Op-Ed

Op-Ed
Jumpgate: EVE's Devs and the Friends They Keep

Joe Blancato | 9 Feb 2007 14:36
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Over the past few days, news has been trickling out about certain members of the EVE Online development team using their position to give the player corporations (guilds) they belong to an unfair advantage. The story was originally broken by a player who utilized his in-game spy network to listen in on conversations between corporation alliance leaders, looking for intelligence to sell to other alliances, but he stumbled into a controversy that ultimately got him banned from EVE and exposed what could be the most blatant case of developer misconduct in years.

We had a chance to speak with the player in question, who asked to be referenced as Kugutsumen. Kugutsumen infiltrates EVE corporation message boards - via "bribery, social engineering, etc." - for in-game currency as a hobby. In the past, he's spied on the largest alliances in the game in order to provide intelligence to other groups. During a fairly routine run, Kugutsumen uncovered a story that's been circulating the internet over the past few days, a story about cheating developers and the CSRs who tried to cover up their indiscretions.

As he was checking private messages between directors on BoB's (Band of Brothers) official forums, Kugutsumen uncovered messages from a person calling himself Lord Stone (from Reykjavik, Iceland, where CCP is based), who was applying to join Reikoku, a corporation that's part of the BoB alliance, in March of 2005. Lord Stone's life was fairly unremarkable until March of the following year, when he was appointed to be a director in the corporation, someone near the top of the alliance. Later that year, as he was leaving the corporation for "unforseeable reasons," Lord Stone sent a fellow director a private message with a link to CCP's "Jobs" page and said, "If you're still interested in working for us, we have an opening in SysAdmin department. Send your CV to helgimar@ccpgames.com."

Nothing too big there; it's a good thing when developers play their game, right?

Well, maybe not. A poster on GameSetWatch who claims to be part of the EVE in-game event team claims shenanigans have gone on in BoB, but reports to GMs have been quashed. "A long term 'joke' by the players is that BoB was run by senior Dev's and ISD [event team volunteers]," the poster said. "We know this too be true and that it is also a known fact that char sales reported to the gm staff were ignored when certain TaCs breaches were known to be done by these people." Recently, the alliance LV was given a heads-up by a volunteer that led to them acquiring a mothership, one of the most expensive ships in the game, ahead of everyone else participating in the event where the ship was given away

But it doesn't end there. Another member of Reikoku, an Ishos Rerajan, was quickly making his way through their ranks. He was eventually appointed the head of their capital ship fleet - ships piloted by players who've logged upwards of a year of training time. One of his duties was to monitor the progress of the pilots below him, meaning he'd have access to their account information, which is in violation of EVE's rules.

Eventually, Ishos Rerajan was exposed as a developer, and per CCP policy had to withdraw from Reikoku. However, a month before he left, he gave the corporation 10 BPOs, (Blue Print Originals). BPOs are worth billions in EVE's in-game currency, and can be a powerful moneymaker for an alliance, as well as an easy way for them to build ships without paying outside producers. Upon discovering Ishos' status as a developer, numerous players alleged he came upon the BPOs by way of cheating.

Furthermore, in a message originally released only to in-game alliance GoonSwarm, Kugutsumen was able to uncover who Ishos Rerajan's owner was. After doing some digging, he determined the person to be Vincent "t20" P, a core EVE developer.

Think of the things you see when you're talking on your guild's message boards. Account sales, hacking programs, account sharing. Now, imagine you're key to the development process of the game you're playing. Where do your obligations lie? To the people you've been playing with for the past couple years, or the people you've been working with for even longer? It's not an easy question, but Vincent/Ishos chose to give away billions of ISK worth of BPOs to his friends and ignore their indiscretions for months.

If you were his employer, what would you do?

Earlier this week, Kugutsumen had five of his accounts banned after offering to work with CCP to help them figure out exactly what happened and what changed hands. Their reasoning was he violated the game's Terms of Service and EULA, specifically:

7. You may not violate any local, state, national or international laws or regulations. ... 16. You may not engage in any activity that increases the difficulty and/or expense of CCP in maintaining the EVE Online client, server, web site or other services for the benefit and enjoyment of all its users. ... 18. You may not communicate, post or publicize any subscriber's personal information within the EVE Online game world or website. ... 25. We reserve the right to ban any user from the game without refund or compensation.

"My first thought was, 'Oh my wife's going to be really happy about this,'" he told me. "Of course it felt a bit weird," but Kugutsumen also has other options. Members of his spy network have offered to transfer characters to him on new accounts if he decides to keep playing.

In public response to CCP's decision to ban him, Kugutsumen posted: "If CCP is not willing to work with the me on a serious issue like this, and rather prefer to ban my accounts and attempt to silence me, then I will have to work with the players so they know the game is rigged and know what they're paying for," and went public with his information. As it made its way to the official EVE boards, his findings sent a tidal wave through the community. Members of BoB - and BoB's enemies - began posting wildly, forcing CCP's message board moderators began auto-deleting posts with certain keywords related to Kugutsumen and his findings. Eventually, the call for action became too loud to ignore, and CCP began an internal investigation into what happened.

Meanwhile, Kugutsumen was conversing over email with Kieron, CCP's Community Manager. Kieron's concluding email read:

Please forgive me for having a hard time believing your statement about your intentions. Instead of taking your concerns to the proper channels and dealing directly with CCP, you have incited the EVE community, besmirched the reputations of a number of innocent players and developers, and much more. Your actions have done damage to this game you profess to love, damage that is going to take a long time to repair.

Until you remove all content on your site concerning these allegations, I have nothing to discuss with you. Removing said content will be the first step in proving the honesty of your intent. As I stated on the forums, CCP is investigating and further outcry will not speed the investigation along.

kieron
Community Manager
EVE Online, CCP Games

Kugutsumen acquiesced and closed his site temporarily, trying to help CCP get to the bottom of the situation.

Shortly thereafter, Kieron posted an official response, announcing a completion of their investigation:

Our goal is to provide the best possible game, gaming experience and development process possible. In light of that, we would like to address the recent allegations of CCP employee misconduct. CCP has taken these charges very seriously and since they surfaced we have launched a thorough investigation consisting of an examination of character histories ranging back to their creation as well as into any connected characters owned by the developers involved. This examination was performed by the same internal division which is also tasked with standard periodic audits of all developer and volunteer accounts. Areas of investigation include, but are not limited to: messaging history, financial and transactional history, combat and corporation logs, item and cash transfers and IP logs.

As for the allegations themselves, they consist of two parts. The first part involved a case that happened seven months ago when a CCP employee's identity became public knowledge within his corporation. Per company policy, the incident was investigated and actions taken where appropriate, including the removal of characters whose identities were compromised.

The second part of the accusations stem from a leak of information pertaining to an in-game event arc. Due to the amount of time that has passed since the planning and execution of the event arc, we have not been able to confirm nor deny the veracity of these allegations.

In both cases, these accusations were recently brought forward when a player revealed the identity of numerous CCP employee characters. Since these play characters are known to belong to CCP employees, they will be removed from the game. Many of them have been around since the creation of EVE and it is most unfortunate that these developers are now forced to end their relationships with their in-game friends, but that is our policy when the anonymity of staff members has been compromised.

Last summer, CCP implemented stricter monitoring procedures and audits on all CCP employees' EVE accounts. We are confident that our rigid procedures and protocol will prevent any misconduct or, at least, allow us to quickly discover it, should such an unfortunate scenario arise.

As the community knows well, we at CCP enjoy not only playing EVE Online, but improving EVE and interacting with our playerbase. We feel EVE benefits from the developers playing EVE as any other members of the community do, and to impose artificial limitations -- such as no access to Tranquility or special flagging on a developer's player character -- would greatly hinder the development of EVE.

CCP is very passionate about EVE Online and is committed to its continued growth. We hope that this statement will put this issue behind us once and for all and allow us to continue moving forward with the support of our community.

Which boils down to: "We couldn't prove it using our logging programs, but we deleted the characters we loved so much anyway. Hope you're happy." Understandably, a lot of players were still livid, and were expecting at least one head to roll, but their dissent has been heavily moderated. A popular signature image has been censored, and if you compare the edited thread with the archived original, it's easy to see CCP is still trying to keep a lid on things.

When we contacted CCP for more yesterday, they said, "CCP feels it is important for our community to hear from us directly and firsthand via our official website regarding the recent issues related to EVE Online. Please refer to http://www.eve-online.com for more information."

However, just minutes ago from the time of this writing, CCP developer Vincent "t20" P wrote a a blog post admitting to his misconduct and apologizing for his actions:

Sadly enough, the allegation regarding unlawfully obtained blueprints are, in my case, true. I'm here, laying out the facts of what happened in June 2006 so this whole issue -- which jeopardized my colleagues, my company and our community -- can be put behind us, I hope for the better.

The blueprints in question will be returned to CCP and reintroduced through a new raffle in the future.

...

Regrettably, my actions inevitably led to a shadow of suspicion being cast on a number of my co-workers, as well as Reikoku and Band of Brothers. I wish to make it clear that I acted alone and my co-workers and corp/alliance mates have been cleared of any alleged wrongdoing.

As much as this is a confession it is also a request for your forgiveness for events of which I'm truly sorry.

And Hilmar, CEO of CCP, made a blog post about updated company policy. Here's a partial excerpt:

A pivotal case was uncovered last summer during a routine investigation of developer accounts. Unfortunately CCP did not act with the same decisive consistency we have used on previous occasions. Those left at the helm chose to react cautiously, as sometimes is appropriate under these circumstances, leading to more leniency and understanding than we are used to in these matters. Upon review I personally would have chosen to act differently, but what's done is done. Difficult decisions always have to be made, and we cannot always second guess how these would appear if, in part, they are revealed to outside parties who do not have the same information to base their choices on.

This particular case, involving a single developer, underlined where improvements needed to be made and we have since focused our efforts on reinforcing rules and processes so that consistent ruling is assured. As of the beginning of January this year, we have been building up a special institution within our company similar to the Internal Affairs divisions of law enforcement agencies. For this team, we have assembled the most ardent hardliners in our ranks. They all fully understand the enormity of what they have accepted to do and we are certain that they will be able to shoulder this responsibility.

To sum up, t20 has admitted to cheating, but as of February 9 has not been terminated for his actions.

But for now, the world turns, and EVE will survive with fewer developers in BoB, though their jobs are presumably safe. But the damage to CCP's credibility may be felt for years to come.

We currently have questions out to CCP and a leader from GoonSwarm, the largest alliance in EVE. As they come in, we'll update immediately.

JR Sutich and Shannon Drake contributed to this article.

UPDATE: Check out our Q&A with Remedial here.
UPDATE 2: While we're still waiting for word back from CCP, they've posted some responses to popular questions from players.
UPDATE 3: We spoke with Kugutsumen again after he corresponded with CCP's Lead GM Grimmi.
UPDATE 4: 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."
FINAL UPDATE: CCP has appointed GM Arkanon to be Director of Internal Affairs.

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