Video game companies are working hard to stamp out cheating, particularly in the online gaming community.Back in the day, if you wanted to rule competitive video gaming, you hooked up with friends at your place to get some gaming happening. But that may be history thanks to Xbox Live and the PlayStation 2 Network Adaptor, which are storming the console gaming world, allowing gamers to take you on online. Add-ons like communicating in real time through headsets, keeping track of stats on the Internet and even challenging a rival through your cell phone are only broadening this experience, but with online gaming technology growing so fast, problems can follow just as quickly, including cheating online. Microsoft has suggested that as many as 750,000 people have subscribed to Xbox Live, the console’s online community, while Sony says it garners 2,500 new users online every day, which translates to over one million players a year. With so many players on different levels, gaming companies are trying to keep online playing fields among gamers as fair and as level as possible — so they don’t lose the momentum they’ve gained in their game so far. Cheating online is easy — Microsoft’s PC multiplayer cult classic, Counter-Strike had its own share of cheaters who did stuff such as using ‘Bot clones’ (game enhancers) as decoys and camping out in one spot the whole match. With its newer Xbox launches, Microsoft looked to ensure cheating wouldn’t be a nagging problem with the latest version of the game. “Xbox Live is a unified service, which means there’s an infrastructure in place that the game developers put the game on top of,” explains Chris Wolfe, Xbox Product Manager. “For instance, the way Counter-Strike has been developed, cheating isn’t an option because gamers don’t have the ability to modify aspects of the game by using Bots like they could with the PC version.” Chris adds that Xbox Live is always being tweaked to enhance performance and reliability, as well as keeping things competitive using Live’s Optimatch feature, which allows gamers to track down online games in progress that fit their requirements. It is one way Xbox tries to keep things competitive among gamers online. However, he also points out that game developers sometimes don’t use a skill rating system. “A game like Crimson Skies will rank each player based on how many kills they got using a star rating up to five, while a game like Return to Castle Wolfenstein doesn’t use a rating system at all,” he says. Sports games, in particular, really show the differences in talent level among those playing online, though it’s fairly easy to figure out who’s hot and who’s not based on the stats available for each gamer. Naturally, if you were a beginner, you probably wouldn’t play against someone who’s won 15 games in a row. Cheating aside, there are certain aspects of a game you stand to lose when going online or playing in real time. The online component changes the replay value of any game, especially considering the endless hours of multiplayer mayhem available to gamers. It’s definitely not a perfect system, and frustration with some of the people you encounter online might cause you to stay away, but this is competition and you have to learn how to lose before you learn how to win.