Interviews

Interviews
Jumpgate: EVE's Devs and the Friends They Keep, Part 2

Joe Blancato | 10 Feb 2007 11:00
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In a continuation of our first story, we have a Q&A with Dan "Remedial" Dargon, CEO of GoonSwarm (also known as GoonFleet), a rival corporation to BoB, as a matter of providing some player perspective to the general public.

The following is a slightly game-specific set of responses from Remedial, but we've done our best to bracket definitions for confusing terms into his answers.

The Escapist: Was Kugutsumen working for GoonFleet when he hacked BoB? If so, why was he hired?

Remedial: Kugutsumen was absolutely not working for us when he hacked the Band of Brothers forums. In fact, only a month or so before the infamous Bob forum hack, Kugutsumen hacked our forums (www.goonfleet.com) with a number of VB forum code exploits. As a result every single member's private messages over the length of GoonFleet's history were at his disposal, and there was a huge scare over the contents of all that private information. After all, people buy EVE Timecodes [special codes that people can redeem for playtime] with real money and sell them to each other for in-game money (something EVE allows under the EULA), sending the codes via private message sometimes. If a code isn't used right away by a receiver, a hacker could potentially take all of those codes, use them on various characters, and cause a nightmare for both buyer and seller in terms of working out just what the heck happened. And of course, private information about peoples' identities, home addresses, phone numbers, even their names and passwords to log into EVE! Imagine our panic and the stress on the server admins that caused. Our killboard, which was a target of one of the exploits, is still not entirely redone in exploit-free code. Our admins had to basically rewrite huge chunks of code to rule out future attacks.

So anyway, no he was not working for GoonFleet. Does he pay special attention to GoonFleet?

Apparently so. Maybe it's the special SomethingAwful culture that we import from the SA forums, but he certainly likes hijacking GoonFleet member accounts on GoonFleet.com and posting on our boards to let us know his latest forays into the world of spying. Some of our members think he's funny, others think that he's an attention whore of epic proportions. What he definitely is not is a GoonFleet hired gun or agent. In my opinion, Kugutsumen is a sort of freelance hacker that delights in getting access to private information and publicizing it when he knows that it will provoke people. As far as I know, he's never actually lied about anything or published anything that was patently dishonest. But then again, some of things he posts are inherently unverifiable from our side of the fence. He claims (somewhat plausibly as we had at least one independent source confirm this) that it was a Lotka Volterra director named Lallante that paid him a substantial sum of in-game money to hack our forums and gain access to our director-level intel. I believe that's the real "first contact" we ever had with him.

The Escapist: Is hacking another corporation's message boards really ethical, or just the cost of doing business? If not, would you consider hiring him now?

Remedial: Hacking is unethical, absolutely. It's akin to breaking into somebody's office and rifling through their papers to find something that that person wouldn't willingly disclose. I would never hire somebody to break a real life law to give us an in-game advantage: That just screams out "reality check, please." Not only would our in-game reputation suffer massively and likely result in at least some bannings to the detriment of the corporation I created, there are potentially real life criminal and civil consequences for engaging in such conduct.

The problem in the present case is that although the hacking of BoB's forums might have been illegal and unethical, the information it revealed was (allegedly) an unethical cover-up in its own right.

The Escapist: When did Kugutsumen first contact you about the info he found? What was your reaction to seeing this kind of misconduct?

Remedial: From what I understand, Kugutsumen hacked the BoB server and pulled a huge amount of data out of it that takes him awhile to pour over. He then posted on his own forums/blog that he had a "three part" series on misconduct by the very highest-up directors in BoB which ran contrary to the EULA and their own public declarations of rule-abiding. He later amended it to a "seven part" series, all about these offenses that BoB had been committing over the year, which were likely bannable offenses: eBaying characters, selling characters to each other for money without paying the CCP transfer fee, stuff like that. But the "crown jewels" so to speak were the allegations that a CCP developer named t20 (one of the main designers of the T2 Blueprint lottery) had joined BoB with a character, BoB directors knew that that character was a dev, BoB directors put this dev character in charge of their entire capital ship fleet, and when the dev was "outed" by an anonymous alt and had to leave BoB - left them a series of T2 blueprints worth the equivalent of $1,000-2,000 in real money and told them that they could stay in touch with him through various other methods of communication, like IRC. Kugutsumen documented all this largely with posts from BoB director and public forums, private communications between directors or directors and eBayers, email addresses from BoB forum applicants (such as the infamous Vincent@ccpgames.com address, which belongs to t20), and IP addresses traced back to the CCP offices in Iceland.

All in all, it was a huge mess. Something done unethically had led to information which alleged that other serious conflicts of interests were happening in the game. This certainly wasn't the first time that a person in a position of power at CCP would have abused that power to benefit themselves or their friends. Less than a year ago, a new GM who worked at CCP was caught spawning all-faction gear [the best equipment in the game] on a battleship and running it solo into 0.0 space [a high-level area]. This faction gear would also have been worth the real life equivalent of thousands of dollars. When he was killed and looted (after dying in an incredibly stupid way), he demanded his looters give back the gear because he was a GM. They refused, he banned at least one. A huge stink was raised about it on the EVE-O forums [official EVE forums], and from what I remember, the GM was eventually fired from CCP.

The question that remained was: "Was he just spawning it for himself, or was he trying to 'deliver' this faction-loaded battleship to his in-game friends to be killed and looted?" If BoB (hypothetically) had killed and looted him - would he have ever threatened anyone? Would CCP even know that a GM abusing his/her powers had just handed billions of ISK to friends?

But that wasn't all - CCP has a division of volunteers called the Interstellar Services Department (ISD) who handle roleplaying events. Their job is to add some meat to EVE's roleplaying bones and generally get the players involved in stuff happening against the background of EVE's story. Normally, ISD do a great job in giving both newbies and vets fun things to do - except they are prone to the same problems of abuse of power as everybody else.

I'll give one example of what I call "passive" discrimination first. Passive discrimination is really hard to classify because sometimes you can't tell if it's intentional or negligent. In the history of EVE, only two NPC motherships (gigantic, incredibly expensive carriers) have been killed - both run by ISD members roleplaying events - one by Band of Brothers, the other by GoonSwarm. The Band of Brothers mothership dropped faction loot (again worth hundreds of dollars) and was spawned in their home space, seemingly an event just for them. The one killed by GoonSwarm was an event that was actually supposed to go to the public where other ISD members roleplaying a police force would be leading players to this mothership to hunt it down. GoonSwarm found it and killed it almost by accident before that ever happened, and guess what it dropped? Not a single faction item. Nothing even valuable at all. Why is it that the BoB mothership dropped all this great stuff and "ours" had nothing? It's possible that the loot table was just messed up, or that ISD never intended BoB to get that faction loot, or somebody just forgot, but it's certainly odd that one alliance kills the exact same creature as another (while the creature is being run by ISD volunteers) and gets a thousand times more loot than the other.

Now I'll give an example of "active" discrimination. ISD has to plan events out so that it can get all of its volunteers on the same page before it starts a roleplaying event. In this particular event a few months ago, ISD were going to hand out a mothership(!) to the corp or alliance that won a contest. The contest was to take something like 4-5 freighters' [high-end material hauler; EVE's equivalent of an 18-wheeler] worth of stuff from anywhere in EVE and bring it to this point in 0.0 space. Now a mothership is worth (in EVE) something like 20 billion ISK - or like $1,500 in real cash. It's a colossal ship that gives a lot of advantages to whoever can sport one in a battle. Imagine you're an ISD member and you have friends in an alliance that you perceive to be in great need of a ship like this. Imagine the temptation to leak information even a few hours or a day or two ahead of time to your friends or your alliance leaders that they could have a mothership tomorrow if they just listen to you and do a few things to prepare. So ISD goes ahead and releases the contest: "Move X amount of material to this place and the first group to do so gets a mothership!" - well guess what happened? Somebody just "happened" to have virtually all the materials ready nearby for easy shipping mere minutes after the contest was announced on the forums.

Within literally a few hours after the announcement, Lotka Volterra had a last freighter of goods shipped to the station and they won the contest, netting a free mothership in the process. Some players petitioned it as completely rigged and cited an ISD member who had come forth privately and stated that it was rigged - but to no avail. A senior GM told me personally that they would "thoroughly investigate" the incident, and that was it. LV still have their mothership, and a lot of players still felt cheated.

So long story short, lots of concerns resurfaced when these new allegations were raised by Kugutsumen's hacks.

The Escapist: Say the developers really did give Band of Brothers the blueprints and ISK. What do those blueprints mean to an alliance? Are they the kind of thing you can get every day or what?

Remedial: Most items in EVE are player-produced. Players mine asteroids to acquire minerals, they take those minerals to stations with factories, those minerals are combined in factories with blueprints, spend some time in production, and end up producing items like ships, guns, missiles, etc. which go on the market.

Now there are certain items in the game that are called "Tech 2" items - they require more skills to use than plain old vanilla Tech 1 items, but they are generally 10, 20, 30% better than the T1 version. If you're packing T2 items, that can make a big difference in both 1v1 and 100v100 fights. The catch is that anybody can buy T1 blueprints - NPCs sell them. T2 blueprints are released according to a CCP-run lottery. Only a very small number of T2 blueprints are typically released for any one T2 item in the game.

Since everybody wants T2, and there isn't a lot of it to go around due to the production constraints on this very limited number of blueprints available, T2 items are often very cheap to produce and immensely profitable. For example, a T1 Cap Recharger is a module which increases your ship's ability to regenerate energy over time by 15%. A T2 Cap Recharger increases that ability by 20%. Now I might be out of touch with the market today, but not less than six months ago, T1 cap rechargers typically sold for somewhere around 20,000 ISK. A single T2 cap recharger typically sold for 20,000,000 ISK. That's a thousand times the price of the T1 flavor, all for just a 5% extra bonus. Whoever owns even one of the limited number of T2 Cap Recharger blueprints available makes money hand over fist every single day because people will pay through the nose for that extra 5% (since that extra edge in combat is sometimes what wins you the whole battle).

So when the allegation comes out that a dev give Band of Brothers, unquestionably the (if not one of) most powerful alliance in the game 10 T2 BPOs, people went nuts. Even "not so great" BPOs sell for the equivalent of hundreds of dollars, and here's 10 in a row! Further, the T2 Blueprint Lottery isn't supposed to give a single person valuable BPOs over and over because it's a lottery. And this developer character just happens to have ten of them to hand out to his friends. The whole thing stunk to high heaven.

The Escapist: How much of an effect do you think this specific incident has had on the game? More generally, what kind of an effect can developers hooking up their corporations have on the game?

Remedial: The problem is that it's impossible to tell how far the alleged corruption really goes. A corp or alliance with devs/GMs for friends would be extremely loathe to say a word because of the possible benefits of association. And of course the devs/GMs may give a nod or a word to a select few people in a corp/alliance, but never publicly display their affiliation. Nobody has any idea how many devs or GMs are in corps and to what extent they passively or actively help their corp- or alliance-mates. Nobody has any idea to what extent they abuse their powers or privileged knowledge as to game mechanics or upcoming events.

One popular conspiracy theory is that a dev could easily know that a certain module or ship or item was getting a huge boost or nerf in an upcoming patch, and rig the market in a certain way to benefit hugely from people caught unawares by the upcoming changes. Buy all the interceptors of a certain class, for example, right before that class gets a huge boost and virtually doubles or triples in price. The ability of a CCP employee to use information to his/her own advantage (and consequently the advantage of knowing or unknowing affiliated parties) would be insidiously tempting at times.

The Escapist: What do you make of CCP's reaction to the news?

Remedial: CCP bungled this badly. First, when the initial posts were made on the topic, moderators and/or devs would lock and/or delete the threads before they could get off the ground. Then when GoonFleet began to spam the topic on the forum faster than they could purge threads, a CCP rep came [Kieron] out and told everybody that they would investigate the matter and to please stop posting threads about it. Then the guy comes back and says, "Look, we can't confirm or deny several of these allegations but we're still looking into it," and on and on, like a broken record. (Note: I typed all this before t20 confessed.)

I think that these allegations are the catalyst for major changes in the way developers and GMs are allowed to play the game. I think that up until now, they had the leeway to pull a lot of stunts that flew under the radar which they can't depend on anymore. A large (larger than I expected) number of hardcore EVE fans were riotously upset over even the appearance of impropriety by CCP employees. They took their complaints at first to the EVE-O forums, and then to gaming and tech sites like Blue's News, Slashdot, Thresh's Firing Squad, etc. It's still spreading like wildfire.

The Escapist: What would you like to see happen to remedy the situation?

Remedial: They need to fire t20, no bones about it. In any profession which is governed by rules of professional responsibility, the penalty for entering willingly into a clear conflict of interest to the detriment of your duties is that you lose your license. If he exploited his position to rain favors down on his friends and then failed to disclose that to his superiors, that's the very essence of unprofessional behavior and he needs to be gone. It would serve as an example to the rest of the devs or GMs who were considering favoritism as well. Those blueprints and any income derived from them should also be stripped from BoB, and arguably the higher-ups who knew of the abuse deserve bans (or at least warnings at a minimum)

The Escapist: On the other side of the coin, what it GoonSwarm had developers helping them? Say the situation was that a CCP dev was in your alliance and willing to give you freebies?

Remedial: I'd kick the directors out who knew about it and hid it from me, and publicly disclose what had happened. Basically I wouldn't be a party to this kind of crap in the first place. It ruins games, and there's enough ruined MMOGs out there without us helping EVE onto the scrap pile. Unfortunately I doubt Band of Brothers (perhaps better known now as Band of Developers) don't share that sense of injustice.

UPDATE: We've received some emails from people asking why we haven't interviewed BoB yet. We sent out an interview request to them on February 10, to which they replied: "CCP's official announcement can be found on the Eve Online forums. We have no interest in expanding on that."

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