The stakes on competitive gaming are only going up; these days it's not rare for huge, real-money stakes during events, and the specter of software-based cheats surrounds the business.
Catching software that's meant to give someone an unfair advantage, and using other forms of software to try to detect the cheats can be much trickier than it would at first seem.
Software engineer David Titarenco has what he hopes is a solution that will rid the world of competitive gaming of cheating once and for all. Forget software, this is a hardware-based solution that has already caught the attention of the competitive gaming scene.
Hardware to beat software
The device is called Game:ref, and it rests between the player's mouse and the PC on which they're playing. "My prototype only detects a certain kind of cheat for now," he told Polygon. "Specifically cheats that relate to input methods, whether it's the keyboard or the mouse."
When you move your mouse in a first-person shooter, your view changes. That relationship between the movement of the mouse and what it does to the game is the key to cheat detection. "What cheats tend to do is they screw up this correlation... the aimbot sort of aims for you, so there's an artificial movement that happens in the game, that you're not making with your real hand."
If the movements going into the device don't match the movements in the game, the hardware knows there's some form of software in the system that's taking control of the game for you. The software itself is immaterial; if the movements you're making and the keys you're pressing don't match what the game is doing, you're busted.
There are a few downsides here, including the fact that everyone involved in a tournament has to have the hardware connected to their system. "I'd like to approach some LAN organizers and owners and get the device going there. But the cool thing about the device is that it also works as a consumer product, it would eliminate all non-hardware cheats."
The idea is the device could be detectable online, so you could opt-in to community games where only people with the device would play. Or at physical LAN events where people are playing for real money or prizes the organizers would have a set of Game:refs that they would then place between the input devices and computers of the competitors, eliminating the possibility of software-based cheats.
The device is aimed for the mid-range market, with the hardware costing under $100 per unit, ideally around the $50 to $70 level, or the price of a good mouse as Titarenco explained it. He's already meeting with investors and organizers of gaming events. Things are moving fast for a concept and prototype that was posted on Reddit only two weeks ago.
There are many ways to sneak software into secure events, but the Game:ref doesn't have to look for every possible software-based cheat for detection; it simply has to detect that your movements don't line up with the game itself. It doesn't matter what the cheat does or how it works, the hardware just has to know that it's there.
Asking every player to purchase a new device to vouch for their own honest is a bit much, but in situations where the risk of cheating is higher the thought of a relatively inexpensive, portable solution that detects all manner of software cheats is a fascinating option.