Cheating in Gamification: Turn cheaters into your very best friends
When something is good, there will always be people that will try to get it using shortcuts and that's why, if there is something we can be sure of is that great games always have cheaters. Richard Bartle calls them killers, some people call them hackers, and I call them "very interested players that cannot wait to beat the others".
This kind of players are going to be there, so, what can we do? Is there something we can do to reduce the likelihood of having them in a negative way? And even more important, how can we help them turn into our very pro players?
The answer is YES!
Here are 7 ways that you can use to fight cheaters in your gamified system:
- Make it worthless: Cheaters usually are like that because the reward is worth the effort, so one of the most effective ways of decreasing this behavior is making it worthless. If we can turn all the way around the reward-effort ratio by making it inverse, or in other words, if cheating takes a great effort and the achieved reward is small, no one will ever think of cheats again.
A great example is iTunes and its low prices policy. Very few people feel like paying for a whole album because it is either too expensive or they only want a single, but they are willing to pay for HQ music. So what did Apple do to reduce piracy? They lowered the prices, made it simple to buy single songs, and offered great quality.
This model has been copied by many successful games and can be applied to most gamified systems.
- Add social dependance/pressure: Another way of cheating appears when some pro or experienced players discover the way to benefit from others without them barely noticing. This kind of players usually act on their own, and the key of their success is trying the others not to realize that they are cheating, but when it comes to social dependance or pressure, we can turn it all the way around.
We all know peer-to-peer reviews as a way of avoiding cheating in the scholar world, and even when it has some flaws, this system can be totally applied to game environments, because when the victory is not fully depending on us, players will tend to cooperate and be nice to others instead of cheating on them.
You can see this as a fact in many co-op game modes, such as the ones available on Steam.
- Introduce balanced cheating: Some of the main reasons why players cheat are that they want to get bigger or better in a shorter period of time. Cheaters love your game but they feel like experiencing something new, something that makes it exciting again because they are bored of the normal mode. They want it all and they want it now. So why not give it to them?
So when we talk about balanced cheating, it means that almost everyone is going to be able to play with increased attributes or elements. It can be from a speed server to global cheats that are published online.
The best examples of this kind of mechanics are The Sims and their available-to-all cheats, or Travian with its speed servers.
- Implement time limitations: time constrains, also called cool downs, refers to any kind of limitation that makes the players wait to take any kind of action. Cheaters are usually taking advantage of being connected to the system 24/7 or just implementing hacks that allow them to take actions in the game without them even being there, because the amount of resources gained is worth it.
Apart from preventing players to game the system in this particular way, cool downs produce two really great effects: they make players curious and wanting more, and they also produce a loss avoidance feeling that works amazingly good when creating action loops in any kind of system!
Epic examples of time limitations can be found in any MMORPG, such as WoW, Guild Wars 2, or TLotR Online.
- Implement decreasing rates: another way that cheaters game the system is by repeating some kind of actions that provide them with unbalanced amounts of rewards. This is usually caused by a not balanced positive feedback loop and it can be detected since the testing phase. Anyway, there is an even better way to solve this out. Just make a decreasing progression of those rewards in time, and link them to some time constrains to eliminate this kind of behaviors and produce in the players the same kind of feeling that cool downs do.
A great example of decreasing rates is the app Tapjoy that increase the conditions to give rewards in time, while decreasing the rewards to balance the system.
- Resources limitation: this is a very simple technique that works perfectly for any kind of system. As we have said before, cheaters usually profit from an abundance of resources so just by cutting the available amount of those, we can reduce the likelihood of this kind of bad behavior. As simple and easy as it sounds, it has been one of the main techniques used in many world famous games such as monopoly (reducing the amount of houses available to make it more fair), Team Fortress 2 (reducing the amount of crates that give access to the very expensive and great items) or Ogame (by cutting the storages' capacity)
- Implement small bottlenecks: sometimes, cheaters will try to skip some parts of the game just to go faster, get higher in the rankings or just to achieve better stuff. That's why sometimes it's recommendable to implement bottlenecks that are linked to some kind of level or requirement to make the system fair for all players. Since gamification heavily focuses on recognition and status, bottlenecks are a really good way to make everyone go through the same steps and assure a fair competition. What's more, they'll also help to make the system more interesting and challenging by having some epic goals that all players will have to achieve.
An app that really nailed this concept is duolingo, but besides it, they can be found in any kind of game as a way to make players ready for harder steps
Many people think that cheaters are both dangerous and a terrible threaten. In my opinion they are as good as having some angry customers in front of your business door, if you can turn them into your best customers, you'll gain much more!
And that's why cheating should be considered as a sign that players really are interested in your system, so the best thing to do is either collaborating with them or taking advantage of it in a positive way.
Because...always remember the GOLDEN RULE...
"Having cheaters in your system is good, but quickly turning them into your best players is way better!"