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Activision unveiled its Ricochet anti-cheat system for Call of Duty games as it tries to attack a longstanding cheating problem that has frustrated a lot of players.

The new system will get rid of players cheating in Call of Duty: Warzone later this year and it will debut with Call of Duty: Vanguard, the new premium game coming on multiple platforms on November 5. Activision, whose parent company Activision Blizzard has been sued for having an alleged toxic culture of its own, said in its announcement that cheating in Call of Duty is frustrating for players, developers, and the entire
community.

The anti-cheat team has made great strides in fighting this persistent issue that affects so many, but the company said it knows more must be done. Ricochet is supported by a team of dedicated professionals focused on fighting unfair play.

The Ricochet anti-cheat initiative is a multi-faceted approach to combat cheating, featuring new server-side tools which monitor analytics to identify cheating, enhanced investigation processes to stamp out cheaters, updates to strengthen account security, and more. Ricochet’s backend anti-cheat security features will launch alongside Call of Duty: Vanguard, and later this year with the Pacific update coming to Call of Duty: Warzone.

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In addition to server enhancements coming with Ricochet is a new PC kernel-level driver, developed internally for the Call of Duty franchise, and launching first for Call of Duty: Warzone. This driver will assist in the identification of cheaters, reinforcing and strengthening the overall server security. The kernel-level driver launches alongside the Pacific update for Warzone later this year.

Diving on what will later be the dam in 1984 Verdansk in Warzone.

Above: Diving on what will later be the dam in 1984 Verdansk in Warzone.

Image Credit: Activision

While the kernel driver, which is only a part of Ricochet Anti-Cheat, will release to PC, by extension, console players playing via cross-play against players on PC will also stand to benefit. The kernel-level driver will subsequently release for Call of Duty: Vanguard at a later date.

Kernel-level drivers have been controversial. The kernel is the highest level in the Windows operating system, and gaining access to it is a serious matter. Experts at Riot Games talked about it in our recent webinar with Irdeto by Denuvo. (We’ll be discussing these topics and more in a panel with security firm Irdeto by Denuvo at our GamesBeat Summit Next online event on November 9-10.)

To entrust a developer with access to the kernel says a lot, since even a small mistake in the code on that level could brick a system. But kernel-level drivers are given a high level of access to monitor and manage software and applications on a PC, such as your PC’s graphics card driver. The driver element of the Ricochet Anti-Cheat system will check the software and applications that attempt to interact and manipulate Call of Duty: Warzone, providing the overall security team more data to bolster security. Once the kernel-level driver is deployed; it will be required to play Warzone.

Wraith is a new Operator in Season Three for Call of Duty.

Above: Wraith is a new Operator in Season Three for Call of Duty.

Image Credit: Activision

Bad actors would also love to get access to the kernel, as they could use it to spy on users. But giving access to kernel-level protection means that a developer can ban a cheating player and then prevent that player from simply creating a new account and cheating again. That has been the curse of Warzone, where the developers have banned hundreds of thousands of players. I have seen a number of people quit the game because of the rampant cheating.

I know because I happened to get paired with a cheater in a Warzone match. He could clearly see where the enemies were, even if they were hiding behind walls, and he racked up 61 kills (out of a total of around 150 human players in the match) in the round. I reported him and he was banned. But I would guess that nothing could have prevented him from just logging in again from another account. That’s where this kernel-level protection comes in. In some replays, players have shown how another player keeps making incredible headshots every time or sees through walls and shoots players who shouldn’t be visible.

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Action in Call of Duty: Black Ops -- Cold War multiplayer.

Above: Action in Call of Duty: Black Ops — Cold War multiplayer.

Image Credit: Activision

Dillon “Attach” Price, a pro esports gamer at the Call of Duty League team Minnesota Røkkr, said in an interview with GamesBeat that he frequently streamed non-tournament Warzone matches and Call of Duty multiplayer games. He said that encountering cheaters who could always get headshots or see through walls was a common occurrence.

“Sometimes if you’re just like falling out of the sky you get killed from across the map because they’re auto-locking on everything,” Price said.

The cheating was obvious as many of the cheaters weren’t skillful and their play was otherwise really bad. Price said he and others would turn to private Warzone servers, that wasn’t easy to do since it required 150 players to log in at the same time. Meanwhile, on public servers with higher-ranked players, Price said it felt like he was running into cheaters half the time.

Regading the new solution, he said, “I’m just hoping that it does a job and does it well because I think Warzone’s potential is huge. Hopefully the software does the job and clears out all the hackers.”

He said the solution was interesting because previously banned cheaters could simply start new accounts.

Ariel “Smixie” – Smixie is a competitive Warzone streamer and one of the top earning women competitors in the world. She is also a content creator signed with Minnesota Røkkr.

She plays Warzone daily and competes in multiple high-profile tournaments against and alongside the very best in the game, each week. Playing Warzone is her livelihood. Because of all the cheating, she said in an interview with GamesBeat that she turned to private Warzone servers.

“There’s nothing more frustrating than playing 12 hours and having a hacker in every game,” she said.

The private servers were where the big tournaments took place anyway, and so it wasn’t too hard for her to do that.

“I’m definitely happy that they’ve developed a more efficient way to get rid of hackers because” the ban waves were only a temporary solution, she said.

She added, “I’m just happy it’s coming. To be honest. Better late than never.”

Kernel-level driver

Activision said that the kernel-level driver is not always on. It turns on when you start Call of Duty: Warzone and shuts down when you close the game. It notifies the team when it detects suspicious behavior. Plus, the kernel-level driver only monitors and reports activity related to Call of Duty. You have to trust Activision on that, and given their history and their size I would say I am willing to do that.

Activision said that players are also a critical part of stopping cheating. It said to continue to report issues in-game, allowing the security team to adapt all tools to combat cheaters. Testing for the new driver has been done to ensure system stability across a large range of PCs.

Another layer in the battle against cheaters is the evolving use of machine learning (ML). ML algorithms examine gameplay data from the server, helping to identify suspicious behavior trends and add another layer of security as part of the overall Ricochet initiative.

Activision recommends that players protect their accounts with two-factor authentication, where you could use something like text messages to your phone to verify a login on the PC. The company said it will keep everyone informed of how it’s working in the pursuit of fair play.

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