Game Developers Have Cheat Makers in Their Sights - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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Game Developers Have Cheat Makers in Their Sights

Game Developers Have Cheat Makers in Their Sights

Any honest gamer who has spent much time playing with other people online will bemoan the existence of cheaters. For years developers have tried different tactics to discourage those who take fair play to be a friendly suggestion as opposed to a hard line they may not cross. From stripping cheaters’ player characters of their gear and forcing them to jump off pillars in game, to locking them on servers populated solely by fellow cheaters, the variety of punishments used are limited only by developers’ imaginations (and programmer skill).1 However, certain countries have started looking to criminal law as a cheater deterrent.

Japanese game company Nexon pressed charges against gamers aged 17 to 18 for obstruction of business.2 Allegedly they used in-game cheats in the company’s online FPS Sudden Attack, hurting the company.3 This is the first time in Japan that criminal liability charges have been raised against gamers for using cheat programs.4 The alleged cheaters were a university freshman, a 17-year-old vocational freshman, and a high school student. 5 Repeated cheating and distribution of cheats were allegedly involved. 6

In October 2016, the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency’s Department of Cyber Safety busted an underground scripting operation.7 Eleven people were arrested in connection with the League of Legends helper program LoL helper.8 This program allowed players to avoid skill shots, projectiles manually aimed, thus giving them an advantage over other players. 9 As a result, players can climb up the ranks when gaming competitively much to the frustration of both developers and other players. 10 The developers of LoL helper earned $350,000 prior to its shutdown. 11

Later in 2016, following the aforementioned bust, South Korea’s parliament passed an amendment to the law with the intent of shutting down video game hacks and mods. 12 Said amendment forbid “manufacturing and distributing programs that are not allowed by the game company and its Terms of Service.” 13 Theoretically this makes it easier for game creators to discourage things like aimbots and other hacks that disadvantage players who don’t use them. 14 If violated, the amended law penalizes the convicted with up to 5 years in jail or approximately $43,000 in fines. 15 No doubt this would work as an incentive for people to rethink cheating to gain the upper hand in a game, and it will likely be a blessing to game publishers that can track offenders back to South Korea. 16 Whether other governments will, in the future, decide to place hacking in the hands of the law remains to be seen.

Some argue that, from a broad perspective, these criminalizations amount to criminalizing bad manners on the internet.17 The criminalization of the creation of cheating software as opposed to solely criminalizing the use of it to make a profit gives the law too wide of a scope and could lead to developers abusing it. 18 If the law criminalizes anything that contravenes the conditions of a game’s Terms of Service, developers and the lawyers of said developers may be motivated to use increasingly restrictive language in them. 19 Overbroad restrictions could limit the ability of people to mod games.20 Considering how widespread of a practice modding is in the gaming world, the criminalization of it could hinder the creativity and longevity of games, and leave fan content creators hands tied.21 For now, it remains to be seen whether criminal law will prove to be the savior of gaming, or its downfall.



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  8. Id.

  9. Id.

  10. Id.

  11. Id.


  13. Id.

  14. Id.

  15. Id.

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  18. Id.

  19. Id.

  20. Id.

  21. Id.

Leanne Farsi

Leanne Farsi is a LL.M student specializing in Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law, an IPLJ staff member, and a staunch advocate for writing "videogames" as one word.