One Shot, One Kill, No Skill: Why One Gamer Paid To Cheat

The tale of how a man from Canada became a person who pays a monthly fee to cheat at video games is like many stories about good people who slide towards the more nefarious extremes of life. There was hurt. There was frustration. And then there was the temptation to step inside from the unabating drizzle of life, to take shelter and experience some glee. The glee, of course, would cost him. It would cost him money and friends, but maybe it was worth it.

The man from Canada goes by the online name Johnb32xq. In the eyes of some, he is what's wrong with online multiplayer gaming. Some might brand him a scourge — maybe even a bad person — but that's the common reaction to situations like these, when good people cross lines that other good people don't.

The man from Canada doesn't seem like such a bad person. He just pays to cheat at video games.

John lives on a 200-acre farm somewhere in Canada. He has a day job and loves to play video games. He bought Battlefield 3 at launch last year and played it on the PC. Then some things happened, and soon enough, John became the kind of gamer who has an arsenal of cheats at his disposal. Each was a hack that he paid for. One lets him saunter into a multiplayer match in Battlefield 3 and automatically kill the next person he sees. If he's feeling particularly destructive, John flicks on a hack called "Mass Murder" and strolls through a Battlefield battlefield while every opposing player just drops dead. One button press and the text notices indicating the death of each opposing player scrolls in like the next line of movie credits. These hacks John uses require no skill other than the discretion not to be caught by the people who make Battlefield. His opponents stand no chance.

Paid cheaters like John are the steroid users of video games, with two caveats.

"Technically hacking does ruin games," John recently told me. "I do feel bad for doing it, ‘cause I know regular legit gamers — which I once was — just want to have fun and play the game with their friends. I basically go into servers and hack, because it's like releasing anger with my job. I get bitched at and get stressed out."

Cheating is John's anger outlet, one he's willing to pay up to $25 a month to keep using. His situation is the reverse of most video game scare stories. Video games have not compelled him to misbehave in the real world. A shooter video game didn't turn him into a hellion in real life. On the contrary, the real world, he says, is what has caused him to be a cheating terror in the video games he plays.

Paying cheaters like John are the steroid users of video games, with two caveats: 1) nothing they do appears to be illegal; 2) nothing they do appears to require the skill that, say, still must be present to enable even the most chemically enhanced baseball player to swat a 150km/h fastball over an outfield wall.

Paying cheaters certainly violate what some would say is the spirit of the game. They certainly spoil what other players might have thought was a fair competition contested among players of Battlefield, or Call of Duty, or any other competitive PC game.

A hacker uses cheats in Battlefield 3 in this clip that was uploaded to YouTube a few weeks before F3 was officially released.

But, certainly, paying cheaters are also gamers, members of a growing tribe of humanity who want to win so badly in, say, Words with Friends that they will peek at dictionaries to help them defeat their best friends. Some people study YouTube clips to learn how to breach invisible walls in Call of Duty. Gamers break rules to gain advantages and even one of the Mt Rushmore heads of this field, Sims creator Will Wright, says that the best way to play games — the way he plays — is to subvert the game's proper rules.

John is on the extreme end of a spectrum, because his tactics are so lethal, so outside of what the game's creators intended, so far beyond what rival players can defend against and, oh yeah, he paid some hackers to have them. John pays to be able to kill your character instantly in Battlefield. He's surely crossed some line, though it's anyone's guess just where that line must be.

***

John from Canada is one of an unknown number of customers of a service called Artificial Aiming, a mirthful band of entrepreneurial cheaters who hack popular and unpopular games alike. Their star hacker is someone named HelioS, a mysterious figure who is regularly outfoxing or being outfoxed by the makers of games such as Battlefield.

There are rival providers of paid cheats too, including Project 7 and the surprisingly slick FPSCheats.com. The latter claims to be "The #1 rated hack website in the world". Launching the website triggers a video of an attractive blonde welcoming you to the site and boasting that the four-year-old site has more than 300,000 members; the website's Twitter account, however, has fewer than 900 folllowers.

Artificial Aiming offers cheats for lots of games, from Battlefield 2 to six different Call of Duty games to Mass Effect 3 (40 games in all, plus cheats for Duke Nukem Forever which are, for some reason, labelled as free; a "master package" to use all the cheats for all the games runs $US20/week or $US50/month). The cheats are provided through a separate computer program that runs in concert with the game. It essentially gives you superpowers, and unless you're bitten by a radioactive spider, superpowers aren't for free.

A couple dozen cheats have recently been available for Battlefield 3. The cheats tweak the game's frame-rate or radar and are said to be undetectable by the anti-cheating service Punk Buster. The meatiest part of a $US25/month Level 3 Battlefield 3 cheat subscription from Artificial Aiming is the aimbot, which will more or less do your shooting for you. Here's a breakdown:

Aimbot :

  • Uberdamage (only one bullet is needed to kill a player instantly)
  • Auto Spot (spot everyone on the map, automatic. You'll get the spotbonus for every kill your team makes)
  • Massmurder (kill everybody with a single button)
  • NoSpread
  • No Recoil
  • No Breathing
  • Visibility Checks
  • Soldier Aimbot
  • Vehicle Aimbot (All land vehicles, Chopper gunner and Helo transport machine gunner Aimbot for air vehicles)
  • Aim Styles (Off, When firing, Full auto)
  • Targeting Styles (Closest Target, Closest to crosshair, Highest Threat, Lowest Health, etc.)
  • SlowAim (Off, On) (+ Configurable slow aim speed)
  • AimAngle (Off, On) (+ Configurable autoaim rotation angle)
  • AutoFire (Off, On)
  • FriendlyFire (Off, On)

Anyone who wants to buy cheats has to expect them to work only some of the time, as game developers do their damnedest to block them and hackers then have to try to work around the barricades. A forum administrator on Artificial Aiming noted this past Friday that "Our BF3 sales are disabled at this moment due to security issues. So we cant deliver you a cheat at this moment."

This kind of business riles the people who are in the business of making games. The profiteering cheat-makers tend to infuriate.

"It used to be that hackers did it because it was fun and they want to show that they can," Karl Magnus-Troesddson, the director of the massive Swedish studio DICE told me a few months ago. DICE are the makers of Battlefield and have been battling hackers and cheaters for years. "It's about big money today. They want to make money off of these cheats. That's what pisses me off the most. They're not just ruining the game for others; they're actually making a profit off of it. That hurts both my gamer heart but also my dev heart, I have to say."

The folks a Artificial Aiming laugh at this kind of thing. Online, they seem as jolly a band of hackers and cheaters as there is, cackling on message boards about how they disrupt games, rejoicing when, in one instance, Artificial Aiming hackers used cheats to snag the virtual dogtags of Battlefield developers. Top Artificial Aiming personnel as well as top people at other cheating groups brushed off repeated requests by Kotaku to tell their story, to explain why they cheat and size up just how big a business it is for them to mess with games like Battlefield 3. One of their ringleaders, an AA administrator who goes by the name Haruhi, recently posted a link to a Forbes article entitled "Cheating is Good for You". This is what he pulled from the article:

Psychologists have found that when playing games, if players aren't allowed to punish others they suspect of cheating, the game community falls apart. People will even pay money out of their own pocket to punish cheaters. So figuring out ways to keep the larger community involved in dealing with cheaters can keep the group engaged in ways that "regular" game play might never allow for.

He supplied his own addendum: "Fact: Cheating is good for you!"

If there is profit in it for the cheat enablers, that presumably makes it all the sweeter.

All is not fair, however, even for the cheat profiteers. In January, several Artificial Aiming administrators and VIP users tried to distance themselves from a new non-AA hack that was being used to get honest Battlefield players banned from the game.

***

John from Canada used to hate hackers. All of his stats in Battlefield used to be legit, the simple tally of how good he was at a popular first-person shooter. He was part of an online gaming clan who vowed to play together. But work got in the way for John and he couldn't play as much as he wanted to. You have to play a popular first-person shooter a lot to be competitive in it; distractions that kept him from the game would hold him back.

"One day I got pissed and fed up with one of the guys in the clan cause he didn't have a job and just grinded the game 24/7 and gained 10-15 levels above us," John remembered. "I wasn't the best player in BF3. So, one of the other clan members said to me in a different teamspeak [that] he used to hack APB: Reloaded, and I'm like, ‘Really??' He sent me the link. I looked at the site, and I made an account. I saw the hacks and I'm like, damn that's a lotta hacks for games, so I was like, ‘I'll give it a go.' I bought a one week subscription to the master package, which gave me access to all the games' hacks."

That was John's first injection of Artificial Aiming's product. He suddenly had 42 hacks at his command. He loved it.

"I see a guy, press my key, instantly snap on, killed him, then snapped to a few other guys and killed them. I'm like, ‘I love this hack.'"

The first time he used a paid cheat, he loaded up the hacks and a copy of Battlefield 3, jumped to his favourite multiplayer map at the time, Metro, and configured an "aimbot" cheat to his Alt key.

"I was running around the map. I see a guy, press my key, instantly snap on, killed him, then snapped to a few other guys and killed them. I'm like, ‘I love this hack.'

His clan noticed that his scores were suddenly a lot better and they figured out what was going on. He was angry about being caught, hopped onto his team's server and killed his teammates 13-0. They banned him.

"It took a few days to sink in as I realised what I had done to the gaming clan I had been with for four or five years," he said. "I felt like utter crap. I actually cried for about five minutes, wishing I could go back in time. But you can't, so, basically I sucked it up from there."

John cheated some more.

"I bought a one-month BF3 Level 3 sub, which gave me access to everything: autofire, no spread, no recoil, etc."

He kept using the hacks. He kept enraging other players. "I just laughed at them," he said. "Three to four months down the road, the hack team scripted uberdamage which basically makes anything a one shot kill and extends max range. On any game mode, I can run around with a G17 and one-shot kill them.

"Then, a month later Mass Murder came out. This option completely destroyed the game. Key-bind it to a button and [no matter what] you're holding in your hand, you press the button and it will kill almost everyone on the enemy team."

He made a video out of that one and thanks master-hacker HelioS for that mother of all cheats.

EA has banned John's account three times, but he has continued to play, hopping from legitimate accounts to pirated ones.

He says he bought Battlefield 3 legitimately twice. He also bought the game's first downloadable expansion, Back To Karkand. The proceeds for those sales flowed back to Battlefield's publisher EA and its Swedish development studio, DICE, where Karl Magnus works.

He's also bought pirated keys to access Battlefield from Russian hackers sites. He estimates he has spent about $US100 on pirated keys and spent about $US120-$150 on cheats from Artificial Aiming.

***

In early March, when it had become clear that cheaters were targeting Battlefield 3, Karl Magnus wanted me to know just how hard DICE was pushing back. "It has been a problem," he said, "as it is in all shooters. We have a separate team that works in DICE that deals with cheating. The best way to battle cheating is to just look at the stats and ban people and get them out of there."

The anti-cheating team at DICE looks for people who pad their stats through glitches that haven't been patched out of the game. "Those are things that are easy to fix," Magnus said. "The hacks, where people aimbot and these kinds of things that are using a third-party cheat are usually a bit a harder, because it's usually an overlay using DirectX on top of that. We can't patch that out of the game. From that perspective it's easier to just look at the stats and say, ok, if they have a kill-death ratio of this or whatever the algorithm has been set up, that's probably a cheater. Let's look into that, and then we do mass-bans continuously."

The Battlefield studio director described the fight against cheaters as "an ongoing arms race", one that would never end.

Magnus would rather not ban someone, if possible. The first time they think they've found a cheater? "We usually start by stats-wiping them. If we see a repeat felony or whatever you want to call it, we ban them... if we want to be really mean, we can ban them not just from Battlefield but from all EA games, but, I mean, that's very harsh. We try to keep it within the franchise."

He described the fight against cheaters as "an ongoing arms race", one that would never end. The cheaters find a way to hack the game. DICE applies a fix. The cheaters find a new exploit.

In late March, with cheat services like Artificial Aiming making money selling stat-boosting cheats to gamers like John from Canada, DICE started selling perks — "shortcuts" — that level Battlefield players up. DICE isn't selling cheats but, rather, offering the kind of quick levelling-up of player rank that unlocks better gear for players who don't have time to play to earn those levels:

Today, we are also offering 10 different shortcut items for sale for Battlefield 3 on PS3. If you're new to the game, this is the perfect way to gain some ground on the veterans online. Or if you'd love to get some more air time in the jets but want to equip those AA missiles straight away, this is for you.

The 10 shortcut items are available now from the PlayStation Store and the in-game store and include these:

  • Kit Shortcut Bundle: Immediately unlocks all items unique to the four playable classes
  • Vehicle Shortcut Bundle: Immediately unlocks all items for all vehicles
  • The Ultimate Bundle: Immediately unlocks all items from all other available shortcut packs

The shortcuts cost $US7-$10. A full bundle costs $US40.

These official paid perks may have enabled John from Canada to keep pace with that member of his clan who kept playing Battlefield while John worked. It wouldn't have made John a better Battlefield player, but it would have made him a better-armed one. Who's to say that wouldn't have kept him from becoming an Artificial Aiming customer? When DICE began offering these paid booster packs, Artificial Aiming administrator Haruhi cackled at what he saw as apparent DICE hypocrisy: "EA Games is legalizing Cheats for BF3," he proclaimed.

John from Canada says he has been trying to quit using hacked cheats.

A couple of weeks ago, I asked an EA rep what had become of the arms race Magnus had described. Artificial Aiming and their numerous rivals continued to make new and more efficient cheats for Battlefield and other games. Their Mass Effect 3 aimbot is one of their newest products. They kept selling them to people like John from Canada. DICE kept banning players and issuing new services and paid downloadable content to Battlefield gamers, trying to get Battlefield gamers to send money DICE's way instead of to third-party cheat services. The EA rep was unable to get an update from Magnus but provided the kind of less impassioned statement you get from a corporation that wants to convince gamers its product is safe-rather than the kind of heated words one gets from a creator who is tired of people profiting off of vandalizing his game. "We continually monitor the Battlefield 3 community to make sure everyone is having the best possible Battlefield experience. We have a dedicated team at DICE tracking cheaters/hackers."

John from Canada says he has been trying to quit using hacked cheats. He sounds like he is tired of being banned, of having to re-start his Battlefield 3 playing again and again. But he's still using Artificial Aiming. The temptation to cheat is strong.

He's still not allowed in his old clan, but does play games with a few clan members who don't mind that he hacks. They play Test Drive Unlimited 2 together. He also played Farming Simulator 2011, which is something less than escape for him. He lives on a farm.

"Gamers say hackers have no lives or they are gay or they have small dicks," he said. "Honestly, all the guys I play with in Battlefield 3 who also run AA have normal lives and raise families, have wives etc.. I'm 21. I live on a 200-acre farm. I help my dad whenever he needs it. I work a full-time job. I hang out with my friends. I play paintball. I'm living a normal life, and I'm a gamer. I hack, ‘cause I find it fun, sometimes. And it just gets me away from shit and stuff which can happen in our everyday lives."


Comments

    Kinda sad and i think it comes down to that he thinks he's failing at life and so goes into bf3 to destroy people to make himself feel better. He has deeper problems other than being a douche online.

    I fail to see the satisfaction that can be gained from cheating to win.

      People get a sense of enjoyment from having the power to grief others

        exactly. its the trolling of the gaming world.
        It also spells out quite clearly that achievements in any sort of game are worthless.

    This article is pure bs, what he is doing is wrong, doesn't matter what spin you put on it. I paid to play a game that everyone can enjoy, not just some righteous dick.

      Agreed - difficult to swallow the spin here, down or not, the Guy is still a giant dickhead.

        Yeah. He's ruining the game for other paying gamers. I have 0 sympathy for him.

          Roger that. He needs to be drawn and quartered.

      Agreed - if you want to just cause destruction without any threat to your player character.... just play a single player game and use cheats. There is no point in griefing other players.

      The fact of the matter is that it's not that he wants 'no challenge', it's that he wants to ruin the game for others.

      What a f-wit

        I agree...I use to play CS and COD online all the time and was quiet good at it. Then I got a job after uni and found I had no time to be competitive in online games, so instead of doing what this guy did I started playing single player games...I still play multiplayer games when Im with my friends who are all in the same situation as me which makes it more fun and less frustrating.

        No need to be a d**k, it just seems immature..

        Precisely. I let off steam in single player games this way sometimes. Who doesn't like to switch on god mode in Skyrim and go around killing everyone in Whiterun? :P
        But multiplayer is a different beast. It turns your desire for virtual violence into a desire for ruining the day of a bunch of people that just want to play a game.

        I'm afraid griefing other players is the point.

        You see, some people, when things aren't going well for them like to cheer themselves up by making other peoples lives worse then theirs rather then trying to improve their own.
        These people are a$$holes but there is very little that can be done about them as they are generally too stupid to realies they only end up hurting themselves more as people don't' react well to them.

        Suddenly I don't quite like Canada anymore... with all their farms and Johns...blame Canada! :P

    What spin? Did you not read the obvious disapproval? The author has done a great job of capturing a cheater mind without crucifying his/her source. A great article.

    That said, i think john is an ass. And the people selling cheats for money are straight up thieves. They should be ip tracked and arrested for theft and damage to product reputation, pure and simple. It damages sales when people cheat. I haven't played cod in a long time because cheats are infuriating.

    It's funny to think that developing all this requires so much effort and skill, which might be better applied somewhere else.

    This is like having a button that kills a random person in the world and mashing it because you feel your day was stressful.

      It's not really though is it?

      While online cheating is annoying as hell, comparing it actually killing some one is a bit daft.

    Go bombers Lance

    BF3 is full of these types but I can say with confidence most people are not much better. When tact lights could blind other players at 20 meters it was all people would use, IRNV turned players into neon lamps and nullified flashlight blinding so everyone abused that. The M26 Mass heavy barrel exploit became standard until it was patched out. I refrained from using this crap, I'm satisfied without using broken mechanics but most players will flock to it as long as it's legal. This guy is just a step further in the level of stat worship, egos based on KDR and score per minute that ensure players meta game at the expense of others.

    While it's great that this piece is well researched, it seems to me that regardless of the intentions of the author it turned out to be a massive advert for Artificial Aiming and other cheat sites. I have been playing games for years and this is the first I have heard of these sites. I have known that bot and hack services existed but they don't usually get a full page spread on the sites I frequent.

    A pity party and an advertising article are not what hacking services and their users deserve.

      Exactly, I cringed when I read this sentence "...brushed off repeated requests by Kotaku to tell their story..."

      ummm I know its good game journalism but....I'm glad you didnt get to write more stories on this.

    Through all the anit-cheating, you name and link the websites...yes this makes total sense

    Seems to me that if John simply can't play without cheats, he's not really a gamer. He's not playing the game here, he's just literally pressing an "I win" button. He's not deriving his satisfaction from winning because he's not winning himself. He's deriving satisfaction from taking gameplay away from the other players. That makes him nothing more than a griefer.

      He is a gamer. Sounds like he is skilled anyway. And when he is cheating, he's still a gamer. He's just playing a different game to everyone else.

        He's playing a nice game of "f*** everybody".

          Well, yeah, exactly! Still a game! He's being a jerk, but he's playing a game.

    Let them have their aimbots. Make a match where the cheaters are on a team on their own and it's the rest of you vs them.

    Mass murder is just plain stupid. there is ZERO skill in that.

      Max Payne 3 actually does that.

      I'm sure some of the caught cheaters then go and buy new accounts/steal CD keys anyway, but it would be really interesting if you could figure out how many get tempted stay and wallow in their own filth with their similarly emotionally-retarded kind.

    I hate multiplay games for this fact alone, that the developers can't stop the cheaters.I love single-play missions. I like playing the computer because it plays by the rules. It might not be as imaginative as a human but at least I don't have to worry about the computer buying a auto-aim script.

    Yet developer greed and desire to destroy the second gaming market are making the online component of a game to be the primary part whilst delegating the single-play at best to a training campaign.

    Its really unfair and just pushes me to pirate games rather then waste money on a package that is compromised and a ripoff. Like what the fuck, Mass Effect 3 war room map was online. What was the point of accruing a massive fleet when it had nothing to do with the single play campaign. Yet when of course you play online portion of the game you find it polluted with cheaters. fuck that.

    Maybe we should all just use hacks? Wait no 99% of us aren't a bunch of dick heads.

    Please keep spending money on hacks and copies of games, I hope you have financial issues in the future enjoy your shitty life :)

    I find it strange that DICE with it's latest upgrade, Premuim Service. It has added the fuction 'reset stats', it would seem to me that this reset aids hackers a lot more than before.

    I do think this article should be here but it should have not used actual names of web sites that sell these hacks. Very poor in that regard indeed Giz, it basically says "go here to pay for hacks" which only encourages many to try and see the hacks.

      I'd imagine they have an 'overall stats' sheet that they use for this sort of thing. Even if you take cheating out of the equation they'd still want to hold onto the stats because they offer insight into the way the game is played. That and I'm guessing it'd break other players stats if you could actually purge your data from the records.

      What I don't understand is why they can't intercept the information sent from the client to the server to determine what is valid and what is not. Surely the data packets contain information such as weapon type, weapon stats, aim angle etc. and they can somehow determine whether the kill was valid or not.

      That way they could detect cheaters, unless there is a lot of noise that prevents them from doing this. Even though there may be false positives from time to time, they could then do some statistical analysis on these trends to detect who is hacking and who is not.

    And people wonder why DUST 514 is on the PS3 and not the PC.

    This is purely an evolution of all the dashboarders who rage quit to maintain thier "high" K/D ratios, and then brag that they are "all that" when they are just cheaters. These people are the type to go to sites like the one advertised in this article.....and with the amount of times dashboarding happens there is certainly an industry for criminals who are attracted to this. Its one of the reasons i traded in all my FPS like COD and Battlefield 3 because its beyond childish, its boring. And so are all modern FPS.

    I actually think this is a good idea, let all the cheaters buy these cheats and destroy the addiction the community at large have of boring, same-old, FPS games on the market and get back to new IP's and innovation.

    People who cant own thier hours of sucking at a game and earn thier way up the leaderboard by improving themselves are just pathetic and need to grow up and get another hobby and stop ruiing it for everyone else who enjoy working for thier successes.

    For anyone for didn't read this article.

    http://www.kotaku.com.au/2012/06/for-cheaters-in-max-payne-3-hell-is-other-cheaters/

    I found it interesting.

    way to ruin PC gaming

    "I basically go into servers and hack, because it’s like releasing anger with my job."
    So causing other people anguish makes him feel better? That's called "psychopathy".
    Someone needs to see a shrink before they start torturing pets to make themselves feel better.

    John is weak.

    He succumbed to something he knew was wrong and made excuses for why he continues to do it, because it makes him feel better and doesn't care how it makes anyone else feel. Perfect example of one being selfish.

    I can't really see it as anything other than the fact, that he is not a good person.

    (MARK) Is it possible to ask, if we can have the bullet points of what the AA subscription offers removed? By having them in the article, you are literally advertising the Artificial Aiming service. Why advertise that?

    Stephen makes a good point though, when he mentions Helios' reaction to EA trying to counter-act the hackers with booster packs. Read between the lines and you can see publishers are MAKING MONEY from this underground cheating industry, in a number of ways. Mostly:
    - legit booster packs to counter-act gamer's urge to cheat
    - banning users but not chasing the individuals, allowing the hacker to buy extra copies of their game
    As John has mentioned. He's spent almost $200 on BF3 hacking by not just the AA sub but buying copies of the game!

    But there is another way EA want to make money as well. They are seeing this and saying, "how can WE get that money, instead of the hacker groups?"

    Gamers have displayed they are willing to spending large amounts of money to win. So publishers are trying to re-direct that revenue stream in their direction, instead of the hackers. And they won't curtail these hacking groups until they come up with a solid alternative. Keeping the revenue stream open is in their favour, even if they're not getting that revenue (yet).

    In short; publishers will not stop hacks, even though we want them to.

    man, this is so funny, i must try this one day

    Gaining enjoyment from the grief of others - that's the cheater's way of life. John might as well start drowning kittens and scratching people's cars, because his philosophy is obviously "if I can get away with it, why not do it? Look at all those people hating me, I love it!".

    great article, very interesting.

    still doesn't justify hacking in any way, why this "john" guy does it just baffles me, because he seems from the article to be quite aware of what exactly he is doing, but wont change. i'd say he has a serious problem if ruining other peoples games gives him so much pleasure, and he also pays for this pleasure? sounds like i'm describing a drug addict...

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