Transparency: Cheating Is Good For Online Games

This week's Transparency tell you how you can cheat and still benefit online gaming communities.

When researching topics for this column, I found that Grand Theft Auto V cheats were among the top searches for online games. I really shouldn’t be surprised. Nearly every gamer that I know wants to win, and some people have to resort to cheating to “win.” Of course, is there really any way to win a persistent online game? There is.

When the online game is the best that it can be, and players continue to play and have an extremely good time doing so. That means the consumers win and so do the developers. And, believe it or not, one of the best ways for games to become better is for players to cheat.

I am going to catch a lot of flack from people who read this.

Many people will read this and believe that I am condoning hacking and other kinds of cheats, but that’s not what I mean. Grade-school morality says that if you cheat you’re a bad person. However, I’m here to tell you that cheating is part of the game. If you play by the rules all the time, then the game you’re playing will never become what it should be. And the community will actually suffer in the long run.

I will give you examples, and perhaps this will help clarify what I mean.

I think the first thing that I should make clear is that cheating will exist whether you do it or someone else does. There is not one online game that doesn’t suffer from speed hacks, wallhacks, or people taking advantage of lag issues. However, these issues could be lessened if the developers would fix them. But when I say that I think more people need to try to cheat, doesn’t mean that I believe they should be using third party programs to do that -- except in one very specific example.

WoW MMO Champion Datamining

Datamining is free advertising

Most people don’t call datamining -- or client unpacking -- a cheat, but it really is.

Players who unpack the client, find out things about the underlying structure of the game that could give them an unfair advantage over the other players. But because most datamining is benign, I don’t have any real issue with datamining. In fact, I usually like to encourage datamining when it’s in the context of finding tidbits about the future of the game.

World of Warcraft fans love it when MMO Champion digs into the client files to find the new armor models. This actually works to the developer’s advantage if it is paying attention. Not only does it advertise for the game for free, but it also gives instant feedback regarding the new designs. This doesn’t work with just armor, but it also works for future storylines and class designs, too.

Exploit bugs, then give feedback

Exploiting bugs is another form of cheating that I endorse -- to a point. There is a time and place to test bugs. And the absolute best time to exploit those bugs is during this testing period, but there is a major caveat: report those bugs as soon as you see them. If you are on a test server, then it is kind of your obligation to take advantage of a bug as much as you can. In fact, you should probably see if there is more than one way to take advantage of the bug.

If you are on a test server, then it is kind of your obligation to take advantage of a bug as much as you can. In fact, you should probably see if there is more than one way to take advantage of the bug.

If you encounter a bug in the live game, then you’ve run into a completely different situation. Of course, you should immediately report it. However, it would behoove you to not repeat the exploit more than once. If you stumbled on it by accident, it’s probably OK to do it one more time to see if it’s repeatable, but you should mention that in your bug report. Also be prepared lose any items you might have gained from using the bug.

Creative use of mechanics

It should come as no surprise to any gamer that the more creative you are about using the game’s existing mechanics the more fun the game will be. Many people would consider it cheating if you use a mechanic beyond the way the developer intended for you to use it. If it’s clearly a bug, then yes, I agree. Report it and never use it again. However, if the innate design of the game allows you to, for instance, transfer a bind-on-pickup item to an

However, if the innate design of the game allows you to, for instance, transfer a bind-on-pickup item to an alt by merely using the game’s existing mechanics, then by all means, do it. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that if you don’t do it then someone else will. Until a developer says that it is an exploit, then not using it actually puts you at a disadvantage.


If your goal is to better the game either by finding exploits or by datamining, then you will likely be frustrated by the speed that most game developers respond. It’s slow -- extremely slow in my experience. I’ve questioned many times when dataminers would find something really cool in the client files why the developer isn’t telling us about these things.

I should also mention that internet time always appears to fly by faster than real time. If you play a game with any regularity and you notice a cheat or maybe you’re doing it yourself, then every time you see someone use that cheat, it’s going to wear on you. And it will never seem like the developers are responding fast enough. But you should always give them a couple of days if it a game-breaking bug before spouting about it on social media.

If the bug isn’t game-breaking, then give them a couple of weeks or the next update before announcing it to the world.

A better community

Recently, Star Wars: The Old Republic ran into some pitfalls where the community team was not responding to an exploit fast enough. Because of a bug, players were able to get gear without having actually completing the content. For a long time (months), the community team did not respond to the issue, and the bug continued to fester, and it came to the point where players came to believe that nothing was ever going to be done about the issue.

If a player didn’t use the exploit, they would begin to feel like they were behind the curve. The bug was eventually fixed, but not before it made a major impact on the game.

When the next major bug popped up, the community team handled the issue differently. When the bug was first found and reported, the community team made a post on the forum, letting everyone know that this bug existed and that if they used it that there would be consequences. And today, Community Manager Eric Musco had a very surprising report:

“I wanted to pass on one more update before we go into the weekend. In looking at our data, since we actioned players yesterday for exploiting we have had no additional players exploit since then. It is a great sign that for the time being, use of the exploit has completely stopped. We will continue to monitor throughout the weekend and take action against any further exploitation.

We want to thank all of you who have steered clear of that area and continue to play the game in a fair and respectful way. I will give you one final update regarding the exploit on Monday. Thanks!”

Making the game better is a two-way street. Trying to break the game is certainly part of what players can do, but do it with care. In the end, developers will make better games, and communities will be tighter.

Published May. 1st 2015
View Comments
  • Rothalack
    Master O' Bugs
    After watching a lot of Dota2 over the past few years, I have learned to agree with you. IceFrogs design philosophy is "if everything is OP, then nothing is". So basically everything in the game is almost brokenly powerful. The best of the best players literally just exploit that to its fullest extent. When everyone playing the game is exploiting these mechanics, no one is really exploiting anymore, it's just the way the game is played at the top.
  • Farrel Nobel
    Really enjoy your transparency series Larry. :)
  • Larry Everett
    Featured Columnist
    Thanks! I'll keep making them if you keep reading them.

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