Is Hacking Games Illegal?

Is Hacking Games Illegal?

Video games can be a fun way to spend some free time. But sometimes hacking games or using cheat codes can make games more exciting. Whether your interests are in hacking the internal code or just looking to make the game easier, this article will tell you how far you can legally push the limits.

No, hacking games is not illegal. This activity falls under the fair use of the software that makes up the game. Distributing the hack for financial gain could be copyright infringement and you could face a civil lawsuit.

What is Hacking?

Hacking means different things to different people. In my previous life as an IT technician, I would often receive complaints from people that their computers were ‘hacked’. However, as I asked questions, the truth was much different. Some people would keep their passwords taped to their monitors in a corporate environment and be shocked when unauthorized coworkers would access their accounts. This is not hacking. Some complainants would fall victim to a phone scam as detailed in another post I wrote about 876 Area Code Scams. They would then provide their account information over the phone as part of a social engineering scam. This is not hacking.

The real meaning of hacking is the malicious accessing of the source code that comprises computer software. The kind of hacking we are talking about in this article involves accessing and altering the code that makes a video game.

Hacking Games vs Cheat Codes

There is a difference between hacking games and using cheat codes. While they both come with a benefit to the player, they differ in methods. When someone hacks a game, they are accessing and potentially changing the way the game works based on the code. On the other hand, players can use cheats without any hacking skills or by viewing any code. Generally, this only involves code originally built into the game.

Internal Game Cheats

Some cheats originate from the original game creator. They intentionally include them in the game at the time of production. An example of this would be entering the phrase “Rose Bud” one of The Sims games which gives the player in-game money. While they hide these cheats, the game maker expects players to find them.

External Game Cheats

External cheats were not conceived until after the game was released to the public. Anyone with the know-how can create these cheats. Once created, they can be shared with and used by any player the creator chooses. An example of this using the GameGenie as pictured in as the featured image of this article. It contains code independent from the original game that allows cheats otherwise not obtainable.

Types of Game Alterations

  • Exploits
  • Bots & Macros
  • Easter Eggs
  • Modding & Skins

Games Exploits

Exploits relating to video games involve capitalizing on weaknesses in the code. As you probably know, the inner workings of video games are very complicated. Because a code can be so complex, it is not uncommon for there to be vulnerabilities. Sometimes these weaknesses can only be exploited by hacking to gain access to the source code. Other times, players can use these weaknesses to their advantage during normal gameplay. An in-game example would be positioning your character in a specific area of the game and pressing a combination of controls. The order of this input would have to be precise. There would be a result unanticipated by the game’s creator. It could mean a power-up or health benefit intended to be a one-time use could be used multiple times.

Bots & Macros

Bots are not as scary and advanced as they sound. They are not created by the game developer and can vary in complexity. The concept is that bots and macros make progress in the game with no input or effort done by the player. Bots and macros make repetitive actions easier and can aid in resource collection or leveling up.

Easter Eggs

Video game Easter eggs are not the edible kind. Instead, they are hidden special features built into the game by the creator. They are meant to be fun treats for the player to enjoy. Generally, there is no extra benefit or assistance gain by finding Easter eggs. Instead, they can be used as a way for game programmers to ‘put their name’ on their work.

Modding & Skins

Modding and video game skins are another example of alterations. The term modding obviously comes from the word modification. When talking about these types of changes, they were similar to Easter Eggs. This is because modding and skins are used only for fun and not for benefit or advantage.

Single Player vs Online Multiplayer Games

Hacking in a single-player game can be all fun and games. The cheats affect no other players other than non-player characters (NPCs). The stakes are much higher in multiplayer games. The problem is two-fold. There are real people who are negatively affected by the hack. And the game developer is pressed to make players happy, so they continue playing.

With so much on the line, game makers spend much more time these days combating hackers than in years past. If caught, hackers are almost certainly to receive a ban. While there’s a limited risk as far as criminal prosecution, being blocked from a game you paid for can be tough. The ethics of hacking also change with the involvement of real people.

Ethical & Moral Considerations of Hacking Games

Hacking games can be ethically and morally wrong when it disrupts others in their pursuit of happiness. Imagine paying for the privilege to play a game only to have it ruined. People pay for the game and expect a certain level of entertainment. For others to destroy these expectations shows a high level of selfishness.

Hacking in multiplayer games for an unfair advantage also comes at the expense of honor. Players cannot find honor with any success when its gain is based only on cheating. Along with this comes the stolen valor of displaying achievements won through muddled means.

7 Deadly sins  
PridePutting yourself before others especially in online gaming
GreedThe drive to obtain possessions
LustLoosely applies to lust for money or power
EnvyThe desire for other’s belongings
GluttonyCheating for profit to further obtaining more than one needs
SlothFailure to hard work to earn the benefits without cheating
WrathCheating to win against otherwise stronger opponents

When referencing Christianity’s seven deadly sins, there seems to be a close overlap with at least five if not all seven.

Who is Hacking Games & Why?

The motivation behind hacking can differ from person to person. There is an educational element where people want to test and learn new skills. There is such a high level of overlap with hacking and coding that learning both at the same time is common. Along these same lines, there can be a level of enjoyment in being successful. Hacking is difficult and there is a sense of accomplishment when you are successful.

When speaking about single-player games, the motivation could start from the drive to beat harder levels. This also applies to defeating a strong boss, obtaining achievements, and landing on high score lists. A more sinister goal could be to play a game without paying or the need for a CD key.

Multiplayer games are subject to a different style of hackers. This is especially true for professional tournaments and E-Sports. In those cases, the goal could be to win money. Another way hackers attempt to gain financially is to obtain in-game currency. Then they often exchange these for real-life money.

Hacking Around the World

The above map shows the top countries when it comes to hacking. This information is based on overall hacking and not just video game-related. If we were talking only about hacking relating to video games, my money would be on South Korea being near the top. According to PCmag.com, South Korea went so far as to make it a crime.

Consequences of Hacking Games

Legal Consequences

It has been extremely rare for hacking games to lead to criminal prosecution. This is because even when there is a technical violation of the law, the decision to prosecute is unlikely. Victims and prosecutors must take into consideration the time and expense. This includes filing the legal paperwork and manhours or the salary of those doing the work.

This kind of crime is a low priority to the government as they remain unaffected. As they say, there are bigger fish to fry. As a result, they use their discretion oftentimes to issue warnings. Usually, these stern warnings from the government threatening jail time are enough to discourage average hackers. This can come in the form of a cease and desist letter or a plea bargain to avoid a full trial.

With all this being said, there is a point where hacking games does land on law enforcement’s radar. When information is being used in a commercial form such as for widespread sale, the pressure increases. Any action that can adversely affect the internal economy of an online game will quickly draw attention to the hacker responsible.

While the police may not arrest you for some of this activity, you can be subject to civil lawsuits. There would almost certainly be a monetary punishment in addition to court costs. As they say, crime doesn’t pay.

In-game Consequences

One of the most popular results of being caught cheating in a game is to be banned. This can come to a significant financial loss to a person when factoring in the cost of the game and the now limited functionality of the gaming console. In addition, you would lose all in-game currency. This includes currency that was purchased using real-life money. There is no recourse for these actions as players typically agree to an End-user license agreement. Players agree to these EULA terms and conditions before each gameplay.

Associated Hacking Scams

Many websites that claim to provide hacking codes and software are scams. Clicking the links could financially benefit the website owner. Typically, they involve continuous surveys. The website owner earns a paycheck as a commission for any surveys that you complete. Even if you complete the survey there is no hacking tool or it does not work. When you download something that they claim is software, it often includes adware, spyware, malware, or viruses.

Suggestions and Recommendations

I recommend you check local laws where you live. Laws are always being recreated and modified. It may not have been illegal in years past, but there could be a new law or bill you were not aware of. Most new laws and bills pass with little to no fanfare. Major news agencies will not report on developments such as these if they do not perceive much interest. It may be troubling, but you will still be liable even if you were not aware of the law.

The law lags behind advances in technology. For example, cellphones became widely available in the mid-1980s. Despite this, it was not until 2001 when the first state in the US created a law banning talking and driving.

Conclusion

I covered a lot in this article but only skimmed the surface. To summarize, it is not illegal to hack games in most circumstances. Something tells me you will know based on common sense if you are about to move from harmless hacking, cheating, and modding into something more serious. When you are hacking for financial gain, you could be subject to penalties. These penalties could be in-game or cost you a lot of money in civil court. Don’t expect to go to jail for altering a game for fun.

Moving forward, if this is a topic you feel as passionately about as I do, research hacking competitions. Become a video game BETA tester so you can help improve other player’s gaming experience by finding exploits or bugs. You never know, some companies pay hackers to check the security of their products.

Email me if you want to know when I write another gaming-related article.