From newbies to live-streamers, why cheating in online games is huge in China
Cheating is particularly prominent in China’s gaming cafes, the preferred playing venue for many gamers due to the availability of specialised hardware that enhances the playing experience
The players who make up the world’s largest gaming market may soon face a moral dilemma: play fair and risk losing, or cheat to guarantee a win.
From the global blockbuster multiplayer online game PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) to simple mobile games hosted by Tencent Holdings’ WeChat messenger service, the desire by many Chinese gamers to win at all cost has spurred a new industry supplying cheating programs to the country’s 560 million players, more than one third of whom fork out money to satisfy their obsession.
Since last year, cheating has been rampant on PUBG, which is available on Steam, a US-based gaming site that is currently accessible in China. In October last year BattlEye, the anti-cheating service that PUBG developer Bluehole uses, said it banned between 6,000 and 13,000 different accounts per day, including nearly 20,000 accounts banned within 24 hours on October 13 – with “most” of these from China.
Legitimising cheating by way of paid add-ons to games could be a worrying trend in a country where e-sports is hugely popular and players can earn millions of dollars in prize money. China, which makes up 57 per cent of the global e-sports audience, will also host the 2022 Asian Games where e-sports has been designated as an official medal event.
Separately, if cheating isn’t stamped out it could lead to an increase in hacking. According to a report by Gamma Data Corporation, a Beijing-based research firm, 50.3 per cent of gamers said they had been hacked or had been sold plug-in solutions last year.
Nearly 70 per cent said they felt there was not enough consumer protection against such hacks, a trend Gamma Data believes could hurt the long-term confidence of the industry.
In the case of PUBG, hundreds of online advertisers are offering plug-in solutions to enhance players’ ability to win and fast track their rankings in the game, in which around 100 players parachute onto an eight-square kilometre (3.1-square mile) map, scramble for supplies and fight until only one is left standing.
On QQ.com, Tencent’s messaging service, there are vendors offering programs that claim to provide special powers such as X-ray vision so players can see through walls to target the enemy behind any object. These plug-in solutions also offer users the ability to see the name of every other player in the game. Those without the cheating software do not have the extra powers.
The most accessible cheating programs designed for PUBG typically cost between 100 to 150 yuan, or up to 600 yuan with some special additional tools. One QQ dealer said these programs are relatively “stable”, so would not be detected or trigger a ban from the games developers. Buyers can purchase these programs using WeChat Pay, the payment wallet operated by Tencent.
“You should be able to do well [after buying the cheat software],” the QQ dealer said. “If you can’t [beat the other players] that’s your problem.”
Cheating is particularly prominent in China’s gaming cafes, the preferred playing venue for many gamers due to the availability of specialised hardware that enhances the playing experience.
These so-called i-cafes in China are hugely popular among gamers and people who enjoy watching professional and amateur game tournaments. US-based gaming intelligence firm Niko Partners estimated that there are around 150,000 internet cafes in China.
“Some internet cafes have cheating software installed on their computers to attract customers,” said Beijing-based Turian Tan, market analyst at research firm IDC. The main reason players are tempted to cheat is to pursue higher rankings.
PUBG and Tiao Yi Tiao, a smartphone based game, pitch players against each other so gamers are more likely to cheat because it lifts their performance, according to Tan.
And it is not just hard-core shoot-out games that face the problem – cheating is increasingly prevalent among players of social games on smartphones.
According to figures from Statista, the number of Chinese mobile game users reached 528 million in 2016.
One mobile game that has attracted cheaters is Tencent’s Tiao Yi Tiao, in which players move a hopping black block from one platform to another by tapping the smartphone screen.
In a blog post published on January 15, Tencent’s senior executive vice-president Allen Zhang Xiaolong, dubbed the “father of WeChat”, said he “never thought cheating would be so common with such a small game like Tiao Yi Tiao”.
“Many of my friends achieved high scores but I don’t believe they did it by themselves,” he said, adding that Tencent has stepped up efforts to stamp out cheating.
Apart from installing software or modifying programs on a computer or mobile phone, users can purchase hardware such as a special modified mouse or separate device attached to a computer, console or even a phone to increase gaming speed and accuracy.
Tencent, which derives more than 40 per cent of its revenues from online games, bought the rights to stream PUBG in China in November last year. The company said it has since helped police uncover at least 30 cases and identify 120 people suspected of designing programs that confer unfair advantages over other players.
Widespread cheating in PUBG has also triggered intense discussion in China’s booming live streaming industry, where popular players broadcast games live to millions of followers.
Lu Benwei, better known among his followers as “Wu Wu Kai”, was temporarily suspended from Tencent-backed broadcast platform Douyu following accusations from the gaming community that he was using cheating programs during live streaming of PUBG.
A notice published by Douyu in January said Wu Wu Kai had been fined 1 million yuan for “uncivilised” behaviour. A Douyu spokeswoman said the fine and subsequent suspension was based on Lu’s “poor conduct” with his followers but Douyu did not confirm if Lu used cheating programs. Lu, who has denied cheating, has engaged in heated exchanges in public forums with fans over the accusation. Lu did not respond to questions sent to his Weibo account.