Video game cheats, or exploits, give gamers an unfair advantage in-game. These shortcuts tamper with game files to create new functionality or tweak in-game mechanics. While some players see this as unsportsmanlike and unethical, others relish the thrill of taking a shortcut.
Cheats can be intentionally added by game developers, or inserted through third-party software after a title’s production. Sometimes, a code is unintentionally introduced by an error in the game’s programming. This is not uncommon; the industry has a long history of glitches and bugs that have led to unintended gameplay features.
A few decades ago, gamers with a little computer knowledge could manipulate the 8-bit computing systems of their day to “cheat” by changing the game’s memory values that stored game statistics — like health, ammo and levels. When a player used a program like the Game Genie, they were basically performing a POKE command to alter those values.
While a little rudimentary, these self-made cheats gave gamers an invulnerability code, a level select feature and other tricks that made playing a game more fun. The concept soon caught on with third-party companies, who started adding their own first-party cheats into popular titles. Some, like the infamous ‘Konami Code’ (a string of numbers that allowed you to teleport to any cavern in the original Castlevania) helped define the genre of adventure games, while others, like the ability to skip difficult levels and unlock new weapons, were largely used as a way to test an upcoming release before it went on sale.
With the rise of esports, where players compete for huge sums of cash, gaming companies began to change their view of cheats. Many games now use controllable environments that can’t be hacked, so alterations aren’t welcome in tournaments. This has spurred developers to apply obfuscation during development so that the same assembly instructions aren’t repeated in each new release of the game.
Despite this, some cheats still exist. Those who want to bypass security defences can use a tool called “hex editor” or ‘binary editor’ to edit a game’s executable code and insert their own. These tools allow for the addition or deletion of functions, and can also modify assembly code, allowing cheats to be created in a variety of ways.
Despite these risks, there are still plenty of people who enjoy the convenience of a games cheat. Many sites offer a ‘cheat-as-a-service’ model that lets you pay for access to the cheats and updates for a small fee, often around $10 per month. This is similar to how malware is sold on dark web underground forums, where subscription services keep the money rolling in while also providing ongoing support for the malicious software. However, a few key differences make hacking for cheats different from malware. While some gamers see this as unethical, others relish the thrill of being able to take advantage of shortcuts and speed up their gaming experience. And even if you can’t afford to pay for a cheat, there are countless guides and videos out there that will help you get ahead in your favourite titles.