Monday, September 13, 2010

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

If Real Money Trading (RMT) is a song often sung in New Eden, the refrain to that song is "CCP can't do anything about it.". Fleet Commanders on the take, or RMT brokers whose wallets get fatter every time a Supercap is sold in-game, sing it gleefully. Residents of New Eden getting raped by the aforementioned glee club, or those concerned that these tossers are in the process of driving EVE off the edge of a cliff, sing it with an air of resignation.

One very disturbing reason given for this fatalism are the persistent rumors that there are CCP employees taking RMT money in return for inside information.

If true, this would provide RMT organizations with a an unfair advantage in terms of intelligence - up to and including the ability to intercept in-game communications. More ominous than the developer side of the house is the admin side of the house. If RMT can buy someone in CCP who has access to user account data, one can get real world leverage. I've heard both scenarios are true.

Further, insider information could help RMT organizations avoid detection, providing critical knowledge as to how to cover their tracks and disguise RMT transactions as legitimate. It could even provide them tip-offs of  RMT detection methods and ongoing CCP sting operations. Given the amount of money involved, gaining access to this knowledge would be a reasonable course of action for RMT elements. 

To some extent, this is a problem of CCP's own making as the internal CCP environment makes it vulnerable to people willing to throw money around in order to gain insider knowledge.  

Game developers tend not to make much money. As the dream job of a lot of high-school and college kids there's a constant supply of low-cost talent banging at the doors. It's one of those professions long on prestige and short of income. It's the sort of life that's great when you're young and willing to live three or four to a flat with your fellow developers. However, when you get a bit older, tired of living like a college student, and start thinking about grown-up goals like a spouse, family, a home of one's own, et al; you find prestige doesn't spend too well.

CCP pay is reputedly low even in the gaming industry. That makes their employees vulnerable to temptation when "a friend" in-game starts waving a few thousand euros of RMT money under their noses.

Making the situation worse, I understand CCP developers work on year-long contracts. This is good for CCP in that they avoid the structural costs associated with actually hiring their developers. However, it's bad for CCP in that their developers have limited buy-in to EVE or the CCP brand. When the relationship between employer and employee is clearly defined as a short-term business transaction, employee loyalty is unlikely to follow.  By holding them at financial arm's length, CCP constantly reinforces the message to these employees that they are hired help and not part of the CCP family. Subsidized lunches, employee cookouts and memos about team spirit from HR are not going to change that equation.

Under those circumstances CCP employees may well have greater loyalty to their "friends" in the player community than to CCP.

There is, as yet, no smoking gun that points to CCP staff being on the take from the EVE mafia. However, given the money at stake, the incentives involved, the persistence of rumors, and their modestly paid employees,  it would be foolish of CCP to not consider this a reasonable possibility.

There are actions that can be taken to ensure the integrity of the game and those who have their hands of the game's levers. Some of them involve careful oversight and honest reporting on the outcomes of that oversight. Some of them involve giving CCP staff an honest stake in the future of this game in particular and CCP at large. RMT remediation actions, such as detection via data analysis, RMT organization infiltration and sting operations should be undertaken by agents outside of CCP so RMT entities cannot be tipped off by CCP insiders on the take. 

It is critical to EVE's future that the citizens of New Eden have complete confidence in the integrity of the men and women behind the scenes and in ultimate control the game. For that to happen, CCP has to ensure that those who watch over EVE are, themselves, watched and above reproach.


  1. CCP does have a 2 man team dedicated to internal checks and investigations.

    What you are trying to say is that CCP needs to pay their staff more and provide a better work experience?

  2. No.

    These transactions will occur off the books, and likely outside of the office and company email. The information being transacted will be collected and passed on by those who have legitimate access to it. It is exceedingly hard to detect unless the perp very sloppy.

    Not knowing the details of CCO's internal checks team, I can't speak to their effectiveness. However, given what I know about such corporate entities, I expect they don't pose a significant obstacle to this sort of activity and are only a nominal threat to participants in this sort of activity.

    As to the remedies - as I wrote above, there's more to it than a raise.

  3. These are disturbing allegations and I sincerely hope you are wrong. I notice you don't allude to any sources or how you have come to know this is occurring. Or have I misread you and it is just conjecture? Are you just saying that these events are possible and it could happen?

    Given that the burden of proof is on the accuser, I think it's safer to assume that this is just a conspiracy theory.

  4. Completely fictional BS.


    Proof of ANY kind or you're a GD liar.


  5. Lol - and which of your relatives works for CCP?

    Seriously though Kaar, which of the statements above do you find fictional? The bit about how CCP developers are hired and paid? The amount of money RMT generates and the lengths to which people will go to protect that money?

    Your passion for the game is admirable, but name-calling won't make this issue go away.

    There are people much closer to RMT and Reykjavik than you or me that are concerned about this issue.

  6. Precisely, what permits you to state that RMT is a huge mafia business ? Is it just a theory, a possibility, or a concrete fact that you can defend ?

    I can't see how is it possible to turn ISK into RL money in a non obvious way : wether you jetcan the goods, or simulate a ransom attempt of whatever, everything is logged in the server, it is pretty easy to see that Random X pilot gave to Random Y pilot X items for a ridiculously low price...

  7. If there are people who are closer to this issue then you and actually have proof rather then conspiracy theory that it could happen, then please name them or have them post. Until then your accusations seem quite baseless.

    Also, failure to find this evidence does not prove an elaborate cover-up. Please don't take that road.

  8. @Cedric - I discussed RMT as a phenomenon several postings back in "Nothing Comes Amiss; So Money Come Withal". I followed it up with "The CareBears Who Killed Atlas". Do read the back issues.

    A simple web search will turn up volumes of information with regard to RMT - some of it in mainstream and scholarly sources. Broker websites for selling EVE isk and in-game items are commonplace.

    Do the homework.

    @newpirate - I allege no conspiracy or cover-up. I point out motive and I point out opportunity. I discuss institutional weaknesses that make CCP vulnerable to the wrong kind of people with the right kind of money. I say that, given the above, rumors of RMT money buying insider information should be taken seriously. Then I recommend remedial actions CCP could take to allay legitimate concerns.

    Hardly the stuff of conspiracies. No more X-Files for you, young man ;-)

    As for my sources, you may well hear of or from some of them in due course. I'll say at this time is, watch this space.

  9. @Mord
    I read all of your blog posts related to this matter priori to first comment in here.
    Basically you are just saying 'Google is your friend'. Yes, RMT exists. But I have trouble to distinguish from your articles what is concretes facts, what is just pure mind-masturbation. In this case, do you have any concrete proof of a real RMT mafia behind a major Null Sec alliance or not ?

  10. *Starts researching the kind of pay one would get when one works at CCP* (As I might want to work there myself)

    (Yes semi-related but whatever)

  11. "I point out motive and I point out opportunity. I discuss institutional weaknesses that make CCP vulnerable to the wrong kind of people with the right kind of money."
    ^^This. I agree with Mord on the fact that their is no reason to get all up in arms about what he wrote above. It is a simple "shedding of light on a situation that MAY be happening".

    Another very good point Mord brings up is the how CCP treats its employees. I think the problem with CCP is the common problem with any game development company that gets to big; The higher management starts to get hired on a "make me profit" basis and sadly such higher management are usually not very in touch with gamers or the gaming industry. At least not as in touch as the actual programmers and developers that PLAY the game.

    As for this recurring RMT theme in your blogs I say its an eye opener. And I think back to the whole "the carebears that brought down Atlas" blog.

    /me goes to read the in game chat of Bobby Atlas after the supposed Atlas Deal with the Russians.

  12. Confessions of an RMT master:

    Just reading it makes me want to quit EVE....