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Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

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PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Why a CS:GO sale hurts CS:GO">cs-go-sale

I want more people to play CS:GO. With caveats made for its flaws (64-tick servers, uninspiring stat tracking, the modest number of official maps, and imperfect cheat detection), CS:GO is the best competitive FPS on PC today. Until Evolve or Rainbow Six Siege come around, I expect that to continue uncontested.

But for the veteran player, someone who s thrown hundreds of hours at that competitive mode, a CS:GO Steam sale like today s $7.49 / 5.99 until Friday isn t a happy event. It s a harbinger of hackers and competition-souring smurf accounts.

CS:GO s price drop is an invitation for those who hack to buy one or several new copies of the game and tie them to new, unique Steam accounts. These secondary accounts insulate your main profile where you keep your game library and everything else that s valuable from the consequences of cheating. We ve recently investigated the seemingly healthy shadow industry of cheating in games like CS:GO, but it s worth underlining how especially disruptive cheating is in the second-most popular game on Steam.

What s challenging about hacking in CS:GO is that much of the onus is on the players to report and police themselves, but competitive play makes it inherently difficult or time-consuming to verify a hacker. Naturally, you re not allowed to spectate an opponent mid-match, so if I want to be sure that someone s playing illegitimately, I have to be mad enough to take the time to stop playing, load up my match replay, scrutinize my opponent s actions, report them, and then just trust that the system will catch them.

There s no immediate judgment or verification that you caught a hacker; users that receive enough reports, to my understanding, are simply passed along to CS:GO s Overwatch system, where a player (who s recorded at least 150 wins in competitive mode) watches excerpts of the match and makes a judgment. Reporting a hacker is like calling a 911 line that cannot talk back to you. It s an unsatisfying system even when it works, and I m upset knowing that CS:GO s sale will invite more abusers into the system.

You also can t simply leave a match to avoid subjecting yourself to a hacker. Abandoning a match for any reason penalizes you, preventing you from playing competitive mode for a period for days at a time, for frequent offenders.

But smurf accounts, at least from my experience, are the lesser but more ubiquitous annoyance that a discounted CS:GO stimulates. To the seasoned competitive player, the signs of a smurf are much more obvious than a hacker: you look for a CS:GO profile with very few achievements unlocked or custom weapon skins equipped, tied to a Steam account with CS:GO as its only owned game ( Wow, such dedication. So hardcore, I usually type mockingly when I encounter one of these players). Having one or more smurfs in your match is more subtle disruption but often just as bothersome as hacking: smurf accounts don t receive a rank in the matchmaking system until they ve won 10 games, allowing them to be matched with players that aren t at their true skill level.

It s a method of circumventing the matchmaking system (often as a way to play with friends who aren t near the same rank), one not unfamiliar to League of Legends players and other free-to-play games. When I m up against such a player, there s no tool within the reporting system for me to flag their account and why should there be? As far as Valve s concerned, that player is another legitimate customer. Solutions like IP banning would be over-aggressive: what if that account is legitimately a friend or sibling?

I want to see the CS:GO community grow, but I bemoan that the game I play most going on sale will probably mean that I'll encounter a few more cheaters and rank-dodging players in the next month or two. To give Valve credit, this isn t the cheapest we ve seen CS:GO. In December, January, and March (the latter coinciding with the EMS One Katowice tournament in Poland), the game was slashed by 75% to just $3.74. The 50% cut over the next two days may be a small compromise, but I don't doubt that it'll invite more players to circumvent matchmaking and play illegitimately.
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to The best Steam Summer Sale deals: Day 7">steam sale day 7

We've now been living and breathing the Steam Summer Sale for a week, losing sleep for every flash sale, antsy with anticipation every time the new deals tick over. We're feverish from the savings, but it would be madness to stop saving now. Today's deals fuel our appetite for strategy, shooting, and launching valiant little green men into space on absurdly oversized rockets.

Don t forget to check out GOG s summer deals, too.

Reminder: if a game isn't a daily deal or a flash sale, it could pop up later in the sale for an even lower price. If you want to be safe, wait until June 30 to pick up a sale-long deal.

5 - The Banner Saga

50% off: $12.49 / 9.49 - Steam store page

One of the biggest artistic achievements in gaming this year. We love The Banner Saga s hand-drawn characters and how they animate on the battlefield, but we especially enjoy the way its detailed, Nordic landscapes parallax as your caravan of warriors and survivors march on. The Austin Wintory score is a cherry on the top.

4 - Kerbal Space Program

40% off: $16.19 / 11.99 - Steam store page

We ve murdered a lot of aliens in games, but only in KSP have we stranded little green guys in planetary orbit due to our grossly incompetent management of a budding space program. The Early Access rocket physics simulator is one of the best games still under development, and already has a large community of engineers sharing stories of harrowing space missions, ship designs, and mods. KSP has even made its way into classrooms.

Read Ian s five-part Kerbal Space Program chronicle to see how he learned rocket-building basics and launched a mission to the M n.

3 - Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

50% off: $7.49 / 5.99 - Steam store page

The best competitive FPS on PC owes a lot to its skill-based matchmaking format. At any skill level, five-on-five Counter-Strike narrows the range of tactical choices available to you and the time you have to make them, creating a wonderfully concentrated competitive mode. Otherwise, CS:GO is mainly a vehicle for microtransactions: beware the allure of $400 virtual knives.

2 - Tomb Raider

75% off: $4.99 / 3.74 - Steam store page Flash sale: Buy it before 8 p.m. EST

Lara Croft returns in a gorgeous action game heavily inspired by Naughty Dog's Uncharted series. This younger, rebooted Lara doesn't have her predecessor's confidence or predilection for interesting puzzles the only tombs in this game are disappointingly short and simple but the shooting is by far the best in the series. Exploring Tomb Raider's island and crafting survival gear is also fun, as Lara is a nimble climber and each area is packed with interesting treasures to hunt down. For a challenge, forgo the assault rifle and grenade launcher for Lara's incredibly satisfying (and silent!) bow.

1 - BioShock Triple Pack

83% off: $10.19 / 6.79 - Steam store page

If you haven t explored the ruins of Rapture, you re in for a treat. BioShock s world is a revelation, an under-the-sea society that s crumbled under its own weight, and exploring what remains of it and shooting its crazy inhabitants in the face with fireballs is a delight. BioShock 2 goes even further, changing your perspective and adding a surprising amount of depth with its own story. Irrational s swansong, BioShock Infinite, may still be polarizing, but Columbia is just as beautiful and terrifying as Rapture, and well worth exploring. All three are included here in a bundle that s too cheap to pass up.

Other great deals today

Remember that games not categorized as Daily Deals or Flash Sales may be reduced further later in the sale.

Bastion (40% off) $8.99 / 6.59

Killing Floor (50% off) $9.99 / 7.49

Mirror's Edge (75% off) $4.99 / 2.49

Fallout: New Vegas Ultimate Edition (66% off) $6.79 / 5.09
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Valve announces $250,000 community-funded prize pool for CS:GO winners at ESL One in Cologne">news_1

The world's best Counter-Strike: Global Offensive teams will compete for a $250,000 "community-funded" prize pool at ESL One Cologne 2014, Valve announced today. The prize money was raised through last year's Arms Deal Update for CS: GO, which directed proceeds from sales of a special eSports weapon case toward larger prize pools and greater visibility for competitive gaming.

ESL One Cologne will run from August 14 to 17 at Gamescom, and will feature 16 top teams, including eight regional qualifiers and eight invited quarter-finalists from EMS One Katowice:


Ninjas in Pyjamas

Team Dignitas

TEAMGLOBAL (former LGB eSports)

compLexity Gaming


Team LDLC.com


"Having watched the finals in Katowice it will be absolutely brilliant to watch Virtus.pro and Ninjas in Pyjamas take the stage again in Cologne," ESL Product Manager Alexander Nehr said. "With exciting teams such as Team Dignitas and HellRaisers, who constantly improve their gameplay to surprise their opponents, the tournament looks to be fantastic."

ESL One Cologne 2014 is actually the third community-funded CS: GO event. The first was the 2013 DreamHack SteelSeries Championship and the second was the EMS One Championship at Katowice, which drew more than 240,000 concurrent viewers for the final and ended with 3.5 million hours of video watched in total. To find out more about the upcoming event in Cologne, hit up esl-one.com/csgo.
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive weapon skin removed after DMCA takedown notice">CS GO

You may remember CS:GO's M4A4: Howl as one of the most expensive weapon skins available for the game. Today, Valve announced their receipt of a DMCA takedown notice, stating that both the skin and the Howling Dawn community sticker were not the original work of the item's Steam Workshop contributors. "This matter is extremely serious," Valve wrote in a post to the CS:GO community, "and we have taken appropriate action to resolve it."

"By design, the Items Workshop has very low friction for artists to submit their work new contributions do not require Valve review or approval. To ensure that these contributions represent original content, we require that all Workshop contributors sign a legal agreement confirming that their contributions are original. We also enable the community to monitor Workshop submissions and identify copies and plagiarism via the report flag."

Valve aren't messing around with their response, which contains some heavy punishments for the IP infringing item-makers:

"Both contributors have received Steam Community bans. They receive no proceeds from either item, and both items have been removed from the game.

"For owners of the M4A4 | Howl and Howling Dawn sticker, those items have been replaced by an alternative designed by the CS:GO team. These items will never be produced again, and have been assigned the Contraband rarity.

"All other in-game items that involve at least one of the contributors in their revenue share have been discontinued.

"The Huntsman Case and Community Sticker Capsule have been revised to replace the copied and discontinued items.

"Moving forward, we will no longer work with the contributors and we will not ship any existing Workshop submission that credits their involvement."

It's a stark message for those tempted to claim ownership for another's work. The new Contraband rarity and Valve-designed paint-job has, of course, meant a spike in the skin's desirability. Since the item was updated, StatTrak Minimal Wear versions have been sold for around $400.
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to What I learned about CS:GO after watching the Twitch stream of someone I beat">cs-go-flash

I played a vitamin D deficiency-fostering amount of CS:GO over the long weekend. In one of my dozen-some competitive matches (CS:GO s excellent five-on-five matchmaking mode), I noticed that one of my opponents was livestreaming. After we won, we booted up the archived video together, commenting in Mumble as we watched. It was a rare chance for my CS:GO group and I to see ourselves through an opponent s eyes (and comms) what did it look like to play against us? These were my takeaways.

Here's the replay file of the match, if you're into that: steam://rungame/730/76561202255233023/+csgo_download_match%20CSGO-X8bCn-P5Cmw-MBvNv-naDSf-YYmQD

My mental picture of my opponents is completely wrong

I ve won 107 competitive matches. My rank swings between Master Guardian II and Master Guardian Elite, which places me at the outer edge of average. At that level, 13th rank out of a possible 18, I expect a basic set of skills from opponents:

Comprehensive map knowledge

Smart money management

Good marksmanship, anticipation, audio awareness

For the most part, our opponents had all of this. They won both pistol rounds against us (and the two eco rounds that followed). Their accuracy was good. Their rotations were a little slow on defense, but big deal.

I tend to assume, perhaps as a defense mechanism, perhaps out of insecure cowardice, that everyone I play a competitive game against is better than me. But watching the game from their perspective revealed a bunch of bad decisions and impulsive decision-making, stuff that s invisible to me when I m not looking through the eyes of my enemy. At 7:15 the livestreaming player walks through smoke with a grenade pulled and dies; at 7:30 his teammate walks through the same smoke and dies. At 8:30 they again walk through smoke together to bombsite B. In round 13, down 8-4 (absolutely not an insurmountable deficit for the Terrorist side they actually tie it 9-9 after switching to CT), and with $7700 in the bank, he buys an armor, a Desert Eagle, and a decoy grenade. Round 14, their plan is to rush through smoke on B, which they bicker over a bit before clumsily committing to. Second round, second half, he buys a Scout after winning the pistol round.

But beyond those avoidable mistakes... how can I put it? Over my hundreds of hours in competitive mode, some portion of which has involved being taunted and called a long list of creative insults, I d painted this image of my hypothetical opponent being a hardcore, misanthropic, snarking, probably-racist with a chip their shoulder.

In reality, I was playing against someone barely out of their adolescence, 32-ounce Jamba Juice cup perpetually in-hand, who listens to EDM mid-match, and whose mom at one point barges in on him. Late in the match, presumably bored or having given up, he goes AFK multiple times to text on his phone. I haven t showered in two days, he confesses at 5:09.

Hackers are everywhere, but maybe it doesn t matter

Even after our recent investigation, it s tough to say just how prevalent hacking is in CS:GO based on my own anecdotal evidence, but there s certainly enough distrust swirling around competitive play to make it unpleasant. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, but the reality is that the inability to spectate your opponents mid-match leaves a lot of room for suspicion, especially because most hacks can be toggled on or off at will. So you look for signals, like a Steam profile with a miniscule amount of hours-played, no weapon skins, or that only owns CS:GO all evidence that signifies a smurf account but even in cases where someone s openly hacking there isn t anything you can do in the context of your match apart from outplaying them.

What was illuminating about this match, though, was how quickly the other team was convinced that one of us were hacking as one of them are openly talking about activating their own hacks. At 16:30, Vagabond makes a disgusting AWP shot on bombsite B after another clutch pick on construction. Instantly, the livestreamer reports him. Later:


Vagabond s walling.

He s retarded for walling on his main account.


Vagabond and Tetharis, you guys are fucking hacking c****.

Sprinkled throughout, you can hear them talking openly about hacking:


Wait, so you re walling?

Yeah, how do you think we won that?


Down 9-13, one of them says I m gonna have to toggle again, I don t know if we re gonna win.

Had these guys just accepted hacking as a necessary evil in CS:GO? It was genuine surprise to learn that one of them were cheating, and it s annoying that there s no way I can report them after the fact, but should I care? We won pretty comfortably, by CS:GO standards. Are way more people hacking than I suspect, and I just don t notice because it doesn t have a significant impact on that match?

Either way, it supports my concern that at least some people are using CS:GO s reporting system out of spite and paranoid suspicion, and not with the restraint they should.

Above: Vagabond makes a bold, patient play on de_nuke.

...We re not terrible?

It s so easy, at least for me, to doubt and understate your skill level in competitive games. Matchmaking is designed to put you up against people about as good or better than you, and that experience, for me at least, tends to hide a lot of the actual learning and progress I make because you're so concerned with playing to the level of your opponent.

My group still makes plenty of mistakes, and I m constantly unhappy about how inconsistent my rifle accuracy is, but at this point in our CS:GO amateur careers I can see that we ve eliminated so many bad habits that we had two months ago. Our positioning is consistent, but we know when to juggle our tactics to avoid being predictable. We don t give up on rounds. We don't crouch-walk around corners. We can read and recognize when a grenade toss signifies a rush-feint. We have an understanding of each other s strengths and comfort zones. I know that drgmatt plays apartments on de_inferno with a P90, while Tetharis and Caesar like to play B with M4s. I love our flash on apartments at 37:27.

I m proudest of our comms, which are so much cleaner and abbreviated than our opponents . Our callouts are quick and to the point, respectful of the need to listen for footsteps and grenade clinks. Hearing opponents vocalize reactions to our plays was really valuable. CS:GO s built-in replay tool ( Watch on the main menu) doesn t archive any voice audio from matches, of course, but considering how quickly rounds come and go in Counter-Strike, it s still a terrific tool for understanding why you won or lost.
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to CS:GO crosshair generator is a must-use web tool for all players">csgo-crosshair-generator

A tiny PSA for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive players: Skarbo's web-based CS:GO crosshair generator is really handy. The tool lets you build a crosshair dynamically, then spits out the corresponding console commands for you to paste in-game or into an autoexec file. After 416 hours spent in CS:GO I can't believe it took me this long to stumble on this.

Skarbo's web tool has actually been around in various forms for a year-plus, but @lordstreetguru kindly pointed us in its direction after having a look at our CS:GO tweaks guide. CS:GO does, of course, have an in-game settings section for fiddling with your crosshair and other UI elements, but it doesn't give you full control.

Below, a few useful and completely dumb crosshairs I built:

Static cyan dot

cl_crosshairalpha "255";cl_crosshaircolor "4";cl_crosshaircolor_b "0";cl_crosshaircolor_r "0";cl_crosshaircolor_g "255";cl_crosshairdot "1";cl_crosshairgap "0";cl_crosshairsize "0";cl_crosshairstyle "2";cl_crosshairusealpha "1";cl_crosshairthickness "2";cl_fixedcrosshairgap "0";cl_crosshair_outline "0";cl_crosshair_outline_draw "0";

White, semi-transparent large cross, dynamic, foolish

cl_crosshairalpha "118";cl_crosshaircolor "5";cl_crosshaircolor_b "255";cl_crosshaircolor_r "255";cl_crosshaircolor_g "255";cl_crosshairdot "1";cl_crosshairgap "-5";cl_crosshairsize "53";cl_crosshairstyle "2";cl_crosshairusealpha "1";cl_crosshairthickness "3.5";cl_fixedcrosshairgap "-5";cl_crosshair_outline "0";cl_crosshair_outline_draw "0";

Blocky, weird blue dynamic dot thing

cl_crosshairalpha "255";cl_crosshaircolor "3";cl_crosshaircolor_b "0";cl_crosshaircolor_r "0";cl_crosshaircolor_g "255";cl_crosshairdot "1";cl_crosshairgap "0";cl_crosshairsize "2";cl_crosshairstyle "2";cl_crosshairusealpha "1";cl_crosshairthickness "4";cl_fixedcrosshairgap "0";cl_crosshair_outline "0";cl_crosshair_outline_draw "0";

GeT_RiGhT's green static crosshair (a selectable option in Skarbo's tool)

cl_crosshairalpha "255";cl_crosshaircolor "4";cl_crosshaircolor_b "0";cl_crosshaircolor_r "0";cl_crosshaircolor_g "255";cl_crosshairdot "1";cl_crosshairgap "0";cl_crosshairsize "0";cl_crosshairstyle "2";cl_crosshairusealpha "1";cl_crosshairthickness "2";cl_fixedcrosshairgap "0";cl_crosshair_outline "0";cl_crosshair_outline_draw "0";
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to See CS:GO with everything cranked up: 4320×2560 on LPC">cs-go-flash

Source is certainly showing some wrinkles in comparison to, say, UE4, but CS:GO remains the premier competitive shooter on PC today. Even after a decade half of history with the franchise, we still love the look and feel of its classic maps and their modern iterations: Mirage's A bombsite, Inferno's "banana" path, or Dust 2's dim tunnel.

Firing up CS:GO on LPC, I decided not to go with a triple-wide monitor setup, so I arranged our three 27" monitors in portrait configuration. This gave us a combined resolution of 4320x2560 or 25 percent/3 million more pixels than we'd get at 4K.

.@wesleyfenlon has fired up Next Car Game on our ludicrous 3x27" portrait setup. https://t.co/JYOJGYvSdr— Evan Lahti (@ELahti) May 9, 2014

Click each preview image to view the uncropped, uncompressed PNG.

PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive player gets headshots with a wheel controller">killedyouwithawheel

There are a number of small ways you can humiliate your opponents in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. A classic move is to knife your enemy even when it would be wiser to shoot him with a silencer, just because you can. It s a way of saying you re confident enough you can take him to have a little fun with it, like challenging someone to a fight with one hand tied behind your back. Yesterday, the folks at GameMuscleVideos took this idea to an extreme degree by playing CS:GO with a wheel controller.

Obviously, you re not going to be getting first place when you re playing with a wheel that doesn t even allow you to look up and down. The goal was simple to see if they could get anything above last place, and, amazingly, they did. I m betting that would really burn whoever did come in last if he knew, as well as anyone who was taken down by the player KILLED YOU WITH A WHEEL.

With the exception of some obnoxious narration, it s a pretty funny video, if only to see that it s even possible.
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Hacks! An investigation into aimbot dealers, wallhack users, and the million-dollar business of video game cheating">PCG-cheating

Zero is a customer service representative for one of the biggest video game cheat providers in the world. To him, at first, I was just another customer. He told me that the site earns approximately $1.25 million a year, which is how it can afford customer service representatives like him to answer questions over TeamSpeak. His estimate is based on the number of paying users online at any given time, the majority of whom, like me, paid for cheats for one game at $10.95 a month. Some pay more for a premium package with cheats for multiple games.

As long as there have been video games, there have been cheaters. For competitive games like Counter-Strike, battling cheaters is an eternal, Sisyphean task. In February, Reddit raised concerns about lines of code in Valve-Anti Cheat (VAC), used for Counter-Strike and dozens of other games on Steam, that looked into users DNS cache. In a statement, Gabe Newell admitted that Valve doesn't like talking about VAC because it creates more opportunities for cheaters to attack the system." But since online surveillance has been a damning issue lately, he made an exception.

Newell explained that there are paid cheat providers that confirm players paid for their product by requiring them to check in with a digital rights management (DRM) server, similar to the way Steam itself has to check in with a server at least once every two weeks. For a limited time, VAC was looking for a partial match to those (non-web) cheat DRM servers in users DNS cache.

I knew that cheats existed, but I was shocked that enough people paid for them to warrant DRM. I wanted to find out how the cheating business worked, so I became a cheater myself.

That s how I found Zero. After we finished talking, he reminded me to send him the $25 I promised him. I did not at any point say anything that could possibly even suggest that I would pay him for any reason. I asked him if he meant that was something I promised him or something that I should just do. Both, he said. I also advise you not to use this information against me. That wouldn't be wise.

How I became a cheating scumbag

Bohemia Interactive (Arma, DayZ) believes that only 1 percent of online players are willing to spend money to cheat on top of an already expensive hobby. Even by that estimate, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive alone had a potential 25,000 cheaters out of a total of 2.5 million unique players last month. Put on your green accountant visor, add up the player-bases of all the other popular multiplayer games cheat providers are servicing (Call of Duty, Battlefield, Rising Storm), and you ll see a massively profitable market.

I wanted to cheat in CS:GO. I was good, once, when I had a high school student's endless free time to pour into Counter-Strike 1.3. These days, if I can play with friends, it s fun. If I jump onto a random server I m cannon fodder.

I Googled Counter-Strike: Global Offensive cheats, and quickly ended up at a user-friendly cheat provider. Based on the size of its community and traffic, it s one of the biggest. I'm going to call it Ultra Cheats, a fake name, to protect the anonymity of the sources I talked to. Those sources, like Zero, have also had their online handles altered.

Ultra Cheats didn't accept credit (other sites did), so I used PayPal to buy a one-month subscription for CS:GO cheats for $10.95. This gave me access to the site s VIP forums where I could talk to other members, administrators, cheat coders, and download Ultra Cheats cheat loader, which checks in with its DRM server. It also gave me access to around-the-clock technical and customer support via TeamSpeak.

I followed a simple list of steps, including disabling Windows default anti-virus protection. I launched a new copy of CS:GO on a fresh Steam account belonging to Perry C. Gamble, loaded the cheat using the cheat loader, and entered a match. For the first time, I wasn't just another player, but a kind of god.

The most obvious of my new superhuman abilities was spying on other players through walls. In CS:GO, wallhacking is incredibly useful. Faceoffs around corners come down to millisecond reactions. My ability to see exactly when the enemy was coming, or to know exactly where he was hiding when I was coming, was unfair to say the least.

It was also super fun. Maybe the most fun I've had with Counter-Strike in years. I was finally getting kills, more than one in a round, but I wasn't crushing everyone else. It was like a little boost that got me back into my high school fighting shape.

I wanted to see how far I could push it. I was paying for this. I wanted to feel powerful and get my money s worth. I turned on auto-aim, and auto-trigger, which fires your weapon automatically when you point your cursor at an enemy.

I played with these options and others for a handful of matches. They didn't seem as useful as wallhacking, or they simply didn't work as well, but I was vote-kicked out of a match before I could make an educated decision. Halfway into my next match, two hours total since I started cheating, I was VAC-banned from CS:GO.

Counter-terrorists win?

VAC bans are usually irreversible. Perry C. Gamble would never play another match of CS:GO unless he opened another Steam account and bought another copy of the game. That s where the charm of cheating wore off for me. It was fun while it lasted, but I couldn t imagine paying another $15 for a new copy of CS:GO plus the ongoing $10.95 a month Ultra Cheats membership just to get easy kills.

John Gibson, president of Tripwire Interactive (Rising Storm, Killing Floor) told me plenty of cheaters feel differently. We see a spike in hackers after we have a sale on one of our games, he said. Their last 10 Steam accounts have been banned, and the game is on sale for $3, so they ll buy 10 copies for $30 on 10 different accounts and they ll keep cheating.

I told Gibson that I found that behavior mind-boggling. He isn t confused by it. He s just angry. Give me five minutes alone with a hacker or a hack writer, he laughed. That s what I think about that mindset.

Newell called cheating a negative-sum game, where a minority benefits less than the majority is harmed. It s obvious Valve and other developers take the issue seriously, but talking to Gibson made me realize it s also personal. Before he would even talk to me, I had to prove that I wrote for PC Gamer. He s been burned before. One of his first experiences with a hacker was someone who pretended to be a journalist with a fake, up-to-date gaming blog. He leveraged his early access to Tripwire and other developers games to provide hacks and pirate games.

He s in jail now for stealing credit card data, not cheating.


Gibson told me that, legally, it s not worth going after sites like Ultra Cheats. Most of them are based out of Russia, China (Ultra Cheats is registered in Beijing), or other places where extradition is, in Gibson's words, questionable. At the very least, Tripwire would have to pay another lawyer in that country, making it prohibitively expensive and complicated.

Criminal justice systems, perhaps understandably, aren't preoccupied with people cheating in online games. Especially when it s international, Gibson said. Then you re talking about the FBI and Interpol. If someone stole $10 million in diamonds, call them. If someone is hacking your game, they don t care.

If Tripwire, Valve, or other developers want to reduce the number of cheaters, they have to do it themselves. Note that it s reduce and not eliminate. Like Newell, Gibson knows that this isn't a battle he can finish. It s like the Wild West, he said. It s more about managing the risk and hacks without inconveniencing your legitimate players too much.

Tripwire s anti-cheat strategy is three-pronged. The first is technical, using both VAC and Punkbuster. This is one topic Gibson was secretive about, but he said Tripwire uses both because they handle things in different ways.

"If Tripwire, Valve, or other developers want to reduce the number of cheaters, they have to do it themselves."

The second is being a proactive developer. When Tripwire notices a loophole, it closes it as fast as possible. When Red Orchestra 2 first launched, it didn't do a whole lot of server-side validation on hit detection. The game was plagued by hacks that allowed your machine to tell the server you shot someone in the head even when you were clear across the map. Very quickly we put up an update that basically verified, within a reasonable margin of error, that they kind of have to be where you say you shoot them at, Gibson said. If they re not, then we know that it s a hack and we ignore that shot.

The third is having an engaged server admin community and giving them the tools to be the third line of defense. That s a huge thing for us, Gibson said. Hackers come in, it s obvious fairly quickly that they re hacking, the server admin bans them from the server and problem solved.

Punkbuster also allows server admins to take screenshots of what players see. If the server admin captures evidence of cheating, he or she can submit the proof to PBBans, a global database of hackers, making it very difficult for that hacker to join any Punkbuster servers.

This also allows server admins to pass along evidence of cheating to Tripwire, which can use the information to close more loopholes.

Overall, Gibson thinks this strategy works very well. I have over 1,275 hours in Red Orchestra 2 and Rising Storm, he said. I ve been on a server with about two hackers in all that time. I asked him if Tripwire downloads paid cheats as part of its efforts to prevent them. We re a proactive dev, he chuckled. Infer from that what you will.

Gross Income

After being banned from Counter-Strike, I spent several weeks poking around the Ultra Cheats forums hoping that someone would talk to me about how the site was managed. I only got real attention once I admitted that I was writing a piece for PC Gamer. I bounced from admin to admin until I got to Slayer, Ultra Cheats manager and lead coder.

Slayer didn't want to talk at first. I don t think any good for Ultra Cheats would come from this, he said. I promised him I wouldn t use any real handles or even the site s real name, and that I wanted him to respond to quotes from developers like Gibson. I suspect the notion that he d get a reaction from a game developer is what got him on board.

Like Gibson, he needed confirmation that I was really writing for PC Gamer, and he was more thorough about it. I gave him my real email address and name (not Perry C. Gamble s), Twitter, and an email confirmation from an editor.

Gibson was worried about hackers posing as journalists. Slayer was worried about giving legal ammunition to parties that want Ultra Cheats gone, and competing cheat providers.

We set a date to talk over Skype, but when the time came Slayer wouldn t agree to a voice call, just text, because he was worried about me recording him as well as other reasons. To my surprise, he brought along another Ultra Cheats administrator, Prophet, and they d only talk to me together. I guessed that this was to keep one another from saying anything they might regret.

They said part of Ultra Cheats money comes from a different site that it operates in Brazil (a huge gaming market) and reseller sites, which sell Ultra Cheats product under a different brand in exchange for a cut of sales.

Slayer said that Zero s $1.25 million a year was a little inflated, but that I could come up with a rough estimate of Ultra Cheats annual revenue by gauging the size of the community.

On March 20, over 2,500 members logged into the Ultra Cheats forums, almost all of whom are plainly listed as paying for standard or more expensive cheat packages. At an average of $10 per user a month, Ultra Cheats makes $300,000 a year. Add to this the fact that the forum has almost 150,000 members overall (though we don t know how many are active, paying users), the Brazil site, and resellers, and it s not hard to imagine Ultra Cheats breaking a million dollars a year. Slayer declined to share the exact number of their active users.

He said coders supply cheats on the site in exchange for a cut of the sale. These vendors, as Slayer calls them, take in about half the profits of the whole operation. Both Prophet and Slayer said that they get paid enough, but not enough to quit their day jobs. More than minimum wage, they said. Customer support, technical support, and other people like Zero who help run the site get paid as well, but less. Zero didn t want to say how much he makes, but admitted that he has a day job and that free cheats attracted him to the position.

I do this because I really think of the community and staff as a big family, Prophet said.

The rest of the money goes to the ownership entity, which Slayer and Prophet refused to talk about in any way. All they would say is that the entity controls the PayPal account I paid (and hence all Ultra Cheats' money) and that only Slayer knows anything about it. Anything between this ownership entity and the rest of Ultra Cheats goes through him. For all I know, this ownership entity doesn t even exist and Slayer and Prophet were the actual owners.

Rage cheaters and closet cheaters

Gibson said that if you cheat, you always get detected eventually. After talking to cheaters, I m not sure that developers are as effective at preventing cheats as they think. According to Slayer, there are two kinds of cheaters: rage hackers and closet hackers. A rage hacker is someone who uses cheats to their fullest potential, even employing features that kill everyone on the server instantly. They're the ones you notice and hate.

Zero said that if it wasn't for hacking, games wouldn't be fun. He said cheating is a rush, similar to the one he got when he used to deface websites. In life, you re always going to have rebels, he said. It s like coming up to someone and asking, 'Why do you rape or kill?' But in this case it s cheating.

Since he compared cheating to the worst crimes a human can inflict on another human, I asked him if that means he thinks it s a bad thing. He didn't answer. I asked him how he would feel if he was in a game with another player who was using cheats against him. Doesn't matter to me because he s probably one of our customers, he said.

Slayer agrees with Gibson that anti-cheats like VAC and Punkbuster, which work similarly to anti-virus software, are effective at catching ragers and detecting public cheats quickly. But their methods are so reverse-engineered it s not even funny, he said. Punkbuster's signature scans are easily dumped using public knowledge available on public forums. If you re smart enough and you know the methods they employ, you can get around it easily.

"In life, you re always going to have rebels. It s like coming up to someone and asking, 'Why do you rape or kill?' But in this case it s cheating.' "

Punkbuster is basically defeated, Slayer said. If I write cheats and give them away on a public forum I can have my cheat up and running in 20 seconds because I found out exactly what they detected. If I was smart I would build that into my cheat and have my cheat fix itself on the fly, which isn t a stretch. Call of Duty dropped Punkbuster for a reason.

I asked Slayer why Valve, for example, doesn't download his cheats, track the server, block it, and come after him. If it wasn't obvious already, I wasn't a Computer Science major. Slayer is, and my questions amused him. You could do that, but what if I cycle my server IP every day, or every hour? Or I could reasonably and securely move DRM to the client with check on a less regular basis, or I could just spoof what VAC sees :). To be honest Emanuel, I can rent a server using a prepaid credit card via a VPN in another country and you will NEVER find who rented it.

Closet hackers hide the fact that they cheat. I'm proof that cheaters do get caught Steam banned me after a little more than two hours of aggressive, blatant cheating but members of the Ultra Cheats community told me that I was simply doing it wrong. In one of the most friendly, polite exchanges I ve ever had with online strangers, especially in the gaming sphere, they gave me tips on how to cheat without being detected.

Play like you re not hacking, one user who s been cheating in CS:GO with the same Steam account for over 250 hours told me. Play as you would normally, only you re able to see through walls. Act.

That means don t stare at walls, don t use an aimbot (since it moves the camera erratically and results in unreasonable kills), and make sure someone kills you in every match. He also believed you re less likely to get banned if you buy in-game items and get some hours in before you start cheating. He suggested that next time, I should launch the game and let it idle for a few hours before I do anything.

Another cheater suggested I practice cheating in free-to-play games. That s what I love about free games, he said. You can just keep coming back and there s nothing they can do about it.

If you re a good closet hacker you also won t get caught by statistical anti-cheats like FairFight, used in Titanfall and other Electronic Arts games, or Overwatch, another, peer-review layer of CS:GO s anti-cheat strategy, where approved players view flagged replay footage and vote on whether another player was cheating.

Image via free-hacks.com

Tripwire closes loopholes as fast as possible, but Ultra Cheats is fast too. If a vendor s cheat stops working, Ultra Cheats stops selling it and the money stops flowing. Detected cheats come back online within hours, days at the most.

And these are only the cheats that we know about. Anti-cheat can t detect what it can t get its hands on, as Slayer said. Between that and the proficient closet cheaters, I can guarantee that you ve played with way more cheaters than you think.

Supply and demand

If closet cheaters aren't trying to crush other players, why do they turn to cheats in the first place? Prophet started cheating so he could play with his kids. He s over 50, and suffers from a serious visual impairment. He says that without ESP (extrasensory perception), part of the wallhacking cheat that highlights enemy players with bright red boxes, he wouldn't be able to keep up. If I did not use cheats I would not be playing at all, he said.

Slayer said that they've heard from a few other people with disabilities who use cheats this way. It enables them to enjoy a game like you or I would normally, without cheats, he said. But even if there weren't players with disabilities cheating to rise to a normal level of play, as Prophet calls it, the reality is some players will always feel that they want special assistance.

If matchmaking worked perfectly and everyone always felt like a capable player up against equally skilled opponents, maybe there would be fewer of the closet cheaters that make Ultra Cheats a profitable business. When matchmaking works, you won't win every game, but you'll never feel dominated. It s like a friendly neighborhood basketball game. When it doesn't work, it feels like being mercilessly dunked on by LeBron James. That's not fun.

Image via 47r-squad.com

At that point some players dedicate a significant amount of time to get better. Others quit. A small minority turns to cheats. Even Slayer admits that what he does isn t good for games, but as long as there are enough of the latter he ll provide supply where there s demand.

Ultimately, the most effective anti-cheat strategy is to make cheating feel unnecessary. That means either more sophisticated, accurate matchmaking or some kind of handicap system, which some fighting games (Street Fighter IV, Smash Bros.) already implement.

Similar solutions in other games won t stop ragers. Nothing will. But they'll get caught, eventually. For closet cheaters, it might offer a legitimate way to play with others and undercut the paid cheats business.

Until then, this cycle is unstoppable, as Slayer said. If we didn't do it, someone else would.

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