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Tencent battling PUBG Mobile cheaters, thousands banned per day

It’s still a ‘tiny fraction’ of the 100 million monthly active users, according to PUBG Mobile’s security team

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds - shooting at a truck PUBG Corp.
Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

One hundred million people play PUBG Mobile each month, according to publisher Tencent Games. The free-to-play mobile game was released in February 2018, and it’s had a consistent player base since. But despite its impressive numbers, PUBG Mobile doesn’t always make players happy — check the subreddit and you’ll find post after post about players that are cheating and hacking the game.

Tencent has been working on improvements to its cheating detection system, banning thousands of cheating players each day. PUBG Mobile’s got a dedicated security team of 300 people that work primarily on the the game’s anti-cheating initiatives.

“The most important thing to consider is that the number of accounts banned per day are just a tiny fraction of the 100 million monthly active users in the game,” a representative from Tencent’s security team told Polygon via email. “That said, players want a fair game, no matter how few cheaters there are, and we think any cheating is unacceptable. We can see that notifications on social media about actions taken against cheaters are consistently amongst the highest engagement posts on our channels, with hundreds of likes and many millions of views per month.”

PUBG Mobile players — and most gamers, generally — like to see justice being served to cheating players, those they think are working outside the game’s rules. The PUBG Mobile security team published an outline of its security protocol on its official blog, outlining it catches cheaters. There are three main tools the team uses, it said: software detection, impossible behavior in-game, and in-game observation. Observation is the most labor intensive, it said — they’re literally watching players and analyzing their behavior for tells that give away cheats or hacks.

The thing is, PUBG Mobile is a free game. It’s easy to create a new account; the risk of a single account being banned isn’t often enough to deter cheaters. But Tencent is hesitant to issue IP bans for fear of impacting “honest players,” it said.

“Simple solutions have all been considered, but we have to always balance implementing a solution against the problems it may cause honest players,” the developer wrote. “Everything has trade-offs, for example: if we start with IP bans, honest players on that network could be mistakenly banned if they get assigned an IP that a cheater used previously. Various hardware IDs can be spoofed, and are spoofed with real numbers that will impact honest players. It’s all theoretical until you get banned because of something a cheater did, and that’s something we work to avoid at all costs.”

Tencent said it’s got more in the works for its security system — specifically, in how it communicates information to players. Recently, Tencent implemented a system that notifies players when a report sent in PUBG Mobile was successful; it’s a way to remind players that reporting cheating players works, and to encourage them to continue.

In an upcoming update, the developer will also roll out server upgrades that’ll make it easier to catch cheaters trying to beat the system.