Research: Cheating is a Virus

A new study finds that cheating in online games and in social circles is infectious; meaning that if you play with cheaters chances are you yourself will inevitably cheat too. A new research paper written by Jeremy Blackburn at the University of South Florida in Tampa (with the help of some friends) takes a closer look at cheaters in the Steam Community. Researchers collected information about more than 12 million gamers connected to Steam, and found that around 700,000 accounts have been flagged as cheaters. They also collected in-game interaction data of over 10,000 players from a popular multiplayer gaming server.

Researchers noted a number of interesting trends:


  1. Cheaters stick together. Their research shows that cheaters are much more likely to be friends with other cheaters.
  2. Cheating is infectious. The chances of an honest player becoming labeled as a cheater in the future correlates with the number of friends who are labeled as cheaters. Cheating spreads like flu through this community, they say.
  3. Being labeled as a cheat significantly affects one's social standing. If a person is labeled as a cheater, they tend to lose friends rapidly, and some even cut themselves off from friends by increasing their privacy settings.


Researchers suggest that the best way to deal with future cheaters is to get all "Minority Report" on them. They suggest developing a formula that can detect who might be a cheater in the future by calculating the number of friends who are cheaters a player has to determine how likely this player is to becoming infected with the 'cheating virus.' While the research is interesting, guessing who might cheat is a horrible idea that could have serious implications on how customers feel about Steam. It could also cause false accusations and sanctions against users who are innocent..


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