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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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