Unlike traditional MMOs, EVE Online has always differentiated itself from the pack mainly due to one reason: players have limitless potential to participate and engage in virtual criminal activity, in-turn altering the very game universe and every single user operating within it. While this concept sounds like a paradise for gamers looking to rid themselves of the boundaries that developers of popular MMOs so often place on the game world of their products, it also presents some moral and ethical questions about the very economical system it’s structured around. Piracy, racketeering, theft, and ransom are all fair game. But it’s exploits like the following, initiated by the influential Goonswarm alliance, that makes anyone on the fence about giving EVE Online a try sprinting in the opposite direction.
The abridged version of the story is this. EVE‘s expansion Inferno added a new reward system for faction warfare that gave players loyalty points for destroying enemy ships. The points allotted were based on the value of the destroyed ship and cargo. The more intuitive players quickly realized that a game bug rewarded players for both the destroyed and surviving cargo in addition to having the ability to recover the surviving cargo. A couple of Goonswarm members exploited this by destroying their own freighters. The minerals destroyed in the wreck were cashed out into loyalty points, which were then used to buy items.
CCP discovered the bug and quickly fixed it. But Goonswarm was not ready nor willing to give up on what they saw as a potentially colossal “get rich quick scheme.” The faction found a way to exploit and exponentially spike the price of one of the game’s least-purchased items. They then began destroying ships full of that item which generated billions of loyalty points that were in-turn cashed out into items for sale on the market, producing a total profit of over 5 trillion ISK (EVE Online in-game currency). What’s that in real-world currency, you ask? Around $175,000.
While virtual piracy is allowed and even encouraged by CCP (mainly because it gives them the ability to promote gameplay elements not available in any other MMO), exploiting the game’s scripting or mechanics is prohibited, and it would appear at first glance that Goonswarm’s actions fall into the latter category. CCP has since fixed the issue and is currently investigating the matter. Goonswarm member Aryth took to the EVE Online forums to bask in the glory that is manipulating and abusing a laissez-faire economy…in a video game:
“You have our condolences as we roll around in literal Scrooge McDuck towers full of your ISK. Numerous publord superstars have taken massive losses as we slam buys to nothing, then erect gigantic, unassailable walls of sells at a price that ensures that any stock held by anyone is without value. This last part has mostly been done because we can.”