Can you make a fortune by hacking a video game?
For a long time, the world of video game hacking was shrouded in secrecy. Until security researcher Adrian lifted the lid on his methods.
Adrian is a Polish immigrant who grew up in the US, but in the hacker community he is better known by the pseudonym “Manfred”.
As Manfred, he has spent over 20 years diving into the coding of video games to exploit their weaknesses and sell the loot.
Economy in the game
Manfred first realized how lucrative the world of online game buying was when he sold a virtual estate on the 1997 game Ultima Online.
In the online game, houses were highly sought after objects and Manfred had a castle. He put the virtual property on eBay and expected it to fetch a few hundred dollars at best. It sold for $2,800.
Manfred was shocked at first, but then saw the potential to make a lot of money.
“Most people don’t want to spoil the game,” he explains. “They don’t want to spend eight hours a day mining virtual rocks, they’d rather just pay someone else to do it.”
While Manfred could make money spending hours working to generate valuable digital objects, he wanted to speed things up. By hacking into a video game’s code, he could manipulate the game to give him profitable items at the push of a button.
Game Hacking: A Beginner’s Guide
Many of Manfred’s hacking methods involved tricking the game into giving users more items than it is programmed to allow.
Another clever trick he used worked a bit like an odometer in a car that measures miles. When an odometer reaches its peak value, such as 9999, the next value will reset the odometer to the 0000 position.
In a 32-bit computer, the numbers are higher with values going up to 4.2 billion, but the same principle applies. It is called integer overflow or underflow.
By subtracting one from a zero amount on the game Wildstar Online, Manfred was able to instantly create $12 trillion in game currency.
Through several similar hacks, Manfred had anywhere between 200 and 300 eBay listings for items online. The sales from his hacking paid for his college fees and all his expenses.
He won’t reveal exactly how much money he actually made.
Game hacking as a lifestyle
Manfred isn’t the only person who has tried to make a living selling in-game items to other players.
“You have to keep in mind that the vast majority of players are not interested in doing this,” says Brendan Koerner, a cybersecurity journalist.
“You have a very small subset that looks at this as a business, and they realized pretty early on that there was a market for players who wanted to increase their opportunities in the game for pretty significant amounts,” Koerner says.
Venezuela has one of the largest markets for sales in the game with the game Runescape Online.
As Runescape Online runs on computers with older hardware, it has become popular in developing countries, and many Venezuelans have taken to farming items and selling them for a living.
“The in-game currency is more stable than the Venezuelan fiat currency is,” says Manfred. “They use the Runescape currency to pay their bills or buy a loaf of bread and do daily transactions.”
But with people who depend on gaming for their income, their lives are at risk if the gaming company decides to act against them.
If the gaming company doesn’t like an account selling items, it can ban the player and boot them from the game.
Manfred notes how more and more companies started taking action against hackers like him. Not only did they shut down sales accounts, but more and more games also started selling items directly to players. “Which was the same thing I did,” says Manfred.
“That’s when I pulled out,” says Manfred.
Tells the world its story
In 2017, Manfred became famous in the hacking community when he revealed the ways he had hacked over 30 games to create infinite amounts of in-game money.
He described his methods at DEF CON, one of the largest hacker conventions, held annually in Las Vegas.
Even though his hacking days are over, Manfred still believes there are games that can make a living for people who want to sell in-game items.
Axie Infinity is a blockchain-based game where players can buy and sell items and in-game currency.
“Axie Infinity has great participation in the Philippines, and people are quitting their day jobs to participate in this online economy where they earn better,” says Manfred.