By May 26, 2007

Is the company behind my Internet spaceship game corrupt?

Warning: this is a long and nerdy post.

I have been playing EVE again lately, a Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game wherein an average of 25,000+ players mine asteroids, blow up computer-controlled pirates, and most importantly, battle other human players over large swaths of virtual territory. Players come together in the forms of corporations, and corporations form alliances. Player membership in alliances can number in the thousands. I currently belong to a corporation made up (mostly) of Ars Technica players, and in turn we belong to an alliance named GoonSwarm. While the actual active membership of GoonSwarm is unknown, estimates vary between two to four thousand players. GoonSwarm is fighting a huge war with another alliance named Band of Brothers (BoB).

Three events surfaced today that allegedly link employees of CCP, the company who produces EVE, to helping directly BoB or other alliances in the game. When the allegations were made public on the official EVE forums, one of BoB’s most high ranking officers admitted to having CCP developers as friends and/or personal contacts via MSN Messenger.

EVE is somewhat unique among MORGs in that character “death” has serious ramifications. For example, I was dicking around in enemy territory today and my ship was blown up. My ship, outfitted with missile launchers, jamming units, and other doo-dads was worth about twenty million “isk,” the currency of EVE. To put this in dollars and cents, a 30-day time card (which allows you to play EVE without a subscription or credit card) sells for $15USD. You can sell that time card in EVE for about 160 million isk. So my ship today, had I paid for it with a time card instead of mining or blowing up computer-controlled pirates, cost about $1.88USD. Not too bad, yeah? Well, the ship I lost today was one of the cheapest in the game. A battleship can easily cost 120 million isk just for the hull, with the doo-dads running the cost up to at least 150 million isk total. So now we’re almost to $15USD. However, battleships aren’t nearly the most expensive ships to fly. Capital ships, and “super” capital ships get into the real money. The in-game “book” required to pilot a titan, the biggest ship in EVE, costs over 700 million isk, or the equivalent of $66. The titan itself will easily cost 60 billion isk, or the equivalent of $560, to build and outfit. This does not include the special player-run and player-funded infrastructure required to build one in the first place.

Since most of EVE’s economy is player-driven, the infrastructure required to maintaining sovereignty in space and building ships and equipment is staggering. Players spend countless hours mining space rocks or pirates to generate enough money to purchase, erect, and support special “player owned stations,” which in turn have to be outfit with shield generators, warp scramblers, guns, and dry docks. These stations require fuel, which in turn require special ships large enough to carry the fuel from Point A to Point B. Considering that one system, out of hundreds of systems in the game, may contain multiple player owned stations, the logistics required to maintain an empire is staggering.

As a result, you may understand that the player base gets a little upset when allegations surface about CCP employees helping out player-run entities. The Internet being the Internet, there will always be folks in tinfoil hats, but the conspiracy theorists were vindicated when CCP announced in February of this year that a CCP developer illegally offered in-game item item “blueprints” to players in 2006. CCP attempted to cover this up, even banning the player responsible for blowing the whistle, but the train had already left the station. CCP vowed to reform. While players remained paranoid about future abuse taking place (to the point of mega-alliance Band of Brothers being dubbed “Band of Developers), everyone hoped this was an isolated incident.

Unfortunately, that may not be the case.

Incident #1: CCP employee secretly joins player-owned corporation and promotes himself without explaining his actions.
DarkStar 1 is a corporation closely, closely aligned with my own corporation and is at war with the Band of Brothers alliance. Admission to DS1 is by invitation only. The leader (called a “director” in EVE) of DarkStar 1 received an in-game message today stating that a player had left his corporation. This automated message is a standard game mechanic, but what was odd about this “EVE-mail” was that the director did not recognize the player’s name. The player who left was named “CCP Sharkbait.” The “CCP” portion is reserved for developers only; normal players cannot have characters with the word “CCP” in them otherwise.

http://gallery.drfaulken.com/d/2532-2/2007_05_25_15_19_48.jpg

The director quickly checked the in-game audit log, and found that CCP Sharkbait not only joined the corp secretly, but also promoted himself to director:

http://gallery.drfaulken.com/d/2535-2/CCP+charkbait+2.png

Directors can see the presence and configuration of every player owned station run by the corporation, as well as the location of the pilots of larger capital ships such as dreadnoughts. The CCP representative allegedly remained in the corporation for around fifteen minutes and then left the organization, triggering the EVE-mail that tipped off the true director in the first place. The location of these assets is very sensitive information, and can be very damaging when in the hands of an enemy alliance. Remember, these virtual assets represent a significant time of player time, effort, and in some cases real currency.

Attempts by the DS1 director to get answers via in-game official petitioning or by messaging CCP Sharkbait directly have gone ignored, and have been allegedly deleted.

The other two issues come from CCP employees abusing their in-game privileges to assist the Band of Brothers alliance directly or by enforcing the will of BoB by banning other players. Unlike the DS1 issue, there has been no evidence to support these claims, aside from other players witnessing/corroborating that the “public,” in-game viewable aspects of these events transpired.

Incident #2: BoB director throws temper tantrum, has another player banned from EVE by a CCP quality assurance employee.
Player “Raekhan” was part of the ISD, a volunteer player-run corporation that acts as an in-game EVE news agency. Raekhan was accused of (but was never proved of) bumping into another player’s dreadnought. Bumping a ship, especially the larger ones, has some in-game consequences, such as its ability to get to safety or its ability to hit targets. “Daakon,” the player Raekhan bumped into, became upset and told Raekhan to leave the area. When Raekhan reported he was not anywhere near the player’s ship, Daakon replied, “Well, I guess I’ll have to call up my friends in CCP and get you dealt with.” Forty seconds later, a CCP employee appeared and ordered Raekhan out of the system. Here’s the final summary between Raekhan and his in-game boss before Raekhan logged out of the game:

Raekhan: “So I guess a BoB director claiming he has CCP buddies at his beckon call, and the fact that said buddy showed up 40 sec later, will raise some heads at CCP?”
Boss: “Oh, I think it already has….”
Raekhan: “Well, at least something good will come from all this mess…”
Boss: “We have his IP address.”
Boss: “He’s posting from CCP, he’s Staff.”
Boss: He’s in the QA department….”
*after long pause*
Boss: Well, I’ll tell you how this goes tomorrow, take care, Rae…”

I signed off.

Turns out, within 3 hours, every ISD-related account I had was banned.

ISD-ingame char, banned.
Forum-ISD, banned.
EVE-Online.com Admin access, banned.
AURORA-TEAMSPEAK, banned.
The freaking ISD-COUNTERSTRIKE server, banned.

While this doesn’t seem like a huge deal if you don’t play an MORG, think of it this way: all of the time and monthly access fees Raekhan spent playing EVE, building up his character, his items, and his online “professional” relationship with ISD and the rest of the player base was instantly obliterated because one player with a powerful friend got upset that someone bumped his imaginary Internet spaceship. At $14.95 a month, Raekhan’s subscription fees alone amounted to about $270USD. Add in time spent playing and the value of the virtual ships and equipment, and we’re talking “real money” now.

Incident #3: CCP rigs the storyline to aid friends’ alliances.
EVE has a roleplaying element of sorts. There are four main playable races within the game, each with their own system of government, areas of influence, and storylines. Sometimes CCP employees get involved as special characters in order to advance the storyline with the player base’s help. The player behind Raekhan was also involved in the role-playing aspect of the game, and it was revealed that the outcome of a major story arc, with a massive material reward for the “winning side,” was rigged.

Here’s what Raekhan has to say about how CCP manipulates the outcome of community RP events in the favor of certain player-run alliances:

I am also known as Graelyn, a (once) big RP-community-guy. I was the executor of the Aegis Militia Alliance. (We kicked the Bloodraider NPC group out of the Bleak Lands Region, and recently stomped those StarFraction people.)

The AM guys guys are great GREAT people, and since the below incident ocured, they have safeguarded a very bad secret for a very long time, one that would ensure the dissolution of the RP community we tried so hard to maintain….

Mirial, once the executor of my Alliance, was banned, the center of what would be referred to as the ‘Tetrimon OOC affair’. [“OOC” means Out of Character, or in non-roleplaying language — DrFaulken]

What occured was this:

Several members of the alliance Aegis Militia were ISD members (completely in regulations and living that double-life as it was intended to be played, by the rules), however, Mirial, who was once an ISD member, managed to get the login/PW info to an ISD forum from a director of her corp who happened to be in ISD. (How this happened is still a mystery even to me, I am still inquiring)…

Basically, Mirial was accessing an AURORA [AURORA is the CCP group responsible for writing and executing the RP side of EVE — DrFaulken] website illegally, and was banned for it (Something I cannot in any theory disagree with, NDA was broken, and similarly, I can’t argue with YOUR banning from EVE, sir…try to understand….), but it was the nature of the thing that caused so much distress….

You see, ISD claims that events are not rigged, that RP groups can influence the events in the world. This is a lie, and one that, after discovering, I did not reveal, in the fears that it would demolish the already on-the-ropes RP community in EVE.

AM already had suspicions, as by the end of the Tetrimon affair, we had been involved in more events that ANY other group in EVE without exception. In the course of this we often ‘succeeded’ in events that we later realized were not meant to be won, then watched as AURORA actors deperately lost the scenario (when actors have to resort to self-destructing thier own ships in the middle of battle, you know you have an ulterior motive underway in the story…*groan*…)

Mirial was in browsing (illegally) one of these ISD forums when one of the ‘recommended’ story paths was mandated by CCP, namely “_____ side must win, see to this immediately.”

Upon reading this decree by CCP, Mirial showed his cards and revealed all on our alliance’s Vent server. [Ventrillo is an Internet voice communication program — DrFaulken]

2 hours after bringing this up in our Ventrillo channel, Mirial was banned from EVE…for telling his Alliance members what was up. Turns out I was only one of many members of ISD in my Alliance, and the others had hit the alarm to the ISD dept heads as soon as this talk beagn in our private Vent server….

Within 30 minutes (of the reveal in vent) I had 2 AURORA members convoing us INGAME, OOC, trying to play down the fact. The two in question argued with Mirial, but did NOT deny that rigging was going on, rather emphasising that it was all for ‘The Greater Good’.

At the same time, Nebulai, Head of the ISD program, convoed ME (I was second in command of AM, an ISD-InterstallarCorespondents member, and a Mirial banning process was already in motion by 10-minutes into this, I was the primary focus of all damage control efforts), telling a different story, namely that RIGGING NEVER OCCURS, that all I had been hearing was nonsense….

AT THE SAME TIME, the document that I will give to you, was being sent to me by SEP-DOGAL, the AURORA tier 3 producer in charge of the Tetrimon Arc. He was sending it to me to show how much work had been done/lost with the arc, not realizing that the last paragraphs SPECIFICALLY DETAILED HOW THE ARC COULD BE RIGGED TO SUIT THE FINAL CCP DESCISION.

The only hint anyone else who played EVE got as to what had occured, came from this post:

http://myeve.eve-online.com/ingameboard.asp?a=topic&threadID=405843

With that, all said ‘compromised’ arcs were completely terminated, and all events in the matter hushed up quickly. The RP community has longed cursed Mirial’s name for ‘ruining’ all of these arcs, unaware that he was banned for trying to bring this to the community’s attention….AM held thier tongues for the good of that community, even after months of shit-talk…they never spoke….bless-em….

It was a serious palm-to-forehead moment. It was the day I relized how fucked up the game was.

It did not stop there.

Eventually, RP being ruined for me, I focused explicitly on my ISD char (His name was Raekhan, a reporter with the ISD for 1.5 years at his termination)

So what do the recipients of this CCP employee favor, such as BoB, have to say about this? They not only admit to such a relationship, but suggest it is normal and expected to get preferential treatment.

How about a direct quote from Dianabolic, a high-ranking official of player alliance Band of Brothers:

http://gallery.drfaulken.com/d/2537-2/dianabolic_admission.jpg

He then followed up with this cheery gem:

http://gallery.drfaulken.com/d/2539-2/dianabolic_admission_2.jpg

According to folks like Dianabolic, it’s everyone else’s fault for not knowing the instant messenger contact information for game developers in Iceland, and we should all feel like basement-dwelling dweebs for not manipulating the “metagame” of EVE in order to get preferential treatment. Playing the game as intended, according to the rules, is for chumps.

These three incidents may not be the death of EVE, but it will certainly leave a large blemish on the impartiality of CCP employees towards players. I haven’t decided if I am going to continue playing or not. CCP has declared that they have called “an emergency meeting” to discuss the allegations. Given that CCP’s policy historically is to ban anyone raising a red flag, I am not expecting a positive outcome.

For more information, you may read Slashdot’s coverage, or the discussion on Digg.com.

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9 Comments on "Is the company behind my Internet spaceship game corrupt?"

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  1. IRS says:

    You know Doc, it makes me pretty sad to read this – especially since I’ve just joined up and I’ve been having fun playing. I read about the previous incident as well and it seems to me that CCP should be doing everything it can possibly do to distance itself from BoB and yet they seem to not be concerned about that. That’s a clear indication that the “powers” at CCP are either unaware or don’t care about this turn of events. Either way it’s crappy. I hope they fix it as I don’t wanna play WoW, tried it – didn’t like it.

  2. Incidents 1 and 2 are seriously uncool. I’d probably drop out if no one fell on their sword or was axed for this (particularly 2).

    Incident 3 seems a bit murkier. Anyone running a game for money, where people invest money, ought to want to be above suspicion at all times. However, if they’re taking the “DM runs the story and players participate” approach rather than “we’re all collaborators together” (which I assume they are, as they’re a for-profit corporation rather than an experimental theatre house), it might be hard to stay on the right side of the lines between trying to keep the story balanced, insensitive railroading, and corruption. I’m not excusing them if they ARE doing favors for friends *that advantage the friends and disadvantage non-friends*. But Dianabolic’s note doesn’t quite read as an admission of that to me. I don’t like the way he dances around the question, though. And given incidents 1 and 2 it doesn’t look good.

    Sorry if I’m being a bit clinical — I *am* indignant on your behalf, but there’s not much I see to say about that end of it.

  3. drfaulken says:

    Configuratrix, I’m not sure I understand where you are coming from.

    Allegations were made long ago that CCP was helping BoB and other player-run organizations unfairly, but there was no proof directly linking this until the T20 blueprint scandal. There were rumors of BoB and other player-run organizations using their personal friendships to gain preferential treatment, including wild rumors I didn’t make in my initial post such as deliberately crashing/offlining a game node so that enemies could not successfully complete an attack. It is only a small leap to conclude that since Dinanbolic’s admission that BoB has these personal connections to devs that it is also possible that this relationship is being abused.

    Instead of drawing a hard and fast line between players and employees (as every other MORG has), CCP not only doesn’t care but encourages devs to develop relationships with players.

  4. Stomper says:

    Hey Doc I’m glad you made this post. I’m really sorry, this totally sucks! I hope they can’t track it back to your gaming persona. I know you’re enjoying it and I’d hate to see you banned from the game. Anyway, a few thoughts…

    Given the behavior you’ve described, the cynic in me says that CCP isn’t going to care much until it hurts them in the $$ bottom line. And it seems like they’re comfortable that with thousands of users; that even if a few are disgusted enough by these events to leave … that there are others who will join in their places. Which is very sad. Maybe they feel like they’re the best option out there, but newer and better ones will come along. Is this akin to fixing a sporting event before it happens?

    Even if they’re trying to GM as C’atrix suggests they might be, a good GM knows that players, teams… rarely do what you expect them to do and you don’t stack the deck unfairly to get the outcome you want. A good GM has several contingency plans and knows to go with the flow. Blatent favortism spoils the game.

    If steering the game is that important than plant some of the employees as secret sellers – make them equally available to any bidder. And make them dishonest enough that there is always a chance that the info purchased is false/a set up. My point – keep the playing field equal.

    The guy in the post is wrong. Building up friendships with developers shouldn’t give him/his group special favors inside the game. If anyone needs to grow up it’s him. He’s just trying to justify his actions. It’s no different than some employees being friends with their boss. The friendship doesn’t entitle the employee to special considerations on the job. If it goes that way or is expected then the friendship or professional relationship should be ended. The fact that he thinks it’s ok to expect and get favors makes me think he’s using the friendship more than a being a true friend.

  5. Hi Doc,

    I’m not arguing for a particular position. Regarding “Is the company behind my Internet spaceship game corrupt?”, it’s hard to tell. Clearly* there’s something rotten, but I don’t know if what’s going on at EVE/CCP is a systemic problem that will continue, or if a few individual developers crossed lines and got away with it for now (or got slapped behind the scenes, as would happen at many companies that don’t care to air their dirty laundry).

    I think there is fodder for a lot of interesting discussion in your post and the followups, that could go off in a lot of different directions. Stomper and I talked for at least 1/2 an hour tonight about GM approaches (interactive v. collaborative), insider trading v. fixing a sports game as a metaphor, why there are no multimillion-dollar experimental theatre companies, possible motives of CCP, hackers, etc. But that doesn’t mean the discussions have to take place here, and if my tangenting/noodling bugged you, I’m sorry.

    * Incidents 1 and 2 were clear to me; because Incident Three (including Dianabolic’s claims) is more open to interpretation, it didn’t have as much impact on me.

  6. drfaulken says:

    I wasn’t bugged/annoyed, just wanted to understand where you were coming from. 🙂

    I’m glad this has sparked some debate aside from the world of EVE. CCP has coming forward saying that there was no impropriety, but at the very least they handled the situations poorly. They are also very carefully choosing their words, such as there are no development tools that allow for petition deletion. However, what that does not mean is that a SQL query to the database was not executed. :shrug: We’ll never know, probably.

    Some longtime EVE players have left, some galvanized their desire to stay and win against unfathomable odds. Let’s see how this turns out.

    Here is CCP’s response. They ruled all allegations as “false.”

  7. I read CCP’s response (thanks for the link!) and the Wikipedia entry (and history and discussion pages). One thing I don’t understand: CCP claims to prove they banned the reporter because he’d had previous complaints lodged against him, supposedly including complaints from his own teammates.

    Wikipedia’s description: “The investigation of the volunteer showed their had been numerous complaints against him that caused his removal. The allegation of a direct player to developer complaint via MSN messenger was not addressed.”

    But I don’t see where they show any of the previous complaints. That’s not proof.

    CCP’s crybaby conspiracy theory is unconvincing. Millions of people play EVE Online, right? I don’t know about the so-called “unnamed corporation” posting on EVE forums (can’t they tell who?), but 1500 posts/comments on Digg and /. on such a controversial matter does not seem like strong evidence of a conspiracy. People gave them weeks to respond, saw nothing satisfactory, and then discussion snowballed when people had time to talk about it (a holiday weekend).

  8. drfaulken says:

    EVE only has about 25,000 – 35,000 players active at any one time. I am guessing they have less than 500,000 active accounts. You may be thinking of World of Warcraft, which the last I knew (over a year ago) they had about eight million active subscribers. Who knows how many WoW has right now.

    Regardless, your point stands: it’s a crybaby conspiracy by CCP, and they it’s par for the course that there isn’t adequate proof to back up CCP’s assertions.

    Right now, the big hubabaloo is that the email screenshots CCP posted are fake. 🙂 Apparently there is a disconnect between the application depicted in the email and how that application actually renders an email in “read” mode versus “write” mode. The tinfoil hat theory is that someone at CCP wrote the email, took a screenshot of it, and posted it as “proof.” There is no proof, especially from the screenshot, that the emails were from legitimate players or occurred when CCP said they occurred.

  9. Thanks, I probably was thinking of WoW.

    I looked a little closer at the supposed 1000+ Digg “posts” — searches for Eve, Eve Online, and CPP on Digg turned up exactly 2 relevant posts, one of which had 1000+ “diggs” (simply a user rating system, like your stars only binary (digg/bury)). CCP was either weaseling or self-servingly ignorant to mis-describe it that way.

    Interesting post and comments:
    http://www.brokentoys.org/2007/05/29/eve-ccp-strikes-back/