Video games have come a long way since the ’80s, and with the advent of online multiplayer gaming and the rise of esports tournaments, cheating in games has become more than just an occasional annoyance for gamers. In fact, 32% of gamers admit to using a game cheat at least once (according to the Irdeto Global Gaming Survey). Cheaters not only ruin games for honest players, they also deter others from playing the same titles because of the unfair advantage provided by the cheats, and in turn can hurt gaming revenues for publishers who are trying to make their titles more accessible for gamers.
While a game might have anti-piracy measures in place to prevent gamers from modifying games or adding cheat codes, these measures are often bypassed by hackers who are looking for a way to beat the system. Hackers use a variety of tools to reverse engineer a game’s code, from static analysis and graphical representations like control flow graphs (which show all the if statements, switches, function invocations and loops) to runtime inspection and byte swapping. They might also recode the game’s code and use a variety of heuristics to create their own cheats.
Many games have cheat codes that can be triggered by pressing a combination of buttons on the controller, but these are usually just used for testing purposes during development. One example is the ‘progress code’ that allowed players to save their progress in the original NES game Gradius, which was notoriously difficult to beat. Developers would use this code to test their game, and once they released the code it became a popular cheat.
These types of cheats, which allow gamers to save their game progress and skip over difficult parts of the gameplay, have been around for a while. But with the increased complexities of newer hardware and the popularity of esports, these cheat codes have become less common as developers are incentivized to program games that are more resistant to manipulations.
But not all gamers are against cheating: some even use the code to make their own custom cheats, such as aim bots that can fire a weapon at a target with pinpoint accuracy, or camera hacks that offer a wider view of the game world than was intended. These alterations can add a whole new layer of fun to the game for some gamers, and these types of cheats are increasingly being monetized by publishers who are leveraging them as DLC or in-game microtransactions. But whether they’re a form of harmless fun or a means to improve your standing in an online competitive environment, it’s clear that cheaters are here to stay. Cheating in games can be as risky as counting cards at a poker table or the Patriots slightly deflating their footballs, and gamers should know what they’re getting themselves into before starting to use game cheats.