The first thing I do is cheat

Mar 14, 2014
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At Mobile World Congress, Jesse Freeman surprised most of the audience, and us panelist as well, when he admitted that whenever he got a new game, the first thing he did was look at ways to cheat.  At least he is honest!

However, Jesse’s behavior is not an exception and spreads beyond games into enterprise gamification as well.

Finding shortcuts and paths of least resistance is human nature.  From the early times of hunting mammoths to seeking ways to cut the line at a popular club, it seems that some people are just programmed to “re-engineer” the game.

This of course begs the question of how to handle cheating in your gamification effort and turn the cheaters into faithful (and ethical) followers

  • Embrace the cheaters.  Let them roam free in your app (at least for a little while) and you will learn so much about where your software pitfalls are: In a few recent consulting projects (a nice way to say, it was not for smartnotify.us so I cannot say where it was!) we found several vulnerabilities and areas for improvement simply by looking at the cheaters’ behaviors on the site.
  • Honey pots. Honey pots are great tools to find who the cheaters are. Basically when setting a honey pot, you are setting up a trap. Let’s use FourSquare as an example since they often write on the topic:  To evaluate a user’s credibility, they have people review certain spots where they’ve established a known baseline. They know in advance the score that venue needs to receive. Then, based on this information, they can start making decisions about the user.  You can setup similar honey pots in your application to see if your new customer is going to play the game fairly…or not.
  • Reward good behaviors.  Most communities adopt an approach made popular by the League of Legends.  Early on, the game was a success but users often complained about cheaters and bullies.  So rather than monitoring for bad behaviors, they started giving out rewards for good behaviors and players quickly sought the company of others who had these points.
    Try a similar approach in your application by letting other members in your community give out points and credits. By doing so, you will quickly have 2 fantastic data trends:
    1) you will be empowering your members and letting them police themselves at the same time.  This will allow you to reduce the monitoring time on the app and focus on the edge cases.
    2) you will now be able to quickly pinpoint who the problematic accounts are by looking are.

What these potentially fraudulent accounts look like will vary based on what your app does, though if you are in a business that revolves around ratings and review, you will likely see accounts where scores are distributed at the extremes only. (as opposed to the usual bell-shaped curve)

At the enterprise layer, there is an added benefit to having people try and cheat the systems you are putting in place:  It will teach you a lot about the company and operations you have:

  • Is cheating prevalent in the organization or is it limited to certain groups?
  • Are people cheating because your app/game revolves around a leaderboard or other visible recognition standard?
  • How much sharing happens in your organization? Are your cheats “Robin Hoods” who pass along hack techniques for others to emulate or mere lone wolves who are in it by themselves?  Having a team effect may not be such a bad thing.
  • Are they voluntarily cheating or are your processes so bad that cheating is the only option?  How many times have we witnessed employees cheat and deviate from a process simply because the software they were supposed to use was too clumsy and would have them waste a lot more time than doing it their way.
  • How much is it costing you?  Successful bars and restaurants have highly advanced electronic pour-check systems on their bottles so they can track alcohol use and theft. They know exactly how much cheating costs their organizations.  Do you know what your cheating cost is compared to your software development and operating costs?

Finally, there is one method that you can employ that will drastically reduce the cheating levels:  Create, broadcast, and manage the cheat-sheet.  In most softwares, we call this the FAQ but really it’s a cheat-sheet and you can reap some fantastic benefits from a well organized and engaging FAQ.

There will always be cheaters, unfortunately it is part of (some) human nature. However, the steps you take to properly manage the cheaters and put the focus on the ethical users will be one of the determining factors in your app’s success.

Have you had to deal with notorious cheaters in your app?  Don’t be shy to share your stories!