Eve Online, like every other MMORPG with a halfway decent number of players, has issues with botters and/or 3rd party in-game currency sellers. CCP has created a visible task force known as Team Security that combats RMT and botting operations as well as other security issues such as phishing attempts against subscribers. Over the past two years teams led by CCP Sreegs have resulted in bots running 23/7 down to a recommended 6-8 hours per day. Team Security had a very active 2012 so the article's conclusion was a bit surprising. Here are two quotes from the end of the article.
"However, with checkable logs and related information sent to them (our readers will kindly understand that certain names and chat-log details could not be published here, but were sent to CCP Sreegs when the source agreed)… perhaps it would be in the best interest of CCP Games to set an example?..."I can understand the frustration seeing some of the biggest botters evading or just shrugging off bans. In my months of reading the botting forums I've read the procedures posted that allow for serious botters/RMT to return to the game time after time despite any bans issued. But to insinuate that CCP is protecting favored players is an extremely serious charge. Needless to say, CCP Sreegs responded on the Eve Online forums.
"We live in a New Eden where getting a ban for botting is more akin of a pat in the hand than anything else. Whether this is CCP GAMES’ fault for either a lack of capacity or interest to crack down the biggest botters in Eve Online and while cynicism is the last refuge of the bitter-vets, many are of the opinion that there are protected characters – like Montolio – and groups in the EvE community. Mostly those which bear the large paying customer base for CCP Games."
The first post was a pretty standard affair stating that he would look into the charges, that CCP took the matter seriously but doesn't just accept anything that is submitted at face value. He also promised a dev blog with new information on Team Security's efforts. The security chief's second post stirred up the pot among some at EN24.
"Oh I also want to mention in case anyone is paying attention that if you really care about this issue this is the polar opposite of how to get a result.The second post led to a response from riverini on the Eve Online forums two hours later. Besides showing some animosity towards CCP Sreegs, the post actually provides the timeline for EN24's communications with CCP Sreegs:
"We'll use the security world as an example because that's what I'm most familiar with. If I discover a vulnerability on a website it is completely irresponsible for me to go and publish that vulnerability in the public without first notifying the responsible parties and giving them time to act.
"In this case you're basically telling these people someone's watching them and you think they'll continue doing bad things if they think we're going to look into this?
"This is completely irresponsible and in the future if you honestly care about an issue you will report it to me and give us time to look into it before telling the world about it. I'm not saying not to write about it at all, but saying we've been notified and publishing all the potatoes without giving us an opportunity to look into it is more than a bit disingenuous."
I first broke the "core ****" to Sreegs early in December.This background is important when dealing with the situation. The first point is establishing the timeline.
The tip was more or less like this:
- Check out Blood and Sands
- Gummi Worm ****
- TEST / PL might be involved.
Yet I promised him the full exposure after we were done with the article, we had sent the full logs past Wednesday.
Regarding CCP Sreegs telling us to that we should have waited for him to act might be too much for us. We gave him a heads up, we sent the logs on Dec 26th.
Keep in mind CCP Sreegs, while grateful of any help we could give him regarding EULA violations, he has always been clear that he nor CCP Games will not disclose any actions taken toward those infractors. So we could have waited 1 day, 1 week or 1 month and it wouldn't had made any difference for us given than there is no feedback from CCP if we should keep tabs on things or not.
I do disagree with CCP Sreegs saying that us "blowing the beans" would be a step back given that people would simply stop botting activity. If for him it is strictly necessary to caught the offenders "in blazing offence", then he should close shop and rethink his approach against botters.
- early December - riverini sends CCP Sreegs a bare bones tip with no actionable information.
- Wednesday, 26 December - riverini sends CCP Sreegs the full set of logs.
- Sunday, 30 December - the article is published.
So why is catching botters in the act important? Riverini believes that all Team Security needs to do is look at server logs and start banning people for botting. But as was explained in the article all of the botters involved were using Questor, which is a bot that uses python injection. Python injection is a type of modifying the game client and makes those users eligible for a permanent ban if caught. But because everything occurs on the client CCP needs to catch the botter in the act. One of riverini's complaints is that botters get off too lightly for breaking the EULA/ToS. But if the botter is caught using python injection then the ban is permanent for a first offense instead of 14 days. Isn't that what many want?
I thought that the complaint about not receiving notice of the results of an investigation was valid. How could a news organization know when releasing a story would not interfere with an investigation if they never know the results? The answer is simple: ask. I contacted CCP about this issue and asked how long is reasonable to wait before publishing. CCP Sreegs replied with the following:
"There would never be a set amount of time. It would however be something we’d discuss with you. If you had information we’d say hey guy give me x time to check this out. The right thing then would be to follow up with us to ensure we’re done and we have no problem saying 'Yep, you’re clear to publish'. We’re not trying to keep people from sharing information, even if in some cases it’s basically all made up. What we’re trying to do is ensure that in cases where people do have legitimate concerns and want to have problems solved rather than collect attention and foster conspiracies we have an opportunity to perform an investigation without the subjects being aware that they’re being subjected to a higher degree of scrutiny. Articles published naming names and methods with no communication with us really aren’t going to solve as much, given that no matter how much someone may fancy themselves Woodward or Bernstein they simply don’t have access to the data required to prove their accusations or run down any further leads which will likely go dead the second they mash submit on their blog software."That addresses the conflict that appeared on the forums. But what about the article? I did find a couple of unusual items. The first was the new policy that Team Security announced in October. Here is what appeared in the article:
"It will be of great interest to see how – if these allegations end up in bans – would scalate throughout the powerbloc ladder. You might recall how back in October CCP Sreegs mentioned how alliance leaders would be accountable for harbouring botting corps / renters.(2)"The only problem is that the link points to an article which covered CCP Stillman's presentation at Eve Vegas. Because of some misunderstandings of what the policy actually is, CCP Sreegs answered some questions I had and EN24 published the post.(3) Here is the passage that contradicts what the article purports as CCP Sreegs' policy.
“Our efforts and actions we’re talking about here are purely related to RMT, which can take the form of botting but which takes other forms as well. We’ve seen alliances which have RMT as a part and parcel of their leadership structure. They use various methods to attempt to shield that from us but we’re seeing it anyway. We’re not naming names YET (though we may well do so) but those alliances should feel on notice that they can end their RMT related activities whether that be in the form of using ‘Rental’ agreements or private forums on their own alliance websites or any other methods they’re currently using to violate the EULA or we will end it for them."To clarify, not all botting is related to RMT. Going through the allegations published in the EN24 article, only one was related to RMT. The article presented a lot of information about both Montolio and Blood and Sand but none of those allegations involved RMT. I did ask CCP Sreegs about the level of investigation performed after he receives a tip and they do not limit themselves to the charges within the tip. For example, since Horus is involved I would expect Team Security to conduct some forensic accounting on the financial tranactions between The Jagged Alliance and TEST. I would expect the results of that examination would raise some eyebrows even if everyone in TEST was as innocent as a newborn babe. Having someone like Horus around will do that to a game.
I should add one other amusing fact about the EN24 article. At the same time the article speculated that the leadership in major alliances was receiving special treatment for botting riverini added an article to the piece linking to the banning of leetcheese, at the time a director in TEST. Reading the link would show that leetcheese not only received the standard 14-day ban for botting but an unheard of at the time punishment of the loss of all assets and a negative wallet of 6.9 billion ISK. Remember, this was back in 2011. More recently we know that CCP has begun to hit null sec operations, although the one we know about turned out to be a false positive. I really would like to see the promised dev blog to see what the damages to the RMT operations totaled.
I don't want anyone reading this post to believe that I think the botting and RMT situation in Eve Online is made up of rainbows and unicorns because it isn't. I do think that the game is in a lot better shape than when I started playing in 2009. I also don't believe that CCP Sreegs can just snap his fingers to solve the problem either. Eve Online is not the only game I play and I see problems with bots and RMT everywhere. But I think to call out CCP and suggest that they think that players who engage in large-scale botting and RMT are not harming the game indicates someone needs a new tin-foil hat.
In conclusion I'll end this post with a quote I obtained for another post I'm working on. I asked CCP Sreegs why 3rd party RMT is evil and I thought his reply fitting for this post...
"If nothing else RMT is evil because people (who tend to be shady and occasionally are criminals) are selling something which doesn’t belong to them against the very legal agreements they entered into. The bottom line is that everything in the EVE Universe is our property. Unless given grant to do so it is not yours to sell. Then once you consider the fact that these folks are very often involved in various forms of credit card fraud and account hijacking in addition to the fact that they don’t follow the same play patterns and enjoy the game but rather suck up resources which could be better devoted to things our players are actually paying for it becomes fairly obvious that these are undesirables.
"We frankly and clearly don’t want them near our servers. They’re not welcome. We will take everything they have and we won’t apologize for that because we don’t see this as any different from someone walking into our house, taking our personal property and setting up a yard sale on our lawn selling said property."
EN24 has had issues lately. Below are some cached links if the main ones do not work.
(1) - Honey Botter Main Story
(2) - Eve Vegas Coverage
(3) - CCP Sreegs Interview