A 70 million dollar empire thanks to video game cheats: the story of Catfish

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You are so calm walking around the map, facing other players. You go into a house, you take a pretty good weapon and you think “yes, today I get the game”. You leave the house and, without warning, someone fills your chest with lead. You see the death chamber and, surprise, it turns out that your nemesis knew you were behind the wall. You think “what just happened?” while you try to get out of your astonishment. Well, what just happened is that you just fell victim to a trap / cheat, whatever you want to call it.

And if we talk about cheats, it is mandatory to talk about Catfish, Cheat Ninja and the 70 million dollar empire that he set up thanks to his traps for ‘PUBG Mobile‘. This is his story.

It all started with ‘PUBG’

PUBG Mobile

Us let’s go back to 2017. Catfish was playing a game of ‘PUBG’ when all of a sudden he was eliminated by a player who could see through walls. In his case, any player would have first of all, blasphemed, closed the game, entered again and left it as one more anecdote. Catfish, who is a software engineer, wanted to try and developed his own system for himself and his friends.

This is how they arose wall hack and his aimbot. For the less gamers, a wall hack allows the player using it see through walls, with the obvious advantage that this entails. A aimboton the other hand, is an automatic aiming software that, normally, tends to aim at the head for obvious reasons.

In the video above we can see Kenji, a semi-professional ‘Call of Duty: Vanguard’ player, using a wallhack in a 2v2 tournament. He’s funny, because he recorded himself and the monitor to show that he didn’t use cheats.

Catfish, who had a shark mentality, found a business partner through a chat and began to sell your ‘PUBG’ cheats for iOS and Android. The distribution was simple, much like buying a key for PC software: you pay, I give you the key, you activate it and pretend you play well. In this case, it was a monthly subscription of between ten and 15 dollars that generated $350,000 a monthaccording to the developer.

The cheats were obtained through a monthly subscription of between ten and 15 dollars

As Catfish himself explained to motherboard, “the hack was a huge success. It sold thousands of copies in a few days. People have never seen this kind of cheat on mobile devices before.” But that success ended up scaring the business partner, who feared that Tencent, the huge video game company behind ‘PUBG Mobile’, and the police they caught him. It is normal: in China this practice is considered a crime of computer hacking.

To this we must add that developing a cheat is not easy. A cheat can work on version X, but if the developer releases version X.1 it is possible that the cheat stopped working. It’s a constant give and take. In the case of the Catfish software, the system (baptized as Sharpshooter) consisted of a kind of emulator that ran the game and the cheat.

How to fix this problem without running after Tencent to circumvent their patches? Asking for root access. It’s a somewhat complicated process and it represents a huge barrier to entry, which caused revenue to decline. In addition, we are already at the end of 2019 and ‘PUBG’ is not alone: ​​’Fortnite’ and ‘Call of Duty Mobile’ had already arrived. Next step? Expand to those games.

ninja cheat

Cheat Ninja website screenshot taken from web.archive.org.

Catfish and his team (developing a cheat requires staff) changed their name and launched Cheat Ninja, whose website is currently down. Thanks to this expansion and a new business partner, Cheat Ninja reached India, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, resulting in about $400,000 monthly income. Eye, 400,000 dollars per month even with the requirement of having the mobile rooted.

But it all comes crashing down

Companies like Tencent are not blind. They are aware that there are people cheating and actively fight against these systems. Not because they are tricks and involve risks, but also, but because cheats put legitimate players backwhich translates into less potential income and more when we talk about games like ‘Warzone’, ‘Apex Legends’ or ‘PUBG’, which are freemium.

In 2020, Tencent and the Chinese police greatly intensified the hunt for cheaters. Tencent sued Cheat Ninja and even arrested ten people linked to the organization In the call Operation Chicken Drumstick. Resellers, Catfish said in the interview with Motherboard. The hard part was the arrest of two of his closest collaborators, He (nicknamed IIIIIIIII) and Wang. The first on January 12 and the second on January 20, 2021.

Luxury cars seized during the operation by the Chinese police.

Luxury cars seized during operation by Chinese police

The income generated by the organization was estimated at 76 million dollars and, at the time of the arrest, they seized goods worth 46 million dollars, including luxury cars.

Catfish, who was not aware of these arrests, received certain messages from IIIIIIIII that raised suspicions. Sure enough, it was the Chinese police posing as him. Catfish hammered out the disks and wiped the servers. He also made sure that he had not revealed personal information to his collaborators through the chat. Ultimately, he shut down Cheat Ninja, whose cheats were used by 600,000 people a month.

The goodbye message, sent on January 21 through a Telegram channel created in 2019, which currently has nine days to live before Telegram cancels the owner’s account and closes the channel, is the following. In it, Catfish alleges “legal problems” with Tencent, assures that he will provide more information when he can and warns of possible scammers who may use his name to sell tricks.

Capture of the farewell message.

Screenshot taken from the Cheat Ninja Telegram channel.

Since then, Catfish has remained in the shadows. No one knows who he is, no one knows where he is, and no one knows what he is doing. The last we know of him is the interview with Vice in which, in addition to telling the story, he says that he is not going to sell traps and that, if he does, he will make them for himself and his friends.

Companies fight against cheats

Valorant

Beyond the history of Catfish and Cheat Ninja, cheats for online games are a daily occurrence. You don’t have to be very smart to find cheats for ‘Warzone’, ‘Apex Legends’, ‘PUBG’ or ‘Rainbow Six Siege’. That’s why video game companies they arm themselves against them using measures that, depending on the point of view, can be intrusive.

Two of the most controversial have been Vanguard, the kernel-level anti-cheat system in ‘Valorant’, and Ricochet Anti-Cheat in ‘Call of Duty’. Activision Blizzard, for example, punishes with permanent expulsion from the franchise who repeatedly violates your security policy.

The problem is that cheating in video games they are as old as video games themselves and fighting them is like cat and mouse: I make a cheat, you patch it, I make another cheat, you patch it and see who lasts longer. That’s why it’s persecutedthat is why there are complaints and arrests of cheaters and why the use of cheats in video games is a debate that is far, far from over.

You are so calm walking around the map, facing other players. You go into a house, you take a pretty…

You are so calm walking around the map, facing other players. You go into a house, you take a pretty…

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