February 6, 2018
What is the best and fastest way that a company can completely ruin their chances of a top spot in the gaming and, more specifically, esports industry? Unregulated cheating. Recent reports have come out that PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, more commonly known as PUBG, is home to a massive epidemic of cheating that has had a profound and tangible effect on the majority of players, at least in the PC version of the game. PUBG is one of the fastest growing and most successful indie games of our time. Not only has it been trending in the top five most streamed games on Twitch since it’s inception, but also the player base is huge with over 3.2 million players on Steam alone. It has also single-handedly brought the battle royale genre of games into the mainstream.
However, players have noticed a steady increase in the amount of cheaters, which has quickly changed the atmosphere of the game and the overall ability to enjoy the game at a basic level. Not only are there clear and observable examples of cheating that can unfairly deny individual players a fair game, but these examples also instill a feeling of paranoia in the player base that, for obvious reasons, sours the experience. For months, players and the company alike have been dealing with this epidemic, and it’s only getting worse. PUBG Corporation has banned over 2 million players already, but it seems to have had little effect on the problem overall. In fact, not only are banned players promptly replaced, but they also seem to grow in number; why is that?
When we hear about hacking and cheating in games, most of the time, it has to do with small hacks like DDOS attacks, that affect large numbers of players and servers, but not very often and for only a short time. This is usually done for fame and interest, but with PubG it’s much different. For one thing, the kind of hacking is intrinsically different, as it’s being used here to cheat in a video game, so it manifests as “wallhacking,” or the unfair ability for one player to see other players through walls, and “aimbots,” which do what it says on the tin and gives the user unfair aiming assistance. The exorbitant amount of cheaters clues us in that this isn’t just teenagers that have learned how to attack a server, but people doing it for some other reason. One million players banned is more than just cheating for the glory of winning a game – it’s something else entirely. It’s a job, and it’s an income. PubG cheaters are hacking not for the glory, but for the paycheck possibly.
2017 is known within the gaming community as “year of the loot box,” and for good reason. This latest iteration of the microtransaction has gained the ire of the community for a variety of reasons, but it’s worth noting that PubG does things a little differently. The game still uses the much-maligned loot boxes, but instead of being tied to microtransactions, they can only be earned in game. This also means that the items obtained from these loot boxes have an exclusivity to them, and Steam allows you to trade in game items with other players, and even trade them for money. The rare items obtained from look boxes can reach hundreds of dollars, sometimes thousands. Therefore, one stands to be able to make a profit by earning and selling these items. However, the only way to earn these items is by playing the game and, here’s the kicker, doing well and winning matches maximizes the rate at which these loot boxes are given.
With a clear motive at our disposal, it’s time to take a look at our suspects, so to speak. There are a few unifying characteristics that the cheaters tend to share. For starters, the usernames of these players tend to be comprised of random letters and numbers, as opposed to names or other recognizable words. This is a technique often used in some underhanded online practices as a way of having a limitless supply of names on hand as one needs to jump from one online identity to another, so no surprise there. Another thing worth noting is that an inordinately large percentage of these players are Chinese users who are playing the game in servers outside of their region. This has been a major focal point of the controversy surrounding the cheating epidemic; many players have called for Chinese players to be region locked. PubG creator and developer Brendon Greene has even responded to these calls to action by decrying them as xenophobic (Polygon).
PUBG Corp’s delayed response time in dealing with the cheating problem has been a focal point of the controversy as well. There is a conspiracy theory emerging in the community for this reason. The theory goes that the company receives a fee for all of the monetary trades of items acquired from loot boxes, and so the actions of the cheaters are also benefiting the company, for one thing, and that they are also benefiting from banned players purchasing another copy of the game in order to resume their illicit endeavors. This is all speculation of course, and PUBG Corp has since made some sweeping changes to better address the issue.
Thus far, well over 2 million cheaters have been banned, and the number of bans per day continues to rise exponentially, which is indicative of the true scope of the problem and the best case for the “epidemic” label. However, alongside these bans, PUBG Corp has also unveiled some proactive anti-cheat methods they hope will curb the cheating problem, and they plan to keep honing this new software to make it even better. This new software is designed to prevent players with certain unauthorized programs, like the popular ReShade, from playing the game until these programs are removed. They acknowledge that the solution isn’t perfect, as it also prevents players who have made only cosmetic changes to the game that offer no unfair advantage from accessing the servers, but they hope to iron out the kinks as they go.
-Blogger Megan Hawkins