Lawsuits suggest that cheating in some video games may be illegal

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Picture: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

A series of lawsuits from the gaming industry is trying to crack down on cheating in some popular online games, arguing that creating cheats for games and even using them could be illegal.

Why it matters: Cheating is a scourge of many online games, inspiring some of the companies that make them to increasingly bolder legal counteroffensives.

  • These lawsuits are mostly aimed at cheat software makers, but they don’t completely let off the hook players who use the cheats.
  • Scammers “induce and enable individuals destiny 2 players to create an unauthorized and infringing derivative work each time they use the cheat software,” according to a lawsuit from Sony-owned Bungie Studios, which is still snaking through the courts.

Be smart: The types of cheats in the game are not the ones that old-school players would have applied by entering a developer-programmed invincibility code.

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

game companies, Many of them suspend tens and hundreds of thousands of accounts, saying cheating deters honest gamblers and is costly to combat.

  • Bungie estimated in a lawsuit that it spends “approximately $1,250,000 a year on its anti-cheating efforts,” excluding legal fees.

The big picture: Gaming companies definitely abhor cheating, but have been careful to focus their firepower on cheaters, possibly because it could be costly to attack more cheaters themselves with lawsuits, backfire in court, or simply anger players for being stubborn.

  • Cheat-making is big business, not quite as lucrative as developing a blockbuster game, but a revenue generator that game publishers are keen to curb.
  • A cheat vendor sued by Bungie still sells cheats for dozens of games, including an “aimbot” for Call of Duty that can be used for $13/day or one for Valorant for $85/month.

winning streak: Game companies have achieved multiple legal victories against cheatmakers in 2022.

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

Between the lines: Most cheat suits from major publishers claim that game-altering cheats constitute copyright infringement both when they are created and when a player uses them.

  • A cheat that draws a box around an opposing player that would otherwise not be visible creates unauthorized derivative works, suits by Bungie and other claims.

recoil: Most of the defendants in the fraud cases either failed to appear or gave up, agreed to damages and settled. But Bungie has faced vigorous opposition from alleged cheat makers Phoenix Digital throughout 2022.

  • “‘Cheating in Destiny’ is not in and of itself illegal,” the group’s attorney said in a court filing in January.
  • The increasingly wild case includes Phoenix Digital’s counterclaim against Bungie for alleged infringement it is Conditions of service in September and the judge dismissed claims on both sides that have since been refiled with more specific details.

The bottom line: Companies don’t show they have an appetite to sue scammers, but the lawsuits are intended to serve as a warning shot for those who believe cheating in an online game can be of no consequence.

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