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One of the more common complaints we receive is from newer members, or even passers-by, that complain a long term member (and perhaps a compatriot) are "hacking" in game. The reasons listed are usually because they are so much better than the person issuing the complaint that is has to be "hacking". It's even more "obvious" when there are two players "hacking" because players just can't be that good...

The complaints have no merit. The people being complained about have played the game for 7-8 years and dedicated thousands of hours to it. They have played together and understand various strategies and methods of dealing with opponents. Unfortunately, the countless complaints are coming from players with much less experience in the game, so they feel the years of practice isn't practice but aided by cheating tools.

In the past we'd ended the conversation with a simple message like:

This user isn't cheating. They've spend countless hours playing and practicing the game. They have been a member of the community for years as well and played against many administrators. Their game play is legitimate.

It's short and simple, but leaves a bad impression to the complainer 8/9 times out of 10. Their complaint shifts to focus on the community in general. They accuse us of covering for a cheater.

How can we discourage complaints from lower skill gamers against higher skill gamers? The idea isn't to prevent cheating reports, but the number of false reports for this particular problem is growing.

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The response you're using, while accurate, can sound like you are making excuses. You're not, but the complainer thinks you are. What the complainer most needs is not your word (which he apparently doesn't give much weight to) but some sign of investigation.

I moderate some communities that use voting. We have rules about vote fraud -- voting (only, or mainly) for everything your friend posts, or making additional accounts just to vote up your own stuff, is not permitted. We sometimes get complaints that so-and-so is getting too many votes compared to others so "obviously" somebody must be cheating. My first-line response is similar to yours -- this is how voting works, these contributions are high-quality so naturally people vote on them, and so on. But if I need to do more -- something does look a little off, or the complaints are repeated or emphatic -- then I take the extra step of looking for signs of fraud. That allows me to then say: "we investigated and don't see any signs of cheating".

If the alleged cheating is something that would leave a trace in your game, if there's something you could investigate and report back on, then being able to do so adds extra weight to your words. That tells the complainer that his complaint was taken seriously, you did something about it -- and it turned out he was mistaken. In my experience that makes a difference. Do be careful not to reveal any information that either is private or would compromise your ability to deal with cheating in the future. You don't need to be specific about what you investigated.

Finally, even if it probably is that they've been playing forever and are very good at the game, if you get a lot of complaints about specific people, it probably is worth taking a look to verify that there's no cheating. Sadly, even long-term, high-scoring users sometimes cheat.

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One approach you could take might me to treat hacking accusations (AKA "hackusations" as a serious claim). It might be a little obnoxious, but you could give light punishments (perhaps in the form of a demerit, like a "warning point" that acts as anti-karma) to players who falsely accuse others of hacking.

The logic would be that the players are wasting the staff's time by calling hacks and forcing the staff to investigate while they could be spending the same amount of time fixing real problems. This would need to be done in a manner that, while not discouraging the turning in of members who genuinely ruin users' gameplay experiences, showed that hacking claims are not taken lightly. You can say that a hackusation can damage the reputation of a user and the community as a whole, and thus, you should never claim someone is hacking unless they really are.

This would require a lot of attention paid (at first, at least), and verges on micro-managing, but if executed correctly, it might pay off.

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