Will Call of Duty: Vanguard Finally Fix Warzone’s Hacker Problem?

Activision is working on a Warzone anti-cheat system for the battle royale's upcoming Vanguard update, but will it be enough to ensure the game is no longer a hacker's paradise?

Call of Duty
Photo: Activision Blizzard

While the full reveal of Call of Duty: Vanguard is currently stealing all the attention, the biggest news for Warzone players everywhere at the moment is that the free-to-play battle royale title will finally get an anti-cheat system later this year.

Warzone is set to make Call of Duty history with a brand-new main map launching later this year,” reads a blog post on the Call of Duty website. “With development led by Raven Software, Warzone will also feature a new PC anti-cheat system across the entire experience when it launches with the new map.”

There isn’t much information available about the new anti-cheat system at this time, but the CoD team says that “more information on the new anti-cheat system” should be available in the “coming weeks prior to Vanguard’s launch.” As Vanguard is set to be released on November 5, that means we should probably expect to learn more about this system sometime in October.

The fact of the matter is that most Warzone players will consider any news about a new anti-cheat system to be good news. After all, Warzone‘s current cheater problem can best be described as overwhelming. While high-level Warzone players are more likely to encounter cheaters, the game’s also controversial SBMM matchmaking system and Activision’s loose existing anti-cheat system that is essentially built around manual reviews means that too many players have encountered hackers who are able to shoot through walls, see everyone on the map, take advantage of perfect aim, and generally make it nearly impossible to win a game by playing “fairly.”

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So will this new anti-cheat system fix all of that? It’s a little difficult to say at the moment given how little we actually know about the new system, but there are already reasons to doubt that this is going to “solve” Warzone‘s hacker problem.

First off, you need to understand that there is no such thing as a perfect anti-cheat system. Even games with the best anti-cheat systems in the world (such as Valorant, PUBG, and Counter-Strike), still have hackers. Nobody has developed a universally successful anti-cheat system, and even companies that have had more success with such systems in the past have had to invest a ton of time and money into keeping them updated and trying to stay one step ahead of the cheaters. It is not an easy process.

That’s what makes the Warzone situation so interesting. At the moment, Warzone utilizes very basic review and security authentication systems designed to ward off the absolute simplest cheats and hopefully catch hackers before they can do too much damage. Historically, it has been a pretty bad system, and it’s contributed to an environment where hackers and cheat system manufacturers see Warzone as an incredibly lucrative playground.

That being the case, it’s going to take a considerable effort to turn that ship around. Games are more likely to attract hackers if they are free-to-play, incredibly popular, and lack more substantial anti-cheat measures. Well, Warzone currently checks all of those boxes. There’s no world in which Activision implements even the best existing anti-cheat system and is able to seriously dissuade hackers and cheat manufacturers from finding new ways to invade the game. There is just too much money on the line for cheat manufacturers to simply walk away from Warzone. That is a big part of the reason why so many people feel that Activision should have been on top of this from day one.

There are also some reasons to be concerned about the upcoming anti-cheat system itself. The wording of that blog post seriously suggests that Activision is developing a new anti-cheat system for Warzone, which isn’t inherently a problem but does mean that they’re going to have to do a lot of “live” testing regarding the effectiveness of that system while hackers are out there doing the same thing. From there, it’s a race to the finish, and history tells us that the hackers have a pretty good shot of staying ahead of the major game development studio.

Activision could turn to third-party cheat systems, but that is also not a perfect solution. Either they utilize a pretty simple third-party anti-cheat system (like Easy Anti-Cheat, which Apex Legends and other major online games partially rely on), or they turn to a more advanced anti-cheat system and find a way to integrate it into an older in-game engine without completely ruining performance. Even if they’re able to figure that part of the process out, there are still security concerns to consider. For instance, Valorant utilizes one of the most effective anti-cheat systems in the world, but the nature of that system has sparked a debate about user privacy that Riot Games is still working around to this day.

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The fact of the matter is that any Warzone anti-cheat system that offers some level of automated, foundational protection and doesn’t completely break the game is going to be better than what Warzone currently has. However, we may be dealing with a kind of “putting the genie back into the bottle situation” in which the Warzone team will forever have to live with the fact that they created an incredibly popular free-to-play competitive shooter without a built-in anti-cheat system and that every decision they make beyond this point will be made in the shadow of that one. Maybe this is one of those cases where “better” is simply “better,” but the real question may be whether or not “better” in this instance is ever going to be “good enough.”

It’s certainly difficult to think about Activision Blizzard as simply a video game company at the moment given the stunning details of the lawsuit that they’re facing and the ways that the company’s subpar responses to that lawsuit so far remind us of the very real human horrors of the video game industry, but it’s going to be fascinating to see whether or not the Call of Duty teams are able to maintain Warzone‘s incredible momentum by addressing one of Activision’s most notable video game design mistakes in recent years.