In the beginning, gamers huddled around television consoles while battling for bragging rights. As games became more complex, gaming technology developed ways in which games were not only more accessible to large groups but also allowed players to experience reality within virtual reality. With the advent of the internet, however, this industry provided access to games online for billions of people globally. Currently, gamers playing by themselves, and playing with others, have access to a variety of games. In fact, people all over the world connect and sometimes for hours play online, whether it is through the conventional PC/laptop or through apps on their cellphones. Because of the volume of gamers playing at any given time of the day, the need for a secure connection is important. Fortunately, as gaming companies improve their products, secure online connections have become a priority.
The types of games offered currently are more complex than in the past. The five trends fueling the gaming industry are:
- Free-to-play business models, which allow gamers to play for free while still enjoying the game.
- Games-as-a-service, which allow companies to provide regular updates such as new content, events, or downloadable content.
- Esports, which combine the real-world experience of playing sports with the multiplayer experience.
- Making games accessible globally by including more diverse themes.
- Mobile gaming – probably one of the biggest trends in this industry.
The gaming industry has seized upon the opportunity to provide consumers eager to participate in the online community with a number of avenues to play online. However, with the rising number of instances in which a person can access games online, the risk of becoming prey to predators is also increased.
While gaming might seem innocuous, cybercriminals can easily access the computers of unwitting players. Hackers gain access to information, whether via cellphone, laptop, or PC, through:
- Massive multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs or MMOs), where large numbers of people play globally. The risks associated with these games is that discussions are often unmonitored and unfiltered, and the opportunity arises for personal information (email, age, home address) to be given to a population that is often anonymous, in addition to other dangers associated with chatrooms.
- Downloading cheats, which claim to help the player but contain malware or spyware.
- Griefing, where players are singled out so that their experience is less enjoyable.
- Downloading free web and app-based games where players must pay to access content.
- Risks associated with Trojan horses, viruses, and computer worms.
Furthermore, while these risks are associated with just normal security breaches, they are compounded when the individual becomes a victim of online predators because of the social aspect of playing online. The need for safeguards in this industry is so great that educational institutions have created whole master’s in cyber security degree programs that prepare professionals for this aspect of the gaming industry.
In the past, when online gaming started, there were few safeguards against becoming prey to predators. Today, players in the online gaming community with the help of gaming corporations can keep their computer, and more importantly, their information private and safe. Gaming companies offer products that allow the consumer to play safely while keeping antivirus applications working.
Other companies, such as Panopticon Labs, are working on programs modeled after fraud detection tools used in banking and financial institutions, which look for suspicious in-game activity from players through anomaly detection and analytics, while other companies have developed programs that find malicious players and block them from the site completely.
Companies advise individuals and parents to take ownership in their own security. Adults and parents alike can remain safe from any online predators by installing an online security suite that has firewall, antispyware, and antivirus software. Players of all ages should create passwords that are strong by using sentences or passwords that are at least 12 characters long. Parents should check the ratings of any game by looking at the game’s Entertainment Software Rating Board’s rating, which summarizes the type of content in the game.
The online gaming community is one that continues to develop. As new gaming companies emerge with creative ways to make virtual reality a leisure pastime, more people than the die-hard gamer will view online gaming as an engaging form of entertainment. On the plus side, the idea of meeting and hanging out with people from other countries encourages the whole concept of a global community. However, with this advantage, the risks of being a victim to cyber security lapses increase with each connection. Fortunately, for gamers in this day and age, companies have been proactive in providing some measure of security.