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Cheating, Online Games, and Social Networks: Cheaters in the Steam Community

(collaboration with DSG@USF)

Online gaming is a rapidly growing segment of the entertainment industry, with millions of geographically dispersed players engaging each other within the confines of virtual worlds. An ethical system is created along with the rules that govern the games. Just like in the real world, some players circumvent the established rules to gain an unfair advantage, a practice actively discouraged by the industry and frowned upon by gamers themselves. We collected information about more than 12 million gamers connected in a global social network, of which more than 700 thousand have their profiles permanently and publicly marked as cheaters. Our findings suggest that cheating behavior appears to spread through a social mechanism, where the presence and the number of cheater friends of a fair player is correlated with the likelihood of her becoming a cheater in the future. We also observed that cheaters are likely to switch to more restrictive privacy settings once they are caught, a sign that they are uncomfortable with the cheating brand on their profile. It turns out that their concern is warranted, since newly branded cheaters tend to lose friends when compared to fair players.

Our study has clear implications for gaming, and the black and white nature of cheating provides a ground truth model of unethical behavior for other social systems as well. Our findings can be used by general online social networks to better understand countermeasures to deal with anti-social behavior. For example, the profiles of users who abuse the available communication tools for political activism or personal marketing, or who appear to automate their actions could be publicly tagged. Our study gives a preliminary indication that, over time, the reaction of fair users to such information will make it harder to benefit from forms of anti-social behaviors that make use of the large audience and viral properties of social media. The fair users tend to have a vested interest in maintaining the quality of the shared social space and will voluntarily sever their relationships to known bad actors.


[2] Cheating in Online Games: A Social Network Perspective, Jeremy Blackburn, Nicolas Kourtellis, Matei Ripeanu, John Skvoretz, Adriana Iamnitchi, ACM Transactions on Internet Technologies, vol 13(3), pp 1-25, May 2014. pdf
[1] Branded with a Scarlet “C”: Cheaters in a Gaming Social Network, Jeremy Blackburn, Ramanuja Simha, Nicolas Kourtellis, Xiang Zuo, Matei Ripeanu, John Skvoretz, Adriana Iamnitchi, World Wide Web Conference (WWW’12), Lyon, France, April 2012. (acceptance rate: 80/655 = 12.2%) pdf slides (Technical Report arXiv:1112.4915v1 pdf)


[1] MIT Technology Review link