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Gabe Newell gives some rare insight into Valve Anti-Cheat system
Gabe Newell gives some rare insight into Valve Anti-Cheat system
February 18, 2014 | By Mike Rose

February 18, 2014 | By Mike Rose
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing

"We don't usually talk about VAC... This time is going to be an exception."
- Gabe Newell, head at Valve, takes to Reddit to address recent concerns over its Steam anti-cheat program.

Earlier in the week, a number of Reddit users alleged that the Valve Anti-Cheat solution was reading the domains that players were visiting, and potentially utilizing this information.

Newell took directly to the popular social website today to give his side of the situation, stating that "Trust is a critical part of a multiplayer game community - trust in the developer, trust in the system, and trust in the other players."

The core issue, he says, is that the people who create cheats for online games are finding that players are simply downloading cheats for free rather than paying for them -- and so, in return, these cheat creators are putting DRM in place.

"They start creating DRM and anti-cheat code for their cheats," he claims. "These cheats phone home to a DRM server that confirms that a cheater has actually paid to use the cheat."

Thus, when VAC spotted cheats, it would then also check which cheat DRM server has been contacted by looking at your DNS cache. If a match was found with a DNS entry on the VAC servers, your details were double-checked, and you were marked for a potential ban.

Notably, Newell says that the cheat creators have already managed to work around this and as such Valve pulled this VAC feature after just 13 days.

"Cheat versus trust is an ongoing cat-and-mouse game," he adds. "New cheats are created all the time, detected, banned, and tweaked... Kernel-level cheats are expensive to create, and they are expensive to detect. Our goal is to make them more expensive for cheaters and cheat creators than the economic benefits they can reasonably expect to gain."

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Leszek Szczepanski
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People pay in order to cheat in games?
Really, isn't there anything better to spend money on, like... more games?

Bob Fox
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Yep. Same as F2P really, you pay money except to developers to give you advantages instead of cheat makers. In many ways F2P is in fact just developer sponsored cheating.

So really no one should be surprised by people paying to get hacks to cheat at games.

Tim Kofoed
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Free2Play is not always pay2win. Often, yes, but not always

Christopher Lambert
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How would you describe SMITE then - is that F2P example sponsored 'cheating'?

Tim Kofoed
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Personally, I feel that to cheat in games is the same as playing pay2win games... and some people do play those.
My guess is to just get the "win" without any challenge... so yeah, I can believe some pay to cheat.

Luis Guimaraes
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Mark Velthuis
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I wonder if the ammount of people that are cheating is somehow related to wether or not a game has extrinsic rewards (like levels, acievements or some kind of currency to buy equipment) or intrinsic only.

Bob Fox
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You are partly right but it's really...

F2P/MMO are DRM'd games, so when developers do that they force players to go find cheats to these games to play them how they want to. Not as developers force them to. Not to mention many people hate losing and like stomping their enemies.

Maria Jayne
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Unfortunately I've seen growing evidence people would just rather win than play these days. When your biggest business is in encouraging players to be competitive with each other, you end up seeing more and more cheating.

It's why I have such faith in the life of single player or Co-Op games, not everyone wants to beat others at any cost.

Aki Jantti
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Bonus question: Are you allowed to get angry at people who imply circumventing DRM in cheats is wrong?

I guess with the "social engineering side" Gabe meant the posts about VAC spying on you.

There was a fair point made in reddit about how "you're either with us or you're a cheater" might be a dangerous attitude.

The original post was
eads_all_the_domains_you_have_visited/ (note it was posted in Counter Strike subreddit, not for example /r/gaming or /r/valve or anything related to privacy or security.)

So "whoever reversed it" and made the spying known to the public decompiled, read and understood the dynamically streamed modules, which isn't the easiest task. ("There might be software/code out there to dump vac modules. But its not an easy task.", "Vac does a lot of work to hide/obfuscate their modules.", "Vac is very well protected. Their code is encrypted. Function calls are encrypted and hashed. The code i put up has been manually reversed, it doesn't decompile straight into that.")

It's a nice thing we have such diligent watchdogs of justice that do this to all kinds of important pieces of software that might be infringing your privacy.

Stephen Horn
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I don't think it was Gabe's intent to imply "you're either with us or you're a cheater". If anything, I would take it as an observation that it is just as wrong to jump on the bandwagon screaming "z0mg Valve is t3h evil!" as it is to blindly trust that Valve is doing the right thing. Obviously, sooner or later you have to make a judgement whether to trust Valve or not, but for my knowledge and experience I would prefer to err on Valve's side.

Since VAC tries to obfuscate its inner workings, I think there was a legitimate concern regarding users' privacy. I'm comforted that Gabe felt this concern merited a reply, and I think his stance is well thought-out.

Elysia Yang
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