Free-to-play games are hugely successful (in 2020, PUBG Mobile reportedly made $2.8 billion in China alone), but that success attracts unscrupulous developers who earn their own small fortunes helping players cheat.
If you’ve ever wanted a peek inside that kind of operation before it implodes, Motherboard’s feature on the rise and fall of an infamous game cheating ring for PUBG Mobile which authorities call Chicken Drumstick is worth a read. It features a rare account from “Catfish,” the software engineer who claims to be behind the $77 million business — and who ultimately decided to bring it to an end.
Catfish became interested in making cheats for PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) on PC after dealing with cheaters himself, Motherboard’s Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai writes. When the PUBG Corporation released the mobile version of the game, Catfish made a cheat for it that he and his business partner eventually sold. The cheat was very popular — “it sold thousands of copies within a few days,” Catfish told Motherboard — but also started a “cat-and-mouse game.” PUBG Corporation would patch the game; Catfish and his partner would adapt the cheats so players could still see through walls or aim perfectly.
The group — actually called Sharpshooter and then Cheat Ninja, but referred to by police as Chicken Drumstick — would grow into a business that authorities claim earned tens of millions of dollars, even though in China, the sale of these sorts of cheats is considered a hacking crime. Tencent, which is a partial owner of PUBG, ultimately reported Cheat Ninja to authorities in 2020, prompting an investigation, and the arrest of the group’s lead salespeople.
Catfish went into hiding earlier this year, and ultimately decided to shut down the multi-layered, international cheating operation he had spent years building. The reason why is worth reading Motherboard’s feature to find out.