If you've ever walked around with a large amount of cash in your pockets, you're probably familiar with that paranoid feeling that follows you everywhere. Odds are you'll be just fine, but that doesn't do much to stop thoughts from filling your head as you wonder if today might just be your unlucky day. While ferrying $1,500 worth of cargo in EVE Online, Angel was all too familiar with that feeling. The only difference was that this was his unlucky day.
EVE Online is a unique game because it offers you a plethora of ways to play. While some are undoubtedly drawn to the explosive politics of null-security space, Angel has always been one to stay behind the curtain, quietly pulling strings. Though he started out by capitalizing on the fluctuations of New Eden's player-driven economy, Angel now is one of the wealthiest players in EVE Online. Trading, hauling, market manipulation and speculation, and even selling characters on CCP's Character Bazaar—Angel enjoys exploiting the ebb and flow to make profit. And profit he has certainly made.
"You get complacent," Angel told me during our interview. "I've found that's becoming a real problem for me. You lose the understanding and the value of ISK."
But six years ago, Angel received a powerful dose of perspective. After only a year and a half into his trading career, he decided to make one of the riskiest decisions any EVE player can make: He decided to undock with what he absolutely could not afford to lose. PLEX, the item that can be purchased for $19.95 and used to either sell on the in-game market or redeemed for 30 days of free play time, is the ultimate commodity. Angel was carrying 79 PLEX that he had accrued over his time as a trader when he undocked and headed towards the financial hub of New Eden, Jita.
"The first couple of times you do it your heart is just racing, after you've done it about a hundred times," Angel said, "you get really relaxed about it."
Though New Eden has laws to protect players from undue harm, they also need to operate with the understanding that these laws are more for punishment than protection. Even in high-security space, if someone wants to destroy you, they can.
With $1,500 in tow, Angel undocked and began the 15 jumps that it would take until he reached the safety of Jita. Flying only a frigate, one of the weakest ships in EVE, Angel's logic was that if he was fast and small, he would likely slipped by unnoticed. He was wrong.
Uedama, a system that Angel lovingly described as the "butthole" of New Eden, is a graveyard for players on their way to sell their goods in Jita. Pirates congregate around the stargates of Uedama, scanning cargo holds and looking for potential targets. In a frigate, Angel thought he'd be fast enough to slip by their watchful eyes.
"I had understood that once you landed at a gate, you clicked "jump" and you were then invulnerable. I wasn't aware that, in rare cases, you can have server delay that basically causes you to sit at the gate."
"In that time period between where you land and the server accepts your request to transition into the next system, you are killable."
As Angel landed on the stargate to leave Uedama, he was suddenly targeted before his ship could jump through. As his shields and armor quickly evaporated, Angel began mashing the jump button out of desperation.
"It felt like an eternity," Angel told me. "It feels like that classical scene where everything slows down and you can see that bullet moving towards your head."
"You know this isn't going to end well."
In the space of a second, Angel was staring at his escape pod and the wreckage of his frigate. In a heartbeat, his vast sum of wealth was stripped from him.
"All of your senses are screaming at you," he said.
The desperate clicking that Angel had been doing paid off seconds too late as his escape pod finally jumped through the gate, leaving his cargo millions of lightyears behind him. There was nothing he could do anyway, as escape pods have no space for storage.
Angel, desperate for any chance to recover his loot or identify his killers, docked at the nearest station, suited up in the pitiful ship that is given to pilots as compensation for their loss, and headed back. By the time he was back in Uedama, minutes had passed. All of them ticked by in agony.
"I had given up all hope," Angel said. "I had accepted that I had lost them at that point."
When a ship is destroyed, items are either destroyed in the blast or left on the wreck where they can be picked up by others. At this point, Angel had no idea whether his stash of PLEX had vaporized entirely, or was now in the hands of some very lucky pirates. But as he jumped through the gate, he found out.
Landing back in Uedama, Angel saw his wreck. As he closed in on it, he noticed it was picked clean and nothing remained. But just as his heart began to sank, he noticed the container next to the wreck. Opening it revealed all 79 PLEX, untouched.
"This can't be right," Angel said. "It's complete disbelief."
"The next thing I became mindful of is now I have to pick them up and now I have to get them the hell away from here."
Scooping up the stash of PLEX, shocked and confused, Angel immediately jumped through the stargate and headed for the nearest station. It wasn't until much later than he was able to process the situation, finally coming to the conclusion that he likely wasn't the victim of a targeted attack. The pirates who destroyed him on the gate must not have had a chance to cargo scan him, and just like Angel initially, must have missed the cargo container in space filled with PLEX—six and a half year's worth of subscription time just floating there with no one the wiser.
"I felt like the luckiest player in EVE."
"For me, when I lost those PLEX, it wasn't so much that I lost so much value in EVE—that doesn't really matter," Angel told me. "What matters is the effort that you knew you put in to get it. That is the loss you are suffering."
"It actually ended up being a good thing because it helped me with the whole complacency thing."
A $1,500 wake up call would likely do just that. While that moment will always serve to remind Angel about the risks of playing, it also hasn't stopped him from taking further gambles in EVE. When you own as much as he does, and when you trade as much as he does, losses—even crippling ones, can become just another business expense.