It's been called "boring," "confusing," and "the world's biggest spreadsheet," but every now and then a story emerges from sci-fi MMO EVE Online and grabs the gaming world's attention. Tales of massive thefts, colossal battles, high-value kills, record-breaking scams, political dirty deals, and controversial player-run events never fail to grip us. Perhaps it's the fact that these events have such huge impacts in the EVE sandbox that captures our imaginations, or maybe we just want to watch with morbid curiosity as a virtual society self-destructs.
Whether it's innocent interest in quirky stories or a secret sense of schadenfreude that keeps us glued to EVE's most illicit events, the game continues to deliver them with startling regularity. Most scams, thefts, and high-profile battles will never make the news, instead becoming another forgotten part of EVE's history or just a story for a few friends to reminisce about. But those stories that do reach the news always draw in a huge audience that wouldn't play EVE in a million years but can't get enough of its engrossing stories.
In this week's EVE Evolved, I run down a list of ten incredible EVE kills, scams, heists, and sandbox events that have made it into the news over the years.
#10 - Dynasty Bank and EBank scams
In 2008, EVE's financial gurus began launching IPOs, unofficial stock exchanges and even a few banks based on real-world systems. It seemed almost inevitable that a banking system relying on virtual trust would fall victim to theft and scams, and in January of 2009 our gut instincts were proven right when Dynasty Bank Investment Manager Xabier embezzled over 80 billion ISK from the organisation. Just five months later, the game's largest bank EBank was rocked by a similar embezzlement when CEO Ricdic sold 200 billion of the bank's ISK to illicit RMT services to pay for medical bills and a down-payment on a house.
#9 - Player destroys $1,000 worth of game time
This week the story broke of a player losing a tiny ship with over $6,000 US worth of cargo. Although that kill turned out to be fake, individual kills approaching the same scale happen all the time. Massive alliance titans worth over $2,000 each are killed occasionally in nullsec territorial warfare, but it's the unusual tales of huge individual loss that grab our attentions. In 2010, one player lost over $1,000 of game time when his tiny frigate transporting pilot's licenses was destroyed. Just two months later, pirates ganged up on a rich casual player and killed his mission-running ship worth around $1,200 in a questionable suicide attack.
#8 - Hulkageddon turns suicide ganking into a sport
In a sandbox universe with no rules or laws, the line between gameplay and griefing is constantly blurred. EVE Online officially doesn't tolerate griefing, but it's almost impossible to prove that a player is actually doing it. Suicide ganking players repeatedly might be against the rules, but what if people profit from it indirectly and you make it competitive sport? This is what happened with the Hulkageddon, a periodic player-run event in which people suicide gank as many defenseless mining ships as possible to compete for prizes. The event was declared not to be harassment and has become a part of EVE's gaming culture.
#7 - SOMER.Blink is hit with a 125 billion ISK theft
EVE Online's sandbox has given rise to some pretty clever emergent professions over the years, from DJs and tattoo artists to players who build web-based tools for an in-game profit. Perhaps the biggest success of this kind in recent years is SOMER.Blink, an automated gambling website on which players buy tickets in rapid lotteries for EVE items. In November 2010, the site became the target of a 125 billion ISK theft as one of its main prize-distributors gave in to temptation. The website had enough liquid ISK to continue operations and now claims to have given out over 400 trillion ISK in prizes (worth just under $12,500,000 US).
#6 and #5 - EVE's biggest political alliances disband
With so many players in one single game shard, EVE has developed its own complex political systems. When a major political event like an alliance being forced out of its home occurs, the effects are felt across the game. In 2009, resilient nullsec alliance Band of Brothers was controversially disbanded by a director defecting to rival alliance GoonSwarm. Exactly one year later, GoonSwarm was itself disbanded in a huge political drama when CEO karttoon let the alliance sovereignty bills lapse and kicked every corp. Though disbanding was a major setback for both alliances, they both bounced back and continued to fight.
#4 - The Guiding Hand Social Club heist
In most MMOs, stealing someone's items would earn you a date with the banhammer. In EVE Online, theft is seen as perfectly acceptable emergent gameplay, and it's up to each player to decide whom he'll trust. In 2005, the Guiding Hand Social Club corporation pulled off the most impressive heist and assassination in EVE's history, dismantling the Ubiqa Seraph corporation and stealing assets worth an estimated $16,500. The spies spent a full year climbing the corporate ladder up to positions of control before the heist. While there have been higher value thefts over the years, none has ever matched this heist in sheer class.
#3 - The $45,000 Titans4U scam
Ever since CCP allowed players to buy game time for in-game money through its PLEX system, we've been able to assign a rough real-world value to in-game scams and heists. In 2010, EVE player Bad Bobby broke all the records with his incredible $45,000 US Titans4U scam. It started as an innocent investment scheme based on copying titan blueprints. Access to the valuable blueprints was split between a board of trustees to ensure no individual could take them on his own. Bad Bobby managed to trick the other trustees into releasing enough shares to give him majority control and walked away with 850 billion ISK in assets.
#2 - Phaser Inc's trillion ISK scam
Every year or so, a scam comes along that's so massive in scale that it attracts global attention. The biggest scam ever recorded was last year's Phaser Inc scandal, which netted a trillion ISK worth over $51,000. Proving that sometimes the simplest scams work best, EVE players Eddie Lampert and Mordor Exuel achieved their monumental goal with nothing more than a simple Ponzi scheme. The duo promised incredible returns of 5% per week and kept the scam out of the spotlight by avoiding market discussion forums. The pair duped 4,000 EVE players, which is over 1% of the game's entire population.
#1 - The world's largest PvP battle
A big part of what draws people to EVE is the fact that events like high-value scams and massive battles don't happen on the same scale in other MMOs. In October 2010, a landmark battle occurred as 3,110 players clashed for control of the LXQ2-T system. The gaming world looked on through livestreams at what would later be known as the world's largest-ever PvP battle. Though this battle experienced severe lag, CCP has since released a new Time Dilation system that theoretically allows massive battles of this scale to happen in EVE without interruption. That's something I don't think any other MMO can promise.
The 10 stories above are some of the most popular sandbox events ever to occur in EVE Online, grabbing the attention of not just EVE players but also the global gaming media. The world watched as EVE's banking collapse mirrored the real world and looked on with morbid curiosity as ships worth thousands of dollars were destroyed or stolen. The huge impact of the events above on the sandbox can't be denied, but this is by no means a comprehensive list of such events.
Smaller heists, scams, and battles happen every day in EVE. Most of them go unreported or circulate only in MMO blogs. Over the years, we've seen incredible stories like wormhole corporation Aperture Harmonics' infinity gun exploit, and the players who recently manipulated Faction Warfare to produce five trillion ISK. We've also brought you the real tale of one player's revenge, corporate infiltration, and destruction, and followed a thief as he pulled off a daring wormhole heist. Every year brings impressive new stories, and I really can't wait to see what the future holds for one of the world's biggest sandboxes.
Brendan "Nyphur" Drain is an early veteran of EVE Online and writer of the weekly EVE Evolved column here at Massively. The column covers anything and everything relating to EVE Online, from in-depth guides to speculative opinion pieces. If you have an idea for a column or guide, or you just want to message him, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.