Tackling cheats is a perennial problem for developers producing online games nowadays. Cunning hackers have found ways to exploit almost any glitch in games for anything from XP boosting to bot hacks.
A new piece of anti-cheating software that’s being used in DICE’s Battlefield 4 and has already ruffled the feathers of would-be violators is FairFight.
Produced by USA middleware firm GameBlocks, FairFight is an automated cheat detection and suppression system. It’s billed as a non-invasive, customisable and game engine agnostic solution to combating those who seek to upset the game experience.
“Existing anti-cheat software is inadequate and allows even unsophisticated cheaters to repeatedly disrupt and undermine gameplay for long periods of time with impunity – to the serious detriment of a game,” Edmar Mendizabal, owner of DevSupport, GameBlock’s business development consultant, tells Develop.
“Information travels fast in the games community, and if a game is or becomes infested with hackers, this deters honest players from buying or recommending the game.”
DROPPING THE BAN HAMMER
Using FairFight, developers have the ability to warn, kick, suspend or even ban players. The system uses two overlapping and mutually supportive methods to identify cheaters: algorithmic analysis of player statistics and server-side cheat detection. FairFight uses algorithmic models to evaluate gameplay against multiple statistical markers to identify cheating as it happens and crosschecks this data using objective server-side tools.
When both approaches correlate to cheating, the system takes actions. Because the developers can choose FairFight’s tolerance levels and the in-game actions to be taken against cheaters, GameBlocks feels it’s giving them far greater control of their games.
“For example, in a given first-person shooter it may be impossible for a weapon to kill – or even hit – a player over 200 yards. When FairFight sees this occur it automatically records it as a validation of any anomalous AAPS (algorithmic analysis of player statistics) findings. With the validation event in place, FairFight will take any number of actions that the developer has selected, and it will do so when they want it to; be it immediately, after a delay, at the player join screen and so on,” explains Mendizabal.
Compatibility-wise, the system is server-side, and since FairFight is connected via API, if there are connectivity or security issues, gameplay should continue unaffected while the team works to resort normal service.
Battlefield 4 is the latest product to integrate the system. But its makers say FairFight is capable of catering for more than first-person shooters. The system is ready to tackle any genre or any platform using its adjustable system.
Even so, this isn’t the only cheat detection tool out there. PunkBuster, a popular anti-cheat software, has been used by the likes of Assassin’s Creed IV, APB and, incidentally, Battlefield 4. And Valve Anti-Cheat also appears in the Counter-Strike maker’s own titles as well as those by other developers.
FIGHTING THE LAST WAR
However, GameBlocks claims these tools and others are “fighting the last war” by scanning memory in a user’s computer.
“FairFight uses a different and, we believe, far better approach,” says Mendizabal. “It receives gameplay data from the server and focuses on the gameplay itself to determine if a player is cheating. It has detailed player information, leaderboards and statistical summaries that PunkBuster and VAC do not provide. Our emails provide full reporting, comprehensive chat monitoring, heat maps and more.”
For those looking to buy FairFight, studios can choose between a flat monthly subscription fee or one that fluctuates based on the number of unique players per month for its title. There is a minimum six-month commitment, before the charge converts to month-to-month. An additional fee also comes from its WatchDog monitoring tool, which is required by the system.
The tool has been accused by some Battlefield users of banning legit players “unfairly”. But Mendizabal says that developers can trust in it to bring balance to their online games: “All we ask is that you consider the source. Hackers complain and complain loudly when they get punished. What it means to us is that FairFight is doing its job. You can see that in forum posts complaining about hackers wreaking havoc: once FairFight is up and running they will drop way, way down.”