try to cover up that fact. Some blatantly abuse bugs and exploits or third party programs and hover on excuses that they use them to make the devs fix them faster. However, I think it would be in developer’s best interest to start banning people more openly. If you don’t show the cheaters that your policy is actually something you back up they will basically just wipe their ass with whatever your terms state, and in the long run this will cost you more dollars in the end. Stop dancing around these problems and actually start doing something and backing up your claims of no tolerance. While I know that every claim of cheating or hacking needs to be investigated, if you were actually making examples of them you might have less than would actually appear.

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