How can I cheat in online games

Cheating bots playing online games can be considered a competition violation

They are a classic annoyance for participants in online games - as well as for the operators of the game servers: Cheatbots, i.e. programs that are smuggled into the course of the game that make it easier for certain players to access discounts, automate game processes or simulate player actions. On Thursday, July 9th, the district court (LG) Hamburg banned the creators of such a bot from continuing to offer their manipulation program. This is the first German court decision on the use of cheating mechanisms in online games.

A special feature of the matter on which the Hamburg court had to rule is that the game in question follows the so-called free-to-play business model. This means that the actual participation is free and the game operator earns his money by selling virtual payment units that players can invest in premium items. These are additional in-game functions that either expand the action options of their buyer, improve the effectiveness of player actions or provide convenience by replacing tedious or unattractive retail transactions. Purely visual enhancements such as individually selected robes for a game figure are often included. The cheating mechanisms involved in the Hamburg trial provided their users with functions that would normally have had to be purchased as premium options, as well as functions that would normally not have existed in the game in question. The manipulations were at least partially suitable to financially drain the game operator.

The fact that their product opened up a secret route to otherwise chargeable functions of a third-party game enabled the bot providers to exploit the game operator's reputation for their own benefit - according to the Hamburg judges. The whole thing is comparable to "inserting into another series". The interest of the players in chargeable game add-ons is primarily aroused by the fact that the operator enables free participation in the basic game. The bot providers siphoned off the interest created in this way. In this way, they undermined the gaming operator's business model, which the court judged to be unfair competition.

But even those bot effects that would normally not be available in the game found no mercy in the eyes of the court. The temptation to secure advantages over opponents that the gaming operator had not provided for would tempt players to breach their contract. The gaming operator's terms and conditions, which each participant accepts when opening their account, prohibit the use of "additional programs, scripts or other aids". Enticing contractual partners of a competitor to breach the contract is not permitted under competition law.

The court was able to leave out other aspects, such as the question of illegal interference in the established and exercised commercial enterprise (in a sense the counterpart to the violation of the general right of personality in natural persons).

The bottom line was that it was not only forbidden to continue to sell the cheat bot in question, but also to advertise it, in which the bot providers had rather carelessly used the game operator's trademarked symbols. The court set the amount in dispute at 100,000 euros. That sounds like a lot of money, as long as it concerns the offer of a purely game-related manipulation tool. However, the gaming operator was able to use a study by the European Network and Information Security Agency (Enisa) from the end of 2008 as an argument for a high amount in dispute. Last but not least, this study sheds light on the economic prospects of the free-to-play business model, which is often viewed as the coming gold mine within the games industry: It assumes a turnover of 1.5 billion euros for virtual goods worldwide.

In addition, lawyer Dr. Andreas Lober, who represented the game operator in the process: "Free online games that are financed through the sale of paid premium functions are one of the most important growth areas in the entertainment industry. Cheatbots threaten the business model. Therefore, it is right and important that that Hamburg District Court has put a stop to this. "

Although the Hamburg decision for Germany as well as for Europe is so far the only one that deals with the legal classification of cheatbots, a legal dispute made headlines almost exactly a year ago, which the World of Warcraft operators Blizzard and Vivendi against Fought out manufacturers of the glider bot program in the USA. An Arizona district court ruled that users of the tampering program violated the creator's copyrights and held the bot manufacturer responsible. In addition, aspects of competition law also came into play here. (psz)

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