Video game cheats are fun. People older than I am will remember playing classic GTA games and inputting a combination of buttons to do silly stuff like drive a tank or murder innocents with complete invincibility. People older still will remember the Konami code, a button combo replicated in numerous single-player games to give the player a bit of freedom and break the game for their own entertainment.
With online gaming's enormous popularity though, cheating in games has taken on a whole new meaning. FPS pros on all the biggest games have issues with people using external software to gain an unfair advantage, with the latest controversy being the revelation that Battlefield 2042 already has cheats available to purchase.
With this being the case, I thought I'd have a chat with the people behind the hacks and cheats to figure out why they do what they do, and what makes them so seemingly unstoppable for the devs behind these games.
Why do people sell cheats?
So then, why is making and selling cheats something people spend time and effort doing? Well, I had a word with a representative of IWantCheats, a cheating outlet who you'll have seen mentioned if you follow the controversy around Warzone and Battlefield's cheating issues.
I wanted to know why, on multiple counts.
Why do people think it's okay to distribute these cheats to customers? According to the representative, it's in order to level the playing field somewhat. To be fair, I do understand the frustrations a lot of players face. I struggle to get into Fortnite because of the ludicrous ability of a bunch of sleep-deprived 12-year-olds with nothing but time to grind the game and utterly destroy me before building a structurally-unsound tower a mile in the sky within a matter of seconds.
"Not everyone can sit around 10 - 15 hours a day playing shooter games. Some of us only have a few hours to play a night or on the weekend, and we can't compete with the guys playing 50+ hours a week," according to the representative I spoke to.
Admittedly, it's a real pain to get wrecked by players who grind the game a bunch and are just way better than you, but that's where a level of skill-based matchmaking comes in really handy. If you're worse than someone, you'll supposedly get paired with players closer to your skill level. Maybe that's why the cheating problem is such a huge concern for those at the very top: streamers, pros, and content creators are being punished for being good at the game.
Do they care?
When I asked why they create cheats when so many consider it a game-ruining problem, the answer was similar.
"We like to give users who need an advantage some extra features like ESP [Extra Sensory Perception] to see all players and an aimbot to help them make faster kills. We find that older players can't compete against the kids playing 10+ hours a day, and these users enjoy an extra hand."
What if everyone used cheats, though? Would that not completely destroy the point of playing a competitive game? Not according to the representative I spoke to.
"If everyone were using cheats, that would be fine with me; we would just code a counter cheat so other cheat makers couldn't target us," they say.
Apparently, a lot of people are already cheating, too. The representative claimed that over 50% of players use cheats, although I haven't seen any evidence to suggest that's the case. They do claim to have over 1.2 million users though - a pretty hefty number for just a single distributor.
I wondered whether cheat manufacturers are worried at all about sabotaging themselves by chasing legitimate players out of playerbases, thus making their own cheats pointless, but was told this is of no concern. Rather, the concern should be with the developers for not staying on top of the cheating situation.
"Take a look at the Fortnite player base; it has some cheats but not many; why? Because Epic does a great job, and they stay on top of cheats for the game. If everyone leaves a game, it's just because they go to a newer version of the game. Many people complain and leave Warzone because of cheats, but it still has a massive player base."
And that's the thing - there's a lot of cheaters, but even more players just looking for a good time. The folks I interviewed are only a tiny proportion of the total market for cheating software in games too, so even if this lot stopped, there are dozens of other people developing aimbots and wallhacks ready to take their place.
Read More: All the guns in Battlefield 2042
Are devs actually able to keep up?
With all this happening, and so much backlash against cheat manufacturers on their ruining of the games they target, it's become clear to the developers of these games that cheaters and cheat manufacturers are a force to be reckoned with. Battlefield and Call of Duty have reportedly both been investing heavily in anti-cheat systems, with many players hoping this will solve the problem for good. It's the hope that kills you though.
"You'll find that most anti-cheat software isn't perfect against advanced cheat sites,” says the IWantCheats representative. “It's just a cat and mouse game; if an anti-cheat detects any cheat, the cheat coder will quickly recode the cheats and release a new version. Anti Cheat sites must get our latest version and detect it again, this can go on for months, but many of the advanced cheat coders can get around all the current anti-cheat systems."
"Every type of anti-cheat has ways around it; a new AC will take a little longer to break. You have to remember that cheat coders are just as clever as the developers. Cheat coders have to figure out a way to hide cheats so the anti-cheats can't find us… any new AC on the market will eventually have a workaround so that COD Vanguard won't be an issue."
Spare a thought for the devs, since it's clearly not as easy as some might realise to stamp out cheaters from online games, and with cheat software constantly iterating on itself to evade anti-cheat, these hacks might well be here to stay.
Perhaps the industry as a whole would be well-served clubbing together and joining forces to stop cheaters. As my interviewee said, some games like Fortnite aren't quite as chock-full of cheaters as other games thanks to Epic's hard work in shutting it down, so maybe they could share this expertise to make gaming a fairer place as a whole.
Cheating: it's a big money market
I found it fascinating to learn more about the motivations of cheaters and cheat distributors though. A huge amount of work goes into making and distributing cheats on online games, and I wondered what kind of money is being made in this cottage industry.
"Cheating is a hobby for most people working at IWantCheats; think of our money as fun money; we do it for fun because we love the games and the cheats. I know that cheat makers can make millions if they keep cheats undetected and advertise well."
It must be some pretty good 'fun money', then. If they do have 1.2 million users registered as they claim, this site is absolutely raking it in - prices range from around $10 a month for unpopular games to $60 a month for the biggest titles out there.
The fact that you have to pay monthly for access to the latest cheats is a business model which really seems to work in cheat distributors' favour, too. With the 'cat-and-mouse' relationship between cheaters and the game devs, customers of cheating websites are going to need consistent access to the tools if they want to continue without being banned.
It looks like online game cheaters are here to stay, at least for the time being. Obviously, no one will admit to it in public, but there clearly are a lot of people who gain enjoyment and satisfaction out of using and making cheats.
Who knows, though! The upcoming anti-cheat systems for Battlefield 2042 and Call of Duty: Vanguard might be the dawn of a more sophisticated way to remove cheaters from the game for good, and hopefully make online shooters a more welcoming place for everyone.
Or they could go the Fall Guys route. Either one works.