P2P Networking, The Free Solution with Hidden Costs – Hackers & Cheaters

Jan 2, 2024

Peer-to-peer (P2P) networking use for multiplayer games is lauded by game developers thanks to cost effectiveness (zero hosting costs!) and thanks to a plethora of sample projects – relatively convenient to implement.

However, it harbors significant challenges, particularly with respect to cheating. This deep dive explores the impact of cheaters on P2P hosting and the repercussions for players and developers.

The Vulnerability of Peer-to-Peer Systems to Cheating

At its core, peer-to-peer networking lacks a centralized authoritative server, which means there is no oversight mechanism to confirm players' actions.

This absence facilitates various forms of cheating, from data manipulation to exploiting network vulnerabilities.

Cheating Techniques in Peer-to-Peer

  1. Lag Switching: By introducing artificial lag, cheaters can disrupt the flow of the game, gaining unfair advantages.

  2. Data Modification: Cheaters can alter their in-game attributes, such as health or ammunition, to their benefit.

  3. Ghosting: Gaining unauthorized visibility of the game map, cheaters can see players or items they shouldn't, skewing the game's balance.

The Impact on Players and Developers

Cheating in P2P games erodes the fundamental principles of fairness and competition, leading to a degraded and frustrating experience for honest players. This can result in a diminished player base as gamers seek fairer platforms.

For developers, combating cheating in P2P systems is an uphill battle. Implementing robust anti-cheat measures often requires resources and expertise, which may be beyond the scope of smaller studios. Moreover, the persistent evolution of cheating methods necessitates continual vigilance and updates, adding to the development burden.

Beyond Cheating - Data Manipulation & IP Exposure by Hackers

Beyond cheaters, in peer-to-peer networking provides direct connections expose players’ IP addresses, leading to potential DDoS attacks and privacy breaches by hackers.

Additionally, there is the ability for hackers to leverage crucial data like player location and health are stored on individual clients, making them easy targets for tampering.

Network of Relays: A Potential Remedy

Transitioning to a network of relay servers can mitigate many of the vulnerabilities inherent in P2P systems.

Benefits of Relay Networks

  1. IP Address Protection: By acting as intermediaries, relay servers shield players' IP addresses, enhancing privacy and security.

  2. Cheating Mitigation: Relay servers can incorporate anti-cheat algorithms, offering real-time monitoring and detection.

  3. Enhanced Fairness: By neutralizing host advantages and providing consistent connection quality, relay networks promote a more balanced gaming environment.

Limitations and Costs

However, relay networks are not without drawbacks. Increased latency by traditional relay network providers, potential infrastructure costs, and potential reliability issues must be carefully managed to ensure a net positive impact.

Balancing Trade-Offs & Solutions

The use of peer-to-peer hosting in online gaming, while initially attractive due to lower costs and latency, comes with the significant hidden cost of vulnerability to cheating. This not only affects the player experience, leading to frustration and attrition but also places a considerable burden on developers to continually combat these exploits.

Traditional networks of relays offer a promising solution, they too come with their own set of challenges and costs.

This is precisely why new solutions, such as Distributed Relays, become so interesting for game developers starting with peer-to-peer but now need to improve their networking capabilities. Distributed Relays delivers:

  1. Convenience: One-click deployment thanks to containerized game servers and seamless integration with major Netcode networking (Mirror, Fish-Net, NGO) means an easy integration for game developers.

  2. Safety: Instantly stop cheaters & hackers, as all data is securely authored and encrypted; including shielding players' IP addresses to prevent hacking.

  3. Automation: Fully managed game server lifecycle, including multi-cloud deployment, scaling, and closing sessions so you can forget about them.

  4. Cross-Platform: Anyone can now play your game together regardless of hardware.

  5. Latency Performance: Access to the world’s most distributed network that gives you up to 70% reduced latency vs. peer-to-peer.

  6. QoL: Removes NAT issues for users. Never troubleshoot or hear about connectivity issues from your community.

Ultimately, the choice between P2P hosting and relay networks involves a delicate balance, requiring both players and developers to weigh the benefits against the potential drawbacks in the ever-evolving landscape of online gaming.

Distributed relays help tip the scale when it comes to make that decision, helping game developers elevate their multiplayer’s experience to match its ambition.

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