Is It Cheating?

As part of Shut Up We’re Talking episode #51, we had a quick side discussion about what is considered cheating versus what used to be back in the day of MUDs.  Andrew, Frank, and I ended up in an email discussion about it a bit later, and if I got around to actually replying, it might keep going and blossom into something.

Anyway, while I’ve written about aspects of this change in perception before, I thought I would put up a poll today and ask which of the following you consider cheating.

I want to define what I mean by each of the items in the poll, hopefully in a clear enough manner that you know what I am getting at for each item on the list.  They are:

  • Maps from external source – The acquisition of maps and map data from a source outside of the game.
  • Quest info from external source – The acquisition of quest related information, locations, NPCs, objectives, from a source outside of the game.
  • Fight info from external source – The acquisition of detailed fight related information from sources outside of the game such as boss fight walk-through guides or videos.
  • Illicit RMT – The acquisition of in-game items or currency for real money through a method unsanctioned by the game.
  • Sanctioned RMT – The acquisition of in-game items or currency through a game sponsored or other condoned method, including via cash shops and microtransactions.
  • Purchase of Characters –  Buying characters or accounts, usually to gain access to leveled and/or equipped characters.  Some games make allowance for this.
  • Multi-play – The old MUD term for playing multiple accounts at once, often called multi-boxing.
  • Automation of simple tasks – Simple triggers or macros, generally manually activated.
  • Automation of complex tasks – Complex triggers or addons that automatically do things like rescue, heal, cure, for the player.
  • Automation of play – Automation intended to be used for unattended play.  You set it and walk away.
  • Twinking – Equipping a low level character, usually an alt, with very good gear relative to the character level.  Usually gear, enchants, and the like that a character of that level could not otherwise easily obtain.
  • Power leveling – Your friends, usually higher level, facilitating experience gain often by buffing, healing, or clearing mobs to allow quest completion.
  • Paid power leveling – Pay somebody else to level your character.
  • Exploiting game mechanics – Using a flaw in the system to achieve a goal, such as defeat a major boss.  Something the game lets you do, but which was obviously unintended.
  • Hacking – The use of external applications to modify game play so you can run faster, hit harder, be invisible to NPCs.
  • Way too much free time – You can play all the time so you’re better at the game, have more stuff, and are generally uber.
  • Other – Add something I missed.

Now, not everything on that list violates the terms of services of any given game.

I have never seen a prohibition on free time for example.

Nor can I recall power leveling ever being a rules violation.  It was very common in EverQuest.  But it was quite clear that somebody at SOE did not like it because at launch EverQuest II had mechanisms in place to make power leveling very difficult.  For example, most buffs could only be cast on members of your party.  No passing out Spirit of the Wolf to all and sundry. (And no more surly demands for the buff either.)  Some of that got relaxed as time went along, but there is still the locked encounter mechanism that keeps you from assisting in another players NPC fight in anyway.

But I am not so interested in what is allowed or not allowed by a given game.

What I want is your gut reaction to this list of items, independent of any statement in the terms of service of EULA of any given game.  Which ones are you sure are cheating?

You may select multiple items.

Not an exhaustive list I am sure.  Those are just some commonly discussed aspects that seem to relate to the concept of cheating.  If I have missed something, or if you have a strong opinion about anything on my list, please feel free to leave a comment.

29 thoughts on “Is It Cheating?

  1. Hudson

    Illicit RMT 15% (9 votes)

    Purchase of Characters 11% (7 votes)

    Automation of complex tasks 8% (5 votes)

    Paid power leveling 15% (9 votes)

    Hacking 16% (10 votes)


  2. LazerFX

    An interesting topic – and one which I’ve noticed myself, coming from MUD/MOO’s myself (Discworld MUD – 1997 – ~2002, Eventually to become a lowbie Creator, LazerFX).

    At the time, getting information from external sources on quests was a big no-no… the Cre’s had put a lot of time and effort into those quests, they often gave very good rewards, there were subtle, careful hints placed throughout the game, and they didn’t want their chains spoiled. There was even a very strong ethos that you didn’t ask in-game for such things, or at least, for more than a hint. Of course, everyone asked their friends, and things got passed around, but most of the time, a hint was all you got.

    I was shocked when I came to the modern age, and started playing Warcraft (~2005-????, on and off) and realised that there were whole websites devoted to providing information about the game, the items, the areas, the routes, how to level, how to quest, how to gain things quickly – AND THE CRE’S/DEV’S DIDN’T CARE?!

    Of course, since then, I’ve thought more about this, and I have to say – I can’t really say that I have an opinion one way or another now. So – not sure why I posted, other than to give some ‘flavour’ to this interesting post :D


  3. Sharon

    Oh wow… that brings back memories! On my favorite MUD, we were sooo paranoid about sharing quest information and the locations of guilds! But then we’d stand in the tavern and train skills up with automated macros, because that was okay. And then there were the endless debates on on who was violating the diku license by asking for “donations” in exchange for items and whether the donors were cheating by taking the items.


  4. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    Oh yeah, I come from that background as well. The post I linked (this one) as a past look at this is about somebody violating the then current code of data sharing in MUDs.

    But I think that some of the things I chose to list mark me out as someone from that time.

    How many people will look at this and won’t have a personal frame of reference about a time when sharing quest data was a huge rules (written or unwritten) violation?


  5. Keystone

    I started back in 97′ with Ultima Online, and information on quest wasn’t a problem because there were no quest; however, plenty of people did macro their skills and it was a well-known practice.

    When I started playing MMOs it was ok to macro; that is probably why I differ the most on “Automation of complex tasks”. I didn’t select that one as cheating because if the game has a /macro feature, and I take more time than the next guy to create a macro to do complex task for me, then I don’t see how it’s cheating. To each their own though, and I do think a person’s entry-time into the genre will be a key element in their answer selections to this poll.

    Great topic BTW!


  6. Keystone

    Bah, sorry for the double post; I just wanted to add a thought…

    I wonder how many people who started with WoW will consider Twinking a form of cheating…?


  7. Bhagpuss

    Interesting poll. When I began playing MMOs in 1999 Iwould have considered virtually all of those cheating, and would have been pretty vocalabout it in-game too. I used to consider using the /ooc channel cheating.

    Ten years later, I only voted for those options which clearly breakthe EULA of every game I play – unsanctioned rmt, hacking, exploiting, unsanctioned character purchase.

    I don’t consider that my standards have slipped. I consider that ten years ago I was a tight-assed, humorless bore and I have, over time, mellowed.


  8. Zif

    You should rework this poll to have each option be treated as a percentage out of total users voting. It looks like it’s counting every check as a vote even when entered as a stack resulting in many way too low percentages. I highly doubt out of 217 users voting only 15% thought hacking was cheating haha.


  9. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    @Zif – Unfortunately I have to work with the tools at my disposal. Each box clicked counts as a vote. So it isn’t 217 people who have voted. I am going to guess that almost everybody chose hacking, so it is probably only 26 people voting total at this point.

    Ideally I would have each option have 3 checkboxes, yes, no, and undecided, but the poll options available with a hosted account are limited to what you see.

    In hindsight I should have put in a “click this box” item at the end to get a total for the people who took the poll.


  10. p@tsh@t

    Well, if way too much free time is potentially cheating, then I think you’ve got to open it up to the whole hardware/internet connection/lag thing too…

    Are you cheating if you have less than 50ms lag?

    and what about wearing funny hats?

    I love the polls.


  11. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    You have that “other” field available if you think those are cheating.

    Is using a Logitech G15 keyboard cheating no matter what, or only if you use the extra keys to map functions?


  12. LazerFX

    Hehe – Macro-ing I don’t think is cheating if it’s done in-game. Back on Discworld, we had a macro system that you could do just about anything – barring actual command responses. So you could have a single command that would fast-travel you across 2 or 3 hundred rooms, doing things (Buying items, etc) based upon the values you entered, so you would do something like:

    DrumToRamtops 10, 10, 5, 3

    and it would go from the Mended Drum to the Ramtops, buying 10 whatever, 10 something else, 5 thingammybobs and 3 whoozits.

    However, if it’s external macro-ing, then I disagree with it. People don’t have the same equipment, it’s something that you can’t necessarily learn in-game, and it needs external hardware/software…

    So – really, that should be two questions ;)


  13. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    @LazerFX – I think what you’re saying is covered by the “simple automation” choice. I didn’t want to split hairs too much, and we could quibble all day about something like ZMud and making a “pick up fumbled sword” trigger vs. a macro, so I drew it back to just simple task vs. complex tasks vs. unattended.


  14. LazerFX

    Good point, fair enough. Then, in that case – I’m all for simple automatic, and even complex tasks if the procedures are made in-game, but not unattended/automatic trigger operation.


  15. Tavi

    Really good post. Very thought provoking. I’ve used PLEXes in EVE, used my multiple accounts at the same time, and I can see how people might see that as unfair while not calling it cheating. But I’m hoping to not purchase PLEXes anymore not because some might call it cheating but rather, I think I’ll enjoy the achievement more when I earn the ISK to buy the cool ships and what not.

    I don’t typically associate multiple accounts with cheating. In fact I’m not sure how I could ‘cheat’ with them. Although it’s awfully damn nice to have an alt there with a nice mining foreman bonus who can do the hauling while my miners mine. Since I pay for each account, I see it not so much as cheating as allowing me to be anti-social in the massively multiplayer universe.

    I absolutely think exploiting game bugs is cheating and I hate the unattended-external-macro-driven farmers. Grrrrr!


  16. Sharon

    I did a stint at Discworld as well, though I usually played Lost Souls. :)

    I think the general idea is that if there’s an in-game way to automate something, then it isn’t cheating, but it becomes a grey area when it’s facilitated by a client. LS has a policy regarding triggers/timers (okay as long as it doesn’t break the code, and the player is there in case of a problem), and I suspect a lot of other MUDs still do as well.


  17. sente

    There are only three items which I selected here; illicit RMT, exploits and hacking.

    Most of the other things I would not call cheating if the terms of service for the game allows it, but that can of course be different from game to game.

    However, the list of activities that I would do myself is an entirely different one.

    What you did not include here was use of third party software that is not hacking, of which there may be multiple types:

    * Using 3rd party software/modules that uses existing public interfaces to the game
    * Using 3rd party software that processes public output from the game (e.g. log files)
    * 3rd party software that extracts (not modifies) information from game client files without using public interfaces.


  18. We Fly Spitfires

    Technically speaking, any sort of twinking, power leveling or boosting etc should be considered cheating but I bet most people think it’s just about illicit RMT and exploiting game mechanics :)


  19. Sören

    * Hacking
    * Illicit RMT
    * Automation of play
    * Paid power leveling
    * Exploiting game mechanics – but only, if it gives a significant advantage or is annoying to other players.

    Challenge killing
    * Quest info from external source
    * Fight info from external source
    * Purchase of Characters
    * Automation of complex tasks
    * Power leveling

    * Exploiting game mechanics – fun exploits (eg walking to Ironforge Airport)
    * Maps from external source
    * Sanctioned RMT
    * Multi-play
    * Automation of simple tasks
    * Twinking
    * Way too much free time


  20. Sören

    Well it depends on the game. In Eve you work alot with external sources. In WoW you twink alot. In RoM, serious twinking becomes expensive because of RMT. In RoM you can ingame-macro even casting sequences and start it with one key press…


    – twinking: Why the hell do I then have multiple character slots? ;)

    – power leveling: OK, I can do stuff easier or get items otherwise unreachable. But much of this I get also when simply grouping.

    – boosting: Should I say no to the lvl50-priest in RoM, standing on the varanas bridge, with his name “Buffsforfree”? Ok, I admit that I avoid joining groups with very high lvl toon if it is for simple tasks (except the Vathos-bosses in RoM, who one-hit even samelevel tanks).


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  22. inktomi2

    A few of the most popular choices that gained the most votes for cheating were mostly outside influences. Using meatspace money to further your virtual experience.

    Now isn’t RMT a source of cheating, or is it different because it is already factored into the game mechanics?


  23. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    I suppose it could be viewed as an enabling factor. RMT purchased currency can then be used to twink.

    I’m going to let this run through the rest of the week then see where the scores sit.


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