How I Gamed An EA Competition To Win A $4000 PC

How I Gamed An EA Competition To Win A $4000 PC

Back in the day, owning an Alienware PC was the sign of having way too much money. Only the richest parents could afford one. They weren’t gaming machines: they were status symbols for nerds.

I used to own an Alienware Aurora PC. But it wasn’t paid for – it was a prize from a competition run through EA’s Australian website. And almost 12 years after the fact, I feel comfortable in openly admitting that I won that PC with less than reputable methods.

This story has been updated since its first publication.

The Alienware PCs were part of a giveaway that EA ran to drive people to a relaunch of the site in early 2005. It was called EA Play, which people might recognise now as the name for influencer-driven, ticketed mini-convention that EA runs before E3 these days.

But back in 2005, it was really just a big hub for fans of EA games. There was a section for demos and patches for Most Wanted, Battlefield and Lord of the Rings; there was a section for press releases and announcements for various games. The site was updated with localised release dates and prices for EA’s games, and there was even a section for licensed music that EA used in some of their games.

Most importantly, there was a hub for promotions. It all kicked off with a $35,000 spree that run from March to April, giving away Alienware PCs, games, Logitech speakers, joysticks, even pizzas at one point.

The big daddy: an Alienware sweepstakes, with 30 separate Alienware Aurora 7500 PCs to be won.

Like many early internet-era draws and competitions, the draw mechanic was simple. Once you’d registered an account on the EAPlay website, you were given a referral code. Hardly the most secure entry mechanic on the internet – can you imagine trying that these days? – but people were more comfortably clicking random URLs than they were entering their credit card details back then.

For every five users that clicked on that referral code, users got an additional entry in the draw. The winners were drawn at random, although given that people had the capacity to influence how many entries they had, it was really a cross between a popularity contest and pot luck.

Being familiar with the Quake scene and a competitive Counter-Strike 1.6 player at the time, I did what anyone would have done as a first resort: started spamming links on IRC.

Unsurprisingly, it didn’t work that well. After a few days of respectfully dropping URLs into some of the larger competitive Australian channels, like #pantheones and some private groups, the referral count totalled a miserable 50.

In hindsight, 50 isn’t actually a bad number. That’s 10 entries in a draw to win one of 30 gargantuan PCs! But figuring that other people would be trying their hardest to maximise their chances, I came up with a second plan.

URL shorteners are a dime a dozen these days. The functionality is often built into a lot of apps and social media services now. But they were just getting off the ground in 2005, and coupled with the lesser scepticism around clicking on links, that opened the door for an opportunity.

But it wouldn’t be enough to just shorten a URL and throw it at people, I reasoned. People would ask why this random URL was appearing and why they should click on it. I had to give them a reason.

And that answer? Ego.

Image: Web Archive (Gotfrag, July 2006)

Gotfrag is dead these days, but back then it was the hub for competitive Counter-Strike chatter. There were other websites based in Europe, but Australians had the most in common with Americans, so Gotfrag was our second home.

As you’d expect, the forums were filled with egos. So I used that to my advantage by pulling out an old screenshot, one of my best performances to date. It was back in the day when counter-terrorists still got +3 frags for defusing the bomb, so the score was unnecessarily inflated. Still, 49-7 is a pretty good score for a single half of Counter-Strike.

I took the URL for that screenshot, and used a link shortener. I then took the URL for my referral link, and shortened that as well. Once I had those two links, I created a new thread on Gotfrag and created a post, titled “Your Best Score Ever”. (I tried finding the original post, but forum searches don’t work and you can only dive so deep through the Web Archive.)

The screenshot in question. Image: Alex Walker

From there, the thread was pretty simple: a quick line about the best score I’d ever gotten in a half, followed by the first shortened URL (to the screenshot), and then the second (to the referral link). “What’s your best scores in a half,” the post continued, or some version thereof.

It was pretty straightforward: show off your stuff, or more importantly, come to the comments and shit on how I’m actually really bad and why I’m *really* bad. And as you would expect a bunch arrogant CS players to do, they did.

In about a day, the amount of referrals had soared from just over 50 to around 1000. I went from having 10 entries in the draw to a veritable shitload. I didn’t actually have any idea in mind of how far things would go, partially because when you’re just posting on a website you never quite know exactly how large it is.

That became a problem, because not long after EA announced on their forums that they were cracking down on fraudulent applications. Others had been using bots or other methods to spam their referral links to levels EA were uncomfortable with (although no numbers were given). Anything beyond 1000 would be flying too close to the sun, so I went back to my dodgy thread, admitted to my crimes, and waited for my punishment (a ban).

It took around 24 hours before Gotfrag admins acted, by which time people were still arguing about their own scores. Some extra referrals came in, but the cord was cut soon enough, my account on Gotfrag was banned, and my referrals stayed well away from the banhammer.

A few months passed, as I patiently waited for EA to draw the winners on their site. I don’t remember receiving an email, but I remember seeing a post with my name it on the EA Forums – I was getting a brand new PC. There was no word of when, only that I’d have to sit patiently.

The plan had paid off.

A few days after Christmas, we heard a truck coming out the back. You could hear it from a mile away – it was still a dirt road then (even in 2005!) and it was comfortably the largest anything that had gone down that little road in months.

Thanks to the delivery driver, we plopped the gargantuan Alienware box on the kitchen table. It was unexpected; my mum had a family friend over, and they were catching up over a cup of tea. We unpacked the box, and placed the Aurora 7500 case on a towel.

“What is it,” the family friend asked. I told her it was a PC, and I’d won it through a competition. She asked me how, and I told her the full story above.

I still don’t know whether she believed me or not. But it didn’t matter – that Christmas, at least, I felt like a champion.


  • cant see how what you did is dodgy… at least from the competition side of things. EA still got a legitimate 1000+ clicks from unique users. The way you presented it was pretty sneaky, but OK in my books!

    • It had the 2.8GHz Athlon and a 6800GT, I reckon it could. Doom 3 only needed an Athlon 1500, so I reckon it would have run it just fine.

  • – Alex is still rocking the Aurora to this day, albeit with 512mb of extra RAM his friend somewhat reluctantly gave him back in 2009 after Alex convinced him those extra “megabytes” would surely add a boost to his PCs performance! Nice thinking Alex!

    • I wasn’t around Kotaku that far back, but send me a message or email. I’d like to know more about what happened.

      • …uh, yeah…hi, that guy who didn’t get his prize…yeah, me too! Totally didn’t get it and…uh, can’t remember the competition now but uh…was before your time, yeah thats it, way way waaaay before you came on-board but anyway, I’m not mad, just, you know…would like my prize. Please.

          • My mistake, it was 7 years ago 😛 . I blame Wildgoose, also Serrels 😛

            It’s fine, I really don’t need a copy of Crysis 2 at this point. It just seemed like a relevant anecdote considering the article 😀

      • Not to jump on the bandwagon but I never got one I won either, from this contest. I’m not fussed about it now since it was years ago but it might be good to figure out what happened at least.

        • I remember that one, I think whoever was handling it changed over midway through sorting out prizes. Because I’d replied with all my details then a week or two later got asked again and responded a second time.

          I did receive mine so you might have missed the second correspondence.

          • I didn’t get any correspondence for that at all. I logged a support ticket and Mark Serrels told me he was going through an email backlog, then I emailed again a month later because I hadn’t heard anything and got no response.

  • 30 odd years ago I won an Atari ST package worth about $3000 by winning the Australian Atari Championships playing Battlezone on the 2600.

      • It was held at Myer stores around the country by the Australian Atari distributor. My memory is a bit hazy but you had to play a game of your choice for a set time, maybe 5 minutes, and the person with the highest score won. Obviously you had to pick a high scoring game but scoring was a bit more consistent across titles back then so it took some time to work out Battlezone was the game to play. Heats were held and I was the WA Champion.

        The final was held about the same time across the country and I remember being in the lead and the Myer and Atari management in Perth waiting in anticipation for the scores from Melbourne and Sydney to be phoned through. I got my picture in the paper and negotiated the first prize which was a family holiday for 4 to Fiji to be converted to Atari hardware.

        People still don’t believe me when I say I was the Australian Atari champion.

          • No video but I do have the newspaper clipping somewhere. I think the Atari distributor was new and the comp was a promotion to relaunch the 2600 after the crash of 83. All the consoles and cartridges were being cleared at many retailers in 83-86 and I picked up a ColecoVision, Intellivision and the VCS around this time. I had (and still have) quite a library so I had a good chance of finding a high scoring game. I think other competitors had arrived at the same conclusion, maybe not locally but I know some of the interstate contenders were on Battlezone too.

            As an aside some Toyworlds got a lot of the original Atari stock post crash and I remember the cartridges were $10 or less each previously selling for up to $100. They also got Parker Bros cartridges including Star Wars The Arcade Game on ColecoVision and Nintendo Game and Watch all at bargain prices. Target were also good for clearance games. Toyworlds were THE place in the mid 80s for heavily discounted videogames and Star Wars toys.

        • Haha holy shit man, I would’ve been over the moon about a trip to Fiji, bugger the Atari! Then again, I wasn’t even born 30 years ago, so you know. I admire the dedication!

  • “12 years ago” in title, 12 replies in comments. Coincidence? I think not. Half Life 12 confirmed.

  • I needed a new PC and a local shop in the small town I lived in had a competition to win a Dreamcast when it launched. All you had to do was buy a computer to enter. They had 5 to give away and I knew that not many people would be buying a PC and hardly anyone knew what a Sega is. Needless to say I got an average PC and hot off the presses Dreamcast which still runs like a ‘dream’ today.

  • Do you remember the old days of banner sharing services. Where you show banners on your site and for every x views of banners yours gets shown on someone else’s site? I gamed that via some automation and scripting on a local machine to get a whole lotta clicks on my banners to something very similar 😉

    Didn’t win tho!

  • Ah yeah, as a former PCPowerplay forum mod, I remember waves of new members appearing when these stupid comps popped up. We eventually just started banning anyone who posted the link. We were pretty ban-happy on that forum.

  • I once paid 50c to enter a raffle, and won a Bicycle pump (it was the 2nd place prize)
    I was super super happy,
    Now all I needed was a bike to use it on!

    (sorry don’t have photos or anything, so can’t revisit that great moment via an article)

  • I don’t get it. What does EAPlay have to do with counterstrike and why would people want to signup to EAplay when you can just post comments in the original Gofrag thread.

  • I’m sure back in those days what you did by tricking people into going to your ref link was considered misleading, but these days, well, the internet has gone full savage so anything short of driving to someones house and kidnapping them for a signup is considered ok…. LOL

  • I think the staff must have a story quota, so they repeat stuff on public holidays and whatnot. As a reader I find it a little bit annoying at times, but not as much as the relentless spamming of partnered content.

    • Heres how to flush the dunny with a rasberriy pi… God am i happy to see the end of do everything with a friggin rasberry pi. I swore to never buy one even though its right up my alley.

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