Note: WriOps is the intersection of writing and opinions on controversial topics in the gaming industry. The opinion of this article does not necessarily reflect the official opinions of NextLevel Gaming Online as an organization.
Note: This review features the communal opinions of NextLevel staff members Evan Macintosh and Sam Greathouse.
When playing in a competitive atmosphere you want the playing field to be free from unfair advantages in the way of cheats or hacked games. This ensures a fair environment for all players and helps prevent an irritable experience online. However, cheaters and hackers still find ways to weasel themselves into the respective competitive scenes, and ruin the experience for those involved.
Hackers are out for one thing: pestering and ruining the experience for other players. You may be asking, ‘What constitutes a hacker?’, so in terms of this article we will define hackers, and griefers, as people with the following traits:
Walling: A type of hack used to remove certain objects in the environment to increase visibility in an unfair way allowing them to unfairly know the location of players.
Aim botting: Hacking that automatically targets specific points of a player model in order to inflict specific attacks, usually a head shot.
Other hacking: A broad category of hacks that can include scripts to increase mobility in games. Reducing cooldowns of skills and abilities, or granting themselves traits like invulnerability or invisibility.
Griefing: When your behavior does not contribute positively towards the team effort in a competitive game. Whether it’s intentionally playing poorly, injuring your teammates, interfering with your teammates, or other behavior that disrupts gameplay.
AFK: When you enter a competitive game and do not participate in playing whether it is due to completely walking Away From your Keyboard or staying at your system.
With all that in mind we must now assess what it takes to receive a ban with regards to these types of hacking and the challenges in convicting cheaters.
When it comes to catching cheaters there are often many cases at a time to sift through. One thing that can help is having a community-run service that allows players to review reported players and assess whether they are using cheats or not. Valve’s Counter Strike: Global Offensive has employed a system where players of certain skill standings are given the opportunity to watch an eight-round clip from an anonymous suspect. Based on their observations they are then asked whether the suspect was cheating; if so, how. Thanks to this system it has led to the suspension and banning of many guilty cheaters.
“But Evan!” you may be crying, “What if a reviewer incorrectly judges a case and convicts someone innocent?” Well I am glad you asked. Valve has designed their system such that a case is reviewed multiple times, and based off an aggregate of the reviews they take appropriate action. So one bad assessment won’t drastically change the whole verdict, but the question now is: what do you get when you successfully convict someone? For Counter Strike it’s nothing extravagant- just some XP towards a leveling system that doesn’t really mean much. So aside from knowing you are keeping a cheater from playing there is no reward. My suggestion is to have a reward system for successful judges that allows them to acquire in game items. I feel that if Valve were to employ a meaningful rewards system in Overwatch, then more people would be willing and wanting to do it, and more people would do it well.
To supplement community involvement companies could employ a system of Artificial Intelligence to constantly judge gameplay to detect the legitimacy of the playing. AI could successfully be implemented due to its ability to be firstly unbiased towards a player, and secondly by which an AI can be programmed to watch for certain attributes. There are some aspects of computer versus human behavior that cannot be easily discerned by a human. Rather a computer algorithm could detect minute mouse movements that are unnatural, or know if a player is focusing their vision at another player that they can’t normally see. The difficulty in doing such would be not too great as systems akin to this have been used in such instances as captchas on websites.
As for the frequency with which cheaters should be chased and banned, I believe developers should work as quickly and accurately as they can to apprehend cheaters in their games. Enlisting the community to catch cheaters is advised as to increase the number of convictions and reduce the number of illegitimate players in the game. This would allow for minimal interaction between cheaters and legitimate players.
Sometimes in games, the Anti-Cheat software does not detect cheats being used by players on servers no matter how blatant they are. This is usually due to the way the software works on a machine to detect software involving cheats/hacks for games. Depending on the software it may or may not search for exploiting software to varying degrees and therefore would miss certain types of cheats. Services like PunkBuster used on many EA games, is an example of a slightly more intrusive cheat detection program in that it searches more thoroughly through the computer to see what is running, and how it may be interacting with the game. In the innumerable times I have played Battlefield 4 and CS:GO, I have seen far more PunkBuster automatic bans than I have Valve Anti-Cheat bans. I believe if developers are serious about catching cheaters before they can have an impact on other innocent players, then they should use anti-cheat software that more closely scrutinizes the system on which it is running. However I think there should be a limit to what it can look at, and only limit to currently running programs and restrict its access to other files such as pictures or games.
While there are many different methods of cheating the duration of the penalty depends on the severity of the offense. For instance, a lighter offense such as AFK-ing might warrant a shorter temporary ban in contrast to impactful cheating (i.e. using an aimbot). Other factors in distributing penalties should involve taking into account the frequency of cheating as well. With an increase or continuation of cheating from an individual’s account and/or hardware games could increase a ban’s duration or stack ban periods. Essentially scaling the penalty to the infringement. This increasing penalty would send a message to those looking to play with malicious intent that the more you are caught the stiffer the penalty.
When accessing and distributing punishments there should be a distinction between playing in a competitive setting versus a casual one. We say this because each mode innately has a different attitude towards the game entirely. In Overwatch leaving or being idle in modes like quickplay or arcade wouldn’t warrant such a harsh punishment in comparison to abandoning a Competitive match – something that essentially hurts other players’ rankings. We think this because in a casual setting it is just that, casual. Players don’t need to be completely on top of the game or fully participating. That isn’t to say that “casual mode” cheaters/griefers would always get off lightly, but the system would prioritize more serious issues. Granted non-competitive issues would be appropriately addressed to a lesser degree. The punishments should still be cumulative as to remind people that playing outside the spirit of the game isn’t tolerated even if it is a casual mode.
Throughout the process of writing this article, we’ve had to make closer observations on our personal stances regarding cheating. Initially a one-and-done, zero tolerance attitude seemed like the obvious choice. However we had to wonder if this opinion was coming from a place of bias. While some cheaters have no regard for others’ games, does that hold true for every case? While maintaining a firmly anti-cheating position, we would like to give some players the benefit of the doubt; perhaps receiving temporary punishment would teach them a lesson.
There are various solutions to cut down cheating, and one of them is to hold games and companies to a higher standard, when it comes down to their policies in monitoring and apprehending cheaters, particularly within the competitive scene. In foregoing paragraphs a number of suggestions were mentioned, but to reiterate: faster action, community involvement, possibly more intrusive anti-cheating programs, and harsher punishments would be the steps for companies to take for an atmosphere in games that is solidly anti-cheat. Cheating is a problem in games and companies being more fervent in their actions. This will yield a positive experience for players in the long run as it will dissuade future cheaters. Without cheaters clogging up these competitive atmospheres a more cohesive community environment can begin to flourish and even help expand the fan base.
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