Lawsuits indicate that some cheating in video games may be illegal

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde / Axios

set of lawsuits from the gaming industry to crack down on cheating in some popular online games, arguing that cheating in games and even using them may be illegal.

why does it matter: Cheating is a scourge of many online games, inspiring more and more audacious legal counter-attacks by some of the companies that make them.

  • These lawsuits largely target cheat software makers, but they do not fully allow players to use cheats.
  • Cheater makers “incite and empower the individual Destiny 2 Players must create an unauthorized and infringing derivative work every time they publish cheat software,” states one lawsuit from Sony-owned Bungie Studios that is still working its way through the courts.

be clever: The types of play cheats are not the ones old school gamers would apply by entering an invincibility code programmed by the developer.

  • Instead, they include premium cheats that allow players to see through walls to gain an advantage in multiplayer fighting games like Destiny 2 or Call of Duty.

gaming companies, Many of them ban tens and hundreds of thousands of accounts, and say that cheating scares off honest players and is costly to fight.

  • Bungie estimated in one lawsuit that it spends “approximately $1,250,000 per year on anti-cheat measures,” excluding legal costs.

The Big Picture: Sure, gaming companies hate cheating but have been keen to focus their firepower on cheat makers, perhaps because targeting more cheaters themselves with lawsuits could be costly, counterproductive in court, or just as terrifying players as a hand force.

  • Making cheats is big business, not quite as profitable as making a blockbuster, but a revenue stream that game publishers want to stifle.
  • The cheat vendor raised by Bungie still sells cheats for dozens of games, including an “aimbot” for Call of Duty that can be used for $13 per day or one for Valorant at $85 per month.

Winning streak: Gaming companies scored many legal victories in 2022 against cheaters.

  • In June, pot maker Bungie won a $13.5 million settlement against a cheat maker who in turn helped unmask others that Bungie continues to pursue.
  • In November, another group of cheat makers sued by Bungie and Ubisoft agreed to settle.
  • Also last month, an Australian judge ordered a cheat maker in that country, who was sued back in 2018, to pay A$130,000 to Grand Theft Auto publisher Take-Two Interactive.

Between the lines: Most cheating lawsuits from major publishers claim that game-altering cheats amount to copyright infringement, both when they are made and when the player uses them.

  • A cheat that draws a box around an opposing player, which would otherwise have been hidden from view, is the creation of unauthorized derivative works, claims Bungie and others.

push back: Most of the defendants in fraud cases did not appear or folded, and agreed to compensation and settlement. But Bungie has faced stiff resistance throughout 2022 from alleged cheaters Phoenix Digital.

  • “Cheating of fate” is not in and of itself illegal, the group’s lawyer said in a court filing in January.
  • The increasingly brutal case involved Phoenix Digital’s Bungie facing off for alleged infringement that it Terms of Service in September and a judge dismissed the claims made by both sides, which have since been re-examined in more detail.

bottom line: The companies don’t show an appetite for prosecuting the garden-variety cheaters, but the lawsuits are designed to serve as a warning shot to those who think cheating in an online game can be without consequence.

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