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Sep 21, 2005



For sure the real life betrayals are something to behold in these cases. We haven't even gotten into cases where romantic love is faked in order to infiltrate and take down an enemy guild. I've seen that a lot in the mafia wars in TSO and SL, and I've had a first hand report from a practitioner of the practice in EQ.


RL dupery is not necessarily the path of least resistance. Just because someone may find it acceptable to scam someone else in a game world doesn't mean their moral sense is so weak as to make that acceptable in RL. EVE currency may be exchangeable for real money, but most players think of it as game currency, and think of thefts as part of a game. In a virtual universe in which such corporate warfare is part of the gameplay, I'd argue that the moral barrier to a game-world scam is lower than the barrier to a RL scam--thus the game scam is the path of least resistance. I'm not saying RL scams don't happen via game worlds, I'm just saying I don't think it's fair to assume that just because someone can do something, they will.

I don't think it's safe to assume that "heist" was the goal here, rather than "play." If that were the case, yes, a RL scam worked over the course of a year would have netted more than $16,500, one hopes. For that reason, I think it is safe to assume that the Guiding Hand / Ubiqua Seraph episode was something that arose out of the desire of people to play a game, not out of the desire of people to scam other people. In that light, the players involved did indeed take the path of least resistance.


I read the EVE forum message about this big corp theft a while ago and - despite this being an act of utter repugnancy - I felt some admiration for such a well done coup. Reading your essay about the theft brings up some thoughts I had earlier ago:
I always dreamt about being an evil player in a MMOG. Especially a ruthless space pirate in EVE Online. But coming to the point I couldn't be evil because by being that I would ruin other peoples fun and so I couldn't have fun myself being evil neither. Instead I have been a rather successful producer and empire carebear for about a year :-)

So for me the psychological question is: can anyone be a ruthless player-killing, gate-ganking, smacktalking piwate in a MMOG, ruining the fun for other players and at the same time being a nice one in RL, loving his wife, caring for his kids, helping elderly women to cross the street?

Can people acquire a completely different (un)social attitude in MMOGs as they incorporate in RL? Or do they in RL only fear the consequences of some evil and immoral deeds?


My first thought is that this could potentially be a lot of fun. While I think it would be despicable if RL intruded too far into the heist, ("Hey Mark, how's your wife's chemo therapy going? By the way, did you e-mail me that password yet?"), I can't help but think about how much this sounds like a cyberpunk novel and how fun it would be to play through it in that context, even if I was the victim. What grand and twisted form might revenge take? Good stuff.


I'm looking at it from the legal-material side of things.

If the game allows you to do something like a "heist," then it's legitimate within the context of that game. However, if some of the action/communication occurs outside of the game, it's not governed by the game's rules, but by the exterior world's rules.

As a sporting analogy, a football (American-style) player is allowed to make hard bodily contact with another player in the game. He may be penalized for "late hits" or "roughing" but even these are governed by the context of the game. Indeed, some even suggest that "shaking up the quarterback" with a few penalty-based hits are strategically worth the penalty the game applies, making this "part of the strategy" of play.

However, if the players hit, fought, or "roughed up" another player outside of the game- even to gain an in-game advantage, it would be governed as assault in the real world.

So, where is the threshold for MMO's? I steal from a player ingame, it's OK. I chat with the player ingame about my real life, earning his trust, so I can steal from him, it's OK. I start chatting with him over traditional telephone lines, no big deal. I convince him to (out of game) give me an account of the game (arguably out of game) and then I login and transfer all his stuff to me (in-game) that has real value when sold on the secondary market (out of game).

Has the conduct performed outside of the game's jurisdiction risen to qualify as "theft" yet? The transfer of items was in-game, but all the supporting conduct that facilitated that removal of property was done outside the context of the game.


Looking over the discussion of the heist, I found this little tidbit on the EVE Online forum interesting, presumably posted by a moderator:

Since people doesn't read the whole thread before they post I feel I have to put this here in the top post for it to be noticed: Any discussions on real life law and law suits will not be allowed on these forums, the posts will be deleted and the poster may recieve a warning or worse. This is not negotiable or up for discussion. - Wrangler
Nothing to see here, please move along...


EVE seems to make this sort of guild heist much more a part of the game (and therefore governed by its rules or lack thereof), but I wonder if the sensationalists don't have a point.

In the real world, one of main players recently legitimized the idea that the right to use items/characters (which, of course, you don't own and can't sue over if nerfed/deleted/etc) can have a real world value within the terms of the EQ2 ToS. Regardless of the question of ownership and/or whether the ToS holds up in court or not, the victim of a guild bank looting incident has increasing basis to point to real world monetary loss. But what can they do about it?

In Eve, I suspect, not much, since such in-game mayhem seems to be expected over there. But many guilds have external websites including sometimes complex guild charters. Is someone /signing a charter on a website acting as a character in a game, or as a real world player? Can a guild charter become a legally binding contract and thus the basis for a real world civil suit?

It sounds far-fetched, but then again, consider the real world parallel. An amateur soccer team all chips in a few bucks for equipment, wins a few championships, but then its manager gets pissed off for some reason, quits, and storms off, taking the commonly purchased equipment and trophies with him. I don't care what justification that guy claims (e.g. that the team owed him money for transportation etc), he's got a good chance of landing in small claims court.

Well, my World of Warcraft realm has seen very analogous situations with several guild breakups and ensuing disputes over the contents of the guild bank. Blizzard customer service wouldn't dream of touching these things with a 10 foot pole, so possession is de facto 100% of the law. Maybe the digitial bits on a server in California aren't property, but if their loss has a real world monetary value and the guild leader in question agreed to the terms of a charter that forbids looting of the stash, is that enough for a lawsuit? What, besides waiting for someone to /gkick a real world lawyer prepared to pursue this on his/her own time, is preventing this case from happening?


So for me the psychological question is: can anyone be a ruthless player-killing, gate-ganking, smacktalking piwate in a MMOG, ruining the fun for other players and at the same time being a nice one in RL, loving his wife, caring for his kids, helping elderly women to cross the street?

Iris Chang has made a big deal over Japanese soldiers who used Chinese babies for target practice, raped women, etc., etc. in Nanking coming home, being hailed as heroes, and going back to work as upstanding citizens in Japan.

German Nazi SS were also considered upstanding citizens, both before and after World War 2. People who are normally considered "good wo/men" have never exhibited (to our knowledge) indicators of pain perpetration.


I want to comment on two things I noticed last night while reading this.

1) Most people considered their friendships to be OOC, whereas I'm sure GHSC considered these 'friendships' to be IC. They were not buddies who played EVE together; they were space pilots who happened to chitchat in a multitude of forums.

2) There has long been a golden standard for MMORPGs that you want to bring the players in and keep the players in. But something I saw in Bartle's "Designing Virtual Worlds" was that sometimes you want the players to leave, because their time is up. (It's a Hero's Journey thing.) To extrapolate this, consider the entire spectrum of all virtual worlds to be one virtual metaworld. Substitute this for Campbell's fantasy land, and it means that yes, you eventually do want players to leave. It might not be profitable... or would it perhaps produce more incentive for future players to come because of this great experience an older friend had? Kind of like "Join the Army. It was good for me. It'll be good for you."

There's an assumption that's been drilled into players' heads that you always want to make all the customer happy so they'll come back. And that limits the scope in which you can make a game.


Not directly related to the discussion, but still a little interesting/funny, is this tidbit from Eve's Fan Fest 2005 FAQ:

Q: I'm (insert pirate name) and I think there might be some players wanting to inflict bodily harm on me. Is there going to be security present?
A: There is security on location, but the security works for CCP so you better not have podded any them or trolled on the forums.

You have to wonder just how serious CCP is being when they say this...


Has anyone found anywhere that GHSC talks about out-of-world communications that were used to advance their plot? I know we're mostly talking a hypothetical in this thread, but it's not clear to me that they did, in fact, operate that way. It would be interesting to know.

And btw, I forgot to say this morning: Thanks for the link!


I am a bit conflicted about this sort of thing, based on my own actions as a player in a PBeM game called Atlantis. I was deployed as a mole by my alliance leader, and infiltrated an neutral alliance as a new recruit. Via emails exterior to the game proper (a standard channel) I worked my way into a position from which I was able help to execute a nearly bloodless coup, in which we siezed most of the other alliances characters and assets. We then offer the players a position within our alliance, a position which was accepted by all the other players in the other alliance, excepting the leadership. The accepting players became friends and allies in that and future games for years after, but the leadership became permenant foes.

It was great fun for most, and for me, but it still bothers me that I used the trust of another player in such a manner.


From a role-playing standpoint this whole thing sounds absolutely wonderful. Where it gets messy is when RL creeps in.

Currently MMOG's resemble a "sterile themepark", as someone on this board put it. For someone like me the story of the GHSC heist is simultaneously intriguing and hopeful. What's the point of setting WoW in the fantasy genre, or Eve in the science fiction one, unless it's to satisfy the escapist urges of the players? And isn't the natural next step to attach a narrative to the proceedings, as in a movie or book?


This reminds me strongly of similar things in LRP games - Live RolePlay, that is - where it's quite common to kill, cheat, deceive, or grief people in-game and remain friends out of it. I think there are two main reasons why this is considered acceptable, or at least expected, by most LRPers.

First, the games happen and then they're over with, or in the case of campaigns they happen for a few weekends each year and that's the lot, but LRPers also socialize with each other outside the game context. (Where they usally talk about LRP, but that's another matter.)

Second, they usually go into it expecting these things to happen, and knowing that if you can do it to them, they can do it to you. Most of the cases of shock, outrage, and character-mourning I've seen have been because the "griefed" player didn't think he was playing that sort of game originally, didn't expect that to happen.

I'm tempted to say that it's easier to understand the in-game situation, and react to it only in-game, if you understand the metagame context explicitly.


I'm tempted to say that it's easier to understand the in-game situation, and react to it only in-game, if you understand the metagame context explicitly.

This resonates.

The example I would use is Diplomacy (Avalon Hill boardgame). I can imagine few other games with the ability to so viscerally twist player-against-player. Yet it is playable with 'experienced players' who, as you stated it, 'understand the metagame context explicitly' (e.g. don't take it personally). Inexperienced players who develop expectations about Austria's behavior, say, because she is a good friend...

Your other point about it ending at some point and everyone knowing it, seems critical.

Where a long-term real-life social relationship becomes mixed-up with on-again off-again roleplaying seems, therefore, opportunity for mischief if there aren't clear markers signifying transitions... e.g. taking out the Diplomacy board and agreeing to suspend RL relationships for 4 hours... But when everyone is hanging out in a highly episodic chat relationship (on line, off line) multitasking, again, seems like more opportuntity for mischief..

Just thoughts.


I think the problem herein lies though that it is acceptable that MOST people develop semi-RL relationships with others in these "games" and "virtual worlds", in the Metaverse entirely. I mean think about it. We all mostly let some RL things slip into our chat with others, and we develop close friendships. Most people I have known who run guilds, organizations, and groups in the games and virtual worlds I have been also explicitly trust their deputies and such in RL having developed long term friendships with them, over the course of months and years. Many of these people talk to these people in-world more than they talk to their RL friends. Many spend more time interacting with these people. Some talk on the phone regularly in RL to help coordinate in-world things. So yes, there is an real world element.

I imagine since it is said that one of the SSG operatives became the trusted #1 lieutenant of the head of the organization, also having operatives on the Board of Directors of the corporation, then there was some real life bond of trust there.

One thing I have not seen considered, are we CERTAIN this is not one huge publicity stunt? I suppose it is pretty certain.


I think the problem herein lies though that it is acceptable that MOST people develop semi-RL relationships with others in these "games" and "virtual worlds", in the Metaverse entirely.

This goes to culture. It is simply not possible to wipe out the culture of the real world for the sake of the culture of the virtual.

We like the magic circle. The magic circle makes life easy on us. But most players expect that there exists a breakfast, lunch, and dinner implicit, even if no one actually bothers. They expect a lot of real world elements. More to the point, they expect friendship as a result of interacting with other real people.

The magic circle has never really existed. Sure, it was there at the beginning, because no one thought to break through it. But the idea of separating RL from IG is not culturally possible (until we can wipe brains). Sometimes players act like jerks to random strangers... not because they're RPing a jerk, but because their girlfriend broke up with them that night and now they're drunk. In RL. Sometimes a historically nasty player will give out free loot to a random stranger, because someone explained to them, in RL, that being nice is a good thing. (Dunno, maybe they Saw The Light.)

If you meet someone in a game, move the conversation to AIM, and eventually end up marrying them in RL, did that break the magic circle? Yes. If you meet someone in RL, find out you play the same game, get steady, and arrange to marry in game, did you break the magic circle? Yes.


One thing I have not seen considered, are we CERTAIN this is not one huge publicity stunt? I suppose it is pretty certain.

By CCP? Definitely not a stunt.

By GHSC? Possibly. Doesn't matter.

If it's a stunt, we can treat it theoretically. But the idea of gaining someone's trust online with the intended purpose of duping them isn't exactly unlikely. If it were, we wouldn't have overly concerned people chattering their teeth about how the "hot chick" is probably an 800-pound serial killer just waiting to pounce upon you. =P

Adding another level, that of a virtual world, and yet another level, that of a virtual objective, doesn't change it significantly. It just makes it worth talking about here. =)


This to me is a perfect example of why real world sales of items in game shouldn't be allowed.

In a roleplaying context, this type of infiltration is fantastic for gameplay. And this is exactly the kind of politics that Eve is about. This is what makes Eve fun. Trust me, it's certainly not mining scordite for hours on end. It's about the little empires you build with that scordite and your part in them.

However, when this starts to become an out of game method of accumulating real world wealth, it starts to become something far different.


In the specific context of EVE, the entire scam doesn't seem OOC to me, because it's totally consistent with the game setup and backstory, and, more important, doesn't hurt most players' expectations.
CCP goes out of its way to make clear to players from day 1 of their in game experience that the EVE gameworld is a harsh one, and the whole design a PvP-centric one (in the broadest sense of PvP).

There is no 'newbie zone' where one can't be attacked, and while some areas offer a strong NPC protection to law-abiding characters, there is always (rule endorsed) room for kamikaze attacks in these areas, just like the in-game escrow mechanics are intentionally left pretty wide open to scam if the buyer is careless enough to not double check goods before claiming an escrow.
That and many other (big or small) hints help players get a good feeling of what is acceptable in the game, rules-wise, as rules and overall experience of the game are a much closer match in EVE than in most MMOGs, consistency being the key word, here, I suspect.

The same type of scam in a game like WoW or EQ, where actual loss of anything isn't expected to ever exceed gain in the long run, and where the players are largely protected from others (and to some extent themselves) and from any lasting consequence of player action would probably be widely regarded as a cheat and exploit, and at least frowned upon.
It is not in EVE, because it's exactly the sort of thing players' expect (and often hope) to happen.

About the specifics of the scam, there technically is no cheat as GHSC (from what I know of the specifics of the scam) didn't rely on any 'unfair advantage' (by EVE standards) to gain the upper hand.
Social engineering isn't forbidden, there is no reason to believe actual accounts were taken over from the victim (which would be out-of-line on more than one level), and the low-blow style is totally fitting with the game Borgia-esque competitive theme.

As EVE doesn't include permadeath or strikingly strong penalty for in-game death of a character, social and/or economic destruction is arguably the only way to "win" over a competitor in any spectacular fashion.

- Yaka.

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