Remember when we couldn't all play games together just because we owned different boxes? That stank. Multiplayer games are better when there are fewer boundaries between us and our friends, which is why I've celebrated the increasing popularity of crossplay in the biggest games out there.
In just a few short years, it's become almost assumed that a new multiplayer game will have crossplay. Even games that came out years before anyone was asking to cross the streams are getting in on the fun, including Overwatch, Rainbow Six Siege, Destiny 2, and even Halo: The Master Chief Collection.
Honestly, I find it incredible. It's still exciting to send an invite from a PC to a PlayStation and just see it work, as if this is how multiplayer gaming always should have been. But crossplay's proliferation isn't all good news. In many cases, console folks get a pretty raw deal. Not only do they have to deal with the superior precision of mouse and keyboard, but they also have to carry PC gaming's worst baggage: rampant cheating. In only a few short years, paranoia over who's aimbotting and who's legit in popular console shooters like Call of Duty: Warzone and Apex Legends has skyrocketed, and it's mostly thanks to PC players.
On behalf of PC gaming, sorry about all that.
The open platform
There was a time when I didn't worry about cheaters in multiplayer games. I was 13, played more Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 than is reasonably healthy for an eighth-grader, and did it all on a PlayStation 3. Back then, cheaters (we called them all 'hackers') were basically the boogeyman. We had been thoroughly spooked by stories we'd heard and videos we'd seen of hackers running amok in CoD lobbies, but few of my friends had ever actually seen one.
That's how rare cheating used to be in the world of console gaming. Wrongdoers were definitely out there, but jailbreaking a console always seemed like too much trouble for your average middle school CoD fan. The walled garden of the console ecosystem insulated me from the place where all the real troublemakers hang out. On PC, aimbots and wallhacks are only ever a few clicks away. I learned that lesson fast when I jumped ship and got my first gaming rig in 2013.
When it comes to cheating in PC games, it's less a question of whether or not it happens and more of how badly cheaters affect the average player's experience. Almost every competitive shooter I've played—including Rainbow Six Siege, Apex Legends, Call of Duty: Warzone, CS:GO and Overwatch—has a cheating problem, and they all center around the PC. If you group up with a rando using wallhacks, they're on PC. Domed by a dude that magically has zero recoil? Probably on a PC. Thankfully, in shooters with ranked modes like Siege or Overwatch, cheaters tend to naturally rise to the top skill brackets where only a small percentage of legitimate players will encounter them.
Cheating can start to feel rampant, in my experience, when matchmaking is less precise. This is where battle royale games stand out. With a minimum lobby of 60-150 players, battle royale tends to be a bit laxer about skill disparity. Less than a year after receiving crossplay, the Apex Legends community has reached new levels of unrest over Respawn's handling of cheaters and DDOS attacks. The perceived increase in cheating can be partially attributed to the game's increased popularity in 2021, but I suspect the batch of console players newly exposed to what's possible on PC has something to do with it, too.
Of course, there's no better example right now of a crossplay game in turmoil than Call of Duty: Warzone. The free-to-play, 150-player battle royale has had a major cheating problem for almost as long as it's been out. It has also featured crossplay since day one, a first for Call of Duty when Modern Warfare launched in 2019. We've covered the multitude of ways that enterprising hackers have bypassed Activision's internal anti-cheat measures to cause mayhem. Warzone's massive popularity and its seemingly ineffective anti-cheat has created a perfect storm where the capabilities of cheaters seem endless and players are losing faith that conditions will ever improve.
Caught up in this storm are console players that are understandably frustrated that they wouldn't have to deal with so many cheaters if they could simply exclude PC players from crossplay matchmaking. "Apparently getting an anti-cheat is hard, so at least enable some sort of console-only cross-play. As just a temporary solution. The game is literally unplayable at the moment. We've seen moments in Warzone where cheating was rampant, but this time it feels like we're just outnumbered," reads a post by user Sec0nd on the Warzone subreddit.
Players do have the option in Warzone to turn off crossplay altogether (as do console Apex players), but many don't want to give up the very real benefits of crossplay, like faster matchmaking. Others, like one Xbox Warzone player I spoke with, don't want to be cut off from the PlayStation friends they play with every night. For games with smaller playerbases, like the Switch version of Apex Legends, switching off crossplay may sometimes mean you can't play at all.
The price of crossplay, according to the console Warzone players I spoke with, is encountering three to five cheaters every night they play.
"I think that cross-play in Call of Duty specifically is very well done," user Sec0nd told me. "It's just a shame that the PC side of things is bringing in a lot of cheaters. And because there is no working anti-cheat it's pretty frustrating for console players to be forced into the same pool as the one that is bringing in all the cheaters." Even turning off crossplay won't purge your lobbies entirely. Console players with money and determination can buy expensive (and undetectable) controller passthrough boxes that bring a limited number of cheats to native console play.
The severity of Warzone's cheating is exactly why PC-centric developers like Valve and Riot have tried so many tactics to thwart bad actors. Valve not only made its own ant-cheat, but it has also tried player-curated clip reviews. Most recently, CS:GO reinstated a paywall to play Competitive just to hit cheaters in their wallets. Riot built an abnormally invasive anti-cheat program for its free-to-play FPS Valorant. Even though it's annoying that Vanguard wants to always be running (even when Valorant isn't), the results over the game's first year have been very impressive. Cheaters definitely exist, but Vanguard appears to cast a wide net that catches most in the act.
To play PC games is to accept some amount of vulnerability. It's the open platform, after all, and that comes with good and bad. I'm okay with that, but I feel weird about flipping on crossplay and dragging console players into the mud with the rest of us. Right now, PC cheaters are a hindrance our console peers are willing to put up with to play with friends, but the transition has been bumpy.
Sorry, again. And welcome to PC gaming.