The mark lost her near-priceless battleship, one of a number of limited edition objects that the developers dropped into the game. She also saw the assets of her corporation, which she and her corp-mates had worked for 18 months to accrue, ransacked by Guiding Hand infiltrators. The Guiding Hand members who devastated Ubiqua Seraph took some 30 billion ISK in game money and assets, an amount that, if taken at current eBay exchange rates for EVE's virtual currency to real cash, comes in at a staggering $16,500.
Ubiqua Seraph was far from destroyed, but it's impossible to gauge the psychological impact of such a brutal strike on the players behind Ubiqua Seraph itself. Could they ever trust other online gamers again?
All of which begs the question: Are these devastating events really just acts of griefing, or just smart play?
Both the scam and assassination take place within the spirit of the game, which is one of ultra-capitalist competition and faction-warfare, and yet they cause the maximum hurt and upset to the players who've been victimized. They were organized and executed entirely within the game mechanics (with the odd real-life phone call), and as such, did nothing to abuse the economic or combative systems the developers installed. The Guiding Hand and their like might as well have been seen as just another guild full of dedicated roleplayers, just playing along with the game. Or are they the worst kind of griefers? Perhaps they could be both.
"The Great Scam" and The Guiding Hand takedown were massive betrayals of trust that, potentially, had real-world financial impact.
It's the breaking of unstated trust between allies that represents the deepest injury, however. The Guiding Hand infiltrators, in particular, had lied through their teeth and manipulated other players for over a year. It demonstrated that in spite of appearances, no one in the Eve game world could be trusted, especially if they were playing the game as it was meant to be played.
What do the developers of CCP do when people agonize on forums and petition their losses in these scams and schemes? Very little. They know that, in essence, this is what it's all about: people interacting. And wherever they do that, however they do that, they end up causing some grief.
Perhaps this is the most exciting aspect of EVE: It is a genuinely cruel game. If you destroy people's resources, either by war, scam or personal carelessness, you are literally wasting their time. You destroy part of what they have chosen to invest: their lives. It's a brutal fact, but then what other game can be said to provide such thrilling risks, and such extremes of gaming possibility?
This is a line in the sand: between griefing for its own stupid sake, as something that can be switched off and ignored, and the kind of grasping malevolence in gaming that leads to real, financial consequences. With virtual cash, comes virtual responsibility, and all the greed and cunning associated with it. The events we've outlined throw those facts into sharp relief, and reveal a new age online of economic exploits. Could these scammers represent a new breed of griefer? A smarter, sharper creature for the massively multiplayer age? As humorist Spike Milligan so dryly observed: "Money can't buy you friends, but it can buy you a better class of enemy."
Jim Rossignol is a writer and editor based in the South West of England. He writes about videogames, fiction and science.