CCP, the developer behind the popular online title EVE Online, hates players who hope to profit in real money from its game. Those who buy and sell ISK, the game's currency, are not only exploiting the game, but unbalancing play. That's why the company decided to go drastic: a program they called "Unholy Rage," whereby 6,200 paying accounts were banned at once. The results from the mass-banning of all those real-money traders were more dramatic than anyone expected.
Einar Hreiðarsson, one of EVE's lead GM's, was gracious enough to take time out of his schedule at Gamescom this week in Germany to explain exactly why CCP finds real-money trading so distasteful.
"RMT operators take up a lot of server power. They use macros to run missions, rat (grind PvE) and mine 23/7. This adversely affects other players’ chances of making a simulated living as all sweet-spots for this sort of activity are totally overrun with RMT-type users," he explained to Ars. Prices for mission-related items are adversely affected as well, which hurts regular players. Then there's the criminal element.
"Practically all credit card fraud we suffer stems from the RMT element which uses stolen credit cards to register expendable accounts that they know we will ban as soon as they start using them, e.g. accounts used to spam ISK sale adverts and such." Further, almost all hacking problems involve accounts being cleaned out by ISK sellers. The game suffers, credit card fraud becomes an issue, and accounts are hi-jacked. Something had to be done, and "Unholy Rage" was what they named CCP's response.
"We must address this in the manner of the FDIC, not the SWAT"
For weeks they studied the behavior and effects these real-money traders had on the game, and then they struck. During scheduled maintenance, over 6,000 accounts were banned. Hreiðarsson assures us that the methods were sound, and the bannings went off with surgical precision. "We are quite confident that false positives are practically non-existent, but we examine all requests for review," he explained. "So far less than a dozen have been found to be false positives." The project is ongoing, and so far CCP has banned approximately 9,000 accounts.
What they found was these real-money traders were not only soaking up in-game, virtual assets as well as hacking accounts, but also taking way more than their fair share of server cycles. The result was dramatic.
"Now, that is a beautiful graph if I ever saw one," CCP wrote on its official blog. "While the number of accounts banned in the opening phase of the operation constituted around 2 percent of the total active registered accounts, the CPU per user usage was cut by a good 30 percent." This is great news for legitimate players. "That is a whole lot of CPU for the rest of you to play with, people."
Areas that used to be heavily traveled by bot-controlled players are now easier for real players to visit. Systems that used to be controlled by the RMT players are now open for business. "Another great improvement is that space is now suddenly full of belts of oversized asteroids that were previously sucked up by hoards of macro miners of the RMT persuasion," CCP wrote. "Regular players are now starting to see mining as a viable means of making some ISK and they are moving in to take over the business." Now that the mafia has been kicked out, legitimate players and corporations can turn an honest profit in once-overrun systems.
The dust is settling, and they'll be back
Where there's money to be made, real money, in trading in-game currency, there will always be crafty people trying to profit. Fortunately for CCP, they've hired the talent and the brain-power to continually fight the good fight.
"They keep trying to sneak back, but in the end it’s all about the money and we simply follow that to find our guys," Hreiðarsson said to Ars. "Not only do we have a Doctor of Economics and a crack team of data gurus to analyze the problem, as well as able and willing developers to cater to our every need, we also have dedicated enforcers of published policy on this matter."
EVE Online is a game of high drama and intricate economies, and for at least a short while the skies are going to be a little safer for players to legitimately fight and mine and swindle each other and defend what's theirs. "Unholy Rage" was a success, with more server power for the real players and rich veins of ore now available for anyone who wants to make a career out of mining.
Back in Iceland, the men and women at CCP are busy crunching numbers, keeping an eye on trading, and getting ready for the next attack on those who seek to illegally profit from their game. "We try to stay out of the players’ way as much as we can. As long as they adhere to local law and our EULA/TOS, we really don’t find cause to meddle in their affairs," Hreiðarsson stressed.
"However, real-money trading and most of the activity involved with it is against our published policy, and even international law in the case of credit card fraud," he warned. "That is really where we draw the line—keep it in-game." CCP keeps proving that the only thing more tenacious than real-money traders are the people keeping the game clean.
I haven't played EVE Online for a few months now, but reading this article made me smile. Glad to see CCP taking a stand and laying the smack down. I hope they can keep it up =)