August 31, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

Cons in the virtual gaming world

Earlier this month, a virtual bank CEO in the science-fiction role-playing game "Eve Online" made off with billions in cybercurrency that fellow gamers had entrusted to him with the hope of earning some interest.

The banker, a player who goes by the alias "Cally," has admitted to the scam, and even bragged about it. It's unlikely, however, that any action will be taken against him--online or offline. In the freewheeling world of "Eve," what the virtual banker did was distasteful, but it probably didn't break any rules.

The bank scam itself, known as the "EIB scandal"--after Eve Intergalactic Bank, the name of Cally's operation--was a pretty simple con job. "Somebody makes it big by stealing from other people," explained Mark Smith, an "Eve Online" player who watched the EIB scandal unfold earlier this month. "Eventually the house of cards crumbles and the scheme is exposed. In fact, that's pretty much exactly how this thing came about."

The aftermath, however, is much more complicated, and industry experts say it should raise warning flags for gamers who spend money on auction sites and exchanges to buy items used in virtual worlds. Some even think such virtual scandals could end up being settled in real-world courts.

"This stuff is real money," said journalist Julian Dibbell, author of "Play Money: Or, How I Quit My Day Job And Struck It Rich In Virtual Loot Farming." According to Dibbell, "once the money trade is there, this stuff can be sold as quickly and sometimes more quickly than real currency."

So-called massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) have seen their fair share of skullduggery. Last year, fantasy MMORPG "EverQuest" was plagued by a massive counterfeit scheme, and this spring "Second Life" faced a barrage of denial-of-service attacks. And with crime came punishment: In the "EverQuest" situation, the hackers responsible lost their accounts in the game; and the denial-of-service attacks on "Second Life" attracted a federal investigation.

"Once the money trade is there, this stuff can be sold as quickly and sometimes more quickly than real currency."
--Julian Dibbell, journalist

But what happens when the rules of a game allow players to be subject to trickery, robbery, embezzlement, fraud and other deeds that make recent corporate scandals look mild by comparison? That's the situation with the EIB scandal. In many popular MMORPGs, such as "World of Warcraft" and "Dark Age of Camelot," Cally wouldn't have come anywhere close to walking free after something like the EIB scandal, Smith said. Rules of etiquette are tough, strictly enforced, and malicious players "just don't have any real impact over other players" because they tend to be quickly discovered and exiled, he said.

"Eve Online" is far less regulated, and its end user license agreement (EULA) make that clear. "The behavior of Cally and his EIB is despicable, but allowed. As long as he kept all of his work within the boundaries of the EULA, there's nothing ('Eve Online' creator) CCP Games will do to touch him," Smith said.

Indeed, the game's creator, based in Iceland, hopes to remain neutral in this situation. "CCP does not intervene in such cases and will only get involved if a game exploit was used, which we have not found any indication of in this case," CCP CEO Magnús Bergsson wrote in an e-mail to CNET News.com.

Reactions to the EIB scandal peppered MMORPG forums and blogs for days after the incident. Opinions were mixed. Some players were outraged, while others shrugged the incident off with an attitude of "whatever, it's not real money." One poster in the MMORPG section of the QJ.Net blog site suggested that "Eve Online" players, after agreeing to the anything-goes EULA, ought to know that their virtual possessions run the risk of theft: "It's part of the game," the commenter said. Going after Cally "would be like suing someone you lost to at poker."

CONTINUED: Analyzing context…
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38 comments

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Where can i sell 3 million VARGONBUCKS
Way back in the 90's, i started playing a MUD (multi user dungeon) and accumulated several million in the game currency.

The game is still running ( www.VARGONMUD.com ), still free, and still fun.

But i still can't spend my VARGONBUCKS.
Posted by disco-legend-zeke (448 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Ridiculous
Having the judicial system handle this stuff is ridiculous. Part of Eve Online is "piracy". The game makers should decide what is legal and what is not, and enforce it. However, "bad elements" are part of RPGs; without enemies the game is not fun. If Eve Online allows piracy and theft, why not fraud?

I think our government is just running out of things to make illegal.
Posted by umbrae (1073 comments )
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Couldn't agree more
You've hit the nail on the head. If someone steals your ship would you have them charged with theft? Kills you - murder? Get real. I think you have to admire the guy, it sounds like a great piece of piracy by any other name. If you really want justice then everyone he ripped off should hunt him down in the game and make his cyber-life a living hell.
Posted by gavstamp (6 comments )
Link Flag
ridiculous?
Are the people who play online role playing games living in a separate reality? Are role playing games somehow exempt from basic expecation that civilized people will not hurt each other? If you devise a game where lawlessness has no real-world consequences, fine, but once it spills over into the real world, it must answer to real world expectations. It is a game, after all, not an alternative reality.
Posted by minonda (50 comments )
Link Flag
If you want protection, pay taxes in real money
Clearly the scam was part of the game. Further gamers don't pay property taxes, income taxes (in real currency) to the government for items or actions done entirely in the game.

Without the taxes the governments of the real-world could care-less.

Trading something on Ebay, for real currency, does interest the government. In that case a person is performing a personal service (that's probably how a public servant will justify taxing it), and if that service isn't rendered, the deal was not completed.

The truth is the governments of the world just wants tax money. So if you want protection, start paying the oldest bribe. And you'd be surprized what a real-world govenment will do for a buck.
Posted by Jake Leone (143 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Ahh Criminal Avatars
Oh the possibilities of how shady we can get in these virtual worlds gets better and better.

Maybe places like Second Life can be training grounds against real scams like those Nigerian phishing schemes. Best to keep your virtual and real financial information your secret <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.essentialsecurity.com/Documents/article16.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.essentialsecurity.com/Documents/article16.htm</a>
Posted by marileev (292 comments )
Link Flag
MMORPGs
For many people these types of games can be very addictive so any loss of virtual revenue or virtual property feels very real to them.

Since most of these games run on a theme, any action taken within the game, so long as it follows the theme, is legal.

On Eve Online, you can be a trader and make an honest buck or you can be a pirate and steal from people. If piracy is allowed, why can't virtual money scams?
Posted by thedreaming (573 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Liane Sifuentes comment
Liane Sifuentes, professor (of Idiocy?) at Colorado College is comparing murder on the Internet, which so far is impossible, to theft on the Internet, which we all know is probably easier online than in the real world. Her point seems to be that more serious crimes aren't punished so why should a crime like theft be punished, but she's ignoring one little point: killing a bunch of pixels doesn't hurt anyone, but stealing what is actually real-world money does in fact hurt the person it was stolen from. If other forms of Internet theft are punishable by real-world law, why should online games be exempt?
Posted by minonda (50 comments )
Reply Link Flag
twisting of the good professor's comment
gets you know where, except a diversion from the reality of why they lost their real world money. When they purchased game currency with their real world money they gave up any real world legal rights of fraud protection within the game. I buy game currency all the time, but I'm not gonna get all carebear when I lose it do to a fraud, or blown up ship. I'm going to play the game and go after the person who pissed me off IN GAME. This is the type of thing that ruins games for the players that truly enjoy it. My last statement is this: Go back to Super Mario Bros. you political carebears. We don't want you in our games.
Posted by UberGamer (2 comments )
Link Flag
?
You make the best argument against your own point:

If killing virtual people online shouldn't be against the law, then steeling virtual goods from them certainly shouldn't be illegal either. The former is still worse than the latter.
Posted by drfrost (467 comments )
Link Flag
The society determines the rules
It's like any other society on this planet --- the society determines the rules under which its members live.

So, for an online game, the creators of that game determine the rules and consequences and enforce them.

Therefore, if someone does not want to be swindled or robbed, that person should frequent online games which have rules that prevent that.

Besides that, I don't see a problem. Even if the actions are totally illegal, say in the contemporary real-world cultures on this planet, that is irrelevant. I feel it's irrelevant because the real-world societies are not the one where the event took place.
Posted by bluemist9999 (1020 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Cally is my hero
Simply awesome. And, he managed to create ripples in the global media.

What I dont understand is all this concern about the swindled ISK's selling on eBay. How is this any different from killing people's characters in other MMORPGs and selling the loot? Thats been going on for years now.
Posted by (402 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I wouldn't glorify a cheat
What he did was unethical. He lied. He stole (virtual goods, but he stole them nonetheless). He's what our grandparents would have called a "bad seed." IMO his actions demonstrate a character flaw that is likely demonstrated outside the game as well (in other words, if he had an opportunity to do this with real money and was sure to get away with it, he/she would).

But it wasn't, and should never be, illegal. The very thought is simply ridiculous.

What they should do is give the players the means to police themselves. As it stands now, players can effectively hide behind anonymity with impunity in most games. I've never played EVE Online but I suspect it is no different in this regard. This is the first issue that should be addressed. Players should be able to see all the characters a person has (or has ever had) on their account(s) along with the levels of those characters. (Certainly not the real persons name or identity... or even their real account login name, but certainly an account nickname that can never be changed.)

And accounts should have visible reputations. The more other players that dislike you, the lower your rep becomes... You want to be a jerk. Go ahead. It won't be long before you find that no one is willing to deal with you.

This would help solve the problem and teach a valuable lesson at the same time.

My 2 coppers....
Posted by drfrost (467 comments )
Link Flag
Without villians...
It's hard to play the good guy when you have noone playing the bad guy.
Posted by deviantgray (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
A mere reflection....
Scams in the virtual world has actually been going on for awhile now but I believe the reason this is making news is because of just how incredibly simple the idea is.

I find that the most interesting thing about this topic is the fact that all of these virtual games are supposed to be a replica of real life, and sure enough, such scams happening in reality are seen reflected in the virtual world. Here's some more on this issue...

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.iwantmyess.com/?p=78" target="_newWindow">http://www.iwantmyess.com/?p=78</a>
Posted by mveronica (40 comments )
Reply Link Flag
A good thing, to an extent...
That's right, I said it was a good thing. Would you rather learn your lesson in a virtual setting or where it really matters?

The one scenario I can think of where this becomes dangerous is when people use a virtual environment to hone their skills for the real world. From what I've seen, there really is no good way to police this activity other than the gaming communities policing themselves. For the most part, I think they do a pretty good job--at least in hindsight.
Posted by isdnelson (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Where fraud is fraud..
Unlike the "Games" you people talk about I participate in Entropia Universe (formerly known as Project Entropia)
Where real money IS used and has a REAL exchange rate based on the US Dollar....
Any time there is Real money exchanged for goods or items and is set up like in Entropia to do so the authorities SHOULD get involved... but ONLY under warrented circumstances.
Conspiracy to defraud some one is an international crime. if some one in Project Entropia hands something over to some one else it is thier responsibility...
but only to the extent that there wasn't the real life crime of conspiring to steal...that comes under the terms of Raqueteering (You know like the Mafia n organised crime??) This should and eventually WILL be investigated by the police and the authorities...
I agree where it is virtual money and no realtime funds are required to play (even though people break the EULA and do purchase virtual funds with real money) but those who do so are actually breaking the rules themselves to "Buy" those virtual funds in the first place... they haven't got a leg to stand on.....
In the case of Entropia where there is an actual registered Exchange Rate all fraud SHOULD be investigated and a determination made as to the culpability of the person who has done the scam as to whether it was pre-meditated or not...
if Premeditated..then charge the bastards like the criminals they are...
I feel that this is ONLY pertinant to Entropia Universe as that it is the only Virtual universe as they label themselves to have an official exchange rate..But I also see this type of business model being used in other games/virtual universes in the future.
With the companies participation on the market exchange, Entropia should be FORCED to investigate the premeditativeness of the act and to deal with the proper authorities accordingly..
This is a very Narrow remit and is a very real aspect of online life now..but as others follow suit with this business model they (and entropia) should be Forced to comply with international law.
As for the banker scandal... well it's part n parcel of the game..stated so in the EULA, doesn't involve any "Legitimate" real life cash so is a bunch of sour grapes on the part of those scammed in that particular instance.
Only where Real live cash IS part of the (and legitimatly not just on the side like in Eve Online) should the authorities get involved in any way, as that it is the responsibility of the game company to enforce thier EULA and thier set rules.
But when thier IS real cash involved that is QUITE a different matter..
Thing is only 1 online location fits that pre-requsit so far.....
Posted by Ender42 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Get the game developers to deal with it
After all, it's their responsibility to make the game fun. You don't
like what another player did? Don't go crying to the cops. Go
crying to the people who make the rules for the game. It's a lot
more efficient option.
After all, if you go to the real life cops, they have to investigate
the game (If they choose to investigate at all). Then, if they find
something wrong, they have to tell the game developers to fix
the problem, in which case, you got the government controling
all MMORPGs. If you go crying to the game developers, they can
investigate on their own, and fix the problem. Skip a whole
organization and save time.

Telling the government to arrest people who steal VIRTUAL
MONEY is STUPID! We already got plenty of other crimes that
they have to deal with, why add one that can be delt with in
game?

Or here's another solution: Virtual Cops. Players that choose a
police or bounty hunter career who can arrest people who steal
the electronic game funds. You can throw those people in a
virtual jail and leave them to rot then, giving them a chance to
virtually tunnel out.

You see? It can all be delt with IN GAME. Plenty of creative ways
to deal with it. We don't need to freaking have the government
tell people how to play their freaking MMORPGs!
Posted by Dr. B (91 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What?
You can't take the money back from them? Virtual funds, after all.
Or take away their virtual house/property. After all, its a game, and
games can be reprogrammed/modified.
Posted by Dr. B (91 comments )
Reply Link Flag
EVE-Online Skullduggery
Well, lets be straight here, this game has within its realm pirates of the NPC origins and Pirates of real player origins...

You learn quickly that this is very much like the real world, you better watch ur back cause no one else can do that better than you..

I read awhile back about another operation that occured within EVE itself...I was shocked and dismayed at it at the time but, wasn't a player of the game yet...Now I have perspective and realize that it is just part of the game...

I will say this tho, If this person or person's were conning in the real world then they should be taken to court...If they were selling non-existent items or such to people for real money...However, The people tho who have used real money to buy stuff in the virtual world are just basicly ppl who want to take shortcuts to get there and any loss they suffered is on their heads...
Posted by Halcyon6 (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Pure genius
First, it is against the EULA to buy and sell EVE stuff for real money. I've had a couple friends get their accounts banned for doing just that.

So, basically, the real life equivalent of 1,000,000 isk to USD is $0.00. If someone feels they must assign a USD value to it and go outside of the rules to apply that value, that is their own perception. When I play the game, I understand that it only has value in the game world and that's where it will always stay.

This guy set up a great scam and should be hunted down by the same players he conived as EVE is an open enough game to allow this. The players willingly gave him isk because they wanted to have a way to easilly make more isk. It's a risk they took in-game.

Prosecuting or getting real law enforcement envolved is bogus. This would be like having your friend locked up in real life for swiping a $500 from the bank in Monopoly.
Posted by jgoewert (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Interested observer
Firstly, I dont play online games.

If it happens in game then it is part of the game experience.
If gamers dont like it and complain to the developers then a new experience will be created for them. Over time online games will mature and a range of options will be out there.

People who buy credits off line for in game use are entitled to legal rights for the off-line transaction. Once they take delivery of the credits then it is in-game rules that apply. Its like any game where you can win or lose. In some case the in game rules may allow cheating, stealing and killing. To me this is all part of the fun and experience.

On the Cally incident specifically. From the posts here the game is all about piracy, so wheres the problem with the players actions. He used underhanded methods to gain credits  sounds the same as stealing to me. Enjoy the experience.

Real world ethics are suspended for in-game worlds. Otherwise why bother.

Game on!
Posted by ahickey (177 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Stupid thing to worry about...
...when there are far more important issues. Any other issue, for instance.
Posted by 203129769353146603573853850462 (97 comments )
Reply Link Flag
American Dollars are Virtual Money too. Real Us $ diied with Silver Coins.
United States Dollars Are merely Database entries in the FED's computers.
Posted by disco-legend-zeke (448 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This is What Makes EVE Fun
Eve is suppose to be a dark universe. Stuff like this is what makes it fun. The rule of thumb in EVE is dont fly what you can not afford to loose. Same thing with investments in eve, if you can not afford to invest the isk, then don't.

As far as Virtual money having value, Selling Items or ISk on ebay or any other site is agaisnt the EULA. Accounts will be banned without refund if your caught. The artile mentions the EULA not enforcing scams such as this, but makes no mention that the EULA prohibits exchange with real life cash.

I would like to laws protecting those who commit "crimes" in virtual worlds that creater, operater, and/or owner of permits protected from civil or criminal action.

Thank you CCP for creating such a great game!
Posted by StephenmG (1 comment )
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