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Is cheating in Freemium games the same as Piracy?
by Garret Bright on 11/27/13 07:47:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Addiction Cut Short

I have a guilty pleasure called Candy Crush Saga. I'm sure most of you out there are aware of this game, but for those who aren't, it's a Bejeweled clone where you swap two items on a grid-based board to line up 3 or more of the same color so that they vanish. Candy Crush Saga takes this gameplay mechanic to the next level by adding objectives to each level. These objectives vary from level to level: Some have you score a set number of points within a time limit, some have you eliminate specific tiles, and others have you bring X amount of special items to the bottom of the board. There are a number of gimmicks to keep things interesting, such as roaming tornados, chocolate blocks that spread each turn, immovable blocks that can be destroyed by making adjacent matches, and so on. 

I've been playing it since June of 2013, and steadily made my way to level 421. The level gives you 50 moves to combine two striped candies a total of seven times. You create a striped candy by matching four normal candies in a row. In addition to this requirement, there are 16 blocks on the board that you have to clear out of your way to give you room to make the striped candies. Typically, I cleared these 16 blocks in an average of 15 moves, leaving 35 moves to complete the objectives. Doing rough math, you have 5 moves per combination. Of those 5 moves, only 2 can be "wasted" moves, since 3 moves are required to meet the objective: One move to make the first striped candy, a second move to make the second striped candy, and a third move to combine them. Needless to say, this requires a great deal of luck.

Seriously, this level is lame

Luck? Or Money?

I was stuck on this level for around 2 months. Given that my pace throughout the game was steady (averaging 100 levels per month), this particular level was a sudden and frustrating roadblock. I wanted to keep playing the game, but this level frustrated me enough that I just didn't want to continue. It made me want to quit. I'm not alone in this desire.

It seems that King reflected on their finding that 70% of Candy Crush players made it to the end of level 385 without paying a dime, and thought that wasn't profitable enough. Maybe that's just frustrated conjecture, but it isn't hard for me to believe that this specific level was put into the game as a way to reduce the number of non-payers. 

Players can spend money to give themselves additional moves for their level or to buy special powerups. One powerup up costs nearly $40 USD and will allow the player to convert any number of regular candies to striped candies. Either way, typing in your credit card details gives you the tools that are virtually needed to get through this particular level. 

Enter Cheat Engine

Cheat Engine is a tool that allows you to access memory addresses of any running application on your Windows PC. You open the process in the tool and scan it for a value. Likely, the tool will find a large number of matching values, and so you return to your application and make some changes to the value you're seeking, and scan within the previously found results for the new value. You repeat this until one address remains, which must be the address of the variable you're trying to find. Once you've found the address, you can adjust the value on the fly. There are alternatives to Cheat Engine for Android, iOS, Mac, and Linux. 

I've used this tool before, so I figured that I would try it out on Candy Crush Saga. Without much effort, I was able to find the address associated with the number of moves I had remaining on the stage, and I changed the value to over 500. I was able to finish the level and move on with my sugary saga. I could have paid $0.99 for five additional moves as many times as I would like, but I instead made my way around that by manipulating the 1's and 0's found on my own computer.

I can't lose!

I have no doubt that I could use this tool to boost the number of powerups I have in reserve, lower the number of objectives I need to meet on any level, or give myself an unending number of lives. 

I also have no doubt that I could use this technique on most fremium games as long as the variables aren't assigned server-side. For example, I might be able to boost my party size in Final Fantasy: All the Bravest (which is a terrible, terrible game, by the way), or possibly even adjust what collectable cards I own in Fantasica. I haven't tried these things so they may not be possible, I'm just brainstorming here.

The point is: I can use Cheat Engine or tools like it to give myself things in fremium games that I could only otherwise get by paying for them.

So, is this Piracy?

Getting 1's and 0's for free that you should only get through payment is generally considered piracy. On the other hand, by cheating in fremium games, you're only adjusting the 1's and 0's you already own. On the third hand (you mutant), fremium games only generate their revenue through in-app purchases, which cheating around them is robbing the publisher of their revenue. On the fourth hand (Goro?), it's pretty easy to make the argument that the cheater would not have paid for the in-app purchase to begin with, as I would not have. On the fifth hand (what is this, a game for octopi?), the previous argument has been a timeless stand-by argument to support one's dependence on piracy.

What do you think? Share in the comments your argument for or against the notion that cheating a free in-app purchase is the same as piracy.

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Andy Lundell
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There are an amazing number of freemium games that store their data in client-side xml files. People go in and change the "currency type" flag so everything costs grind currency instead of paid currency.

I would not call this "piracy" though. I know there's a temptation to believe that when someone does something unexpected that doesn't benefit you, they must have done something immoral, but there's no logical argument to support that.

In real piracy, the sin doesn't come from failing to make the publisher rich. The sin comes from distributing content you have no permission to distribute.

The player has no obligation to make money for you, so "He's not giving me money" is not, in itself, an argument that he has done something wrong.

Garret Bright
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To play devil's advocate, I think it could be argued that fremium content is content you don't have permission to distribute, even though the distribution is managed within the content you already own. What about situations where the DLC for a game comes on the disc, and a purchasable code unlocks it. Is there a difference between that and cheating yourself freemium content?

Ian Griffiths
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I don't accept your premise that the only wrong that happens in piracy is about distributing something that isn't yours. Piracy is wrong because you are illegitimately receiving a good or service without paying for it.

It is easy to see the parallel here, the user is receiving a virtual good or service that would otherwise be paid for, hence depriving the developer of the money they have a legitimate right to.

For a community that rails against 'unehtical' monetization I find it hypocritical at the lengths people are going to to rationalise this behaviour.

Jonathan Martinez
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("It is easy to see the parallel here, the user is receiving a virtual good or service that would otherwise be paid for, hence depriving the developer of the money they have a legitimate right to.")

Just for the sake of ruffling some feathers, I'll run with your idea.
There are game variables and the limits those impose.

The user can then pay the provider to change those variables on their behalf
The user can change the variables on their own

In this context, changing the variables is a service, one you can provide yourself.

Just as you don't need to pay money to a mechanic when you fix your car by yourself, you wouldn't pay the provider when you change the game variables by yourself.

If the variables exist client-side, they are on your property, thus you should be able to manipulate them as you wish.
However, if they were server side, then they are on the provider's property, thus they would offer you the service to change them.
I'd like to see where this discussion goes. Do feel free to respond.

Ian Uniacke
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I don't really get your argument "If the variables exist client-side, they are on your property, thus you should be able to manipulate them as you wish." You can't change parts in a television that you have rented, regardless of whether it's on your property or not. Most data is essentially a lease of that data so the same laws should apply in my opinion.

Josh Neff
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I wont argue this topic on the merits of right or wrong since both sides have valid arguments... and frankly, I'm not sure there is an absolute right or wrong in this case.
Let us consider it from a legal perspective for a moment. If you have bought and paid for a game that happens to have preloaded DLC that you need a key to unlock, how might that be considered in court?

The court believes that if you purchase an item, said item belongs to you... so if you purchase a game with DLC preloaded on the disk, from a legal standpoint, it is yours. So, right or wrong, legally, if you own a copy of the software, it is yours to use, largely, as you see fit. This is purely the current legal standing, and doesn't necessarily reflect my feelings on the topic.

Note: This is just in reference to standalone games... and not those that require additional server based services to function.

Dane MacMahon
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There's a strong school of economic thought that can basically be summarized as: the consumer owes you nothing. You have to engineer your product or service to get the consumer to want to give you money, rather than ever think they owe you money.

I think this is a good train of thought, particularly in game business. Valve found great success in Steam by creating a service and content library that is generally easier than getting games another way, and thus it gets the consumer to pay. At the time Steam was taking over most other companies on PC were annoying customers to no end with archaic purchasing methods and punishing DRM with no upside.

Similarly in free to play you're not owed money for anything, you are burdened to engineer a scenario where customers want to give you cash. Free to play is probably the ultimate expression of that, really. So if a customer can easily modify their own character, why would they pay you to do it?

Generally all developers and business people should start from a consumer perspective when it comes to designing and marketing a game. "Why would someone pay me for this? What would I want to pay for this? Is this annoying or fun?" And so on.

nicolas mercier
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I really like this point of view, Dane. I remember a post on AltDevBlogaDay:
the comments contain similar advice (from jalf and jonah):

"There is no "loss of income" when people don't buy directly from you. That's absurd. There is no law that people have to give you money. You are not owed anything. You are selling a product, and it is up to you, and no one else, to convince people that they *want* to give you money for it. You don't "lose income" by people spending their money on a sandwich or a new car instead. You just failed to *earn* money."

Hakim Boukellif
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If things worked like you're describing, then any document created using MS Word would be owned by Microsoft. Thankfully, it doesn't.

There are two issues with what you're saying: first is the assertion that you don't own the data. You do, you just don't own what the data represents, which is a crucial difference. I can do anything I want with any data stored on hardware I own, as long as I don't do anything I'm not allowed to with what the data represents, such as redistributing what the data represents without permission.

Secondly, none of that has anything to do with the data being altered in the process described by the blog post. The developer can hardly claim ownership over the data that represents the number of remaining moves, which is constantly changing and generated from user input.

Ian Griffiths
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-Disclaimer, I just want to make it clear that I'm not accusing anyone of any wrong doing!-

Your analogy isn't well suited to the situation because it's considering property that is owned whereas these games are offered as a service.

In your example we should actually be talking a rental car as opposed to an owned one. With any service the terms of ownership and use will be made very clear in the agreement. With a rental car you don't own the car for the period of the rental, you are agreeing to certain rights of use. With the car rental in mind, let's consider something akin to monetization where you are charged per mile based on the milometer recording when returned. I drive the car 100 miles and would owe the rental company $10, instead I roll the clock back 50 miles - no damage is done to the car, the depreciation value is effectively zero and no one get hurt right? I mean, all I did was change some variables during my period of ownership of the car. Yet I would be depriving the owner of value I took by hiding knowledge of it through subterfuge.

When you use a freemium games like Candy Crush Saga you do so under an agreement with them. that agreement likely makes very clear the ownership of the content and the terms under which you can use it. Now, while intuitively you may think that you own the data because it's being hosted locally, that's unlikely to be the case under the agreement you made. The same is true of other media, particularly thorugh streaming services for music and film.

Let's say Netflix had credits for just released films that were held client side based on the number of films you had watched. Would increasing that number to watch more premium content not be considered as some kind of theft, piracy or potentially fraud? I think the same is true for these games. Now, it's easy to say they should have protected their content. However, ethically that's not a reason to take something. Just becuase someone leaves their keys in their car doesn't mean you have the right to take it from them.

Of course this is an interesting area. If you are subverting a system against the agreement, to attain value that you otherwise would have had to pay or fulfill other conditions for, and then uploading information as though you hadn't then surely you are potentially moving into an area of fraud.

Irrespective of technicalities and loopholes, I'll repeat my position that I don't believe this to be ethical behaviour. A simple question to ask yourself when you want something - am I entitled to it? In this case, did I pay for it? If the answer is no then you're probably on the wrong side of the ethical position. I will echo my point that I find the lengths to which people are going to to justify this, most likely because they don't like freemium games, is fairly incredulous behaviour for people that frequently employ notions of ethics.

Jonathan Martinez
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I like where you went with this. Yes, I do agree that this type of act is far more akin to a breach of contract or a violation of the service agreement than it is to "piracy".
Heck, as I see it, it has nothing to do with piracy and everything to do with breaking a terms of service agreement.

All that said, I also agree with the school of thought that dictates that the one who offers the product or service must give the customer a compelling reason to pay. They are entitled to nothing and if someone can do better for themselves than what the seller is offering, then that's just how it is.

Hence the continued example of Steam turning pirates into customers by simply offering a much better and more convenient way to obtain games than it would be to pirate them.
They're reasonably priced more often than not and always patched and updated and can be installed and re-installed as many times as needed.

In this particular case, the makers of CCS have three options that I can see
1-Patch the game to make the use of CheatEngine next to impossible.
2-Offer a pay-up-front-in-full version of the game without the barriers that would make someone want to cheat.
3-Accept that the people who use CheatEngine are just another group of people who will never spend money on their game.

Take note how none of these involve legal action against their players.
At most, they could ban these players from their game and they would have every right to do so, but you have to wonder if that would be in their best interest in the long run if they want to keep more people coming in.

Carter Gabriel
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Thank you for not being like so many others, who believe piracy to be equal to drug dealing, cheating in singleplayer to equate to cheating in multiplayer (which is equated to drug dealing), or the hilarious thread where people ACTUALLY DEMAND 2+ YEAR FELONY PRISON SENTENCES for people who BUY gold in MMORPG's.

I'm sorry, but some people are just fanatics when it comes to video games and 'cheating'. In no way is it even close to the immorality of destroying communities through abused narcotics. However, many gamers are legitimate when they equate cheaters with violent criminals.

Tuomas Pirinen
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Quite a few successful games (such as Clash of Clans) sync with the server all the time, ensuring that it is not possible to use things like the Cheat Engine. I see more and more games doing this going forward. That should make this a moot question in the future.

Vinicius Vecchi
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Which can be a bad thing if the game is mostly single player, since you would loose the ability to play on subways for example.

Mark Richardson
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It is also known that you can change the date on your phone so you get your free lives back instantly. I don't see much difference between using an exploit and using a 3rd party program to enable stuff in the game.

Of course the developers won't see it that way. This is not as bad a piracy in my view but given that the devs need the small percentage of paying players to get by, it does create an interesting moral conflict.

Aaron Steed
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This sort of thing is stupidly easy to block.

You can hide the address of variables in memory simply by storing them as combinations of variables.

It's a bit shocking that myself and other Flash developers have been thwarting Cheat Engine for years and King hasn't even considered this a problem.

Rob Graeber
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What's the point, it'd make your code more complex and the game is still hackable. I.e. every health variable becomes health1 + health2 + health3, etc. Maybe it cause them to look up a guide vs trying to find addresses themselves.

J 'Hammer' Helmer
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I own a small indie studio. Forget the morality, let's talk about logistics. I pay thousands to tens of thousands of dollars developing games, employing people. I can't do this if I can't earn income on what we do. Are we supposed to truly provide you content for free? Free without the opportunity to earn ANY income on my game? Is not providing you freemium content that you have the choice to pay for only if you want to not enough? How do you suppose I pay my bills if everyone cheated like you did?

How come cheapskates like you feel so entitled?

Josh Neff
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J Helmer, I feel your pain and understand your frustrations... but I think your focus needs to be adjusted a bit. The problem here isn't the morality of a company receiving a paycheck... its the developer's ability to make their purchasables feel worth while to the customer. If you fail at doing that, you will never get a single red cent.

It may be trite, but 95% of the time, it's true:
Rule# 1: The customer is always right.
Rule# 2: If the customer is wrong, refere to rule # 1

Chad Wagner
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Can a person legitimately argue that people don't feel Candy Crush is worth purchasing? Especially as, in the case of this example, one plays to level 421?
Then the argument changes back to "make it easier to pay than to take without paying."
Note: Steam somehow does this - and people seem to forget that Steam has as draconian a DRM scheme as anyone else.

Andy Lundell
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Are you kidding?

You say "Forget the morality", and explain you want people to be obligated to send you money. Not because you've made them WANT to send you money, and not because of morality, but because your own lifestyle depends on it.

Then you rage against people for feeling "entitled".

James Wang
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I've thought about this problem, as a purveyor of F2P games.

In a single player game, I don't care that much if a player wants to cheat rather than pay. So long as the method of cheating is not super obvious (how many non-hardcore gamers know about cheat engine? Or even how many hardcore players?), the odds are good that a "cheater" was never going to convert into a spender anyway.

We also reserve the right to ban cheaters anyway, and that threat tends to keep serious players in check.

So it's not a huge loss, as far as I'm concerned.

The only time it really matters, imo, is when we're looking at multiplayer impact. Anywhere from PVP combat to even cheating your way up score leaderboards - these things impact not just the dev's theoretical revenue, but also your fellow players.

It's why I personally have no problem hacking a single player (premium) game to pieces, but I wouldn't feel right about doing that in an MMO. It's about the community, more than anything.

In this particular case, I think cheating CCS becomes a more moral question if it's used to rank up in the leaderboards against your friends. It's disingenuous at best, and potentially costly at worst, if you've got addictive friends who are willing to spend heavily to beat their friends to the top.

All that said, you can bet your ass I'd rather make it impossible for any player to cheat at all in any F2P game that I work on ;)

David Paris
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I'm largely here with you on this one. The main danger is simply that the hack approach can then be streamlined so that lower knowledge users can make use of it. The more this becomes the case, the more it begins to impact on the actual revenue.

Mind you, I'm not a fan of the Candy Crush approach, so I'm a little more prone to think "eh, screw them", but the moralist in me says that theft remains theft, regardless of how you try to justify it to yourself. In this case it is simply not a large enough theft that the developer is likely to spend much time to address (until it becomes more generally available).

At the end of the day, you're taking something without paying that was not offered to you. You can make your choices from there.

Jonathan Martinez
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David, the amount of "wrong" you are is off the scales.

Theft != copyright infringement.
Heck, the case above isn't even about copyright at all.

If a mechanic offers to change your car's oil and you say "no thanks" and change it yourself, you haven't stolen anything from the mechanic. They offered you a service for a fee and you chose to perform the service yourself.

In this case, nothing was "taken" from the CCS developers. They have not lost anything physical. And "lost sale" is not theft. They simply failed to make a sale on a service (increasing your turns) when the user decided they were better off doing it themselves.

Calling it "theft" won't magically make it so. It might be a breach of EULA, but it certainly isn't "theft".

It might be ethically dubious to cheat away the paywalls in a F2P game, but given the exploitative techniques implemented in F2P games are also ethically dubious, I can't fault anyone involved here.

(For the record, I stay far away from F2P games specifically because of the abusive anti-consumer practices they use to extort money from players)

Johan Wendin
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I'm sorry but the whole "physical" argument is bullshit.

If you are at a cinema, enter a show without buying a ticket, and even sit on the side so you don't occupy a chair - you are *still* performing an illegal act.

Stop trying to justify piracy.

Jonathan Martinez
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Not even close. It's more like renting a DVD from the video store (sue me, I'm old, I used to rent videos this way)
and using some circumvention technique to skip past the "unskipable" trailers and pre-show commercials that you may have agreed to watch in some part of the contract.

You obtained the material legally and then did something beyond what the terms of service allowed.
Can you argue a breach of contract? Most certainly.
Can you call this piracy? Not in the least.

George Blott
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Not even close. In that case you paid for the DVD rental already. Here we have someone who has watched a DVD for free for 6 months...

I work in the F2P sphere and seeing this article in Gama is discouraging to me.

We enter an agreement with F2P games that is more or less this:

I get to play your game for free for a time. And I know that because it is a freemium game that the designers will insert features / paywalls / whatever that at a certain point will have me want or need to pay a small fee to continue / improve my game experience / save me time etc...

As savvy game consumers (people reading this article on gama) we understand this system, do we not?

It doesn't matter if you disagree with the system or find it unethical. Two wrongs don't make a right.

The writer has spent many many hours playing this game he himself describes as a Bejeweled Clone. Why did he not go and play a different game when they came up against a paywall they did not wish to pass?

Why did he not wish to support the creators of a game that, clone or not, he clearly enjoyed spending time with?

The business model exists so that games can continue to be created. It works! It might not be a model you agree with but you agreed with it implicitly when you decided to continue playing the game. There are real legal arguments having to do with EULAs that should have been considered.

Instead we try and frame the article as a semantic issue on the nature of Piracy?

Twisting it into a thought experiment is poor cover for an article that advocates and outlines how to cheat out of being a responsible consumer. Whether that responsibility is to supporting game creators of F2P games we enjoy or opting out of what we see as an unethical monetization structure and supporting other game creators who are rallying against F2P/Paywall design!

Gama please let's publish an article detailing how I can get free gold in Hearthstone or free skins in Dota2 next week via a hack! LOL.. right?

If only that bejeweled clone hadn't let the writer play 400+ levels for free maybe he would not have gotten hooked enough to reach his cheating point... game must be to blame!

Carter Gabriel
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It is very sad, but morality is mostly determined by what society says because most people have the level of moral development of a teenager. See Kohlberg's research on the stages of moral development.

Piracy, whether you believe it to be right or wrong, would change entirely if the subject was food duplication which could solve world hunger.

Say that there is a cheaply made (everyone has one) food creator. It takes any matter, even thin air, and generates food from it. Recipes however, are digital. Restaurants still exist, because they use their protected recipes (along with physical service).

However, there is a "Pirate Food NetworK" which has all recipes for all foods, in a massive database.

The ONLY free foods, are bland, tasteless, protein-rich, healthy blobs of grey stuff void of any flavor. This is what the poor and third world countries eat to survive.

Pirates in Somalia decide to use the torrents, to enrich the lives of everyone in their society. They have Red Lobster, Chili's, FancyPants Steakhouse, and other low quality but popular food recipes- all distributed to their community.

Western society deems this illegal, in what many claim is a corrupt attempt at money-grubbing, protecting the big corporates. Ignoring what the reality would actually become, let's say it is still identical to today in 2013- except this food duplicator, and recipe torrents.

All of a sudden, millions of people would object and say Food Recipes are a RIGHT, not a priviledge for the rich. Poor people should not have to suffer simply because corporations want profit. Others defend the corporations, citing they are the reason the recipes exist in the first place.

Is it wrong for third world citizens to torrent food recipes instead of eating tasteless health gray matter gruel? Remember, this is the ONLY free recipes, as all others are deemed fully copyrighted by the maker of the Food Duplicator. The grey matter is charity work they released, which is the only thing void of royalties.

Carter Gabriel
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Even further in this hypothetical, lets say all industralized countries agree on the same laws on Food Recipe Torrents being illegal.

The only people allowed to by law to own Food Recipes, are Restaurants and Grocery Stores. This way, Grocery Stores can only have food components to make recipes or lower quality premade food (canned stuff, frozen dinners), and Restaurants are the only ones who serve premade high quality recipes, depending on how much they pay the Food Duplicator corp owner in royalties.

Individuals who wanted to use their Food Duplicator, had to SUBSCRIBE to Grocery Services or Restaurant Subscriptions to access Recipes for their own private duplicator.

Is piracy still this evil, which you reading this, believe it to be?
So then, does a human being's need for recreation & fun differ from their need for quality food? Remember, they survive plenty fine eating the grey gruel. It's all enjoyment & fun.

Robert Green
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Let me see if I understand you Carter. You seem to be asking what our attitudes towards piracy would be if, instead of talking about games, we were talking about recipes for a food duplicator? And all other food is presumably unavailable? And nobody can make such a machine that accepted free recipes or allowed them to enter their own? And this situation was somehow forced upon people?
I'm sorry, but there seem to be far too many things I'm being forced to accept in this analogy to even seriously consider it. If you somehow think that it justifies piracy, then I applaud you on your mental gymnastics, though I think it fairly obvious in this case that you've worked backwards from that stance.

Ian Griffiths
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"(For the record, I stay far away from F2P games specifically because of the abusive anti-consumer practices they use to extort money from players)"

First, notions that fremium games extort people are just nonsense and utter hyperbole, I'd also argue entirely false.

However, if you want to see a freemium game that you might like, try DOTA 2, monetization is purely on the cosmetic changes. Also, it's one of the best games ever imo.

John Trauger
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There's a Dev side to this too.

If the game contains a block or difficulty that is designed so that I have to almost have to pay to get past it, that's dirty pool a well. The dev loses the right to complain about players that cheat instead of pay.

J 'Hammer' Helmer
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Why is that dirty pool? Why is expecting payment so hated by gamers? 400+ levels into a game, and yet you still think expecting an ROI is wrong?

Ian Griffiths
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Ethically if you haven't paid for or earned something you have no right to it.

Also, there is this notion that one has to 'progress', why can't you just play the previous 400 levels again?

You start down a dangerous road if you begin qualifying whether something is acceptable to take without permission because you can't attain it without paying.

Martin Juju
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I think extort is a great word to use for it, especially for all you guys throwing around claims of piracy.

Extort - to obtain something by unfair means. I would say putting a game in the appstore and allowing people to download it under the premise that it is FREE and then letting them play long enough to grow accustomed to it then taking it away of the in refuse to pay is a great example of extorting a payment from someone.

Also your point where "if you haven't have no right to it" so you haven't paid to use this site, or any other for that matter so say you used this site, FB, any site or Play station network, whatever, daily for months, youve grown accustomed to it. Lately watching it, albeit over a decent amount of time, take longer and longer to load, then one day you're IP banned and are refused access unless you pay.

How would you feel? Now would it be immoral, unethical or a ridiculous claim of piracy if you used a proxy to get around it? After all you don't pay for any of this, but you have put in a ton of time building and becoming part of the community and were under the impression these are free services considering they are listed as such. Even more important by using a proxy to get around it you are not "taking" anything. They still have the content to sell to someone else.

I would say you're analogies are highly exaggerated. Stealing someone's car because the keys are in it leaves someone without that car, losing a value on your phone doesn't mean the developer can't sell access to that value anymore. In essence they've still got the car regardless if I take it or not, another one will just appear for them to sell to all their other users. Also, the whole rental car thing... I think you were missing his point. An oil change is a service, as is paying someone to unlock content or give you lives. In your rental car if the gas was on E and you pull up to the pump and a kid offers to pump it for you for a couple bucks, if you decline and do it yourself you haven't stolen the couple dollars from him.

Even better with your rental car, if you pick it up on ¼ tank you can take it back on empty and pay a service fee, or fill it yourself and jus pay the price of gas. Now have you stolen the service fee from the rental company? Or simply saved the extra few dollars because you have the ability to do it on your own? They can still charge the next guy that service fee.

Perhaps if developers didn't work their games around a shaddy unethical, highly debatable system people would feel compelled to pay.

Martyn Hughes
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We spent months solving various cheats and hacks in our game, with CheatEngine being one of the main culprits.

Any action which contradicts the EULA, specifically in relation to hacks, cheats and any other form of "modifying" the game is in my view piracy / copyright infringement.

You are deliberately modifying the item against the terms of the license you purchased for it to avoid paying for items, credits or to unlock / access additional content.

In the same context, is it then alright to purchase a connected device and hack it to get free movies from NetFlix for example?

The argument the person earlier gave was about not paying someone else to unlock content you could yourself... surely this is the same? Hacking the system to unlock movies is the same as hacking a game for additional content and should be treated as such.

What really frustrated us was the lengths players would go to hack / cheat. These were the players that were hooked and those we expected to pay for extra's in the game...

Robert Green
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The Netflix analogy kinda falls apart, because the deal with Netflix is that you give them money and then they send you content, whereas the CCS model does not require that they send you anything, nor are they charging for the content you already have. i.e. there is no explicit purchase to unlock level 422, and it's supposed to be possible (albeit very difficult) to get there without paying.

Having said that, the market has clearly shown that it prefers this model where the entire core game is given away and purchases are optional extras or services within the app, so to then take advantage of this to say "ahh, but all the data already exists on my computer/device" is kind of a technicality. To answer the original question of "is cheating in freemium games the same as piracy", the obvious answer is that the end result is exactly the same - there is something you might have paid for, but didn't, because you were able to work around the system to get it for free.

Tomasz Mazurek
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What I really wonder is how long will it take till a trainer scene reappears and such hacks will become downloadable as self contained, user-friendly mods for the game. And how long will it take for such tools to be available for mobile platforms. I'm not sure if there even is a legal framework to combat such form of piracy. There are some clauses in the DMCA about circumventing protections, but I think they explicitly refer to copying protections. I think we will have to kick back and wait for the trials to begin.

Alex Maggio
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There was an option in CheatEngine (at least in version 6.1) that allowed you to export your current table of memory addresses and loaded scripts to an executable to distribute it as a trainer.

Kyle Redd
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I long for the day when this debate becomes moot - not because developers implement so much DRM and server checks that cheating becomes virtually impossible (a path that will no doubt be attempted by many), but because consumers finally become completely fed up with these awful F2P schemes and thus developers are compelled to always offer a fair, pay-once price for every game they make.

Justin Kovac
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My thoughts exactly. I miss the good ole days of Game Shark, easter egg dev codes and playing how you wanted when you wanted.

Now you pay to cheat. Almost feels like gambling...

Peter Eisenmann
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So offering something you can enjoy for many, many hours totally free is less fair than giving you the same thing, plus even more hours, for 5 dollars?

Kai Boernert
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They could get rid of this problem if they would follow your analogy completely.

Instead of offering some goodies that give you more rounds, simply say
You now played 400levels and we hope you had fun, for 5$ you can play till level 800.

That way it is clear when you have to pay and for what, you don't have the frustrating parts where you wonder if it is a pay-wall or you are just unlucky ect. Of course that way it's far harder to manipulate users into paying more money than actually necessary to continue.

Dave Bellinger
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To elaborate on Kai's example, yes it is. in CCS, you can pay money for extra moves should you need them to pass a level, but this is not a guarantee of completion. In this notion, you're taking advantage of loyal players who want to complete the game and may not be very skilled, at which point you're technically charging less-skilled players more for your game in a perfect world where charges like that can be enforced.

I think in light of that, people would choose $5 up-front, and should be given an option along those lines. Failure to offer that price point is an acknowledgement that you're okay with charging people different prices for your game.

Ron Dippold
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Related to the hackability discussions here, it appears that Pokemon XY sends battle info in cleartext and it's already ruining online play:

Andrew Wallace
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I realize this is a bit of a cop-out, but the whole issue becomes moot if you focus more on building good player experiences than cranking as much cash out of them as possible.

Sean Francis-Lyon
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Are you suggesting that Devs who "focus more on building good player experiences" will not use micro-transactions?

Michel Desjardins
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The game is not your intellectual property. You gained an advantage by performing an unauthorized manipulation of its assets. It's piracy. Check your local/national legislation on the matter.

Hakim Boukellif
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IP has nothing to do with this. If I buy a postcard that has a portrait as picture, no one can prevent me from drawing a mustache and beard on the picture.

Michel Desjardins
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For a postcard, there is a transfer of asset. You have full property of it. A Free to play game on Facebook, the assets still reside with the game company.

Micah Betts
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So basically every (unauthorized) game mod is illegal?

Michel Desjardins
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It depends of the game Terms of services. It a case by case. I was more having in mind Facebook free to play game when I did my statement. I never heard of FB game mod.

For PC based game that are free to play modding is a popular thing that should be encourage.

Garret Bright
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I'm pleased to see such a debate on this topic. Since it's quite a philosophic and legal conundrum, I haven't really chosen a side yet, so it's neat to see arguments made on both sides.

Someone posted a link to this blog post on NeoGaf earlier today. It's been a lively thread and is currently over 200 posts long. You can read it here:

Some great arguments have been made there (with the exception of posts like the first reply).

Some have argued that it is piracy by citing that many shareware programs either have locked features or a trial period but require a purchase to convert that software into the full version. This software usually has the entire full application installed with only a purchasable registration flag to be set. It's generally considered that modifying the software files or memory addresses to unlock the full program without paying is piracy.

Others have argued that you have a full right to modify the content running on your hard drive, and that to start claiming legal ground that you don't is a slippery slope. They question: Where is the line drawn which it becomes unlawful to modify the files on your hard drive?

Another pretty good argument I saw talked about how games used to have cheat codes that you can input. At one time, you could punch in a series of button codes to unlock all the levels, characters, vehicles, and so on, but now, many of those options are available only behind a pay wall. Before the pay wall was implemented, it was just cheating, now it's potentially unethical.

Finally, the last argument I want to point out was that some games give you the means to unlock this content through normal play, but if you pay a fee, you can fast-track yourself past the grinding to unlock it. I played a tower defense game on my Android a while back where each time you played a level, you earned coins. You could spend the coins to upgrade your towers from the main menu, increasing your chances of winning the next map. Even if you lost, you still gained coins. The general game flow went like this after a while: Play a map, lose, upgrade a tower, play the same map again, lose, save up coins, play again, lose, save again until you can afford enough upgrades, beat the level, repeat this process over on the next level. You could also buy coins in several bundles : $1 for X coins, $5 for 5 * X + 10% coins, etc until $100 for a large amount of coins. You could either grind for days, or pay for your upgrades. I opened a hex editor tool and gave myself an ungodly amount of coins, upgrades my towers, and finished through the game (which was still rather challenging on the last levels even when I had max upgrades). In this situation, all I did was save myself time. I could have paid to save myself that time, or I could have cheated. My very life, in the form of hours, was being held hostage behind a pay wall. I don't negotiate with terrorists, but was this cheat still piracy?

Ian Griffiths
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-Disclaimer Again I am not accusing anyone of wrongdoing here!-

I think the act is more related to fraud than about piracy but actually fraud - subverting systems against the terms of the agreement and then uploading a state that implies you fulfilled requirements or spent money when you didn't.

I find it interesting that people think that because something is 'grindable' that it's free, this isn't necessarily the case. Imagine the 'keep your hand on a car to win it' competition, you can either do this longer than everyone else or you can buy the car. If you did something to subvert the process, using disguises to switch places or something, you would have 'skipped' the requirement and hence probably committed some kind of fraud. I see this as analogous to editing variables in a freemium-based game.

Jonathan Martinez
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I prefer this better.

Call it fraud. Call it a breach of contract or of EULA. Call it for what it really is.
Just don't call it "piracy" as it gets us nowhere.

Ian Griffiths
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"My very life, in the form of hours, was being held hostage behind a pay wall."

This is such hyperbole and frankly absurd. What was stopping you from going back and playing the previous 400 levels!? Was your time actually being held? Were hours removed from your life? These games didn't implement a hard gate, they let you purchase aids to finish the level when you feel it is too difficult or taking too long. Why should they remove the engagement from the harder levels affecting other players simply because you couldn't finish it?

I think you're ignoring that part of the entertainment, particularly in Candy Crush Saga is in its 'difficulty'. Would it be as satisfying is you could finish every level first time? You'd certainly save yourself a lot of hours being held 'hostage' by the game.

Garret Bright
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Ian, I think you're ignoring the part where that bit you quoted wasn't in reference to Candy Crush Saga. It was in reference to cheating to gain resources that I could only gain either by grinding for hours or paying to bypass the grind. The example was used to frame the question: Is it theft to steal my own time from someone else?

Chad Wagner
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What was being "held hostage" was your completion of the game. It was being held behind a requirement of some sort - be it skill, time, money, etc.

Clearly one's other option is not to complete the game. And in the case of piracy or theft, the other option is not to get the game you can't afford.

Would you appreciate a game which allowed you to instantly buy completion? What would it mean in that case? I suppose it would be a trophy of sorts...the way games create the perception of "value" is by denying you something you want...and assigning a requirement to it.

If one circumvents all the cost involved, is there any value to attaining it? And if there is value then certainly that value should be given to the people offering the reward! If a customer feels the price is out of proportion to the value - then the customer should not get it!

Isn't it evidence enough that there is demand if people are willing to go through efforts to attain the reward? The general principle seems obvious: the person that makes the value can set the price, the customer can choose to buy it - or do without. The problem occurs when people want to say no to the price, but get the valued item anyway.

Glenn Sturgeon
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So you play a game for months and then refuse to thow the developer a couple of bucks?
It may or may not be legaly considerd piracy, but it surely proves you are one ungreatful and cheap BEEEP. (censored)

The senarios you describe sound a bit unfair but if you want to play the game pay.

"My very life, in the form of hours, was being held hostage behind a pay wall"

Oh bull, theres a million plus games to play. You're prespective is whats holding you hostage. Play what you're willing to play and or pay. As a developer, imo you should be ashamed.

Ron Dippold
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'Grateful'? Should the tuna feel grateful for the sardine on the hook, or the junkie feel grateful for his first free hit from the heroin dealer? They certainly might, but they shouldn't. Casinos, Zynga Style F2P, payday loans, credit card companies - it's all a similar business model.

The Zynga F2P model is war with your customers. Both sides go in knowing it's exploitative (or should). The devs are cynically offering you a chance to play a 'free' game in the hopes that you'll get hooked and sink untold money into it because of their manipulative emotional blackmail techniques, and the player is cynically hoping to play a free game. There is nothing healthy about this on either side, and it's nothing to be grateful for.

A lot of us would have willingly paid fair money for value for CCS. But King's model specifically forbids that because they need me to stay vulnerable to their cheap temporary blackmail techniques.

My own response when I hit that point was just to delete the game and play another one, as you suggest. But I certainly don't blame him for not paying.

Also, 'As a [our kind] 'is a fundamental scammer technique (for any profession, race, creed, you name it) for very similar reasons. It's from the same 'here's something free... sucker' playbook. Why should you feel obligated to an F2P dev who's trying to exploit you just because s/he's another dev?

Ian Griffiths
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You use such emotive language referring to exploitation, blackmail, manipulation and cynicism. And yet you don't explain how games like Candy Crush Saga fit within these definitions. The game makes it very clear that in-app purchases are offered, and this is reinforced throughout your time using the app. I don't see anyone being lied to, no-one is claiming to give something that they are not, there is no misselling or false advertising.

As you mention, when you hit the wall you simply deleted the app. Are all the other players so inferior that they can't see how they are being exploited? Is there something that makes you superior to other consumers of these products? Is there some secret that you think you know that they don't?

You hit on a very interesting notion of 'fair value'. I'm afraid to say it but there is no such thing, just look at the paradox of value argument. In fact, all value is perceived value and dictated by a number of factors around the willingness and ability to pay for an individual. As the creator of the product, King are entitled to set the price as they see fit just as you are to walk away as a customer. You are free to play a competitor's game or even make your own. You're not forced into making any purchase.

Do you really feel as though you got absolutely nothing from them for free? Not even a moment's entertainment? If you think they deserve nothing for that then, well, like value - that's your perception.

Ron Dippold
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Okay, that was pretty harsh, so to be clear, I don't mean all F2P is like this. LoL has a pretty darn healthy relationship with its players, for instance.

Martin Juju
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Realistically, as a developer, if you are making games that support this ironic scheme of plotting on human weakness and exploiting it, you should be ashamed, and quite frankly deserve for people to find weaknesses in your games and exploit them the same way most F2P games try to exploit players. CCS lost nothing by him not spending a dollar. At the end of the day, they still make ad revenue off of him, for a damn long time too, not to mention the people who buy content religiously offset the cost of people who don't buy, by a huge margin.

Though I agree if you like a game, pay, especially considering most would pay $60 for a console game, bit when devs try and force you to pay that's the difference. Not to mention, clash of clans for instance, has $100 worth of gems that probably wouldn't even get you through one town hall if you used them to speed up all the upgrades so you're paying $100 for far less content than a $60 Xbox 1 game will get -_- there's something wrong with that.

Chris Dunson
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Glenn Sturgeon: "So you play a game for months and then refuse to throw the developer a couple of bucks?"

I see this so much and just don't understand it. Chocolate Tycoon is a game I love to bits and pieces. I have purchased the game on two different platforms before it went free. $5 for a game that I've put about 60 hours into? There are tons of AAA games that only have about 10 hours of value at 12 times the cost. Really good games need to be supported or developers will stop making them.

Yeah some games are just grind fests, but really its just about how you perceive the value of the game. If you think the game is just boring grinding then why are you playing it anyways? Look for something else to play that you actually enjoy playing.

Dane MacMahon: "There's a strong school of economic thought that can basically be summarized as: the consumer owes you nothing. You have to engineer your product or service to get the consumer to want to give you money, rather than ever think they owe you money."

There's no excuse for piracy/fraud, but still I agree with this very much. Too many developers just slap on IAPs and think that's going to attract customers. There needs to be an actual incentive to buy. Personally when it comes to free games the only things I've ever purchased are optional skins/costumes. If it's a fun game that I put a lot of time into I have no qualms supporting the developer and simultaneously having something cool to show off to my fellow players.

Jason Long
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I'm sorry, but: yes. That is piracy. The answer is obvious, probably even to the author as well. All other rationalizations are just obfuscations to try to make it seem like there's more to it than that, but there isn't. This is the simple truth: you were supposed to pay for something and you didn't. Piracy.

We can argue all day long about whether or not we believe it's justified, what the company's motivations were for including the level, how moral it is, etc., etc. But "whether or not it is piracy" is cut and dry. If you need legal language, I believe someone already provided it upthread. But I don't think anyone really needed that. The "second hand" argument - that the author is adjusting something they "already own" - is patently false. I'm also pretty sure we all knew that, as well.

Personally - and this is just my opinion - I do not believe the author's claim that "I wouldn't have otherwise paid" whatsoever. They fought the game for two months to beat the level and clearly still enjoy it. But none of this (in my opinion, false) justification is relevant to the primary question.

Chris Miller
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When I read the word cheat in the title of your article I was hoping you were focusing on the horrid pay-to-cheat which seems to mysteriously be accepted by the masses... IMO purveyors of PTC games are as bad as crack dealers.