Modern game developers fight three wars. That's a lot of wars to fight. The first is the usual war for sales, and for customer eyeballs, but everyone has to fight that. The second is the war against piracy, which is depressing and never-ending, but not the topic of this article. The third is the war against online cheaters, griefers and hackers.
The basic dilemma is this: You design a game where the object is to win and beat the other guy/girl, and the online component lets you play against anyone else who has a copy of the game. The individual PC's all have 'local' copies of the game, and they send data to each other (or a central server) to work out who shot who, or beat who, etc. The problem is, you really cannot trust any of the people playing the game not to cheat. The central server has NO IDEA who is sending it data. It might claim to be a copy of the game being played by a human, but it could easily be a bot. or it could be some program that sits between the game and the server that re-interprets the data, allowing the player to see through walls, or auto-adjusting the aim of their bullets to hit the enemy.
Almost all online games suffer horribly from this kind of cheating and hacking. As an aside, there is also 'griefing' where people play the game in an 'abusive' way by picking on lower-skill characters, killing people on their own team, and generally ruining everyone's fun.
Online game developers spend HUGE effort (and time and money) trying to prevent people getting away with all this. This is time (and money) better spent on making a great game, but they can't do that, because the online griefers and cheats will then ruin the game for everyone. Most older online FPS games are now unplayable because the multiplayer game cheats have taken over, and there is just no way the developer can justify spending more time and money on fighting the losing battle against them. In some cases, there is just no technical solution, because it involves paying poor chinese peasants to sit there and play a game for you, in what we have all come to know and love as gold farming. (it's very hard to detect that).
I think I have a solution.
My next game will be partially designed around multiplayer competition (although it will be a very playable singleplayer game too). The exact nature of the game will differ from most normal 'online' games, so the problem of finding someone to play against will become moot, but I'll save the way I've done that for another time :D
My brilliant solution to the online cheating and hacking is this:
I will not make any attempt, even a slight one, to prevent cheating.
In a sense, I'll be handing the cheats everything they want. They can cheat MASSIVELY. They will be able to alter simple text files to give themselves better weapons and twice as many units. They can hack away and cheat and grief until they fall to the floor exhausted. It will be the easiest online multiplayer game to cheat in ever. And I predict near-total success in avoiding them doing so.
Because people will KNOW openly and up-front that the game is easily hacked and cheated, so you will ONLY play that game with your friends, people you know either in real-life or from online. I can name a dozen people I can play games against right now who I know wouldn't cheat against me. Why would they? it would be cruel, tragic, and pretty sad to cheat on your friends. People use hacks and cracks and cheats and bots to cause grief to strangers, not to their friends who they go out for a beer with.
Now I KNOW there are some people who would use an aimbot to beat their friends in an online FPS. Some people are just assholes frankly, but tbh I don't care about making a game for those people. They will likely pirate it anyway, and we all know that once everyone starts cheating, the game is no fun for anyone.
I firmly believe that there is absolutely no point in continuing to try and prevent multiplayer jerks ruining online gaming. the ONLY solution is to stop letting people think they can honestly play a fun game with a total stranger online who they can trust not to rip them off. The age of anonymous online random player matching is dead. Long live gaming with your friends.
If you are a programmer you may find this article interesting.
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