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Titanfall: Why Respawn is punishing cheaters

Respawn has begun to exclude Titanfall cheaters from the general player population. We speak with network engineer Jon Shiring and community manager Abbie Heppe to find out more.

Christian Nutt, Contributor

April 4, 2014

4 Min Read

Last week, Respawn Entertainment announced that it has begun to group cheaters at its game Titanfall into special cheater-only servers -- meaning that they will not only be removed from the general player population, but also will only be able to play a very frustrating version of the game. "You can play with other banned players in something that will resemble the Wimbledon of aimbot contests. Hopefully the aimbot cheat you paid for really is the best, or these all-cheater matches could be frustrating for you. Good luck," read the blog post announcing the move. To find out more about why the developer felt it necessary to take this step, the FairFight middleware it's using to detect cheaters, and what effect cheating has on the player population of Titanfall -- as well as how big of a problem it really is -- Gamasutra conducted an interview with Respawn network engineer Jon Shiring and community manager Abbie Heppe, who answered the below questions collaboratively.

What effect do cheaters have, from your perspective, on the general player population?

Left unchecked, cheaters will make any competitive game not fun for players who don't cheat. In a multiplayer game like ours they will ruin the match for others and the memory of it will stick with them for a while. A small number of cheaters will have a much larger impact on the community. So it's really important to us that we quickly find and flag the cheaters.

Do you trust the FairFight system to catch only legitimate cheaters?

I think they have a great product and they've given me nothing but confidence in it. I have yet to see any false reporting of cheaters in it. Battlefield has been using it with great success as well. I feel like the subtext to this is a question I get asked a lot: "Will I get banned for exploiting bugs or glitches in the game?" No, we're careful to look at each cheating scenario and see if it's a bug, a cheat, or just an unexpected use of the game. In some cases they are really rare bugs, and we don't punish the players for that -- we've spent considerable time investigating those to see how they could happen. In many cases, we can fix it with a server patch so the bug just goes away. We feel pretty confident that we can only flag players who are actually cheating.

What effect does cheating have on the mechanics of a skill-based game like Titanfall?

The effect is almost entirely psychological. It is, of course, really frustrating to lose to someone because they are cheating and you aren't, and everyone gets mad when it happens. In terms of actual lasting impact, it obviously can hurt your K/D ratio, but over many matches, a few games won't have any real effect. And the skill system is adaptive -- a few matches aren't going to have any long-term change to your skill -- it's always adjusting it constantly so we can get you into matches that are a good skill match for you. Since we don't even display your skill, it's okay if it goes down temporarily because you lost to a cheater -- it's not a bragging point -- it's just a number that helps us find people who are like you.

How big of a problem is cheating in online games, in your estimation? Qualify or quantify that however you like.

I don't think the actual raw number of cheaters is as big as many gamers might expect. Which, if you're looking for a reason to be optimistic about humanity, is a good thing. Nowadays, if you want to be cheating on your PC, you are usually paying a monthly subscription to do it (seriously) (and cheats have DRM to make sure you're up to date on your subscription before they'll run). The anti-cheat systems have gotten good enough that the cheat companies need to be constantly patching to try to stay ahead, and it's expensive to maintain that code and expensive to get your updates so you can cheat on your PC. For a full-priced game like Titanfall, if you have to keep starting new accounts and buying a new copy of the game to play with cheats because you've been removed from the regular player pool or banned altogether, it could get quite annoying and expensive to play.

What do you expect to be the outcome of this particular approach?

I think our blog summed it up with "The Wimbledon of aimbot lobbies." It's funny how many people want to see that happen. Another outcome is that if your friend is a cheater, you won't want to play with them anymore. We're okay with both of those outcomes.

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