Thursday, August 21, 2014

SOMERblink 2014: Final Verdict

Less than 72 hours after CCP's investigation into the controversy over SOMERblink's latest promotion began, CCP Falcon created a new forum thread with the results.  I'll just post the core of the opening post:

The Concerns

Our investigation uncovered a number of concerns. For privacy and other reasons, we will not discuss them all. However, we want to comment on three key issues.

First, the promotion could be applied to facilitate the exchange of real-world money for ISK (it’s indirect, but such transactions usually are). If the promotion were used in this manner, it would be a violation of EVE Online’s EULA and Terms of Service. We will not comment on whether any such violation actually occurred. However, this potential did raise a red flag.

Second, SOMER Blink advertised the promotion as being “approved by CCP.” But SOMER Blink never had permission from CCP to make such a statement, which misled our players, and is no different than someone pretending to be an authorized representative of CCP (look at paragraph 8 of our Terms of Service). This is a serious violation because it undermines the safety and security of EVE.

CCP was involved in discussions with SOMER Blink to address our concerns about their products, which included several different ideas for promotions, but none of them had been fully authorized by a CCP representative (notably the legal department). The promotion in question was similar to one SOMER Blink had suggested (the “PLEX Buyer’s Club”), but the promotion had been altered before enacted. SOMER Blink certainly had no basis to assert the live promotion was “approved by CCP.”

Finally, following our investigation, CCP tried to resolve our concerns directly with SOMER Blink’s founder. In response, the founder published private communications from CCP without authorization. This violates our EULA and Terms of Service (see paragraph 18 of our Terms of Service).

Our Response

We cherish and protect the freedom of our players and the creative ways people interact in EVE. But we also have an obligation to make the game environment safe and secure for everyone.

We believe the actions of SOMER Blink overstepped the bounds of fair play.

After careful consideration and consultation with CSM9, who have displayed an outstanding level of support in assisting with this issue, CCP has taken the decision to permanently ban the founder of SOMER Blink from EVE Online across all accounts, with immediate effect. This is due to multiple violations of our EULA and Terms of Service.

Following the promotion, CCP no longer regards SOMER Blink as a fair or legitimate service within the EVE Community. We are unable to provide reimbursements as per section 1.3 of our reimbursement policy, so it’s good to see that SOMER Blink is shutting down in a controlled and stable manner, and that players will be able to withdraw their ISK and / or assets.

While we will be monitoring this closely, we have no intention of interfering with the process, as we feel that allowing players to be able to have their assets and/or ISK returned by SOMER Blink will is an important part of bringing this situation to a solid resolution.
So, what is my take on all of this?  First, I like that CCP Falcon only addressed those issues that were already in the public domain in detail.  That meant that he kind of glossed over the RMT aspect of the controversy.   Doing so pushed the RMT issue to the background.  Since that was what "the mob" was concentrating on, the response showed that CCP was not entirely swayed by the crowd with the torches and pitchforks.

Second, the explanation concentrated on the main point that CCP has to take a hard line on: a player attempting to run a scam on CCP employees.  In EVE Online, players can deceive each other (within limits set in the EULA and Terms of Service), but they must tell the truth to CCP.  In this case, CCP ruled that Somerset Mahm ran a bait and switch, obtaining approval for one type of promotion but then changing the way the promotion works in practice. 

The bait and switch also fell afoul of another principle: using the mantle of CCP to deceive others.  SOMERblink posted, "This program has been vetted and approved by CCP."

If we disregard CCP Falcon's statement that none of SOMERblink's proposals were "fully authorized" and that the Buyer's Club proposal was authorized by CCP's vice president of global sales, that was not the proposal that was eventually rolled out.  CCP considers that a violation of paragraph 8 of the Terms of Service:
"You may not impersonate or present yourself to be a representative of CCP or an EVE Online volunteer. You may not impersonate or falsely present yourself to be a representative of another player, group of players, character or NPC entity."
CCP Falcon used the phrase, "fully authorized by a CCP representative (notably the legal department)."  That seemed a little odd until I recalled the leaked email exchange.  Somerset Mahm kept trying to get written approval from the legal department in order to satisfy Markee Dragon.  If he truly believed he had approval on 13 April, why did SOMERblink not run the Buyer's Club promotion in May as originally planned?  I believe the reason was that Markee Dragon would not cooperate unless CCP's legal department signed off on the promotion.  So what changed this weekend?  That's a good question I don't have the answer to.

The leaked email exchange.  Publishing correspondence with CCP without their permission is a definite EULA/ToS violation.  I'm careful with how I use the documents that I either find on the internet or make their way into my inbox.  I have one document that would really help these posts I write about the SOMERblink scandals, but I like my EVE accounts too much to quote from it.  I'm going to guess that Somerset Mahm figured he was screwed anyway, so he tried to drag CCP down with him.  Either that, or he figured he could win the PR war.  Why not?  He had high level contacts at CCP, right?

The sanctions that CCP took against SOMERblink and Somerset Mahm, even setting aside a mandatory permanent ban for RMT, was pretty much mandatory.  According to CCP's Suspension and Ban Policy, violating either paragraph 8 or paragraph 18 of the ToS can result in an immediate permanent ban without warning.  Doing both?  Throw in the deception of a high ranking member of CCP and the punishment, a permanent ban of all of Somerset Mahm's accounts, is a no-brainer.  I should add that I believe that the EULA violations that CCP Falcon mentioned include an RMT charge, but that's pure speculation.

One final point that I think needs examining is the removal of the designation of SOMERblink as "a fair or legitimate service within the EVE Community."  Why do that when SOMERblink is going out of business anyway?  To make sure no one revives the website.  I have never seen the PLEX resellers agreement, but I suspect that the document contains a clause about people and organizations with whom the resellers should not conduct business.  I'm pretty sure that the language is a warning to all the resellers to not use SOMERblink as an affiliate in the future.  Doing so pretty much dries up any possible funding source in case an effort is made to revive the service.

I think CCP Falcon's post just about finishes the public portion of the SOMERblink 2014 scandal.  I can see making one more post as we are now in the mopping up phase.  We will need to rely on the CSM for any details of the internal procedural changes that CCP may make in the wake of the events of the last week.  But I won't hold my breath.  The CSM has done a good job so far, but I'm not sure how transparent CCP will make their internal processes.  But all I really ask is that we don't experience this type of event a third time.


  1. The part about not interfering in the shutdown makes sense from a PR standpoint but doesn't really add up with a permanent ban on all accounts immediately. How do people get ISK out and Somer shut down in a "controlled manner" if all accounts are banned? I think the reason CCP defined Somer as "no longer a fair or legitimate service" had everything to do with the fact that the immediate ban is going to generate several thousand customer service tickets from people that can't get ISK now that the accounts are banned. This allows the GM's to open the ticket, post Falcon's message, and then close the ticket.

    This has been handled quickly and right by CCP. Unfortunately there is still going to be clean up work to do with those reimbursement requests, damage that is wholly a result of allowing Somer to continue service after last year's debacle.

  2. Are CCP responsible for the ISK/Assets that Somer holds that now cannot be given to the people who 'invested them' with them?

    I'd say no, CCP are not responsible for the redistribution of any remaining assets. There has been a couple of days and in that time most should have been refunded but that that is left after the bans is not the responsibility of CCP.

    I would love to know how much ISK/assets remain and will be lost (if they are) and CCP might take a PR hit over any losses players incurr but its not their responsbility to fix it.

  3. CCP isn't responsible and shouldn't be --- especially with the "not a fair or legitimate service" designation. Where it gets sticky is that based on all popular accounts of Somer's holdings, we are talking about trillions of ISK in those accounts and a playerbase that used the lotteries only (which were legitimate) that will have a complaint that has to be worked through (at this point it looks like CCP will issue a perfunctory "not our problem" to those complaints).

    One aspect of the ban hammer notice that isn't clear is whether CCP is going to or has taken action against the accounts involved in Somer Blink other than that of the founder. Somer Blink is/was a large organization with many different individuals involved.

  4. I'd question the wording here: "CCP was involved in discussions with SOMER Blink to address our concerns about their products, which included several different ideas for promotions, but none of them had been fully authorized by a CCP representative (notably the legal department).". Not to defend Somer but I wouldn't expect anyone to know they had to contact some other department when dealing with someone internal to CCP. It should be that person's responsibility to inform them who they need to obtain approval from. This is either poorly worded, I'm misunderstanding or CCP is pulling the usual old "Blame the person we didn't tell about the policy for violating our unwritten and unspoken policy" move and that's pretty lame whether this was right or wrong.

  5. Interesting but it is perfectly acceptable to pay people for "news" stories in isk and then make ad revenue. If we are going to be this picky we should be shutting down the tmc rmt factory.

  6. That is the weakest part of Falcon's post. That is why I think the bait and switch is important. It basically negates the approval in the leaked email chain.