XDA, Pokémon GO & Cheats: Traffic Increase in Location-Spoofing Threads as Cheaters Flock to our Forums
Don't cheat if you want to be the very best, like no one ever was
When Ingress came out back in 2012 as a closed beta, nerds and geeks flocked to Google+, looking for ways to get their hands on an invite to a new kind of mobile experience. Which game after all, would require you to actually move yourself across town in order to play and dominate the world?
Augmented Reality, Interaction based on Geo-location and Social Teamplay were all cool concepts mixed together in Ingress, and it caught the fancy of many tech enthusiasts, giving them a reason to finally go out in the open sun and interact with people. Or did it…?
If you have played Ingress in the past, you would know about the problem that is inherently present in every competitive event ever: cheating. Since Ingress was a unique concept that had its location-based interactions as its primary differentiating point, this was also one of the most exploitable areas of the game. After all, your “location” is only as accurate as what your phone’s GPS reports back from its sensors. And if you were a tech enthusiast (and there was a very good chance that you were if you were in Ingress Beta and used Google+ — just saying), you’d know how easy it is to manipulate and modify all such sensory data.
And that is exactly what happened with Ingress. Right from its invite-only beta and on to this day, Ingress continues to be plagued with its fair share of location spoofers. These are “players” (and/or bots) that modify their location to play at places where they aren’t physically located. The team at Google responsible for Ingress in its founding days, which called itself Niantic Labs then and now operates independently as Niantic Inc, was harsh with the banhammer and opaque in its anti-cheating algorithms. If you got caught by fellow players doing location-spoofing and were subsequently reported with adequate proof (the procedure took time, but it often did work), or you tripped several of the anti-cheat mechanisms that the team built into Ingress over the years (while cheating or otherwise), you would be greeted with an account featuring a map that won’t load. Not ever.
Now, where does Pokémon GO fit into this picture?
You’ve certainly heard all about GO’s popularity, we won’t bore you with the details about how big and influential it has been. But, here at XDA-Developers, we’ve noticed an interesting trend with a few of our threads over at the forums. This trend indicates that not everyone may be “exploring their areas”, to put it mildly. There is a very clear increase in the popularity of a few, select threads, which coincides with the release and popularity of Pokémon GO. Some of these threads were popular in their own way prior to Pokémon GO, but the new spurt of growth in the numbers behind-the-scenes suggest that cheating by way of location-spoofing is quite rampant (or, at the very least, enticing) in Pokémon GO.
Here’s a peek at how the super-popular SuperSU thread trended around the launch of game:
One of the first steps to spoof your location on an Android device involves rooting your phone. SuperSU is a Superuser access management tool, and remains a popular and often recommended choice to control which apps can have root access on your device. As it turns out, visits to the SuperSU thread increased around the time when Pokémon GO went out of its invite-phase. The sudden spurt then flattened out, but continues to remain higher than before Pokémon GO was announced. Just saying, you know…
The next step to location-spoofing involves making use of location editing apps on Android. We have a few apps on our forums which have existed for location-spoofing prior to Pokémon GO, and the trend is certainly clear.
Fake Android Location Help Page:
This specific thread was created recently, but the numbers have been climbing up steadily as the app becomes a go-to recommendation keeping in mind the movement mechanics of the game.
Several spoofing methods necessitate the use of the Xposed framework and several modules, in an attempt to spoof better and fool-proof. Apparently, several location-dependent apps have additional hoops that one needs to jump through, and the Xposed framework makes several restrictions much easier to bypass.
Again, the Pokémon GO-effect is clearly visible in several areas. Visitor trend of the Xposed Forums:
The numbers give us a very clear (yet in a way, shady) picture. The Xposed forums have been seeing an average of 52% increase in traffic since Pokémon GO became publicly available. The MockMockLocation Xposed module thread is seeing 20 times the traffic it had prior to Pokemon Go, and the newly-created Floater Floating Location thread is seeing 21 times the traffic that we ordinarily see as well.
I am not saying that a lot of people are cheating at Pokémon GO. But the sheer number of people that have managed to reach level 20+ in the few days since launch, without having much knowledge of Ingress landmarks or how to make use of their legs makes me suspicious. That, and the sudden extra-ordinary increase in popularity of the tools that one makes use of for location-spoofing indicate that Niantic is being a bit soft on the banhammer for Pokémon GO. Whether this is due to the sheer popularity of the game or the lack of Pokémon in rural areas, or because they have higher priority tasks like a global rollout and server issues to tackle, is unknown.
Now, some people are reporting that they have received temporary bans in Pokémon GO, with the descriptions of their ban indicating that Pokémon would run away and Pokéstops would not give items, and that their ban resets in times ranging from 15 minutes to as much as 6 hours. However, veteran Ingress players would recall this being a repercussion of GPS-jumping, which used to happen fairly often to even legitimate players when phone GPS were poorer. Ingress, and very much likely Pokémon GO too, relies on calculations based on your travelling speed to estimate how quickly you can travel from Point A to Point B. If the timing between the two is short and indicates god-like speed, the game will place you in a soft-ban state till the time it takes a normal human being travelling at reasonable speeds to traverse this distance. Ingress also currently places users in a speed-lock state if they travel faster than around 30mph (/50kmph), so this could possibly be the same algorithm at work in Pokémon GO. However, unlike Ingress, I have yet to seen any clear ban being talked about on platforms like Reddit with regards Pokémon GO.
That does not mean Pokémon GO, or we at XDA-Developers for that matter, encourage cheating. In fact, I will strongly stress on the whole point of the game being social assimilation, and geo-cheating takes away from the entire experience of a multiplayer “real-life” game. Talking from my own personal experience from when I joined Ingress in December 2012, the social angle along with the geo-discovery aspect of the game is what made both Ingress and Pokémon GO such enjoyable experiences. Ingress for me was an excuse to get out of the house and overcome my personal introvert nature. It helped me interact with people and work through my social awkwardness, giving me experience and the confidence to approach people cold-turkey. The group dynamics are a strong part of Ingress, and while Pokémon GO lacks any significant elements of teamplay at this moment, they are bound to grow seeing how the game is already more popular than Ingress, and third-party solutions are already popping up. You need to give the games a chance at improving you: do not see the game and “winning” or beating them as an end goal. Look at it as a journey towards a better social life and increased awareness about your immediate surroundings, while at the same time becoming the very best, like no one ever was, one new pokémon at a time.
I’d like to end this piece with the words don’t cheat. Not only because one day Niantic may ban you, but also because you’re playing it wrong.
Do you agree with the concept of Location-Spoofing in Pokémon GO? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Editor’s note: We do not promote nor condone the use of cheating tools in order to catch Pokémon. At XDA, we are true trainers and take pride in our Doduo collections. At least we caught them legitimately.