Massively has been watching the issue of a significant starbase exploit in EVE Online, through which some players reaped vast financial rewards, as it went from rumor to confirmation from the developers themselves. Unlike your average run-of-the-mill exploit in most massively multiplayer online games, the exploit in question has had a significant impact on EVE's virtual economy -- the backbone of the game itself. All players in EVE interact in one vast galaxy, and their actions in the sandbox can create ripples felt by their fellow players, which has certainly been the case in this past week.
EVE Online's developer CCP Games has opted to hold off on responding to most press inquiries for comment on the issue, having issued a statement on the matter and then focusing on the investigation and a weekend meeting with EVE's player-elected community representatives, the Council of Stellar Management (CSM). The minutes from that meeting are now available, and several of EVE's developers took part in the discussion: namely CCP's Lead Economist Dr. EyjoG (Dr. Eyjólfur Guðmundsson) and CCP Arkanon -- who heads up the company's Internal Affairs division, which investigates the CCP Games staff themselves, hopefully ensuring that no CCP employee can abuse their influence over the game.
Read on for Massively's highlights of the state of affairs in EVE Online, in the wake of the starbase exploit.
Note: What is to follow are some of the main points brought up in the meeting. Massively would like to state for the record that we did not pose these questions directly to CCP Games or members of the Council of Stellar Management. Rather, presenting this in Q&A format is the easiest way to convey the substantial amount of information found in the Council of Stellar Management meeting minutes for Sunday, Dec. 14th of 2008.
A banned player posting on the unofficial EVE Online forums, Scrapheap Challenge, claimed the exploit had been running for four years. Is four years an accurate timeframe?
CCP's Lead Economist Dr. EyjoG (Dr. Eyjólfur Guðmundsson) stated he's able to confirm that the exploits started in March 2008. The minutes indicate that 'the bulk of it' became operational in May and June of 2008. As to how far back this exploit actually reaches, the minutes state that "CCP is in the process of restoring older data and will mine that data for information over the next two weeks." Furthermore, CCP Games knows that the exploit itself existed before March 2008, but (thus far) hasn't found evidence of players using it until March. (Note: EVE developer CCP Diagoras stated that the exploit was possible, code-wise, from at least February 2007, but until the older data is restored the devs do not have a definitive answer on whether this truly began four years ago.)
If this market manipulation was happening on such a grand scale, why wasn't it detected until now?
Dr. EyjoG said the exploit wasn't used on a grand scale until this year, and thus the economic effects were gradual. Also, not all of the materials gained through the exploit were sold on the open market. Indeed, most of the materials were either used directly for production (manufacturing) or traded outside of the market. He also added that CCP is reviewing how they operate in terms of Quality Assurance, market monitoring and data mining to see if there's more they can do to detect exploits in the game.
How much of EVE's resources were produced through the starbase exploit?
Although the full extent of the damage to EVE Online's economy still isn't known, CCP Diagoras gave a rough estimate of the share of overall production the exploit accounts for: 35% of the Ferrogel market, which was the most exploited material. Other materials were produced with the exploit, but to a lesser extent than Ferrogel.
The forum poster on Scrapheap Challenge claimed the exploit netted between 2.5 and 3 trillion ISK. Is that figure accurate?
CCP is holding off on breaking the exploit down by ISK amount estimates for the various materials, namely to let the market speculation die down, and of course because they don't have the full picture yet themselves. However, Dr. EyjoG believes the exploit did generate a few trillion ISK. He noted that the daily trade in EVE is about 3 trillion ISK, downplaying the views of the impact as being catastrophic, but he reiterates that it is significant.
What impact did this amount of ISK gained through the exploit have on the outcomes of 0.0 warfare?
Dr. EyjoG said this is unknown, and in all probability cannot be estimated.
Which alliances and characters were directly involved, or benefitted from the starbase exploit in some way?
CCP Games, specifically CCP Arkanon, said the company policy is to not release information about a player or a player's account to third parties. As such, there won't be a name-and-shame of the players, corporations, or alliances who knowingly took advantage of the POS exploit. It seems they're aware of the fact that this will not sit well with some of the playerbase.
What guarantees does the playerbase have that the guilty parties were punished, and that innocent parties (those not directly aware of the exploit) are not punished?
This is a tricky issue, and one on which CCP Games is asking for input from the CSM. Essentially, CCP is wondering how far they should go in terms of punishing people who may have unknowingly benefitted from exploit, or otherwise helped the exploiters profit. (Such as those who purchased the materials produced by the exploit.) CCP Games appears to be taking an "innocent until proven guilty" stance on their investigations, rather than issuing blanket banhammers.
Was this truly petitioned by the now-banned player(s) 4 years ago and disregarded all this time?
CCP has not provided a definitive answer on this yet. Dr. EyjoG said they're still trying to verify this. The petition system has changed and CCP apparently outsourced customer support at that time (specifically, with an outsourced email system according to CCP Xhagen), although they are looking through the old databases.
Were CCP employees connected with this exploit in any way?
CCP Arkanon said that there is no indication that a CCP employee was involved, but stated that investigations are ongoing, particularly as they dig deeper and they get a more complete picture of the situation.
For further clarification, or simply a 'who-said-what', you'll want to read through the CSM Meeting Minutes which are now posted on the official EVE Online forums.