At the 2018 Game Developers Conference, we saw the rise of console-quality mobile games like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite, but also discussed was the need to clean up gaming communities. This extends beyond desktop gaming, and as mobile transitions to more multiplayer and competitive play, the need for policing gaming communities increases too.
One of the biggest contributors to the toxicity of gaming communities is the fact that there are cheaters that undermine the integrity of a fair playing field, ruining the game for others. Cheating can assume various forms from something as innocuous as a player relying on a dictionary to cheat at Words with Friends or to something more involved like the college student who created a tool that scrubbed Google for answers to HQ Trivia and was able to respond within the 10-second window.
The toxicity among gaming communities is so prevalent that the Fair Play Alliance was created to fight this problem. With big names like Rovio, Blizzard, Epic, Riot, Supercell, and Twitch backing the Alliance, there’s hope that gaming will become more inclusive for everyone. Game communities are more than just a place for your fans to talk with one another. Communities can drive higher engagement, help market your game, and they’re a great place to gather feedback from your most passionate fans.
While cheaters may be few and far between, they have the ability to poison your game’s community, turning away loyal players because of the frustration of never being able to be competitive enough. Even worse, cheaters can disrupt your in-game economy and affect your monetization if it goes unchecked.
Your game may not be plagued by cheaters yet, but there are some simple steps to prevent cheating from turning your mobile game community toxic.
Require a sign-in to play or offer a generic error
Banning an IP is a common form of kicking cheaters off your game, but be aware that a player can simply switch up their IP address by resetting their router or modem, or spoofing their IP via a virtual private network if using a PC. In mobile gaming, of course, it’s as simple as turning off Wi-Fi and using your cellular radio.
An easy way to prevent this is to simply give a cheater a generic error when they’re banned rather than an overt message. While cheaters will eventually catch on to their ban, this will slow them down and will detract from the urge to retaliate. But there’s a better option than banning IP addresses, especially since this method doesn’t work well on mobile devices, as private and public IP addresses are constantly changing.
One of the simplest solutions to curbing cheating in your mobile game is to implement an ID system. This means you can either require a username and password or you can simply integrate a social login with Google, Facebook, or Twitter. This is made easy by Apple and Google, as players are incentivized to tie their gaming accounts to their Apple ID with Game Center or Google account in Google Play Games.
Tying a gamer to an Apple or Google ID is your best bet at curbing cheating, because it’s much more difficult to create a new account to cheat again when a player’s phone is so heavily tied to that ID.
Another way to deter cheating in your mobile game is to take away the incentives to cheat in the first place. In the case of Niantic’s Pokémon Go, cheaters weren’t banned but were prevented from seeing rare Pokémon. This simple tweak works because the cheaters were not able to complete their ultimate goal: collecting every Pokémon in the game. However, like any software, there will always be players trying to poke at games for vulnerabilities. To this day, there’s still high demand for Pokémon Go hacks.
The developers behind Game Dev Tycoon did something similar when it found that gamers were pirating their game on PC. Instead of shutting down the torrents, the developers created a pirated version that guilted pirates by showing the impacts of piracy in-game. This unusual approach was more effective at getting pirates to empathize with the developers than if they simply played whack-a-mole with taking down torrents.
Keep things on your own servers if possible
Game developers and publishers should be aware of the limitations of hosting their games’ data on client servers like Google Play Services. With a client server like Google Play, you will have less control and you can’t run your own gaming scripts.
It’s also a good idea to do your security and transactions on a server instead of on the client side, which can be manipulated. For example, Android games can be cracked if your in-game balances are kept in the client side. This allows users who know how to access the root Android OS to replace files to trick the game into giving them more in-game currency. iOS games are more difficult to manipulate since you’ll have to jailbreak the phone in order to gain root access to the filesystem.
These are just a few tips that mobile game developers and publishers can use to help reduce cheating in games. While it may seem like a losing battle, fighting cheaters is necessary for the long-term success of your game and its communities. If players feel like a game is no longer fair, then it’s no longer fun, which will take a bite out of your revenue. The best you can do is stay diligent with finding loopholes and cheaters within your game and to take away the incentives for cheating in the first place.