There used to be a time where video games and Cheat Codes were almost inseparable. Whether typing IDDQD to gain god-mode in Doom, entering the Konami code to give you enough lives to stand a realistic chance at beating Contra, or turning pedestrians into raging psychopaths in 2004’s GTA San Andreas, Cheat codes and easter eggs were everywhere. Not just helpful in terms of beating the game, these codes could perform a wide range of different actions such as unlocking bonus characters, messing with a game’s gravity, or giving everyone enormous heads – the variety was bizarre and almost endless.
In the modern age, however, these cheats are becoming increasingly rare, which leads many to wonder why. In this article, we’ll go over a few of the reasons these codes have been vanishing from games, and what we can expect in the future.
Follow the Money
While gaming holds an important part in the lives of many of us, from what started out as largely a hobby and casual interest of enthusiasts, we can’t ignore what it has grown into today. At this point, gaming is worth more per year than the film industry. Far from the humble beginnings, these companies which develop and publish today’s biggest games are worth billions. In fact, in 2017 the gaming industry brought in $92 billion vs the film industry’s $62 billion and music’s $18 billion. Big business relies on big money, and with a bigger focus on money tends to come a lack of focus on the satisfaction of the individual player and a shift towards the fulfilment of the stockholders.
This relates back to how games are built in two ways. The first and less common way is the idea that since these game developers are being pushed towards a business of making money over a business of friends goofing around, it is only natural that less goofy developments like silly cheat codes make their way into the mainstream. The second and more common way in this issue occurs comes from the idea of monetization. At some point in the last decade and a half, major publishers have determined that they can abandon the addition of free cheat codes in their games, and instead give similar offerings which are only available for a cost.
When this monetization occurs, as we have seen happen recently through the practice of loot boxes and microtransactions, cheat codes would undercut the ability of these games to generate a profit. Want to unlock every gun in the game? Time was that you could enter a simple code. Today though? Today you’ll have to go online and pay a fee to unlock bonus currency which you can then use to purchase or speed up the unlocks which would have used to be given out freely. Not great in terms of the user who just wants to have fun, but amazing for those developers who want to squeeze out every drop from their paying customers. The Activision Blizzard online merger, two of the largest companies in gaming earned $7.16 billion in 2017, and $4 billion of that came from in-game purchases. Not exactly micro, in that respect.
When looking at cheat codes, it is also important to look at the greater gaming environment to understand the context of why many codes have dropped out of favor. In simple terms, this can be related to the increase of popularity of games to which cheats are not desirable, necessary, or feasible. The foremost area where this becomes visible is that of online gaming. While multiplayer gaming has always been incredibly popular, it has only been with the advent and increasing speed of the internet that this has become possible on the scale which we see today. In fact, of the 10 most popular games listed on Steam’s currently playing charts, at the time of writing this article, only one game, Far Cry 5 with 28k players, is not based entirely online – and even that has multiplayer components. Compare that with the leading PUBG with 393k current players and a trend starts to emerge.
The issue here stems from the fact that these competitions strive to be fair, and any cheats would interfere with this even playing field. This applies to all games in which balance is important, from app games like Clash of Clans to big console releases like Halo. There are multiple reasons as to why this is so desirable, major events like the EVO fighting game tournament want a standardized game, so this is what is pursued. Esports also has a large betting community behind it today, with some bookmakers such as Betway offering odds for League of Legends, Hearthstone CS:GO and DOTA 2. Of course, these games need to be fair and not allow for any cheat codes in order to be balanced for their customers. Even the viewers of tournaments like The International need to be able to relate the game back to their own personal experiences, and so a clean service free from cheats needs to be enforced on these most visible of levels. This is one of the reasons why tips and tricks have, in many ways, replaced traditional cheat-supporting media when it comes to popular websites.
What About the Future?
While the developments up until this point might make these developments seem a little grim, we have reached a point in which consumers are beginning to push back. Fresh of the heels of the utter failure which was Electronic Arts’ Star Wars Battlefront 2 monetization scheme, publishers and developers have learned the hard way that there is a point where gamers will take up arms and fight back. While there are those who defend the commercialization of these practices, the common voices of consumers are becoming louder, and harder to ignore than ever before. With some publishers actively pushing back against this new tide and falling back to more traditional models, we don’t expect that traditional cheat codes will ever disappear. The questions, now, are just how will the industry settle, and where can we expect these final lines in the sand to be drawn.
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