The on-going hacking situation is bound to be giving someone at Rockstar major headaches, as never before has the GTA Online community been this riled up about something. The hacking problem itself has branched out into issues arising around Support, as well as certain elements in the community attempting to sew misdirection among the players.
In case you were living under a rock these past days, this whole debacle started when a new hack popped up in GTA Online enabled hackers to steal cash from players by duping the game into thinking that the victim was repeatedly killing the hacker while in passive mode, thus charging them for the hospital bills. Thing is, the price of the bills is jacked way up as part of the hack, draining player accounts in moments.
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Naturally, such a hack being used in the game kicked up a major storm, seeing as the acquisition of money in GTA Online is a notoriously lengthy process, plus for players who bought Shark Cards, this hack could effectively rob them of real money. Money is king in GTA Online, and right now, it has been usurped.
The only other time something like this happened in the game's history was when the insurance fraud hack popped up, however that was swiftly fixed and not too widespread even while it was a threat. The passive mode hack, however, has spread like wildfire and so far not even a temporary fix has been established.
The situation's effect on the community is also more noticeable. This is because the community itself is larger and more vocal than it was at the time of the insurance fraud hack, and also due to the volatility of the issue. Players are discovering - usually the hard way - various aspects of the hack that weren't immediately obvious, such as it being a threat even when you think you're alone in a public lobby.
And then the spread of misinformation certainly does not help things along. Players circulated a screenshot, which has now been revealed as a fake, which indicated that Rockstar rolled out a new system which separated Shark Card balances from the rest of player money in an attempt to protect it from the hack, thus at the very least taking real monetary damage out of the equation.
While such a system would, in essence, be a simple first step to protecting players (and a logical one at that), it had a mixed response. While many realized that this was a quick way to reduce the carnage as quickly as possible while an all-inclusive fix was being cooked up, others took it as Rockstar only protecting those who pay for their in-game cash. This is an unfortunate side effect of the vocal hostility many players profess against the microtransaction system.
However, after other players pointed out that this hasn't actually happened and Shark Card balance isn't counted separately, it was clear that the original post was an attempt at misdirection, likely with the intention to kindle ire against Rockstar, in which it succeeded.
All this means is that the hackers can still zero out your GTA Online wallet, even if you invested real life money into it. How some players see that as a win is beyond us, but congratulations, I guess? It is important to remember that the hackers are the enemy in this particular fight, and any measure that hinders them should be applauded.
However it seems that this hack is intent on dirtying Rockstar's name in more way than one, which very well might be an intended effect of its proliferation. When you couple this kind of pressing issue with a community the majority of which does not grasp some of the business world's intricacies, the result is almost surely a lot of angry customers with misdirected malcontent.
Right now, the various GTA Online community forums are flooded with retellings of players' experiences with Rockstar support. Some of these are positive, while others... not so much. Basically, the first thing to do when you lose cash in GTA Online due to lag, glitches, or modders is to collect as much relevant screenshot evidence as possible and take it to the Support site for a refund - which usually is granted with a few hundred thousand $GTA bonus, for the inconvenience, you see.
On the other hand, screenshots can be cooked, meaning that Rockstar always follows up these claims. What many people do not realize or understand is that very, very often, Rockstar Support is utterly different from Rockstar. Considering how popular the developer's games are, much of the customer support work is outsourced.
While there are most certainly internal, actual Rockstar employees working on support, they are likely in the minority compared to CS contractors who do not have access to databases or game data. When refund requests are denied, they always happen with the same copy-paste corporate babble, as seen below:
Hello *player name*
Thank you for contacting Rockstar Support.
We understand your concern regarding missing GTA$. However, we have reviewed your account and was unable to verify this claim. We are sorry that we do not have the option to compensate until a verified loss is determined.
If you have further queries and concerns regarding your account, please kindly get back to us and we will assist you accordingly.
What this doesn't mean, is that the vast, greedy corporate machine that is Rockstar has decided to grind you, a mere mortal, in its vast gears oiled with microtransaction revenue like some infernal dystopian behemoth. What it does mean is that the person responding is a customer support contractor who quite simply doesn't have the authority to verify your claim or provide a refund, and will very likely get fired if they don't have a tickets resolved average of 30 per hour or something.
What you need to do in these cases is continue beating the bush until you get the fruit. There are several documented cases of players finally getting their refunds, so this is hardly a lost cause, however you might need to run a few rounds before it happens. Of course, your best bet is to stay far away from public lobbies so that the hack doesn't happen at all, but this may be a solution for those of you already hit.
Now, in case you thought things couldn't get any worse, we've got some more bad news. Players have reported (with screenshot evidence) that hackers now have the ability to add cash directly to your accounts remotely, without having to 'drop' money on you. On the one hand, this might not seem like that large an issue, seeing as getting money dropped on you won't get you banned anyway. However in light of recent events, it's reasonable to assume bigger crackdowns are in order.
Rockstar's anti-cheat system relies heavily on a number of hidden stats which it tracks constantly. While no-one has gained insight into exactly how these stats work, there is a pretty high chance it can somehow note if someone got money dropped on them without being hackers themselves. Now, when hackers give themselves money directly, they paint a big-ass target on their backs for the anti-cheat to strike with the hammer.
If the distinction between victim and perpetrator was money dropping on you versus it being directly added to your account, this new hacker ability can be a legitimate reason to fear false bans. If this ends up ticking off the algorithms, victims might see their entire GTA Online progress wiped due to a temporary ban, or their access to the game revoked permanently.
Considering that any and all bans in GTA Online are non-negotiable and cannot be repealed, the prospect of false bans possibly becoming less remote and rare than they are (the vast majority of false ban claims are entirely untrue) is terrifying.
Adding on top is this are unverified claims that hackers can now delete cars from player garages. On the one hand, these claims are few and far between meaning it could be plain old fear mongering. However after the events of the past few days, we would honestly not be surprised by this.
The way this situation is exploding, Rockstar will have to make some concessions down the line to repair the fallout. At one time, long ago, they handed out a universal half-million $GTA care package after some server issues. Considering the direction they took the game's economy (prices have only gone one way: up), they will have to give away a lot more to win some goodwill after this.
The reality of the situation is that players are leaving the game because of this hacker issue. With the risk of real world monetary damage, it's understandable that they would seek other venues of entertainment. Right now, Rockstar's main objective is to solve the problem before the gunrunning update, lauded to be the largest this year, is released.
In the grand scheme of things, this won't put a major dent into GTA 5's player base. As we've discussed several times before, the main audience of this game are casuals, who won't go so deep into research as to read up on hacker issues, and they would most likely play on Xbox One or PlayStation 4 anyway, neither of which are affected by hacks at all.
However, within the gaming circle, this particular debacle will be remembered, unfortunately. One major policy Rockstar should backpedal on is the non-negotiable bans. While currently, very few false ban claims are actually legitimate, this policy has drawn widespread criticism from the fans and reverting it would be the quickest way towards regaining faith and goodwill.
In spite of the vocal backlash that the false separation of Shark Card money drew, actually doing this would be a great move. Nevermind the outcry of the vocal minority that opposes microtransactions, protecting the in-game value of actual cash purchases is a great way to spell out safety for players and an intent to protect their interests.
This would also be a great opportunity to go back and optimize the game's passive mode feature since it is at the heart of the whole problem. Passive mode has long been exploited by griefers. On one hand, committing acts of violence while not in passive mode should activate cooldowns preventing griefers from killing players and immediately slamming themselves into passive to avoid retribution.
On the other hand, the tools to defend against griefers should be expanded. If one player kills another repeatedly when outside of PvP specific situations, the victim should have the option to activate some sort of a selective passive mode which applies to the griefer alone. The player may still interact with the world and other players, however as far as the specific griefer is concerned, they are in passive mode and thus invulnerable.
Unfortunately, Rockstar sealed GTA Online's fate on PC and the last-gen consoles when they opted for a peer-to-peer server architecture. Very, very few P2P multiplayer games exist with reliable anti-cheat methods, one of the few being Supreme Commander. However the system it uses - which relies heavily on latency - is not viable in a game structured like GTA Online, as it would render the game unplayable.
We just hope that this will stand as an example for future reference and that Rockstar has already invested in dedicated servers for Red Dead Redemption 2's multiplayer portion. You might think it unnecessary since it has only been announced for current-gen consoles, but it's only a matter of time before they are cracked, and there is a pretty good chance that the game will also be coming to PC down the line.
The coming days are crucial in this on-going struggle against the passive mode hack. The more days that pass without a fix, the more players that will be hit and the more news of it that will spread, leading to more players potentially leaving the game. The ship is taking on water, and Rockstar needs to plug the hole even if it only is a trickle.
We'll see how things progress in the coming days and hopefully they will bring with them some sort of fix for this debilitating hack. As always, you can count on us for out to date coverage on the story as it develops.