Jul 02 2020
Growth in mobile gaming is exploding, more so than ever since the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus. In fact, new data from App Annie suggests that install for mobile game downloads went up 20% in Q1 2020. Nowhere is gaming growth more apparent than in India: a recent Nasscom report showed that among all emerging markets, India is the largest in terms of downloads with over 2.8 billion game downloads in the first half of 2018. But this growth has seen a corresponding rise in in-app bot fraud.
Cheaters use bots -- machines that perform repetitive tasks in an app or website -- to automate gameplay, giving them an unfair advantage over real players. Googling the words “bot for mobile games” yields upwards of 79.5 million results. But how many mobile gamers are really using bots to play games for them? Adjust commissioned a consumer research survey with 500 mobile gamers from the US that finds 41% of respondents admitted to using a bot to win. The gamers surveyed spent an average $65 on a bot, and 12% of Generation Z paid over $200 for a bot. That’s money that’s being diverted away from a game and that might otherwise have been spent on in-app purchases.
Bots are especially damaging to mobile apps because they negatively impact the social experience, taking the fun out of competing. The survey also found that:
Dissatisfied users can also go on to damage a game’s business model fundamentally by causing a game to lose its most valuable users, leading gaming apps to risk revenue and even reputational damage.
N3TWORK, a premier games, media and technology company, noticed early on how bots were being used by millions of people from around the world in order to cheat to win, and also to profit. Because the scope and complexity of cheating with bots is constantly evolving, N3TWORK needed to rely on more than good game design to stop cheaters and sought additional support to help identify and eliminate bot use in its games.
“Protecting the integrity of our leaderboards, which in some cases lead to cash payouts, is essential to maintaining competitive viability and a fun user experience in our games,” explained Dan Barnes, COO at N3TWORK. “Keeping bots from gameplay is an ever-evolving challenge. Like other types of fraud, it requires diligence and rigorous cybersecurity to completely eliminate.”
The biggest challenge for many gaming apps is knowing how to distinguish bots from real users. But many bots are designed to simulate human behavior, so this is easier said than done. The clue is to look into the data points that bots can’t fake - for example, how users scroll on a screen, battery status, light sensor and even how much pressure humans use to tap. Real users will scroll in an irregular pattern which is almost impossible to simulate, compared to the “perfect” motions done by a bot.
For accurate bot detection, machine learning can be used to compare these real behavioral patterns with a bot’s behavior. While this is a huge undertaking for a company to replicate in-house, award-winning Israeli startup Unbotify offers a bespoke solution that is compliant with all privacy regulations. It leverages anonymized sensor data directly from the smartphone, including the device’s accelerometer, light sensor, touch events, and battery status, to identify bots from legitimate users. From there, gaming apps can go on to issue warnings or weed out the accounts using bots, and prevent more from entering the app.
While many apps’ aim is to stem monetary losses from bots, the damage they can have on a game’s reputation is far more damaging. At a time when gaming companies are eager to build brand image, guaranteeing a bot-free experience will be key to building player satisfaction.
Shubham Jha, Sales Manager India at Adjust
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