The hackers of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds
Hacker hacker chicken platter.
"Let's face it, no one likes losing. Even sat at traffic lights in your car, you never want the car who pulls up next to you to beat you off the line."
Dexter.Jr is a PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds hacker. He is the one who shot you through the wall. He is the one who used an aimbot to land a headshot from half the map away. He is the one who used an ESP hack to track your every move. He is one of thousands who cheat their way through the hottest game in the world right now, one among many who sparked a recent purge of 25,000 hackers from the game. But he's not going anywhere, and neither is Battlegrounds hacking.
Battlegrounds is a game that has found meteoric success over the last few months attracting millions of bloodthirsty players ready to fight to the death, but not all of them want to play by the rules. Depending on who you ask PUBG either has a serious hacking problem that affects every game or cheaters are barely noticeable, rare unicorns witnessed every one hundred games or so. Whichever side of the fence you sit on, PUBG has banned roughly tens of thousands of hackers in the last three months, so they're certainly out there. You may very well have played with a hacker, but the truth is you'd never know it, if the hacker slowly stalked you using ESP, an ability that grants the cheater extra sensory perception of your location at all times. You'd just think you were unlucky. You can't win every game after all.
Hacking communities are notoriously secretive and for obvious reasons, but this often leaves their motives shrouded in stereotypes. Common opinion paints them as vindictive children with too much time on their hands and a penchant for mischief, but surely they can't all be like that? Some of these hacks aren't cheap. So, why do players cheat?
Drakoni is an admin for a popular cheat site (which we've deliberately avoided naming), as well as a user of hacks in PUBG, and offers the obvious explanation:
"To get the upper hand mostly on others, to gain a slight or massive unfair advantage. Some do it for the laughs, others do it just to be better at the game than most," he says
"Cheaters will cheat in games no matter what if they need to get the upper hand."
It seems Brendan Greene, aka PlayerUnknown, the modder responsible for popularising the Battle Royal subgenre and creative director of Battlegrounds has similar opinions on the subject.
"There's a lot to be said to having your name number one on a leaderboard on the online," he tells Eurogamer.
"A lot of people will play for hours and days just to get up there, you know, as they say, grinding the boards. I think with a lot of cheats it's just an easy way to do that."
But there's a more mischievous motivation for some hackers. "While there is that element of the cheating community that just want to play the game and be good at it without trying, you've also got the trolls and the guys who will be using trolls scripts to try to just fuck up a game," Greene says.
From this perspective, the psychology of the hacker seems somewhat simplistic and one dimensional. On mass, it the goal is to be the best at any cost or, failing that, just to cause havoc for other players and annoy the developers while they're at it.
Then there are hackers who claim they hack because they feel they should. Cheating in games, they say, goes back a long way, and there's no reason to change now.
"I have used cheat (codes) going back to my teen years in Grand Theft Auto that were written into the game for us to find out," says a user on a popular hack forum for PUBG who asked to be referred to as Dexter.Jr. "I always used ammo codes, for example. Since getting into PC games, I have used cheats. I mainly use ESP, and have used aimbots but only against other cheaters."
Dexter.Jr, offers another reason for hacking: because everyone else does. It's the only way to have fun, apparently.
"I play for my enjoyment and for me to have fun," he says. "In Rainbow Six the game was so overrun by cheaters, that I had a, 'if you can't beat them join them attitude.' I play for fun and fun only, but when every game you get shot through walls, or by who seem to be the most incredible players, this made me angry. I fell for it, and turned to cheats to level the playing field. Instantly my stress levels were reduced and I enjoyed the game. Yes I had an unfair advantage, but like I said I play for my enjoyment."
PUBG's servers are guarded by the omnipresent gaze of BattleEye, a proactive anti-cheat protection system used in the likes of DayZ standalone and Arma 3. The emotionless machine is absolute in its sentences; you cheat or even just try to cheat and you're banned, simple as that. There is no appeal, only a permanent ban.
It seems the majority of the hacking community has little concern for BattleEye's disdain, though. Bans don't stop them - they're just a part of the dangerous cat and mouse game hackers play on a daily basis.
"We have data from BattleEye on our anti-cheat solution and you know some people, like some of these writers they don't care, they just keep buying accounts, like keep buying accounts and get banned like 10, 20, 30 times and they just keep going," Greene says.
For Dexter.Jr, getting banned isn't a great concern, either. He doesn't want the stigma of being branded a cheat, but enjoying the game surpasses this fear for him.
"You don't want your mates to find out, and you don't really want to get caught, but if you do, then well you do," he says. "I don't worry about the money side of things, like I said I am older and money isn't really a factor for me."
"Do I think it's fair? No, not at all, but you do have to put up with all the other salt from other players which totally detaches you from the community. They are so toxic, whether you make a mistake, or don't clutch a round, that over time you couldn't really care less what an online player thinks about you, so at the end of the day, I play for me and play for me to have fun.
"I play a lot better with ESP and enjoy the game without the feeling of rage, so that's what I will do!"
Greene is clear in his desire to eradicate the problem hackers and cheats present for the PUBG community: "If you're caught cheating or using any third-party tool that gives you an advantage we ban you straight away," he warns. "Permanent ban, no appeal.
"For a competitive game, we can't have cheats. It would just discredit the game as a whole so you know we're actually very firm on that."
It appears Steam, where Battlegrounds has proved such a remarkable success, has a similar outlook to Greene when it comes to video game cheaters. Valve recently banned over 40,000 accounts through Valve's anti-cheat service. The culling came after hackers clamoured to repopulate new accounts with games thanks to the Steam Summer Sale, but their move was anticipated and Valve initiated the biggest mass ban in Steam history, beating the previous record of just over 15,000. This is war and it's heating up.
For the companies making these cheats, this war is about money. The hardest to detect cheats can cost hundreds of pounds or charge a subscription fee. Some have adverts that proclaim their effectiveness. In short, making video game hacks - and now making Battlegrounds hacks - is big business.
But money isn't the only motivator for individual designers, whose goals can be more complex. Greene sympathises with some of the people creating these tools, deeming them misguided genius' rather than petty criminals. Although there may be a lot of money currently in producing hacks for PUBG, he doesn't take it personally and even alludes to knowing some of the programmers who make these cheats in real life.
"I have a lot of respect for the guys who write the hacks," he says. "I know a lot of the people in the game industry think they're scum. I really don't think that. I've been lucky enough to call a few of them friends. You know they're not necessarily bad people, all they want to do is just find holes in things. Like, as you're growing up you wanted to take apart the radio to see how it works. That's the kind of mentality they have.
"A lot of the guys who buy the cheats, yes I would put call them just cheaters. But all the people who write the cheats, they're just looking for an outlet for something that they love doing."
Some hackers say they're addicted to cheating. They say winning via the forbidden fruit spirals out of control as they become more desensitised to the ethics of their actions.
"The problem when you start using ESP, you get used to it, and this improves your stats and you feel good about winning," Dexter.jr admits. "Let's face it, no one likes losing. Even sat at traffic lights in your car, you never want the car who pulls up next to you to beat you off the line."
Despite their motives, hackers are loathed within the PUBG community - indeed hackers are hated in most video game communities. Most don't care why hackers hack. Hackers are cast as inherently bad people, the true villains of online gaming. Hackers twiddle their thin moustaches and laugh as they slaughter their unsuspecting victims.
But Dexter.Jr wants you to know hackers are not all the same. "We are not all bad," he says, "and some of us are just using cheats to make us feel better and less stressed. We are normal people, with normal jobs going about a normal life. I have never used cheats to purposely ruin someone's enjoyment".
Let's be honest, Dexter.jr is the hacker outlier. He might call for a rethink, but it's unlikely most gamers will suddenly view his cheaters in arms as sympathetic characters. Popular cheat site Admin Drakoni is perhaps a better representation of the hacker philosophy:
"I personally do it to test the products offered on my site and to have fun," he says. "It's part of gaming and I personally have no care how others view my favourite activity."
There's a different hacker for any given situation, then, and they have come for PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. PUBG has attracted an enormous audience of players, one the hack makers hope will be seduced by the instant reward their products offer. It's clear that even in this early stage of the game's life, many have turned to the dark side. But for PlayerUnknown and his anti-cheat tech, the battle is only getting started.