Online gaming's cheating heart

Game companies are looking to subscription fees from online players as a major source of recurring revenue in the near future, with leading games publisher Electronic Arts predicting that 400,000 subscribers will be paying about $15 a month for "The Sims Online" by the end of its current fiscal year.

But those subscribers may not stay around if the new virtual worlds are full of the cheating and hacking that has marred previous online games. A small but fractious minority in online gaming circles, cheaters can suck the fun out of a game by introducing homemade characters with unauthorized powers, making it impossible for opponents to win or even survive. They can also quickly pollute the social atmosphere critical to many games.

Matt Pritchard, a game developer at Ensemble Studios, best known for its "Age of Empires" series of strategy games, said cheating will become a particularly important issue as players without much online gaming experience enter the market.

"If the average person goes out there and they have a bad entertainment experience, why are they going to continue to pay $9.95 to experience this crappy world?" Pritchard said.

Software developer Tony Ray said that though it's impossible to prevent every type of cheat, good anti-cheat technology can shut cheaters down almost as soon as they emerge. PunkBuster, software Ray originally developed for the action game "Half-Life" and its offshoots, resides on the player's PC, checking for known exploits and shutting down a game if it finds any.

"It's sort of like a virus scanner in that it scans the PC for any kind of exploit," Ray said. "The user basically trades some privacy for the ability to play on a level playing field, which is what the vast majority of players want."

Full Story: News.com

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