Last night, while playing Dirty Bomb, I was having a Skype call with one of my friends, talking about gaming, politics, and some other stuff, and I was actually having a really good game. So I started bragging to my friend, from now on will be named Bam Bam, about how nice the game is going and how much I like the gameplay mechanics, and so on. So Bam Bam told me something that I wont forget:
Motherfucker, I use cheats – But not on Steam!
My first reaction was more of a mixture of indignation and shock, knowing my friend really well, with him being a fair player and all that. I have played with this guy ever since Call of Duty, a number of games, and I don’t ever recall him using cheats or mentioning them. So, like any good friend I started making fun of him. And that’s when it hit me… most people who won’t cheat do so out of fear.
On Steam things are a bit simple. You have the VAC system that protects players from cheaters. But, as we know, it’s more of an example of Swiss Cheese when it comes to letting hackers getting through the cracks and messing up matches. On other platforms, people don’t care about getting banned, because they are simply not popular enough. So cheats on Steam for many is a no go!
Maybe my last statement is gonna upset some of the readers, but this is the truth: Origin, uPlay and other services are plagued by cheaters, and it is so because the cheaters don’t care if they get banned or not.
Most players use cheats just to use cheats, not to do some damage, or to ruin the experience for other players. They just do it because they can and they will. It’s as simple as that.
If you look at most Steam users with an active VAC Ban, most of them explain why they got banned in the description, and it is a badge of shame for them. On Origin for example, they do that, but the individual game developer decides how to enforce the rules. And results in the problem we have.
Due to Steam’s popularity, most of the other services are seen as sub-par, under-developed, good-for-nothing services by most gamers, hence, the cheating without remorse. People just don’t care if they get banned from Origin for example, like my friend Bam Bam put it:
“Dude, I fucking don’t care! Sometimes I just want to cheat and I will. But on Steam i’m not gonna do that. I don’t want my friends to see that I’m a no-good cheater!”
In essence, a clean Steam account is kinda like a badge of honor, some sort of a cyber-social status, bragging rights about the fact that you don’t cheat. But when you switch platforms, may the Pixel God help us all! And don’t make me point out the fact that there are other games out there, like free-to-play shooters or other PC games, where you can find a cornucopia of cheaters, and most of them don’t get banned either because they have a premium account or because they are what people in the industry call “a whale”, a user that pours stupid amounts of cash into the game.
But, this is just my opinion! A friend of mine, who has a psychology major, pointed me in the direction of social identity, and the fact that people need to belong to a group, and not be singled out from the crowd and pointed out like the village idiot.
Valve, maybe without realizing – or maybe I don’t give them enough credit – applied social engineering to the Steam Platform, and in doing so, made cheating a taboo.
With the rise of the Steam Marketplace, trades between players and the slew of sites that point out scammers, cheaters are more of a dying breed on Steam, and most of them use custom cheats and scripts to escape Valve’s Anti-Cheat System.
On top of that, let’s face it, there are few games that matter on Steam from a multiplayer point of view. DOTA 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Team Fortress 2, Grand Theft Auto V, Left 4 Dead 2, Call of Duty: Black Ops II and a few others. But the six games I mentioned earlier are the core for most people. And if you need to cheat in Terraria there is a special place in hell for you buddy. A place where you are pinned against other cheaters like you. Oh wait… Respawn Entertainment did that with Titanfall! Neat idea for a future article.
To conclude this opinion piece, I will say this: I don’t know if Steam did this as a result of psychological research or not, but I know tons of people that abandon their respective Steam accounts after receiving a Steam VAC Ban badge on the profile – and some of them have more than 100 games in their libraries.
But they manage to discourage cheaters on a psychological level, and it’s actually working.
On the other hand, we will have cheaters on any gaming platform, and cheaters are a part of our ecosystem if we want it or not. But more and more publishers and studios work on this problem on a psychological level, choosing to publicly humiliate the cheater or make him bear his own cross, while other players cry out “Shameee!”.
In retrospect, this psychological mechanism has been demonstrated successfully in other fields, such as the decrease in reports of police violence in California following the introduction of personal body cameras for officers.
So maybe intrusive DRM is not the way to go, or ineffective anti-cheat systems, but social stigma is the way to go forward. Make other players aware of the cheater’s tactics. Implement a vote to kick users in any multiplayer game. And for the love of the Pixel God, please, take reports seriously!
Most cheaters pass under the radar because Steam, when it comes to support, utterly sucks! But they do have some good ideas some times, see the Team Fortress 2 Angelic Halo incident. So it’s all down to peer pressure!