Tobold's Blog
Saturday, August 29, 2020
Cheating against Pay2Win

I am still in the early stages of Assassin's Creed Odyssey. I was using my bow a lot, and ran out of olive wood to make arrows. Having somehow overlooked the small trees from which you can collect wood, I turned to YouTube to find out how to best farm wood. Some advice wasn't useful for me yet, apparently you get a ship later in the game and can gather wood by crashing other ships. But I learned of two other methods to get wood (or drachmae, or other materials): You can buy them in the in-game store. Or you can use software like CheatEngine to increase materials in your inventory to any amount you want. That both are possible seems extremely weird to me.

I am not morally opposed to cheating in single-player games. CheatEngine is installed on my PC, and there have been some games in which I used it simply to avoid some unfun grind, or to modify the difficulty level of a game more to my liking. Pay2Win for me basically is the same as cheating, just more expensive. And yes, there have been games in which I paid for the same reasons that in other games I used CheatEngine, to avoid grind. I don't like grinding for credits in World of Tanks, so I buy some of them, for example.

But with cheating by software or cheating by paying being pretty much the same, the games that allow you to cheat by paying have a strong interest to prevent you from cheating via software. You can't use CheatEngine on World of Tanks to give yourself infinite credits, because that information is stored server side. Even in an offline game it would probably be possible to encrypt data about resources in a way that would make cheating at least much harder, if not impossible. But Assassin's Creed Odyssey makes no such effort. How much wood you have is a simple 4-byte data point, which is easily found and edited.

Now, there is a valid discussion to be had whether it would be better to gather wood in-game, or whether to cheat to get it. But who is going to argue that buying that wood for real money is somehow morally superior than using CheatEngine to get it? Why would anybody want to pay 20 Euros to Ubisoft to get 24,000 drachmae, when he can get any amount of drachmae he wants with free software and 2 minutes of effort? It seems like a very weird method to financially exploit the part of the gamer population that isn't even minimally skilled in other types of software.

"the part of the gamer population that isn't even minimally skilled in other types of software"

These days, with the penetration of gaming into the mainstream, that's probably almost everyone.
There are also people who won't use software like CheatEngine because they're concerned that: 1) It might somehow be malware. 2) Other games which detect utilities like that on your system may flag your account or prevent you from playing them.

Me, I would definitely use a cheat or editor long before I paid extra money for a single player game I had already paid for. Online games where I am supporting the continuing server I can spend money on in good conscience, but not a game like Assassin's Creed.
Someone once explained the success of Apple: "For most people easy is better than free". I think this applies here. I am no longer even critical of people who pay over the odds for a product or service that a more knowledgeable person could get for free. Heck for many people living in a post scarcity society it probably makes sense to spend €20 rather than exploring unfamiliar parts of the internet to find some hack that might even be malware.

I do think AC is foolish not to take basic steps to prevent this (encryption, hashing etc). I imagine some of their paying customers will eventually end up on Reddit or similar and get pissed off when they hear how easy it was to cheat.
Even when you get your ship the costs of upgrading/modifying/purchasing weapons, armor, and the ship itself quickly outpaces what you earn during normal gameplay.

Even the XP system was initially tuned that you had to grind side quests or buy the permanent XP boosters but that received outcry and it was changed.

The entire game is designed around hoping the player gives in and purchases stuff from the store. So I didn't feel bad about cheating for materials at all.

And the AC devs probably didn't bother trying to prevent cheating like this as no matter what they did people would have gotten around it anyways. Simply presenting the store and designing the game in the way they did was enough to generate income.
Single player cheating is perfectly fine, I don't see why not. It's your time, your game, your way of having fun. But I don't do that, because it would be like playing a solitaire card game and cheat by peeking at the deck. Yes, harvesting wood and resources may be annoying. But that's part of the game and it doesn't really halt your progress so much. It's not a "grindy" game if you complete quests and explore the world. Which, in theory, is the main aspect of this title.
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