Maybe they should just rename EVE to Con Artists Online?

90% of the time I hear news stories about EVE Online doing the rounds, it’s because of some intricate con or scam which one player/ corps has inflicted on others. The other 10% is when CCP do something players don’t like. In regular MMOs it’s more like the other way around (ie. 90% of the stories are about devs doing something players dislike, 10% is about players doing something interesting/ awful.) I do note that in non-EVE games I’m more likely to hear about players doing something awesome in a good way. EVE seems to only generate interest when players act like dicks. That’s the power of player generated content in a nutshell.

This week’s con-du-jour is a fully fledged Ponzi scheme. A couple of players set up an investment company in the game and accepted deposits, promising investors a stupidly high return (which they presumably said they’d get by investing the money in EVEs auction house or something.) You can follow the link to read the rest, but it did involve a truly vast amount of EVE money so either there are a lot of suckers around or a lot of EVE players have excess cash to burn.

The only things stopping people running these types of scam in other MMOs is devs policing the trades (not sure how often that happens, but Blizzard for example do monitor large gold transfers so that’s probably not unusual, they’re also not keen on player-run lotteries), and players not thinking it’s worth the effort. (The most unusual thing about EVE is how much effort the hardcore players are prepared to put into it.)

I think the issue with EVE is not that players have too much power but that players have too little power to act in these situations. That game would be ripe for trialling player policing – maybe some players would be interested in forming the equivalent of an in game fraud squad with powers to trace dodgy trades and shut these operations down. I’d be curious to know whether many players would take on this role in the interests of cleaning up the game, given that it likely pays a lot less than being a successful con artist or trader. Or would no one care because they like their wild west unpoliced game space just the way it is?

I’d like to think that at least a few people either playing EVE or reading about the scam might go away more informed and able to not get conned by rogue investment schemes in real life. Sadly I think more of them might be attracted by the idea of scamming money out of naive (read: M&S) investors.

The times we live in. Clearly running a successful con makes you a winner in games, not a loser.

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32 thoughts on “Maybe they should just rename EVE to Con Artists Online?

  1. It is true that EVE mostly ends up in the news when there’s been a major scam, but I guess that goes with being the open-ended sandbox it is. In other games, the scams aren’t as big to warrant attention – in EVE, they can obviously be huge. I guess that’s what people find so fascinating about it, that you *can* be a major douche bag in it.

    And it’s perfectly possible to be a douche in theme parks as well, the scale is much smaller though. How often do you think a disillusioned guild officer empties out the guild bank before transferring servers? It probably happens quite often, yet the scale is much smaller (and the story behind it is usually a lot less interesting).

    Every day, there are acts of kindness and friendship in EVE Online. Those stories are just a lot less interesting to read about than the major scams.

    • over the time I played EVE I didn’t have the luxury of seeing anything along the lines of “acts of kindness and friendship”, not even in a corp dedicated to help rookies advance. It ended up being a power binge for the leader, however you thought about it.

      So, lacking that part of the ‘sandbox experience’, I had no positive experiences out of EVE: poor, repetitive missions; messy progression; poor connections with other players and constant fear of being shot out of space without provocation even in null spec (that happened, too).

      C out

      • During my days in MMOs, I’ve seen tons of bad guilds in various games – filled with guild officers on power trips. That’s hardly exclusive to EVE.

        Sad to hear that you’ve only had bad experiences though. I will say the same thing as I said on Claims of the Normal this Sunday: You sadly trusted the wrong people. EVE is a harsh mistress and it’s hardly a game for everyone.

        And I’m guessing you mean shot out of space in Empire. Yes, that happens too. Being shot out of space in nullsec shouldn’t come as any surprise if you venture out there without an alliance. ;)

      • I guess the question is how easy is it to find the right people? I remember you commenting that it took awhile to get your security clearance and that was for a corps run by people you knew.

        I have actually played sandbox games before, but I’ve never seen one that’s so specifically unfriendly to new players. It’s interesting. Castle Marrach was probably the closest and it wasn’t that you’d get ganked and scammed but that no one would trust you enough to involve you in any of their schemes and stories until you’d somehow proven yourself, which meant for at least your first month and possibly more you’d be wandering around making smalltalk and that was about it.

      • It can be hard to find the right people, absolutely. But not *that* hard, I think. People bounce between corps quite a lot in EVE. And no, I’ve not had to get security clearance from people I know personally (like the latest corp I joined). But generally corps want to know if you are who you say you are, and while your friends might trust you their bosses might not instantly do so.

        I think it’s a lot easier to find corps in EVE than that. You don’t really have to prove yourself in that way. Many good corps are happy to take in newbies. TEST Alliance have made quite a name for themselves in EVE and they take in a lot of new players.

      • I understand what you’re saying but this is also a game where asking on the forum or in local chat is as likely to get you contacted by scammers as players who want to make helpful suggestions.

      • The forums are a pretty good place to go for recruitment, I find – it’s easy for other players to expose any scammers there. But some research is never a bad thing, no. The recruitment channel is a pit of evil, though.

  2. I should say though, that for many players in EVE this is a problem and they grow paranoid because of it. As an old CEO of mine once said: Giving people access to the corp hangars is not so much about giving them access to stuff as giving them the ability to f*ck you over. The guys behind this scheme probably either sold all that money on Ebay or gave them to an unknown alt, there is no way to hold them accountable unless they buy some really expensive ships and let themselves be blown up. Even then, they will have enough money to buy another expensive ship and do it all over again.

  3. If there are players running around with GM-esque privileges, then they can be bought off. Or they start extorting people, “Lovely tanks you get here, general. It’d be a shame if anything… happened to them…”

  4. I don’t understand. Your quote:

    “I think the issue with EVE is not that players have too much power but that players have too little power to act in these situations.”

    It’s an investment scheme. How do players have too little power to act? Investing in things like this in EVE is entirely optional. The issue is really the exact opposite – you have too MANY options in EVE, when it comes to putting your ISK to use. If you choose to invest, you take risks just like you do in the real world.

    • If the game becomes a space where conning people is the best and smartest way to win, better than any other type of play, then you have invented Con Artist Online. You’re saying this is what players want, so that’s fine. I’m saying that players who don’t want their sandbox turned into this have little power to act, they can’t stop the scammers except by trying to expose them or persuade others not to support them, and I think it would be interesting if they could go further.

      I happen to think that the strengths of a sandbox game are that players can build amazing, brilliant events and organisations, and it’s less likely to happen if no one is able to trust anyone else. How hard is it for a new player to join a decent corp, for example, because of trust issues? That’s why I think it is a problem.

    • Because they can’t take steps to recoup their loss, since the characters running the scheme can simply sit in an NPC station for all eternity and transfer the isk to their second account/alt.

      For all its espoused freedom, all EVE really does is remove penalties for (or restrictions on) being a dick without giving other people the opportunity to act as the counterpoint to the dicks, i.e. be vigilantes.

      Even if there wasn’t a way to act as the police or regulator, you can’t do anything on a purely personal level because (and I know it’s already virtual, being a game, but looking at it from within the game itself) the currency is entirely virtual.

      A true fantasy sandbox game could get around this by having gold be an actual, physical item (in the virtual world) that is either on your person (and thus lootable on death) or stored somewhere (that isn’t invulnerable to attack, thus has to be protected.) With EVE it’s more complex, but suffice to say: the freedom and mechanics are, by and large, built to support exploiting others without the necessary tools being given out to allow players to stop exploitation.

      • This is a good point also. I think there are repercussions that would be totally within the EVE genre that the game doesn’t allow you to do — eg. pay bounty hunters to take out the scammers (because they’ll have deleted those alts already and you can’t find out who they are now) or take some kind of PvP revenge.

        The original idea with PvP sandboxes was actually that players really could take the law into their own hand.

      • Yeah, I agree too. It’s all too easy to hide behind anonymity in EVE. There should be restrictions on # of accounts, but that’s a long-settled debate in the EVE community.

        Getting back to the point of the article though … the entire point of the game is, well, there are no rules. Being careful with your money in EVE is as important as being careful with the money in your 401k. The idea of player-police in EVE to arbitrarily freeze scams like this is antithetical to the very premise of the game.

        Piracy, theft, screwing your neighbors, and general ne’er-do-well activity is exactly what EVE is about. EVE players don’t want rails to guide their internet spaceship activities. And again …

        “the freedom and mechanics are, by and large, built to support exploiting others without the necessary tools being given out to allow players to stop exploitation.”

        That couldn’t be more wrong. No one can steal ISK out of your accounts. You have to proactively give your money to someone in these scams. Do any of you actually play EVE? You’re acting like there are victims here.

        There are no victims in EVE, only fools. EVE rewards smart players. Investing in a scheme that seems too good to be true … well, I seem to remember a proverb about that.

        (BTW – these scams aren’t easy to setup. They’re incredibly time-intensive, hard to pull off, and require a high degree of sophistication. The reason you hear about them is precisely because they are so uncommon and )

  5. In a real Wild West scenario, they would face a significant risk of being tracked down and killed. In EVE, you can pass the money to an anonymous alt, and both you and your alt have backup clones. Human intuitions on disincentives are insufficiently taking this into account when worry about folks in EVE.

  6. I still think WoW has far more dicks than EVE…just the dicks there are more petty and deliquent, And more interested in Recount than Ponzi schemes. It’s just likely EVE as you have pointed out, allows for few to get away with something really big. Thus tends to skew the view that EVE is a cesspool of unwashed Ferengi. I strongly suspect it’s not…and I probably would prefer to EVE’s community over WoW’s anyday. I just no sure I want to play a game that’s a spreadsheet with spaceships and $80 monocles in tow. Just saying.

  7. “The idea of player-police in EVE to arbitrarily freeze scams like this is antithetical to the very premise of the game.”

    Why? If it’s a sandbox, there should be the opportunity to both scam and prevent scams. To say people *can’t* do anything to stop scammers is a direct contradiction of “there are no rules.”

    “EVE players don’t want rails to guide their internet spaceship activities.”

    There are already a great deal of restrictions in EVE, obviously less so than a themepark, but they still exist. I’d replace “EVE players” with “people who like to think of themselves as cunning manipulators in EVE.” They like to extort others without risk, that’s about it. Having CCP say “scamming is bad” is fundamentally different to the players themselves taking action against it.

    “That couldn’t be more wrong.”

    Then explain to me: what do have to lose if my scam doesn’t actually work? Reputation? I can do it on an alt. ISK? I could spend extra £££ and get it back if I wanted, go do some fun fun mining, run missions, salvage etc etc. All of the risks are meaningless, and, because of station mechanics, any backlash is utterly pointless.

    There are rules in EVE. It just conveniently removes all the ones that restrict scamming to create an artificial hotbed of unsavoury activities activities because there *are* rules to stop people preventing that.

    “Do any of you actually play EVE?”

    I did for about 2 months, but the tedious and lacklustre combat, along the lack of meaningful freedom got extremely boring after a while.

    “There are no victims in EVE, only fools.”

    That’s because, again, trust is meaningless because there is no meaningful consequence for breaking someone’s trust.

    “these scams aren’t easy to setup.”

    And well done to them for persevering. But working hard for guaranteed, risk-free profit isn’t exactly mindblowing.

      • “Bah, replying failed.”

        VICTORY IS MINE! :p

        In all seriousness though, there’s an easy way to beat scams. Don’t give your money to them. That’s all this is about.

        As to rules – of course, every game has to have rules. Even life has rules; I can’t fly, shoot laser beams from my eyes, etc – YET. Same thing with EVE. But, constraining player interaction is the exact opposite of the guiding development principles behind EVE. Trust me; if you asked CCP devs, “Do you think ISK scams, backstabbing, and the like should be part of EVE?” – they’d say yes, absolutely.

        The risk in a scam if you don’t make money? You waste an extraordinary amount of time. Keep in mind that most obvious scams are caught by the folks that do a lot of investing / ISK management in EVE (and there is a community around this activity).

      • I do make a point not to give money out to every passer-by who offers me year-on-year compound interest :P

        But if EVE has rules, then why do people like to say “EVE has no rules”? As I said, “EVE has no consequences” would be better, but less mysterious and edgy.

        And, yeah, I know EVE devs would say that. But, in a roundabout way, we’ve got back to the original article: if all CCP want to do is make a criminal’s paradise (rather than true lawlessness) then why not rename it Con Artists Online? Why call it a sandbox if all the buckets you give players are shaped as pound notes?

        But you don’t *lose* anything if your scam fails, and that’s my point. There is no risk of ending up worse off, there’s only the risk of not succeeding.

      • +1 for Dril, you got the reply in! :)

        EVE is a sandbox because you can do a hell of a lot more with your time and creativity than you can in WOW. Not saying it’s better or worse – but it’s a far more open world than pretty much every MMO out there.

        It’s a straw-man argument to say that “hey, it’s a sandbox, why are there any rules!?” – any game system has to limit player choice at some point. But where WOW limits your ability to PvP, EVE is totally open. Whereas WOW forces player development on a linear path, EVE’s skill system is far more expansive. Whereas WOW forces you to consume dev content to get gear, EVE has an open market and player run economy. Whereas in WOW, there is no player owned anything, in EVE players own systems, gear is lootable, etc.

        And on and on.

        EVE isn’t called “Con Artists Online”, because people are much busier doing all of the above. Fighting over systems. Running gank groups. Playing with the economy. These news items about scams are noteworthy because they are exceptional at this level. It’s a fun diversion, and someone got filthy rich doing it. :)

        But it’s a small fraction of the playerbase engaging in these types of scams. No reason to worry, nothing to see, move along. :)

  8. If this continues and it involves real currency transferred into virtual etc…the FBI will soon be involved. They have already investigated this type of crime in other games.

    One thing holding back the feds is that this game is based in another country. How long before Interpol becomes interested?

  9. Very interesting post. Eve is defining the MMO sandbox. Any MMO sandbox game will attract former Eve players. Any game that shares Eve’s characteristics of easy anonymity, accumulation of capital and fungibility of goods is likely to inherit ex-Eve players who will expect to earn game money by scamming.

    I don’t know if the cat can ever be put back in the bag. Any new MMO sandbox game will inherit players who scam and unless there’s a game where it doesn’t work which seems hard to imagine then that will encourage more scammers.

    Also player policing has real difficulties. There is actually a bounty system in Eve, I can put a hundred million isk on a pirate’s head. And he’ll go “woot, free isk” and pod himself with one of his alts. How would you design a player policing system that is rewarding that won’t just have people abuse its mechanics?

    • I don’t know what the answer is to policing, maybe require licensing for certain types of trader and allow corps who hold an area to issue and police the licenses and maybe even collect tax on the trades. I think with the rampant multi-account play it will be almost impossible to police, you might need instead to follow the money.

      But although EVE is the largest and most successful sandbox, it isn’t the only one. I’ve seen some amazing player driven events and organisation in Tale in the Desert back when I played that (I remember guilds using printing presses to issue their own currencies, backed by trade goods, and with exchange rates negotiated with other guilds, for example.)

      The big thing is a trust issue, and I wonder if a more PvE style of sandbox would bring out more of the co-operative players and less of the predatory ones.

  10. I think Gordon had it right in the idea that a lot/most/nearly all? of the players who got scammed knew they were going to be, but did it anyway becuz it’s more interesting than running Level 4’s endlessly, and they knew they’d eventually have a nice story to tell. “Yeah, that big scam? I lost EVERYTHING dude!”

    Which actually likely didn’t happen. Don’t fly what you can’t afford to lose translates very well to don’t invest what you can’t afford to lose either, so I doubt any individual actually lost much.

    Really, I don’t think it went as far as Gordon seems to think in his post. I think the attitude of anyone who invested was probably more along the lines of “Sounds too good to be true, probably is a scam, but wth? I’ve got some extra isk lying around and if it turns out to be real, awesome, but if not, no biggie either.”

  11. Its been about a month and a half since i last played EVE taking a long break and i can say i didn’t loose any money on the Phaser Inc Investment scam as it has turned out well because I didn’t invest anything into it, zilch. I don’t invest in any kind of investment in EVE at all. I clearly know better. I may lend ISK to a close friend in game in need but i never invest in Investments of any kind.

    I going to also agree with Gordon on his blog in that all the players that got scammed probably and clearly knew that there was a possibility they would be scammed. They went ahead and did it anyway in case it actually worked the investment and paid out and in the case that it didn’t work and indeed was a scam no biggie to them if didn’t and they wouldn’t be bothered either. I believe that is what happened.

    I clearly remember months and months ago reading the MD forums (Market Discussion) forums when Phaser Inc made a thread about their new Investment in a page thread for their investment. I clearly remember many people in MD making suggestions that is was a possible scam because they were no details of how it would invest anything to make the payouts on investment with allot of unanswered questions. I clearly remember many others in the that forum thread and several pop up threads doing analysis on Phaser Inc as a investment clearly calling it out as a scam in the works and not for others to invest.

    Clearly all of this couldn’t of just been ignored by many sensible players. However despite all that many players in EVE and MD still went along and played the investment game in Phaser Inc which indeed turned out to be a scam that they probably knew from the beginning was a possibility just wondering how long the scam would last.

    Investment in EVE or MD Investment IPO’s Bonds, Banks, Loans can be like a forum mini game of investments and scams going either way. Many knowing about the last big scam still go ahead and invest in something that looks like a scam and turn out to be the next latest scam hoping to get in and out the scam before it falls apart. Some players in EVE have so much ISK sitting in their EVE Wallet that they probably hardly miss it investing in the scam of the week.

    I’m more inclined to believe that many that did invest in Phaser Inc ponzi investment scheme clearly knew that it was a possible scam.

  12. Pingback: EVE Ponzi Scheme reactions

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