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China’s market for gaming cheats tops USD 293 million despite crackdown

The black market for cheats and hacks exploits popular titles such as League of Legends and Peacekeeper Elite, the Chinese version of PUBG Mobile.

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Software that enables users to cheat in popular multiplayer video games is now a business worth more than RMB 2 billion (USD 293 million) in China, the world’s biggest gaming market, according to Tencent Holdings.

Shenzhen-based Tencent, which runs the world’s largest video games business by revenue, presented that annual domestic market estimate for cheatware used in mobile and personal computer games at an online lecture series called “Guardian Program Salon” held on Tuesday, according to Chinese media reports.

Cheatware comes in different forms to give users unfair advantage in various games. Auto-aiming script, for example, can help a player see through covers and automatically lock onto enemies in a shooting game. A so-called traversal tool can help a gamer “fly” or walk through walls.

The size of China’s cheatware market is a testament to increased demand, despite the internet industry’s efforts to eliminate commercial access to this software and police action against local vendors.

Chinese authorities have cracked down on domestic sales of cheatware over the years. Their Sword Net 2020 campaign, launched in June, has online cheatware vendors among its targets. In the same month, police raided a cheatware operation in Taizhou, a city in central Jiangsu province, which generated RMB 20 million in revenue after over nearly two years in business.

Still, China’s black market for video game cheats and hacks has continued to thrive. Popular titles that cheatware vendors have exploited to attract a large number of players include League of Legends and Apex Legends as well as PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Peacekeeper Elite, the Chinese version of PUBG Mobile.

Online vendors would often abuse the chat function in games to advertise available cheatware, while using euphemistic terms for cheatware to avoid being filtered out on e-commerce sites. Cheatware prices range from as high as USD 450 to less than USD 1, which helps vendors engage a broad group of consumers.

Chasing the cheaters

Internet giant Tencent has assisted Chinese authorities in a total of 22 cheatware-related cases since 2019, involving operations with total sales of nearly RMB 260 million, according to the company. In a separate report, Tencent said it has removed 19.9% more personal computer game cheatware—or an additional 5,003 pieces of cheatware—last year than it had in 2018.

The stakes are high for Tencent amid gaming’s expansion in China, as more people stayed at home during the COVID-19 outbreak.

China, which is home to 657 million gamers, saw video game sales surge to RMB 139.4 billion from January to June, up 22.3% from the same period last year, because of stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures, according to an industry report by the government-backed China Audio-Video and Digital Publishing Association.

This article was originally published by the South China Morning Post.