Cheats: good intentions turned into a gaming taboo?
Background informationGamingComputing

Cheats: good intentions turned into a gaming taboo?

Raphael Knecht
Zurich, on 25.04.2019
Translation: Patrik Stainbrook
Game developers test their games with cheats. During the years, this got out of hand – a lucrative business model arose. A story of joy and sorrow, two sides of the same coin.

For once, playing god and manhandling every boss with ease: something many gamers secretly dream of. Personally, the difficulty of some games is just what does it for me. A clear statement against cheating. However, there are also situations where cheats can be practical – like testing games, for example. To make this process more efficient, developers often purposely implement cheats. Whether blessing or curse, cheats have left their mark on the games industry.

A cheat rarely comes alone

Since the dawn of video games, cheats have been a thing. One of the first was «603769» the license plate number of Matthew Smith, developer of «Manic Miner». Those six numbers activated a cheat mode with which players could access the next level unharmed. The relationship between cheats and video games was worthwhile, as cheats helped developers to test their games more efficiently before release. They could go through walls, enter god mode or skip levels in order to seek and destroy bugs faster.

However, it also worked the other way around: In 1983, the developers of «Castle Wolfenstein» advertised an editor with which the player could get bonus features for 15 dollars: «The product remodels every feature of the game. Stop startup delays, crashes and chest waiting. Get any item, in any quantity. Start in any room, at any rank. Handicap your aim. Even add items.

A screenshot from Castle Wolfenstein, 1981. Quelle:
A screenshot from Castle Wolfenstein, 1981. Quelle:

30 years ago, gamers were already changing certain numeric values before starting their game. When it came to 8-bit computers who saved games in the cache before launch, crafty gamers would manipulate this data with so-called POKE-Statements in order to gain infinite health, currency, ammo or invisibility. A further way to cheat was born. With the Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC series and ZX Spectrum (articles in German), players could insert special discs in order to freeze running applications, enter POKE codes and continue playing.

Money rules

A profitable industry was blossoming: cheat sheets, game guides and premium booklets had made an originally designer-only testing tool available to the masses for purchase. Even with their new found popularity, many gamers weren’t delighted. Cheating was frowned upon by many, viewed as a blemish on their otherwise pure, traditional idea of gaming. Even today, many gamers can’t agree if guides, walkthroughs and tutorials are useful additions to a game or malicious cheating.

The small black box with an 8 in the middle is a so-called Gameshark, a cheating module for the Nintendo 64. Source: Gameshark
The small black box with an 8 in the middle is a so-called Gameshark, a cheating module for the Nintendo 64. Source: Gameshark

Later on, trainers – additional applications for specific games – would replace cheat codes and POKE statements. Some developers created cheats in order to make their games easier to get into, more appealing and easier for new players. The same principle applied to trainer programmers.

In the long run, we're all dead

These days, few games include cheats – unless developers purposefully implement them as secret rewards. For example, if the player beats certain achievements or levels, some games unlock such rewards. The community is also divided on this issue, some seeing them as pure cheating. When it comes to multiplayer, however, there’s only one consensus: Cheating is absolutely taboo in hits such as «Fortnite» or «Apex Legends», leading to bans (article in German).

After all, it’s those kinds of online games that brought together gamers with their high-scores, achievements or other skill lists. With these games it’s not about beating your own records, but being able to best the competition, thanks to real-time statistics. Cheats aren’t just despised by these players, but are also close to illegal. Still, the business of cheating is flourishing in China.

An Aimbot, such as this one in CSGO, shows the player enemy locations and improves aim. Source: Insanity Cheats
An Aimbot, such as this one in CSGO, shows the player enemy locations and improves aim. Source: Insanity Cheats

But as one door closes, another is opened. Following this rule, game developers discovered a completely new type of cheats: microtransactions. These in-game purchases spark massive debates (article in German) again and again. There’s no excuse for including these features when it comes to many gamers. Then as soon as a gamer can give himself a clear advantage by paying, fairness and competition go out the window.

A double-edged sword

Compared to the 90s, there are fewer ways to cheat these days: still, the debate around them still rages. Both sides have good arguments and the business is too profitable to go away any time soon. Proponents use cheats to improve their enjoyment or because they like purposefully destroying enemies in multiplayer games. Cheats give casuals the opportunity to complete a longer game. Last but not least: the industry is booming.

Opponents on the other hand speak of fraud, competition distortion and cowardice. Cheaters should be banned from gaming. The only thing that should count is a player’s skill – the deciding factor.

A black spot on Ubisoft’s clean conscious: microtransactions in «For Honor». Source:
A black spot on Ubisoft’s clean conscious: microtransactions in «For Honor». Source:

To back up their arguments, these gamers call back to Ubisoft’s «For Honor» (article in German). All upgrades, skills and advancements your character can use to improve can be bought with real money. As «For Honor’s» multiplayer structure is based on PVP (player versus player), microtransactions severely damage the game’s balance. Ubisoft shot themselves in the foot with these in-game purchases. A game originally made to produce fair competition instead sold out there dignity to cash-splashing cheaters.

The developers at Avalanche Studios have a completely different point of view: «Rage 2» has got cheats in its advertising. Even before launch, developers were talking about six cheats and demonstrated them in detail. Using the «He’s on Fire» cheats, the legendary NBA Jam commentator Tim Kitzrow will talk over your gameplay. The cheat is available through pre-order. Additionally, the deluxe version includes three other cheats. All other features need to be unlocked in-game. Fun fact: you can purchase these cheats from a wizard – using non-purchasable in-game currency, of course.

«Rage 2» seeks to attract casual gamers, who wouldn’t usually buy the game without codes or would be overwhelmed by its difficulty. Even pro gamers are in favour of this idea – it’s a high time that cheats returned to these types of games. But again, profit is the central motivator here: pre-orders and deluxe editions are goldmines for developers.

Still gaming or already cheating?

I also think that these kind of fun cheats deserve a revival. Who doesn’t love that feeling of unlimited money in «Grand Theft Auto»? Shooting like there’s no tomorrow – with unlimited ammo. The more possibilities and the fewer consequences, the better.

Before amateur programmers made them available to larger audiences, developers used cheats during testing. From clever tools through malicious fraud to profitable cash cows – cheats have had a large impact on gaming.

What’s your opinion on «cheating»? Do you support this helping hand or do you valiantly fight against it? Got a favourite cheat? Let me know in the comments. Don’t want to miss out on any fascinating behind-the-scenes stories on tech? Then follow my profile by clicking on «Follow author».


What's your stance on cheats?

  • Blashpemy! Whoever cheats isn't a true gamer.
  • I don't cheat, but would sometimes be grateful for it.
  • Cheats are useful, I don't have time to play a full game.
  • I could never compete with others without cheats.
  • I welcome cheats if I can use them for mindless fun.
  • I use cheats because I develop games.

The competition has ended.

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Raphael Knecht
Raphael Knecht
Senior Editor, Zurich
When I'm not stuffing my face with sweets, you'll catch me running around in the gym hall. I’m a passionate floorball player and coach. On rainy days, I tinker with my homebuilt PCs, robots or other gadgets. Music is always my trusted companion. I also enjoy tackling hilly terrain on my road bike and criss-crossing the country on my cross-country skis.

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