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Published February 13, 2013

Editor's Note: What follows is strictly the opinion of the contributor regarding the events of the EVE University Botting ISK Issue and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the site, The Mittani, or the other staff of TMC.

317 billion isk. Assuming you can get that many plex, that is almost 53 years of EVE for one account. Alternatively, that's around $8,000 of isk in the RMT market. You could see it as three titans with pilot characters, enough to set you up as the next medium-sized ninja-PVP corp/alliance. It's also enough to seed a coalition-level deployment station. That amount, however you want to refer to it, is at the center of the debate pitting highsec darlings, EVE University, and CCP’s security crew, sometimes maligned but generally applauded for deterring those who can’t handle drawing inside the exceedingly broad lines that define the EVE sandbox.

So, what happened? Kelduum Revaan, leader of Eve University, has a long version available for your perusal which includes the petitions he filed to try to figure out what was going on. However, I assume you are reading this because you want a third party view of events. Fair warning: digging into this does not find anyone completely in the right.

First off, let’s talk about where the 317 billion isk came from: station trading. For the uninitiated, station trading is often seen by the general player population as those annoying +1/-1 traders. The bigger the hub, the more isk you need to play do station trading. In a place like Jita, you need hundreds of billions to make money doing it. As a profession, it's pretty straightforward: corner a market, hedge your bet, maintain control, profit.  

Need an example? Let’s say you want to control the market for battleship railguns in a system or region. First, you identify the comparables. 425s and 350s, basically. You'll probably focus on tech 2 and some named modules as users of modules are less likely to look for a better price than T2 manufacturers (the primary purchaser of tech 1 tier 1). Next, you need to make sure there aren’t any railguns at a competitive price in the nearby systems. This is easily done by buying up all the nearby stragglers, often at prices below the market hub you are trying to control. Then you buy out the stock in the hub, turn around, and resell all of it at a higher price. If small lots of the guns are placed on a sell order at a lower price, you can buy them out; if bigger players show up for a piece of the action, you begin running the -1 game until you get back to the original purchase price. At this point, you can decide to drive them under your original purchase price, then buy them out, or just leave the market and let it stabilize, slowly moving the remaining stock you hold. Either way, you end up making a fairly large chunk of isk doing this repeatedly. The more isolated the market hub, the more of a killing you can make. Some people do this in null alliance hubs. I suggest doing it to an enemy’s hub, not your own alliance’s, as it will piss people off and potentially get you booted from an alliance.

So, how do you quickly rake in the isk to the point where you are sitting on a 317 billion isk pile? Judging by the number of skill points of the characters owned by the person in question, he acquired this pile of isk in roughly two years of playing. While this is legitimately possible, it is on the upper end of possible. The making of vast sums like thise often involve some kind of low-level exploit - plausible deniability in the sandbox that is EVE is a good thing.  

WHAT DID HE DO?

In the case in question, an in-game browser and custom written website was used, potentially with some automated value-change macros. Now, while a person has to be sitting there in front of his computer, clicking and mashing macro keys to do this, there is still a level of automation in this process. While most people view “botting” as this clear cut thing, where people are either playing the game or having these mythically complex AI systems running their game on alts for them, CCP does not word the EULA that way.

Title 6 (Conduct), Section A (Specifically Restricted Conduct), Point 3:

“You may not use your own or any third-party software, macros or other stored rapid keystrokes or other patterns of play that facilitate acquisition of items, currency, objects, character attributes, rank or status at an accelerated rate when compared with ordinary Game play.”

So, while players can use a mouse/keyboard that has macros which allow you to quickly activate modules (such as having it “press” alt F1-F8 with a single button press), you can’t gain assets with the use of automated or third party software faster than someone who was otherwise less lazy/intoxicated than you.

Taking Kelduum’s account at its word (he seems to be honestly explaining the situation) we can compare what was done to the “botting clause.” While the gamer in question didn’t do anything that is commonly referred to as “botting,” he did gain assets/isk at an accelerated rate when compared with ordinary game play by the use of his own software (his website), and likely some value modifying macros or stored rapid keystrokes. He was, by Kelduum’s words, making a price change every few seconds for 10-20 minutes at a time.  Clearly an accelerated rate when compared to ordinary game play.

An additional thing to consider is the server impact of making a large quantity of changes quickly. Title 6, Section A, Point 1 of the EULA is particularly unclear on this, probably to allow GMs to use their discretion, which of course allows them the ability to nail people for doing any number of metagaming things.  

"You may not take any action that imposes an unreasonable or disproportionately large load on the System."

A classic example from years ago was a method to quickly kill a server that was under stress to escape a bad fleet fight. Everyone in a fleet would begin jettisoning cans, dumping drones, and carriers would drop shuttles as quickly as they could to drive the server to its knees with all the additional in space objects to track. That’s a big no-no, in case you were wondering. However, this clause has been used in other cases to penalize players for behavior that GMs did not approve of. While making a ton of large market transaction changes may be barely a blip on the server load, it could be conceivably construed as causing “an unreasonable or disproportionately large load on the System.”

TL;DR - Because of the wording of the EULA, it is my opinion that what was being done to collect the 317 billion isk was, indeed, a violation of the EULA.  

HOWEVER...

CCP penalized the person in question with a 14 day ban. The penalty did not include the removal of the assets and isk gained from this activity (according to Sreegs, this was an oversight). When the player returned after the ban, he still had access to these assets and isk. I’m sure there were some harsh words traded at that point, from Kelduum’s account, as the player proceeded to basically rage quit EVE after being told what he was doing to make isk was a violation of the EULA.

The player liquidated his assets, then traded the isk to EVE University, before proceeding to biomass his characters and cancel his accounts. At this point, a calm, level-headed customer service representative would shrug his shoulders at this reaction, regardless of any words exchanged preceding the final act. The original penalty had been fair and even-handed, a slap on the wrist followed by a warning not to do it again.  The response was extreme, even if it was not verbally extreme.  

IT SHOULD HAVE ENDED THERE.

But, it appears someone in the CCP ranks decided to take it further, potentially in a vindictive way. In a “NO SOUP FOR YOU” move, the isk that was donated to EVE University by the player on his way out was removed. GMs then proceeded to stonewall requests for information and resorted to canned responses with warnings that nothing they said could be shown to others or published to be viewed by the general playerbase.

As far as I can tell, Kelduum acted rationally by requesting confirmation that he could use the isk that was donated, then asking for clarification on why it was removed. His public vetting of the events through his forum post also seemed the next reasonable course of action, though it is very clearly poking someone in CCP who was not in a forgiving mood by that point, and as such not the "safest" course of action.

It can look and read (with only a slight spin) that EVE University had the isk removed as a punishment for being complicit in the actions of their former member on his way out. Removing isk after the fact only compounded a mistake with the feeling of misplaced punishment -especially in light of previous stonewalling.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT?

Will CCP break under public pressure? Will CCP stick with the decisions that were made, even though they seem to be suspect due to the after-the-fact seizure of isk? The customer service history of CCP has seen both happen at almost an even ratio when CCP has been put under public pressure for decisions of this nature. It is difficult to predict what will come as a result of these events.

TL;DR - The player deserved the ban, but communication with EVE University in regards to the isk was terrible. Worst case, they should have left the isk and left it alone, even if it was an accident that it wasn't included in the original punishment. Best case, they should have communicated better about what was happening, and not gone "this is the way it is, too bad" to head off a shit storm. CCP's communication on issues like this over the years has been getting better, but going from horrible to bad still leaves you with bad communication.

 

Update: Destructoid reached out to CCP for comment on the issue, and the company had this to say: 

There’s not a time where we happily remove ISK from players--unless they’ve done something wrong and then it’s more of a duty as strengthened by policy. There is recourse and escalation in the event of a false positive. The security team works jointly with many departments including Legal and Internal Affairs to make sure they “get things right” and continuously evaluates their processes. In terms of “accountability”, the security team is ultimately beholden to the Executive Producer, our legal department and then of course to our CEO.

For us, it’s a best practice not to discuss specific security investigations and actions with third parties.  Even though CCP is probably one of the most open and communicative companies in all the gaming industry, we simply have to keep some areas of our company a bit secret in order to be effective. Botters and RMTers will take any shred of methodology they can learn from us and alter their ways to avoid detection. For the health of EVE and the benefit of our EULA-abiding players, it’s actually best we aren’t as transparent as some people might wish in terms of tactics and strategies.

 

Bagehi
Bagehi began playing Eve in 2003 briefly, then returned in 2006. He has been part of IAC, NC, SoCo, and HBC during that time. He has a thing for history, but mostly spends his time IRL in a corner office, staring at financial reports, like a MMD.

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