Monday, November 9, 2015

CCP's War On Illicit ISK: Down The Hole

Sometimes watching the black market in EVE Online ISK leads to stories. For example, watching the popular RMT trading site Player Auctions, I noticed something peculiar.

Interesting price movement
The average sell price for 1 billion ISK on the RMT site rose 50 cents USD while the price players purchased ISK in The Forge, EVE Online's main trade hub, fell by 21 cents.  A rise in the black market price while the primary market price fell usually indicates a drop in supply. In other words, CCP's security team probably took action on a major supplier of illicit ISK.

The next step in the analysis involved trying to pinpoint the time the action against the illicit RMT operation took place. The following graph gave me a clue.

A narrowing of the price
I found two time periods interesting. From 11-21 October, the 7-day rolling average of the price of 1 billion ISK sold on Player Auctions rose 7%, from $8.28/billion to $8.86/billion. But at the same time, the price of ISK purchased using game time in Jita dropped 63 cents, from $14.90/billion to $14.27/billion ISK. To add more evidence that something occurred during, a long-running illicit RMT site, ISKBANK, was inaccessible. ISKBANK made headlines back in 2011 when Eve News 24 obtained a copy of the website's customer database and published the names of all the customers. At first I believed I was just witnessing a failing site not keeping up with basic maintenance, but now I wonder if the technical difficulties was an effort to hide the fact that the black marketeer just ran out of ISK due to CCP action.

The period of 21-29 October also is of interest. The price in Jita rose due to the effects of the Bloody Omar sale, but the price of ISK on Player Auctions rose even faster. The 7-day average price on PA rose from $8.86/billion to $9.83/billion, an addition increase of 10.9%.

Over the years I've noticed that any anti-RMT action by CCP takes about two weeks to really have a noticeable effect on the market. With 21 October the date with the greatest impact, I started looking for any evidence of a major illicit RMT operation shutting down, at least temporarily, on or about 7 October. Between responses from Twitter and people coming up to me at EVE Vegas, I obtained a possible answer.

On 23 October, someone posted a message from MaxDEL, the CEO of Quantum Explosion, a wormhole corporation in the business of renting space. I got a chuckle, especially the first paragraph:
"Hello, I am known by in game character MaxDEL, ceo of one of the major wormhole corporations Quantum Explosion. On October 7 2015, CCP has banned all my accounts for the vague term "ISK Selling". For this many players will rejoice, because many pilots in wormhole space hate me, but i’m not talking about it now. Throughout my life I have not sold a single isk/items for real money, and the reason for the ban is slander. I suspect that it was deliberate in order smear to my character. A few hours before the ban, I bought AT ship (Malice) for my own isk for the future planned participation in the next AT."
Did I mention he was in the business of renting space? From what I gather, he built quite a rental empire in w-space. In fact, so good that he was getting bored. A transcription of a leaked corp meeting in April indicated he thought about the possibility of RMT.
"Maybe I will do what rest of the Russian community in W-space is doing: RMT. I really don’t have the need for that. Maybe something else. But directing a corporation with a rat in it. And I totally understand that it was I who gave this rat the password, but I don’t know who was it. I'm tired of this."
I obtained copies of the correspondence between MaxDEL and CCP Peligro that MaxDEL posted on the EVE Online forums. Committing a second offense warranting a permanent ban probably won't help the case for overturning the original permanent ban. Especially since MaxDEL apparently had a previous permanent ban overturned.

I do wonder about one thing, though. MaxDEL claims to have never sold ISK or items. But did he offer to rent out a wormhole for real world cash? According to interviews Elise Randolph and Farasoloni gave to TMC in 2013, Russians who had rented space from Solar inquired about paying their rent to Pandemic Legion using Paypal. If the same occurred with MaxDEL, and he either solicited rent or accepted it using the in-game chat, then CCP has the logs of the infraction. In which case, goodbye MaxDEL.

So, I have an event that occurred when I expected one that would affect the black market. The final question is: did MaxDEL really have enough ISK to affect the market? In his Eve-O forum post from 23 October, MaxDEL states he has more than 1.5 trillion ISK in the wallets of his banned accounts. To put that amount in perspective, the average monthly amount of ISK sold in the 3rd Quarter of 2015 was ... 1.5 trillion ISK. So the answer to my question is yes, MaxDEL potentially had enough ISK to supply the black market with a not insignificant amount of ISK if he so chose. And with the market reaction, I believe CCP Peligro prevented a lot of ISK from getting to the market.

As always, a lot of the evidence I collect is circumstantial in nature. But given what I've uncovered, I wouldn't bet that CCP Peligro got this case wrong.

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