Steam’s Summer Sale officially concluded last week, but Valve had one last surprise in store for cheaters who had hoped to score cheap replacements on games (or to build up a larger stockpile of titles while cheating in others). On July 6, Steam banned more than 40,000 people — 40,426 according to Steamdb.info — vastly exceeding its previous daily ban record.
There’s a particular method to Valve’s timing here, as PC Gamer reports. Serial cheaters in popular titles will create multiple burner accounts to maintain access to their preferred titles, but the full-price cost of games can add up over time. Steam sales have always had enormous effects on demand for particular games, and a number of titles typically see significant price drops during this period.
Waiting to ban people until after the entire sales event has concluded catches those users who are attempting to exploit price drops to inflict their own damage on multiplayer gaming. There are few things more frustrating than facing down someone who has made themselves effectively unkillable, thanks to zero weapon movement cheats, instant track-and-kill shots that automatically align your mouse cursor to any visible target, hacks that allow players to shoot through walls, or a host of other issues, many of which depend on the specifics of the game in question. Over the last few years we’ve seen an evolution of the cheat business model, as companies step up their efforts to detect and prohibit cheating while some of the most successful cheat programs offer regular client updates and reserve the best cheats for premium “subscribers.”
I’ll admit, my own thoughts on the matter are bifurcated. When you’re playing single-player, I don’t care what mods or cheats a player uses. If you want to play Civilization with a stronger default Civilization, tweak the AI to make the game easier, or use instant-build cheats in your RTS game of choice, that’s fine with me. Want ridiculous guns in Fallout 4 or a gun that shoots cars in GTA V? I’m totally fine with both. I think gamers should generally try the base game the developers actually shipped before moving on to mods or cheats, but if there’s a particular issue driving people crazy, or a particular aspect of a game that’s weighing down your enjoyment of it, I say change it. This is doubly true for mods that overhaul a game’s interface to fit a monitor better than a TV (like SkyUI for Skyrim) or unofficial patch bugs that fix issues that either haven’t or won’t be addressed by the game’s developers.
But when it comes to multiplayer, I’m extremely anti-cheating — probably because I came of age in the late 1990s, when game developers seemed devoted to shipping titles without even considering whether their multiplayer implementations were susceptible to hacking. Sometimes, a company builds mandatory online access into a game whether it ought to be there or not (thanks for that “feature” in the PC version of Diablo III, Blizzard). But when it comes to FPS, RTS, MMOs, or other titles, a strong client-server model that stores as little gameplay data on the client as possible is practically mandatory for stemming the tide.
Valve still has a ways to go before it’ll match its total monthly ban rate, however. In June 2016, the company banned 172,262 people via VAC (Valve Anti-Cheat). That works out to a bit more than 5,875 bans per day and remains a high water mark for the company by a substantial margin. Since the banhammer swung on July 6, Valve has maintained a more sedate pace, at 700 to 2,000 bans per day during the intervening period.