Massively Overthinking: How to deal with cheater scum in MMORPGs


I’m sure it was a random coincidence, but last week two different Star Wars Galaxies emulators posted about steps they were taking against cheaters and RMT purveyors: SWGemu banned 65 accounts for real-money trading, while SWG Legends banned a pile more for similar offenses, recouping over 12B in credits. SWGL then doled out tempbans and permabans to people who knowingly and repeatedly exploited and duped to generate even more credits.

It might seem superficially silly for rogue servers of all games to be cracking down on cheating, given their status, but many of them do in an effort to keep the servers as clean as they can. In fact, in the SWGL thread, players were asking for even harsher penalties for the perpetrators. Some called for a name-and-shame list and reporting to tax agencies, while others couldn’t understand why people who had cheated were being handed only temporary punishments.

Legends reps already said they won’t be participating in a wall o’ shame (in spite of already doling out the names of four perpetrators), but I’m curious what you folks think of specific punishments for specific crimes, so let’s hash it out in this week’s Overthinking. How should players be punished in MMOs (or rogue servers) for their “crimes”? Is naming-and-shaming something you want to see? And would you handle all “crimes” the same way?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): This is a tough one, since once people have done something to ruin their reputation and they get caught, there’s a good chance that they’ll continue to do that once they realize they can’t redeem themselves. To be clear, I don’t mean it’s impossible, just that they have barriers (possibly self-imposed, core parts of their sense of self) that prevent it.

That being said, name-and-shame might help some people as well, as it might be what gets them onto the right path or keeps them from falling off. Since I feel like games are simulations, right now, I’m going to go with “name and shame” specifically for duping and TOS breaking RMTs. Banning works too, but in waves so devs can monitor cheating communities they find, gather data from them to help understand how/why the problem occurs, and then mass ban.

Conversely, if a company can pull it off, rather than mass banning, take the ill-gotten gains and add some other kind of punishment. For example, if someone duped, take all the duped items, convert X amount of their personal drops from that tier into a base tier with a red mark (so they understand they just lost a good drop), and if grouped, good drops they could normally equip will be flagged as unequipable for them. Pokemon GO does something like this (marked pokemon gained through cheating can’t be used for anything other than proof that you cheated, only able to see common pokemon, etc.), and I’ve seen it keep people from cheating, and those who admit to cheating do so very carefully in such a way that it still hurts their gameplay (such as spoofers checking flight times and not playing for those durations so they don’t get flagged but also can’t play for awhile).

Andy McAdams: I’m going to start out by saying I don’t understand people who cheat in games… at all. The entire point of a game is to achieve a goal within a given set of constraints — you start removing the constraints (aka, cheat), it’s no longer a game. If people want to pay $15 – $120 dollars to not play a game, well, who I am to argue that? So long as their cheating doesn’t impact my or other players’ game experience, go ahead and not play the game to whatever extent your ego demands.

I think bans are one tool for dealing with cheating, but I also think there’s a variety of other ways. Confirmed cheater? Great, as you are playing you randomly get attacked by a God-Squirrel who corpse-camps you for 15 minutes at a time. Or every merchant in the game suddenly won’t talk to you. Every character on your account randomly yells into general chat about how you are a cheater. Flight paths periodically take you to the wrong place. Your character randomly walks up to other player characters and hugs them, apologizes, and asks them to forgive them for cheating. You are followed around everywhere in game by a flock of children who constantly point and shout “Cheater!” Walking into a city, you have to suffer Cersei Lannister’s walk of shame. As you walk around the world, you are followed by a flock of birds who poop on you constantly. The possibilities are endless.

The number of offenses plays into this for me as well. First offense, less severe punishment. Third offense, permaban by IP (all right, maybe by IP is a bit extreme, but you get the idea). I don’t think the wall-o-shame is a particularly effective punishment because in today’s world of MMOs, it’s unlikely that I would run into any of those players.

Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): I think a creative solution is called for. These folks are obviously pretty clever; perhaps we should look at the Frank Abagnale story for inspiration. Mandatory enlistment on the coding team to fix whatever exploit they took advantage of before being allowed to play again!

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I tend to see all this in shades of grey, like I see the emulators and rogue servers themselves. Many exploits are benign or really don’t matter all that much in a basic PvE MMO, so I’m hard-pressed to care; in fact I’m often annoyed when developers take their failure to patch their game out on so-called exploiters. Buuuut I also don’t have any patience for people who exploit repeatedly and break the game’s PvP or economy. Sandbox economies are already so fragile! Nobody who intentionally dupes 50 times and flood an economy with valuable items or currency deserves leniency or anything resembling a second chance.

I don’t really care about naming-and-shaming. When the names of the four SWGL dupers came out, I immediately went to my sale logs to see if any of them had crossed paths with me. One of them had bought some of my food off the bazaar apparently, and it immediately tanked my mood. I play fair in there because I’m grateful it exists at all, and it upsets me that some of my fellow players aren’t following suit (that goes for you people who cheat with multiple accounts, too, when you know it’s against Legends’ rules). It affects both the players internally and the external perception of the games.

I also understand why developers would want to ban gold-selling rings from their games, though I have much more sympathy for people who buy the currency. I don’t feel RMT is even in the same league as duping, as long as the RMTers aren’t also cheating (or thieving or whatever) to do their thing (of course, since many RMT companies were forced into black market dealings, that’s exactly what happens). But that’s just me; I’ve long been unimpressed with that particular strain of self-serving demonization of RMT in the industry, especially once many of the same studios that used to argue it was an inherent moral harm were happy to trade real money themselves the first chance they could. That’s a whole ‘nother rant, though, and not really the situation in these emulators.

Can we just send the problem kids to cheater island? Forever? I’ve played some MMOs where cheating was baked right into the culture, and to be honest, while it was amusing in the early Wild West of the internet, I’m real tired of it now. Real life is already dominated by cheaters; I’d love just one clean online game.

Carlo Lacsina (@UltraMudkipEX), YouTube): HANG AND QUARTER THEIR CHARACTERS! (For legal reasons I want to express that this is only for their MMO characters, not the player.) Make examples of them, I say! Plus it adds to the entertainment factor of the game. It’s always fun to find out that games have creative solutions for getting rid of cheaters.

Honestly I don’t really care what happens to the cheaters; what’s more important is that the integrity of the game stays intact. Some of the exploits in BDO are pretty funny too; there was an exploit involving shovels and digging. I don’t remember all the details off the top of my head, but it involved whole guilds digging in a specific spot over and over again to make billions of silver. It was hilarious, and even funnier when they got banned for it.

Cheating in an MMO or any video game is silly. It makes even less sense when they’re doing it to gain a rank for a game, but I suppose some people just weren’t taught that cheaters never prosper. /shrugs

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): I’m definitely a proponent of the punishment fitting the crime — there are so many different types of cheating that blanket solutions are often a bad idea. As for naming and shaming, it’s hard for me to really know if this actually shames people nowadays. There are so many ways a person can either re-register for a game or otherwise bring their villainy to other games that the only way this punishment would actually work is to build a global digital asshole database.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): Naming and shaming is a bad precedent to set for any game and gives the impression that the game’s handlers are more juvenile than competent. I’d say that a server needs to clearly lay out its TOS and code of conduct, as well as the penalties for certain actions. Handling these issues should be done behind closed doors, but I see no problem in the operators making public how many bans or suspensions they have performed for what specific actions — without naming names. It might help to curb future behavior that way without getting muddy and ugly in a finger-pointing exercise.

Mia DeSanzo (@neschria): For most “crimes,” a suspension for a first offense and then a ban for repeat offenders. For cheating in PvP, that’s an instaban. For things like exploiting geometry to kill a boss, no punishment, just a patch.

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): I like Mia’s answer! It’s reasonable, it’s straightforward, and it should be easy to stick to. I don’t care about the naming and shaming stuff either. I just don’t care about other players that much. When it comes to PvP of course that needs to be cleaned up, but outside of that I have better things to waste brain time on.

The real issue seems to be that most studios are afraid to actually ban some of the worst offenders. Or they just don’t care. And if they don’t care, why should we, right?

Tyler Edwards (blog): No one likes a cheater, and I’m all for punishing them. But I will say that in ten plus years of playing online games, I can’t remember a single instance where my gaming was negatively impacted by someone’s cheating. I can, however, remember countless situations where my experience was negatively impacted by toxic player behavior, and it feels like the former is taken a lot more seriously than the latter. Seems like it says some uncomfortable things about the priorities of developers.

“Sir, someone found a way to shorten our grinds!”


“Sir, someone in chat is telling other players to kill themselves if they can’t pull 3K DPS!”

“Yeah, but what are you gonna do?”

As for what’s the best way to punish people, I think that’s a question for those wiser than I. Name and shaming is something I’ve supported in the past, but in our current dystopia I feel like people would take that less as a punishment and more as a badge of honor. I’ve long thought that in-game fines could be a good idea — get caught breaking the rules, your highest ilevel piece of gear gets deleted — but I’m not sure if that would be an effective deterrent or not. As with real world criminal justice, the goal should ultimately be to find the solution that reduces offenses most effectively, rather than the one that makes wrong-doers suffer the most. Even if the latter is admittedly much more satisfying as a bystander.

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!
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