Bungie wins a little walkin' around money in first of its kind jury trial against Destiny 2 cheat maker, but the victory will likely make it even easier for game companies to keep taking cheaters to court

Destiny 2: Forsaken
(Image credit: Bungie)

First reported by independent journalist and former Kotaku editor-in-chief Stephen Totilo, Bungie has won its lawsuit against cheat maker Phoenix Digital (also known as AimJunkies). The first of its kind jury trial rewarded $63,210 in damages to Bungie⁠—a rounding error for a company of this size⁠—but it more importantly sets a new legal precedent supporting game studios looking to sue cheat makers⁠—or, more worryingly, anyone who violates a company's copyright by modifying its games.

Devs suing cheat makers isn't new: Bungie has led the charge on lawsuits against these services⁠, which have become professionalized in recent years, often selling cheats for specific games on a subscription basis. In addition to playing the whack-a-mole game of developing new, more invasive forms of anticheat software, the legal strategy has paid dividends for Bungie and other developers like Riot Games.

Typically, cheat manufacturers have immediately folded in the face of legal pressure like this, but as reported in Totilo's newsletter, Game File, AimJunkies/Phoenix Digital counter-sued Bungie, alleging that the developer illegally accessed one of the cheat maker's computers. Notably, cheating in a videogame is not illegal: the legal basis for suing cheat makers rests on the argument that reverse engineering a game to produce cheats violates a developer's copyright.

AimJunkies, in turn, alleged that Bungie violated its copyright by accessing one of its employees' computers. In response, Bungie argued that its access to an AimJunkies PC was just part of the normal detection process of Destiny 2's anticheat, covered by the game's EULA.

While the $63,210 in damages is "change between the couch cushions''-level⁠—for Bungie at least, I would love to receive $63,210 in damages⁠—a jury trial in Bungie's favor ties a nice bow on the studio's legal campaign against cheat makers. While AimJunkies/Phoenix Digital has said they will move to dismiss the verdict or, as a last resort, appeal the decision, the track record of legal battles between devs and cheat makers doesn't leave me bullish on their chances.

And I'm not exactly shedding a tear for for-profit cheat makers—it's an inherently obnoxious, even parasitic business model⁠—but developers' reliance on copyright law as their main weapon against cheaters gives me the ick. 

I don't think modders or emulator devs are immediately imperiled by decisions like this⁠—the Yuzu debacle was far more concerning for the latter, while DMCA takedown requests have long been an effective tactic against the former⁠—but both of those tactics rely on continued consolidation of copyright law in favor of large corporations, like we're seeing here. That's a macro-scale drift as certain as the tides, and in this case came at the expense of a particularly odious strain of "entrepreneur," but it troubles me all the same.

Associate Editor

Ted has been thinking about PC games and bothering anyone who would listen with his thoughts on them ever since he booted up his sister's copy of Neverwinter Nights on the family computer. He is obsessed with all things CRPG and CRPG-adjacent, but has also covered esports, modding, and rare game collecting. When he's not playing or writing about games, you can find Ted lifting weights on his back porch.