Is cheating in games with microtransactions/lootcrates theft?

So-called "AAA" publishers seem to universally be cramming mictrotransactions into their full-priced games, often dictating mechanical changes to actual gameplay to accommodate (and promote!) the spending of real money for, quite often, in-game advantages. Advantages could come in the form of faster progress, better gear, less grind or even other characters, cars, etc.

Mankind Divided, a good game otherwise, by all accounts was designed without microtransactions in mind. The entire game, with the story, praxis distribution and XP gain were all designed to take Jensen on a journey starting at zero (ignoring the tutorial) and getting more powerful as the game went on. In the eleventh hour, Squeenix execs commanded the addition of the real money store, selling ONE TIME USE praxis kits for real money. So players could now pay more actual real cash money over the price of their game to unlock all augmentations from the start (ruining both the balance and character progress as designed (aka cheating)).

Shadow of War added Orcs for sale, undermining the very selling point of the game. GTA Online sells its virtual currency for real money in the form of Shark Cards and has made more money for 2K than any other entertainment product has ever made anybody else. Other games lock cosmetics like skins, outfits and colour shaders behind microtransactions, or cars, clothes, characters and so on. Now my question is this...in the context of publishers locking these things behind real money transactions, does "cheating" to obtain items in-game without spending real money constitute theft? Is it criminal or immoral?

Now on consoles this isn't so much an issue since players don't have such ready access to cheats, trainers or mods, so largely we're talking about PC games but further, specifically those which are not "live services" or always-online. Always online/live service things like The Division, Destiny 2, Diablo 3, etc. are tightly controlled, publisher managed ecosystems where the numbers and account unlocks are stored on remote servers. But in Mankind Divided, with a trainer the player can grant themselves as many praxis as they want. Heck, the game itself even has an NG+ mode to play with previously unlocked abilities and local save files to share with others.

Does cheating this way in Mankind Divided, or Far Cry 5 (another single player game with real money currency in it) to unlock items otherwise held hostage to real money, constitute theft? Should a publisher have a right to "ban" a player for doing it offline? An extension to the question...if a player modifies an ini file or other game data on their hard drive to unlock on-disc DLC or other, otherwise chargeable content (eg. anything locked behind "Project $10), is that an offence? Does it make a difference if a game has a co-op element (eg. Dead Space 3).

[To reiterate, we are not talking about always-online games where data is stored remotely, nor F2P games, but offline, full-priced titles. Some example games include those already mentioned, AssCreed Origins/Syndicate (in fact, lets just say "All Ubisoft games moving forward"), Dead Space 3, MGSV: Phantom Pain...can't think of any more just now.]

Not if you can earn them in game. The publishers are always quick to tell us that they can all be earned in game if you have no other responsibilities in your life to take up valuable grinding hours. Therefore not theft. Simples.

In hypothetical, morally it's a much lesser crime compared to putting formerly free features behind a randomized paywall. And as it was said before; if the items can be earned without paying, cheating to get them for free isn't theft. It's just cheating; and cheating in single-player isn't immoral or criminal (specially since none of the stuff you cheat for can be cashed out to buy something outside the game).

So, if I'm reading this right, you're talking about games people have already bought, and then modifying core files to unlock things ordinarily behind a pay wall? As an example, the "From Ashes" DLC for Mass Effect 3 was (partially) already on the disc, meaning you would ordinarily have to pay to open up something you already own; the "theft" part comes in if one haxxorz the disc to unlock what's already on there.
Or in Dead Space 3, it's possible to drop a few dollars and get a pack of crafting resources; the "theft" part might come in the form of changing a few numbers in the game files to give yourself those resources.
In the example you gave of how one can "buy" orcs in Shadow of War, it would be theft to reconstruct the orcs for "sale" and mod the game itself.
If this is the case, then no, it is not theft to modify in-game files to obtain things otherwise available for money. Essentially, that sort of action is the equivalent of, say, replacing and/or modifying parts of your car without using official parts or mechanics. Actually, I do believe this kind of thing is hardly new and, to all appearances, completely legal, since this is a main selling point with games like Elder Scrolls, Fallout, really any game with a modding community.

Again, it's possibly I missed your point, but it is my overall opinion that, as long as you paid for the game that you can play any time you want, without the aid of online services, then anything you do in and to that game does not constitute theft.

However, with all that said, I'm not a lawyer I just play one on TV, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if some major event happened which caused some game publisher to attempt to argue exactly what you're positing. Example: A Star Wars game has a cash shop, but someone codes up a mod which is easy to understand and install which gives the player free and fair access to that content. If enough players use the mod instead of the cash shop, EA, the ones who hold publishing rights to Star Wars video games, might very well attempt to litigate against the person who made the mod. At the very least, they might whip the developers of this hypothetical game into releasing a patch that blocks the hypothetical mod from working.

No. Microtransactions are the thievery here.

Especially in paid for games. Its like buying a subscription to avoid ads and then getting ads.

It'd probably be an EULA violation, if anything.

Theft (or rather, fraud) would be if I bought something off their e-store with someone elses credit card (or chargebacked post-purchase).

It'd also be fairly difficult to prove, in most cases. Like you get Praxis Kits in Mankind Divided anyways, you can unlock all the items in Far Cry 5 with a completely disconnected offline game that (being disconnected) can't access Uplay to buy the microtransaction silver to begin with.

You specify not "online/live service" games, but if there's a store in the game you buy stuff from with real money thats uh... completely an online live service. You can't just pop in to that shop offline. It was one of the nuisances in Far Cry 5 that every damn store had to stop and try and connect online (Origins at least you had to specifically tab over twice on a menu to set it off, otherwise you could completely ignore its existence). Thats almost always going to version check your game, and potentially pick up a trainer or modification running on it as well.

Saelune:
No. Microtransactions are the thievery here.

Especially in paid for games. Its like buying a subscription to avoid ads and then getting ads.

In principle, I agree with you wholeheartedly. Microtransactions are an absolute disrespect to paying consumers, who willingly pony up full price for a game, expectant of a fair trade, and not have to pay extra shit here and there to get the gaming experience they thought of.

Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is, by buying that game, you enter an agreement with the publisher and their terms. Which sadly include getting bent over and whipped for more cash, if they so please. So by their terms, it constitutes as theft, as you have agreed to pay for those items.

The only way people are going to vote is by their wallets, and thus far, there has been little success, as publishers try to see how much they can get away with each time (Star Wars Battlefront), and even when they do attempt to "correct" it, it's too little too late (e.g: Shadow of War).

As long as what you get from the microtransactions can be obtained for free too by just grinding longer, it can't be theft.

JohnnyDelRay:

Saelune:
No. Microtransactions are the thievery here.

Especially in paid for games. Its like buying a subscription to avoid ads and then getting ads.

In principle, I agree with you wholeheartedly. Microtransactions are an absolute disrespect to paying consumers, who willingly pony up full price for a game, expectant of a fair trade, and not have to pay extra shit here and there to get the gaming experience they thought of.

Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is, by buying that game, you enter an agreement with the publisher and their terms. Which sadly include getting bent over and whipped for more cash, if they so please. So by their terms, it constitutes as theft, as you have agreed to pay for those items.

The only way people are going to vote is by their wallets, and thus far, there has been little success, as publishers try to see how much they can get away with each time (Star Wars Battlefront), and even when they do attempt to "correct" it, it's too little too late (e.g: Shadow of War).

Unfair practices wont go away if we don't oppose them.

No I don't think so.

If you can obtain the "currency" in game without paying, then by modifying the hex code of the save file on your YOUR COMPUTER to give you more of that currency is not theft. It is a terrible oversight by the publisher.

I also like to think in every case where this is possible, it is a small act of rebellion by the designers to allow such a thing to happen. The designers obviously know there would be a workaround for it, but they're not going to tell corporate they should make the currency server side rather than client side.

 

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