TA Cheating Policy - your opinion required

By Rich Stone, 5 years ago
Hi guys!

I have a important message and poll from the Investigations Manager:

Greetings TA members!

It’s time once again to evaluate how TrueAchievements handles tags with cheated games on them. It’s fairly important that you understand what is at stake before you vote on this poll. This is especially true for the people who believe all cheaters should be banned from the site. Please take a moment to read the following post, and put your two cents in. If there is a clear leader (51% to 49% is not a clear leader) at the end of the poll, the investigation team (IT) will adopt and adhere to that decision. The reason we’re looking for a clear winner is because the IT does what it does for the TA public. We’re only a small part of that public and it doesn’t seem fair for us to decide this on our own. However at the same time we know that the entire site will not vote on this poll. So if the outcome is close, the team will make the final decision based on all the information we gather from the poll and the thread. We will attempt to match what we believe the majority of the site thinks is okay.

This is going to be a LONG post, go make some popcorn.

What we do…
It’s probably best to start with an explanation of what we do right now. The Investigations Team on TA is focused on protecting the ratios and leaderboards of TA. We do this by accepting reports from other TA members and using tools that help us find cards with cheated games. There are several things that would be considered cheating (or just wrong) that we do not concern ourselves with. For example stealing games or sharing accounts. We don’t agree with these practices, but we feel they are better left to be policed by Microsoft. We can see the order that achievements pop in, if they were done online or not, and if they have matching timestamps. We cannot tell if a game is original or stolen, and we can’t tell if your buddy has downloaded your account. It would be great if we could rely on MS to clear all cheated accounts, however they just don’t work as fast as the cheaters do. If we waited on them to clear all cheaters the leaderboards at TA would be meaningless.

When we find a tag that is suspected of cheating, we send a message to the account owner and ask them to explain what they can about the situation. Here’s where a lot of people get confused. Defenses commonly include some explanation of how the account was hacked or how a sibling did the cheating. It sounds a bit callous, but the team doesn’t care who did the cheating. When you get a message from us we’re looking for an explanation of how to replicate the problem as we see it. A successful defense would include factual information about how to replicate the unlock order, pop the achievements offline, or stack the achievements. After the defense is entered (or one week has passed) the team begins voting on if they believe the games are cheated or not. Of course if information was entered we will attempt to replicate or confirm that the information is valid. After the vote the account is either cleared of the infraction, or set to one of three scanning levels. NonStat (loss of leaderboards), GamerScore (loss of leaderboards and TA score), and No Tracking (loss of all achievement tracking, but can still use the site).

What’s the problem…
TA is a fairly large community of gamers. Anytime you get a large group of people together you are going to have people with different opinions. For example there are a lot of people on TA that think that using the console in Fallout 3 is cheating. Technically speaking it is cheating (circumventing gameplay) however not something we would punish an account for because it was written in by the developer of the game. The same goes for cheat codes and in-game glitches that benefit the gamer. However other people view cheating as a victimless crime and don’t mind if someone else cheats their score. Of course when leaderboards and ratios are affected it’s far from victimless.

In order to keep TA members who have had a moment of weakness, NonStat and GamerScore tracking were created. This allows people to retain tracking on TA when they have less than a spotless record. You may have seen some of these gamers who lack leaderboard positions or have the “G” icon next to their scores. If you have benefited (like I have) from boosting with any of these individuals on TA, you know that they aren’t bad people. They aren’t sneaking through your window at night stealing your MSP cards or duping your mother out of her life savings. Have they made mistakes or judgment errors, yes, but haven’t we all at some time in our lives? In order to remain on the site, these people lose access to leaderboards.

We introduced these new tracking levels because we thought that most people would agree to lose their spot on a leaderboard rather than leave the site completely, and at the same time we protect the ratios and leaderboards without having to lose good TA members. Some tags that had previously had their tracking halted have even been able to come back to the site with these new tracking possibilities. It would not be an overstatement to say that it’s been a big success. However the solution doesn’t work for everyone on the site. There are people who would much more prefer to lose the cheated game rather than their place on all leaderboards. I know the “ban them all” group will say they don’t care about what a cheater wants, but let’s define who we are talking about here. We’re not talking about a person who has cheated a dozen games, or even 5 games. We’re talking about people who have possibly been hacked, had a single moment of weakness, joined a hacked World at War lobby, or renamed files in Halo 2. We’re talking about people who were just being human. Now I’m not going to convince you that you should forgive people who knowingly cheat. What I’m suggesting is that as long as we don’t allow their transgression to hurt the ratio or leaderboards, then can we at least look past it?

As our tools and methods get better, we find more and more cheaters that have skated by for 4 to 6 years without being caught. In some cases it’s only one game out of three hundred games. Additionally asking someone to recall everything about a game 5 years later is asking a lot. Some of these people are very popular members of TA as well. These people often gather public support by throwing out false or limited information about their report. Because of this we’ve created a forum where you can ask the IT questions publicly. Here we have the ability to finally defend our rules and decisions. We’ve even used the forum to clear someone of the cheating that we thought we had caught them with. Yes we’re human, and yes we can make mistakes. You can find that forum here : Investigations Questions Forum

There is also the problem of games that have hacked lobbies (World at War) and games that allow easy cheating without any hacking knowledge (Halo 2). That people commonly think are not cheating because they aren’t game saving (using a save that doesn’t belong to you) or profile editing (unlocking achievements with an external program). The IT does go after these types of transgressions though. While PC gamers have long had the ability to hack their games without fear of the developer cracking down on them, we’re specifically talking about cheating the GamerScore from the game. If the IT can tell that you have renamed files in Halo 2 to finish it, we will limit the tracking of that account. Some people would argue that they may have read the solution on TA, but the IT doesn’t approve solutions on TA and any member on the site can write solutions. This includes the people who think that using Profile Editors or Game Saving are valid methods. So just because someone posted it, doesn’t mean they have your best interest at heart.

Now I’m not saying it makes it right, but these people have eluded MS and the IT for 5 years. They have continued to build their gamertag for 5 more years beyond when they cheated. Asking them to start over just isn’t going to happen. We can set them to NonStat or GamerScore tracking and be perfectly content at the resolution. The site member might not be content with that and often decides to leave the site. If someone wants to leave the site in a huff, I don’t really have a problem with that either, but I would rather find an amicable resolution instead. Retaining TA membership does provide more solutions, reviews, opinions in polls, etc. Several people who have been caught with a single cheated game have admitted to the past mistake and suggested removing the game from their card instead of discounting everything else they have done.

Game Removal System…
Something we kicked around back when we were discussing GamerScore/NonStat tracking. We couldn’t decide on how we wanted to use it (or if we wanted to use it at all) so we put it on the shelf in favor of getting the GS/NS tracking done. Now that we’ve used the system for awhile we’ve reconsidered Game Removal and are thinking we’d like to move forward with it. The idea here is that a game can be removed from your TA tag in order to allow you to retain full tracking without hurting the ratio of the cheated game. That game will simply disappear completely from their TA card. This would effectively maintain the ratio of the cheated game, but also maintain the ratio of the non-cheated games that would have been removed from TA if we set the account to NonStat.

Site management, myself, and the rest of the IT are a bit split when it comes to how we think this system should be used (if at all). Personally speaking I could easily be on board with removing any two games from a card on TA provided the gamer admits that the games are cheated. Some members of the IT think we shouldn’t use the system at all, while others think it should only be used for “non-hacking” games (Halo 2, World at War, etc). There is of course the danger that we only catch one game (and remove it) for a gamer who has cheated multiple games. However that same danger exists right now where someone would be set to NonStat when GamerScore would have been a better fit for what they have cheated. When it comes down to it, most accounts are either caught cheating 1-2 games, 5-6 games, or 10+ games. People who have cheated games like Halo 2 often haven’t cheated any other games. So it’s pretty clear (to me at least) that they aren’t a GamerScore cheater, but rather someone who thought moving files around wouldn’t result in any sort of action taken on their account.

The most important thing you can remember before voting is that halting all tracking, limiting tracking or removing the game all have the same outcome. The ratios and leaderboards are being protected. Try to remove how you personally feel about cheaters in general, and think about your friend on TA who isn’t a cheater. Then you find out that they did in fact cheat a game back in 2006 and have never been caught. Would you rather they be ousted from the leaderboards or have that offending game removed from their TA card? There are going to be several similar options to pick from, please read them all before picking.

After you'd voted on this poll, there are three others in the Investigations Questions Forum to be voted on as well:

Poll : Halo 2 / PC Modding

Poll : Tracking Cheated Accounts

Poll : Marking Cheaters
Rich Stone
Written by Rich Stone
Creator of TrueAchievements, TrueTrophies and TrueSteamAchievements. Writes site news and still finds time for the odd game here and there. Loves Racing games and Shooters, yet to be convinced that any RPG is worth the time investment!