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Intrigue, Murder, Betrayal – Just Another Day in Outer Space

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The ways of the online universe are dark, and never pleasant.

Online gaming, in the form of persistent worlds, or Massive Multiplayer Online Games (MMOG), is still a relatively new phenomenon, and fascinating and strange spin-offs and twists are spawned daily that often times cast an eerie resonance on our own real-world lives.

The world of MMOGs has seen guild wars, assassinations, robbery, abandonment, rape, harassment and, recently, digital plague. Some of this happens by accident, some by error and some by deliberate and malicious intent…just like the world we inhabit offline.

EVE Online is a massively multiplayer game set in the depths of space. With 5,000 systems, 10,000 players, five major “Empires” and countless guilds, corporations and factions, you can wend your way through space as a tramp freighter captain, a freelance asteroid miner, or tie your fortunes to a mega-corporation that spans space.

Cut-throat ultra-capitalism is the raison d’etre in EVE, with a sophisticated and deep economic system and an open-ended structure, the game permits (and encourages) a very wide range of player interactions and activities…including the largest MMOG theft in history to date.

A group of players calling themselves The Guiding Hand Social Club spent 12 months meticulously planning and executing a paid-for assassination of Mirial, the head of the Ubiqua Seraph, a major “mega-corporation” in the EVE universe. Multiple members of the Guiding Hand successfully infiltrated the Ubiqua Seraph, gradually attained positions of authority within the company and then, when they were ready, sprang the trap.

Luring the head of Ubiqua Seraph to a specified location, they used one of Ubiqua Seraph’s exclusive Amarr Navy Apocalypse ships to destroy the other Apocalypse piloted by Mirial. They then ruthlessly destroyed her escape pod and, apparently, collected her frozen lifeless corpse for delivery to their employer. At the same time the other infiltrators coldly and completely looted the various corporate accounts, hangers and resources they had access to, lifting a grand total of $20 billion ISK from the coffers of Ubiqua Seraph (a real-world value of more than $16,000 worth of items).

Here’s the announcement posted by The Guiding Hand:

Greetings, everyone – it has been some time since I last stood behind a podium and made a public announcement, so you’ll have to forgive me if I’m somewhat out of form. The reason I stand here before you is to announce that my mercenary outfit, the Guiding Hand Social Club, has completed its most ambitious contract to date.

Our target was assigned to us many months ago – Mirial of Ubiqua Seraph. Our task was to carry out that which the GHSC has now become known for – to utterly demolish Mirial and bring all who followed her to their knees in one fell swoop. For those many months, we toiled, secreting our operatives among her ranks, steering her organization through a number of insidiously engineered events meant to engender trust and divert their attention from where it should have been.

Early this morning, our hard work bore fruit. Executing a meticulously planned, thoroughly flawless concerto of simultaneous corp-hangar heists, attacks in open space and facility invasions, the Ubiqua Seraph came to know the wrath of the GHSC first-hand. The result shatters any previous records for sheer scale of such an endeavour:

Hostile assets acquired:

- Modulated Deep Core Miner II BPO
- Covert Ops Cloak II BPO
- Armageddon BPO
- Prophecy BPO
- Malediction BPO
- Arkonor Crystal II BPO
- Scordite Crystal II BPO
- Numerous lesser tech II BPOs

- A few billion ISK in minerals.
- 717 million taken from corporate wallet.
- Two billion taken under the guise of a loan from the executor.

Our net gain from this massive heist is roughly estimated at over 20 billion ISK.

Hostile assets destroyed:

- One Amarr Navy Apocalypse.
- One capsule, belonging to Mirial, known to possess a head full of +4s.
- One dream.

Total damages inflicted are estimated at close to 30 billion ISK.

Further information pending – stay tuned. Thank you all for your time.
- Istvaan Shogaatsu, Guiding Hand Social Club

Check out The Escapist for an excellent and through article called The Deadly Dollar looking at this (and other) examples of what are termed “griefers” in the multiplayer worlds.

There is also an excellent article in the January issue of PC Gamer magazine (not available in an online format however).

If you are interested, check out the EVE universe yourself or just read some of the player reactions to theft in the Forums.

What is fascinating about this incident and others like it is not just the morality of such a through betrayal (they spent a year building their credibility and good graces) but where does the line between the artificial reality of the game and the real-world value coincide? The real-world value of the stolen virtual items was roughly $16,000 (estimated according to auction prices on eBay and the Forums). Could the aggrieved party charge the perpetrators with theft? Or because it was within the confines of an artificial reality that all the parties agreed to participate in, is it something else entirely – a legitimate game opportunity? Interestingly the EVE rules permit such open-ended skullduggery.

It just keeps getting stranger. Anyone else run across some unique stories from the wilds of the MMOG?

About Deano

  • http://firstfolio.blogspot.com Matt Schafer

    Man, once I upgrade my internet connection and computer next month I am going to waste so much time.

    One question. How doe the virtual loot with a real world value work? I didn’t quite understand that one.

  • http://www.booklinker.blogspot.com Deano

    I haven’t played the game but my understanding is that as you progress in the game, you build up money and resources. You can purchase with your in-game earnings various unique items and skills (i.e. new spaceships, plasma beam weapons etc.). If you invest enough time and effort, you can purchase much more unique and powerful items. For example as I understand it the Apocalypse spaceship the victim was flying is one of only two in the entire EVE universe and is a uniquely powerful ship. They destroyed it with a planned ambush.

    The reason the virtual money can be converted to real-world dollars is that often people will auction or purchase the digital items in the real-world (on eBay for example) to augment their characters without having to actually put in the time normally necessary to build yourself up to that level. The stolen ships, virtual cash and other items the assassins liberated could be liquidated for real-world cold hard cash in that manner.

    So in addition to taking the game into a whole new realm, they could potentially have made some real cash out of their fun…

  • http://www.booklinker.blogspot.com Deano

    Sorry, just to add – as the stuff has real-world value, could the victim take action (civil or criminal) agaisnt the perpetrators? It would make things very interesting if they did!

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com/ Ken Edwards

    Deano – that is a great question, and it sounds like you have another column out of it too!

  • gonzo marx

    depends on the EULA (end user liscense agreement)

    most MMO’s have it written in there that ALL things concerned with in-game assets belong to THEM, and actively ban or forbid the real world selling of items/accounts

    this covers their asses legally for EXACTLY this purpose, and has been pursued in courts (Sony and EverQuest had a bunch of this when things started hitting ebay)

    now, some of the newest generation of games are the opposite, and allow real world selling of in game assets/accounts…BUT in their EULA is a disclaimer saying they are NOT responsible for shit

    so the Trick when it comes to legal reparations for being hacked would in large part be determined by actually catching the bastard…then woudl depend a lot on the EULA…in many cases the company that owns the game world has simply deleted anything in question to avoid any possible legal problems

    hope that helped

    Excelsior!

  • http://alienboysworld.blogspot.com/ Christopher Rose

    All games reflect human nature in one way or another, that’s part of the appeal, so if the meticulously planned takedown of Mirial is not banned it must be part of the game play. What happened is a bitter lesson for her.

    Personally, I don’t know what is the most striking feature – someone was actually so hostile they were prepared to hire mercenaries to attack and wait so long for what, revenge? OR that there is a group of people so devoted to the game as to spend a year plotting and executing this amazing takeout.

  • Yannis Harte

    Eve has an item called PLEX (Pilot License Extension) purchased with irl money at around 15 dollars for 1 PLEX. The PLEX is used to extend your game-time. However, the PLEX is also an ingame item, so you could sell it on the ingame market. Currently the price is around 500million isk (interstellar kredit). So we can note that 1 billion isk = 30 dollars actual. P.S. Besides selling your PLEX ingame, if someone kills you while you hold your PLEX in your ship cargo (not a good idea to carry plex around), then the loot is theirs.