Mobile gaming

Tencent cracks down on cheats in world’s top-selling video game

The Shenzhen-based internet giant is working with China’s police to root out underground rings that make and sell cheat software being used on PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, which has more than half of its 27 million users playing the game on the mainland

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 January, 2018, 4:57pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 January, 2018, 4:57pm

Tencent Holdings is going after the cheaters infesting PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) as Asia’s most valuable public company prepares to bring the world’s top-selling game to China.

Ahead of the game’s debut on the mainland this year, the biggest gaming company on the planet has enlisted Chinese police to root out the underground rings that make and sell cheat software.

Shenzhen-based Tencent has helped law enforcement agents uncover at least 30 cases and arrest 120 people suspected of designing programs that confer unfair advantages, from X-ray vision (see-through walls) to auto-targeting (uncannily accurate snipers).

Those convicted in the past have done jail time.

Tencent is developing two versions of PUBG for mobile, on top of two other hastily created copycat titles.

The internet company and Korean game publisher Bluehole, whose subsidiary PUBG Corp developed the popular multiplayer online game, have a lot riding on cleaning things up for China, which accounted for more than half the game’s 27 million users, according to online tracker Steam Spy.

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China is also the biggest source of cheat software, undermining the Battle Royale-style phenomenon that shattered gaming records last year and surpassed bestsellers like Grand Theft Auto V.

The proliferation of shenanigans threatens to drive away first-time users vital to the longer-term growth of PUBG.

Yet they continue to thrive. The game’s message boards are riddled with complaints about mysteriously indestructible opponents.

Software rings ingeniously treat its league tables like free advertising space: as of Tuesday, eight of PUBG’s top 10 players bear names such as “contact QQ574352672” – ironically, a private account on Tencent’s own QQ messaging service through which enterprising players can buy cheat software.

One vendor offered a 100 yuan (US$15) program called Jue Ying, or “extreme shadow” that, among other things, obscures players and grants a birdseye view of the battleground.

Another QQ dealer sent notices to customers warning them to “maintain control and keep your kills within 15 people per game”, presumably to avoid detection.

“PUBG is going through a puberty of sorts and cheaters threaten to stunt its growth,” said Kim Hak-joon, who analyses gaming stocks for South Korea’s Kiwoom Securities Co. “Cheaters mostly drive away new users, and without retaining new users, PUBG won’t be able to consolidate its early success and become a long-lasting hit.”

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The Korean title is like a digital version of The Hunger Games – a trilogy of dystopian novels written by American author Suzanne Collins that was adapted into a series of hit films – where 100 combatants are dropped onto an island and proceed to slaughter each other until there is one person left standing.

PUBG is easily rigged if even one player acquires enough superhuman powers to go after the other 99.

Tencent is the US$530 billion entertainment behemoth behind smash mobile games, such as Honour of Kings. It also draw plenty of users to WeChat and its other social media platforms.

The Hong Kong-listed company, however, needs a marquee title to anchor a nascent line-up of Battle Royale-style shooters – a genre in which it played catch-up to Chinese games rival NetEase last year. PUBG will soon be launched by Tencent on its servers in China, sharply reducing lag times for players and potentially unleashing a new wave of first-timer players of the title in the world’s largest gaming market.

Bluehole’s anti-cheats partner, BattlEye, has banned 1.5 million accounts so far for cheating, a whopping 6 per cent of the total PUBG player community.

“Fostering a game environment that’s fair to all players is crucial to us,” said Lee Do-hyung, head of operations and services for PUBG Corp. “We’re committed to working to address this both now and in the future.”

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Tencent is no stranger to ferreting out cheats.

On Monday, Allen Zhang Xiaolong, who helped Tencent design WeChat and now heads the division, took pains to describe the company’s recent attempts to clean up mobile mini-game Tiao yi tiao, which translates to “Jump Jump”, and its stance in general.

“It’s a never-ending battle,” Zhang said at a conference in Guangzhou. “You could come up with something effective today, but encounter something completely different the next day.”

People convicted of disrupting computer networks face five years’ imprisonment or more under Chinese law.

PUBG is going through a puberty of sorts and cheaters threaten to stunt its growth.
Kim Hak-joon, analyst at Kiwoom Securities

In 2010, a couple was fined 3 million yuan and sentenced to nine years for selling cheat software, according to local media reports.

It remains to be seen how effective Tencent’s campaign can be in a country infamous for hosting the world’s largest population of pirates and fraudsters.

In music streaming, Tencent filed lawsuits against piracy after it signed exclusive distribution rights with global record labels. Its arch-rival, Alibaba Group Holding, was criticised for years for failing to properly police counterfeiters on its online shopping platforms.

The crackdown “shows Tencent’s determination to resolve the issue of cheating software on PUBG,” the Chinese company said in December. “Tencent promises to use the law and technology to help create equal and fair playing fields.”