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Game over for online cheaters

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Buzz's Words

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.

Cheaters never prosper

It happens in every game - whether it's Monopoly, pro football or "Halo:
Reach
". Inevitably, some hyper-competitive jerk tries to rig the game, ratcheting up his victory count by illicit means.

It's particularly bothersome in the video game world, but now the cheaters
are getting their just deserts as the developers of some of today's most
popular games - including "StarCraft II," "Red Dead Redemption" and
"Halo: Reach" - are outright banning the most egregious double dealers.

Blizzard has been leading the charge for much of 2010. In April, the company
banned an astonishing 320,000 "Warcraft" and "Diablo" accounts - issuing
30-day suspensions to first offenders and permanently banning repeat
offenders. In October, after issuing a warning to "StarCraft II" players
that it would be coming down hard on less-than-honest players, it
banned another 5,000 accounts.

It didn't stop there, though. On Oct. 18, Blizzard filed suit against
three programmers it alleged had made and sold hacks for "StarCraft II"
alleging copyright infringement.

The bans are meant to do more than punish people for not playing by the
rules. When a game gets overrun by people using hacks, rule-abiding
players lose interest and look elsewhere for their fun. Cheaters can
also impact the stability of the servers. In either event, that hits the
game's bottom line - and that's something publishers won't stand for.

Cheating, said Blizzard in its suit, "causes users to grow dissatisfied with the
game, lose interest in the game, and communicate that dissatisfaction,
thereby resulting in lost sales of the game or 'add-on' packs and
expansions."

There are a variety of ways publishers and developers find cheaters.
Sometimes it comes down to automated systems that detect hacked saved
games - which is how "Red Dead Redemption" has been identifying people.
Other times, it's opponents in multiplayer who suspect their opponent
was a bit too good to be true and report them to moderators, a popular
method in Blizzard games.

That's not the only tool in their arsenal. For the upcoming "Call of Duty:
Black Ops
," developer Treyarch has developed a secret weapon to maintain
fairness: Theater mode.

The system, which allows you to watch the multiplayer matches of other
players, blends "Black Ops'" reporting and game-saving structures to
give the developer the ability to investigate allegations of cheating
through the alleged cheater's eyes. It's useful for spotting bugs, but
it's also a reliable way to determine if someone's breaking the rules.

"Halo: Reach" developer Bungie, meanwhile, has taken things a step further,
implementing an automated system that detects certain signals and
patterns characteristic of cheaters, and bans those players. It's still
an imperfect method, though, and one that has resulted in many false
positive bans that had to be reversed (such as people who experienced
network lag midway through the game, tricking the system into thinking
they quit since they were losing).

While a ban means the end of the line for most players, it's not always fatal
- if you're willing to change your ways and play by the rules. First
offenses, as mentioned, usually get a suspension. And, if you're a
cheater in single player games, sometimes you can get back in the
publisher's good graces by eliminating your save games and staring
fresh.

Take players of best-seller "Red Dead Redemption": those caught cheating in
the single-player campaign had to replay the game while connected online
until they reached a certain point for their ban to be overturned.

Chasing down rule-breakers in multiplayer mode makes some sense, as those are
the people who can ruin the game for everyone. But the fact that bans
extend to even single player games is a bit ironic, especially
considering that just four years ago an entire print magazine was
dedicated to distributing cheat codes.

It just goes to show, though, that while cheaters may win, they rarely do so in the long term.

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