‘Escape From Tarkov’ Names and Shames Thousands of Cheaters

March 8, 2023 Off By Renata Price

For the last few weeks, a significant cheating scandal has been rocking the Escape From Tarkov community, one that has finally boiled over, resulting in the game's developers publicly posting lists of banned cheaters as an act of player accountability and public shaming.

Escape From Tarkov is, arguably, the game that defined the extraction shooter genre. The game, which is developed and published by Battlestate Games, has been in closed beta since 2017, and has players take on the role of mercenaries and scavengers delving into a massive quarantine zone, filled with resources to loot and other players and NPCs to fight. It has become one of the most popular shooters on the market, with the developers claiming that the game has between 70,000 and 120,000 concurrent players at any given time. It is also an extremely messy video game.

Cheating scandals are nothing new to video games, nor are they new to Tarkov in particular. However, by its nature as an extraction shooter, Tarkov is uniquely positioned for massive community backlash. Extraction shooters are defined by their high skill, high stakes combat, in which players alternate between fighting enemies and looting the environment for resources. A given run, raid, or hunt, depending on the game, can be upwards of half-an-hour long and risks resources which the player has gathered over the course of hours. 

A stray bullet can undo a day's worth of progress, and knowing exactly what killed you can provide vital information for preventing your next death—unless, of course, you're killed by someone cheating. This problem is compounded by Escape From Tarkov's lack of death cams. Not only do you not know what killed you, but you have no evidence that the person who killed you wasn't cheating. This produces a culture of frustration and distrust, one that seeps into the game's forums and reddit communities, only further complicated by the game's social deception elements, making Tarkov the perfect breeding ground for controversy.

The game has gone through plenty of cheating scandals before, with the game's most vocal players demanding that its developers crack down harder each time. This has escalated to the point where Nikita Buyanov, the studio's COO, felt the need to return to Reddit for multiple posts about the developer's approach to cheating, a Q&A, and eventually to post a list of banned players as an exercise in public shaming and as proof that the game's devs were taking action.

Larger, structural changes will be particularly difficult for the game's developers to implement. The game uses BattleEye, a commercial anti-cheat software, which is widely used by developers. This wide use makes BattleEye a massive target for hackers and cheaters, creating a never ending arms-race between the anti-cheat developer and cheaters. Other games, like Valorant and the most recent Call of Duty, have incorporated anti-cheat software into their very structure, but they had to be built from the ground-up to do so.

Escape From Tarkov, through its popularity, its community, its technical limitations, and its very game design, has found itself in what may be the worst possible position for cheating scandals. It has a community primed to distrust both itself and the game's developers, a codebase filled with vulnerabilities and basic engine exploits, and a large enough playerbase that it has become a massive target for cheaters.

There’s no evidence that publicly shaming cheaters will work as anything other than a gesture designed to prove that they're doing something about the problem. Public shaming only really works if the person being shamed actually believes they have something to feel bad about, and the ease of registering a new name online means that any social pressure exerted by publicly posting a player's in-game all but disappears.