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 Titanfall : Why Respawn is punishing cheaters
Titanfall: Why Respawn is punishing cheaters
April 4, 2014 | By Christian Nutt

April 4, 2014 | By Christian Nutt
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    42 comments
More: Console/PC, Design, Business/Marketing



Last week, Respawn Entertainment announced that it has begun to group cheaters at its game Titanfall into special cheater-only servers -- meaning that they will not only be removed from the general player population, but also will only be able to play a very frustrating version of the game.

"You can play with other banned players in something that will resemble the Wimbledon of aimbot contests. Hopefully the aimbot cheat you paid for really is the best, or these all-cheater matches could be frustrating for you. Good luck," read the blog post announcing the move.

To find out more about why the developer felt it necessary to take this step, the FairFight middleware it's using to detect cheaters, and what effect cheating has on the player population of Titanfall -- as well as how big of a problem it really is -- Gamasutra conducted an interview with Respawn network engineer Jon Shiring and community manager Abbie Heppe, who answered the below questions collaboratively.

What effect do cheaters have, from your perspective, on the general player population?

Left unchecked, cheaters will make any competitive game not fun for players who don't cheat. In a multiplayer game like ours they will ruin the match for others and the memory of it will stick with them for a while. A small number of cheaters will have a much larger impact on the community. So it's really important to us that we quickly find and flag the cheaters.

Do you trust the FairFight system to catch only legitimate cheaters?

I think they have a great product and they've given me nothing but confidence in it. I have yet to see any false reporting of cheaters in it. Battlefield has been using it with great success as well.

I feel like the subtext to this is a question I get asked a lot: "Will I get banned for exploiting bugs or glitches in the game?" No, we're careful to look at each cheating scenario and see if it's a bug, a cheat, or just an unexpected use of the game.

In some cases they are really rare bugs, and we don't punish the players for that -- we've spent considerable time investigating those to see how they could happen. In many cases, we can fix it with a server patch so the bug just goes away.

We feel pretty confident that we can only flag players who are actually cheating.

What effect does cheating have on the mechanics of a skill-based game like Titanfall?

The effect is almost entirely psychological. It is, of course, really frustrating to lose to someone because they are cheating and you aren't, and everyone gets mad when it happens.

In terms of actual lasting impact, it obviously can hurt your K/D ratio, but over many matches, a few games won't have any real effect. And the skill system is adaptive -- a few matches aren't going to have any long-term change to your skill -- it's always adjusting it constantly so we can get you into matches that are a good skill match for you. Since we don't even display your skill, it's okay if it goes down temporarily because you lost to a cheater -- it's not a bragging point -- it's just a number that helps us find people who are like you.

How big of a problem is cheating in online games, in your estimation? Qualify or quantify that however you like.

I don't think the actual raw number of cheaters is as big as many gamers might expect. Which, if you're looking for a reason to be optimistic about humanity, is a good thing.

Nowadays, if you want to be cheating on your PC, you are usually paying a monthly subscription to do it (seriously) (and cheats have DRM to make sure you're up to date on your subscription before they'll run). The anti-cheat systems have gotten good enough that the cheat companies need to be constantly patching to try to stay ahead, and it's expensive to maintain that code and expensive to get your updates so you can cheat on your PC.

For a full-priced game like Titanfall, if you have to keep starting new accounts and buying a new copy of the game to play with cheats because you've been removed from the regular player pool or banned altogether, it could get quite annoying and expensive to play.

What do you expect to be the outcome of this particular approach?

I think our blog summed it up with "The Wimbledon of aimbot lobbies." It's funny how many people want to see that happen. Another outcome is that if your friend is a cheater, you won't want to play with them anymore. We're okay with both of those outcomes.


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Comments


Jonathan Ghazarian
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They really need to record one of these wimbledon matches and post it online. I would love to see what an all cheater titanfall match looks like.

Garry Grossmann
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Back in the day, we used to make AvP2 servers dedicated to cheaters. They were actually very popular whenever they were up.
Although cheaters weren't common (typically 1-3 cheaters a day), they were a serious problem, because cheating could allow you to fly around the map really fast and spam rockets all over the place (5-10 rockets every second, depending on the kind of cheat) and on a server which nobody was watching over, cheater basically meant game over for absolutely everyone. Many people had TSearch ready (a hex editor) in case a cheater appeared.
Seeing a server named "Cheaters only - no god mod" really got a lot of attention, as well as traffic. Even during early morning hours (1-3AM), when servers were mostly empty, we could easily fill up a server of 16 slots, everyone using some kind of a cheat. There were some pretty funny moments too - although a lot of people knew how to cheat, few people did enough research to know all the cheats, so you would get a new player join in, you can clearly see he has cheats on and after a while he's like "Wait, how the fuck are you people flying?" Sad thing was that we would constantly get people in the game begging us to teach them how to cheat.

Greg Scheel
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@Grossmann

This is a much better way to deal with cheating than ban spam. I tend to think that bans are often overkill, and that more subtle means of responding are better.

Mike Griffin
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Man, you have to be really gutless to pay a monthly subscription to a cheat service.
Congratulations cheater, you fail at gaming. Worse, you pay to be a failure.

Not to mention, it sounds complicated and annoying to use a cheat service. You spend time working to be a cheater (time you could spend -- brace yourself -- getting better at the game). Doubly pathetic.

It's amusing that Respawn is putting all the cheaters in the same basket.
Like: "Here you go, spineless aimbot losers -- knock yourselves out and leave everyone else out of it. Still having 'fun'?"

Jeremy English
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Maybe it's just me, but I don't understand how cheating is fun anyway other than to be a total jerk. Who finds enjoyment out of winning easily all the time? That seems like a quick fun fix for maybe an hour or two, then you go "...this is boring, i'm going to go do something else now."

Greg Scheel
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A hacker may very well be interested in griefing, and not in being seen as a winner. They might be wanting to grief other players, or they might want to grief the developers. I can assure you that both of these motivations were behind much of the rampant hacking in Darkfall Online; and that leaving much of the code on the client seemed to enrage certain players.

Tyler King
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Never underestimate people's innate desire to troll.

Taylor Gammon
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Precisely, "Some men just want to watch the (digital) world burn.

Maria Jayne
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Cheating is winning, winning for many gamers has become more important than competing. See all that hate and bile gamers are spewing at each other? there's attitude in that. They want to beat you, they want to feel superior, earning it takes too long, paying for it however...takes no time at all. Before anybody finds out, you're king of all you survey, people worship your awesomeness. They're willing to pay for that worship, even if it is fleeting, because it skips the frustration of normal people.

Look how many games are designed to be competitive now, even single player games have online score boards or achievements you can use to compare with others. It's an ugly combination of internet anonymity and marketing hype, be the best, crush everyone, be a god.....at least until you get detected.

Kyle Redd
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And for that reason, I wish people would ease up on the cheaters a little, or at least try to empathize. They want to win. It's no fun to play a game you would otherwise enjoy, but don't, because you're constantly losing. So they cheat. In doing so, they ruin the game for everyone else, but if they don't the game is ruined for them. For a game that cost at least $60, that's a powerful motivator.

Wanting to enjoy a game is not a valid excuse for cheating, but people should at least understand why they do it.

Sam Stephens
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@Kyle Redd

"They want to win. It's no fun to play a game you would otherwise enjoy, but don't, because you're constantly losing."

If they want to win so badly then they should just, you know, get better at the game. Most players are not going to be the best, but if they care enough, they can still be competitive and win some games. Online competitive games today usually have at least decent matchmaking systems that place people with generally equal skill against each other. In the end, there really is no good reason to cheat, so it's difficult to emphasize with cheaters who are capable of learning how to play the game.

Brendan Gallagher
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@Kyle
Wow...that is the sad defense of cheating. Cheaters, like thieves, like rats are bottom feeders and need to be segregated from, discarded and forgotten by those who takes their chances at real competition. This way they can cheat and hack and do whatever else bottom feeders do to pass the time.

Just saying.

Michael Joseph
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"The program has rules, like gravity. But as in many computer programs, some rules can be bent while others can be broken." -The Matrix

It's a little too simple to say that cheaters fail at gaming. Many cheaters would take the exact opposite view. In the minds of many, cheating is playing the game at a level others aren't prepared to go. They see themselves as a sort of virtual ubermensch.

The psychology of cheaters can be a bit alien to non cheaters.

David Pare
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"It's a little too simple to say that cheaters fail at gaming. Many cheaters would take the exact opposite view. In the minds of many, cheating is playing the game at a level others aren't prepared to go. They see themselves as a sort of virtual ubermensch."

I tend to agree with this when you actually are the one creating the cheat. When you pay to use a cheat someone else created then I would say that you fail at gaming! :)

Michael Joseph
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:) Well if some gamers experience delight in breaking rules and engaging in taboo behavior, at least they're doing it in a relatively harmless environment. All I'm saying is there's more to cheating than just being a jerk. Nothing more than a nuisance to some developers, but some might also find having hordes of cheaters playing their game strangely flattering.

Developers don't have to accommodate them but they should try to employ a little empathy rather than take the easy way out with simplistic b&w characterizations.

David Pare
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Yep, creating those cheats isn't an easy task so it means the game was actually worth it. Some people see it as a challenge and others as a way to make money but still they needed a great interest in your game to reach the point of creating/using cheats.

Brendan Gallagher
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I think pickpockets and folk who mug little old ladies would offer up a similar defense. They earn where others fear to tread.

It's not not particularly alien, it's bottom feeding. We all know what bottom feeders are. Most simply prefer not to be, well, cheating scum.

Gerald RK
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I wonder if ingame-settings like the Unreal Tournament Series offered would reduce the desire for cheats in people who would like to bend the game rules. I remember fun games using low gravity, crazy weapon damage and attack speed, etc. etc. Just as Garry Grossmann posted, might be a good idea to let players put off some steam in a silly "all cheater" match without even the need to download/install a cheating system.

Sam Stephens
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I would argue that once someone cheats, they are no longer playing a game because they have not consented to the formal rules making all actions nearly meaningless for both them and the other players. Cheaters don't accept a "lusory attitude." This is why cheaters are such a nuisance. They compromise the game state for everyone playing. Respawn's solution is such a great idea because it isolates the cheaters, allowing them to have their own selfish fun without the expense of the other players' enjoyment.

TC Weidner
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Good for Respawn, I have been hoping to see developers do this exact remedy for years. Good for them. Competitive games and sports can ONLY thrive if cheating is strictly punished and banned.

Greg Scheel
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The problem here is that 'fairfight' is statistical based 'cheat' detection, play too well, pwn noobz ie easy kills, and it may well flag you a cheater on that basis alone. I find it conspicuous that no one has yet mentioned this.

Christian Nutt
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Is there actual evidence of this? Or is this just an urban legend type situation? I'm genuinely curious.

Ian Richard
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I'm curious about that too.

I used to get kicked from matches all the time in Dance Online for "cheating" despite just being good at the game. It was one of the many reasons that I'd given up online gaming.

I would love to see more data on how this all works out. Removing cheaters without false positives would be an amazing addition to the online gaming world.

Greg Scheel
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@Nutt

I personally have no hard evidence, however player perception of hax is just as important as the reality. There is simply no way that statistical analysis by itself can be used to positively identify a hack using player. At most, statistics may help identify which players need to be watched more closely, particularly those who suddenly get much better at aiming.

There was an absolutely insane hackusation thread on the Battlefield forums, and whether truth or fiction, statistic based drama is not anything I would want associated with my game.

I have much more to say on this topic, but I want to have better information and some raw data to show before I launch into a magnum opus on hack prevention.

Edit: It may be worth mentioning that Fairfight does require configuration, and a poorly done config is sure to result in more false positives than a well considered one. Even so, the use of server side statistics alone are not enough to establish the presence of a hack.

TC Weidner
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Greg, when data crunching numbers its not hard to spot a aimbot user from just a good player.

Greg Scheel
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That will really depend on how the game actually works, ray casts are very different from physic objects. At best, statistic analysis should only be used to flag users for further inspection, and not automatic banning. 'Fairfight', to my knowledge, uses multiple statistics, and has to be configured to work at all. A poor configuration can result in flagging a player for using AOE attacks against players that have not thought out their defenses.

How will you detect an intelligent aimbot that deliberately misses a few shots? Heck, if I made an aimbot, I would set it up with a slider bar, just to provide a way to get around 'fairfight'.

There is also a general failure to use human intelligence gathering, this is topic I may well address at some point in the future. At the very least, all ban decisions should be made by a real person, not a machine.

Eric Salmon
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How so?

I mean, if I was programming an aimbot, I'd identify the top legitimate player's accuracy % or what have you and program that in as roughly the upper bound. Maybe they have a 90% hit ratio, then I'd have the aimbot activate 85-95% of the time. That's just me, but I imagine if there's a thriving business and their losing customers who are banned, they'll fix that pretty quick.

I do know that I was accused of using an aimbot fairly often when I used to play CoD a lot, so it's pretty obvious to me that a human decision process watching a kill cam isn't reliable.

Eric Salmon
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Beat me to it.

Greg Scheel
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@Salmon

Great minds think alike ;P

Jonathan Murphy
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Due process, innocent before proven guilty, having a human being check the accused committing said crime rather than a automated system. When we argue that any percentage of innocent people being punished is the greater good, we have become the problem, not the solution.

John Flush
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In QA you are always guilty and then proven innocent... otherwise you are testing wrong. As long as the punishment isn't extreme enough that would probably drive better results than the alternative.

Bruno Xavier
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Another online fps. Just what the world needed.

Terry Matthes
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At least this one brought something new to the party.

Bruno Xavier
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Yes, I agree they have cool new mechanics.

Greg Quinn
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Why people play a game so they can cheat, makes absolutely no sense to me.

You'd think having fun and being challenged in the game was more important than good stats on a board somewhere.

Michael Joseph
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It's not even about stats necessarily. The game feels like a mod especially in games where many players are cheating and it's cheaters vs cheaters. When you're in spectate mode after dying early in a round and you have a wallhack installed, it becomes VERY easy to observe which players are cheating. Back in my Counterstrike days it showed me just how many players were in fact cheating. A LOT!

Sometimes players cheat just to level the playing field and then the game turns into "who is the better cheater." A mod. I only cheated for a few months before I finally quit altogether (~2003) but for that short time cheating actually rejuvenated the experience.

If cheats were easier to find and safe to install, there would be MANY cheaters. Sitting back and suggesting cheaters are abnormal (you didn't say that but it's a mental leap on my part) is fundamentally misunderstanding the issue. It seems like willful ignorance to me. We should be TRYING to understand all of our players better.. not just the ones we deem "nice."

And while we're on the subject, kill/score boards, achievements and killing spree notifications and such... all of these sorts of psychological "features" make players care more about winning than how they play the game. THESE GAMES ARE DESIGNED TO MAKE PLAYERS CRAVE "WINNING." They cater to the self and thus encourage selfish behavior.

They're already virtually killing one another... finding an edge is something the game is silently screaming for them to do to keep the dopamine flowing.

Yes developers... be flattered by your army of cheaters. Be flattered by just how far some of your players will go to get an edge.
--

p.s I'm honestly not saying that you Greg Quinn were bullied in grade school by children who also cheated in class and that you now subconsciously associate cheaters with "jerks" (people you don't understand :)) but I wonder if some folks do. When it comes to games, we all might be surprised at the various types of people who have cheated online from time to time.

Anyone who plays games is not all bad. Most of us would get along with each other just fine face to face.

Sam Stephens
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@Michael Joseph

"And while we're on the subject, kill/score boards, achievements and killing spree notifications and such... all of these sorts of psychological "features" make players care more about winning than how they play the game. THESE GAMES ARE DESIGNED TO MAKE PLAYERS CRAVE 'WINNING'."

I must strongly disagree with this assumption. These things are not "psychological features," at least not in some behavioralist pop-psychology nonsense. They are elements that help to inform the player of their relative skill. In this sense, pretty much every game in existence is "designed to make players crave winning," because it's satisfying to learn and overcome challenges. That's the main appeal of gameplay, especially in a game like Titanfall. Cheaters don't care about the challenge and ruin the whole experience for everyone else.

"They're already virtually killing one another..."

No one is "virtual killing" anyone.

"Sitting back and suggesting cheaters are abnormal is fundamentally misunderstanding the issue."

I would not say cheating is abnormal either (although it is definitely deviant to a degree). The same could be said for being obnoxious in a movie theater. However, that does make these behaviors any less disruptive or selfish. Dealing with these behaviors is the issue.

Michael Joseph
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They're informative and they're psychological. Absolutely.

And cheaters are selfish but the games encourage selfishness.

Developers shouldn't be so shocked at what their games bring out in people.

p.s "deviant" is such a useless word. Nobody refers to dogs that attack their owners as "deviant." They say "the poor dog was probably beaten and abused. It was just acting like any dog would." All dog behavior is afforded the full range of normalcy. The same should go for humans. The word is mostly used as a sort of scientific sounding slur and as a barrier to trying to understand all of humanity. No human being is statistically "normal" in every respect.

Everyone is normal. Everyone is deviant.

Sam Stephens
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"And cheaters are selfish but the games encourage selfishness."

How so? When playing a game, all players have to consent to the rules for everyones' enjoyment. This consent, in part, comes out of a sense of what is fair to keep the game bound in some kind of logical, understandable progression. I would hardly call this "social contract" selfish. Why do you think people get so annoyed at cheaters? They do so because cheaters put what they want ahead of the common desires of the other players. It's unfair. If players get upset at unfair behavior, then naturally they must care about what is fair, a concern that is both selfish and selfless. At that point, we are just arguing about the true motivations for every individual in every situation.

I don't think cheaters even care about winning as technically they can never win since the act of cheating, as I argue in another comment, compromises the the game state. Many probably just like to grief other players or mess with the scoreboards.

Michael Joseph
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EULAs not withstanding there is no consent to things like gamesmanship/sportsmanship. cheaters certainly do harm the experience of non cheaters. i'm not trying to absolve cheaters or condone cheating. i'm simply against making cheaters into monsters. it's just games.

im coming from a perspective of someone who hated cheaters and then had the experience of being a cheater. you see things differently after that. i think most cheaters have had that experience.

if "how you played the game" really was the most important thing, folks wouldn't hate cheaters so much. With hate comes vengefulness and with that so goes all the rules. There's hypocrisy there and why I believe you could turn anyone who hates cheaters into a cheater. Something about people becoming the things they hate...

Sam Stephens
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"EULAs not withstanding there is no consent to things like gamesmanship/sportsmanship."

I am not really talking about sportsmanship. The act of playing a game inherently involves consenting to rules that are agreed upon or upheld. It's not difficult to see how a single player who can destroy this fragile relationship even when everyone else chooses not to goes against the will of the majority.

"i'm not trying to absolve cheaters or condone cheating. i'm simply against making cheaters into monsters."

Cheaters are certainly not monsters. I can't think of a single person I know, good or bad, who has not cheated at least once while playing a game. Still, cheating is not a good behavior and we should not allow or encourage it. This is much more difficult to do in video games because personal confrontation does not happen. Banning a player outright is probably too harsh and won't correct the behavior. Respawn's solution is much better because it takes away cheaters' power without taking the content away from them.

Harry Debelius
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More companies should follow suit. I have no problems with cheaters as long as they aren't in public servers, they can really ruin a game.


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