If you’ve played many games on an iPhone or iPad, you’ve probably spent a little time in Game Center, Apple’s achievement and score tracking app. If you did, you may have noticed that the public leaderboards for most iOS games are almost entirely full of impossibly fake scores at the very top. I’d always hoped that there weren’t actually people with enough free time to make it to level 10,000 in Infinity Blade II, and this article at Edge confirms my suspicion. Apparently leaderboard hacking is incredibly common in iOS games, and it’s oftentimes perpetrated by teenagers playing around with programming.
If you think about it, it makes sense. A lot of iOS games were created by very small developers who don’t have much time to spend policing bogus scores on the global leaderboard. I’m occasionally interested in seeing where I stand on a big leaderboard, but most of the time I only really care how I’m doing in relation to people I actually know. In the big scheme of things, bogus scores on the global leaderboards don’t have much impact on my use of the app. They’re just an oddity I’ve always been curious about.
My favorite quote in the article comes from Terry Cavanaugh, developer of the punishingly difficult Super Hexagon:
“If it was really quite difficult to hack, then I could understand it,” says Cavanagh. “But it is so easy that a kid could do it. Maybe [the person] wants to pose as an elite hacker, saying, ‘Oh look what I was able to do,’ but even to hackers that must look pretty pathetic, because there is no protection in the game… If somebody wants to set a fake score on the leaderboard, it’s just kind of an embarrassing thing for them, really. It’s just so shameful; I feel like by deleting it I’m covering up just how awful they are.”
When it comes down to it, iOS games will probably never be a big deal in the world of eSports, where leaderboard scores actually matter, so for now the hackers seem to be doing it just for the hell of it. It’s fascinating the things you learn about people on the internet.