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Corrupting The Incorruptable

Kevin Schram Posted:
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The corruption, intrigue and espionage that fill the world of EVE Online's player-run corporations as always been a unique feature of the game, and attracted mainstream headlines to the game. For example, earlier this year, when giant player alliance Band of Brothers was taken down from the inside by a single spy, the story caught the attention of mainstream media outlet CNN.

EVE Developer CCP has always seemed to encourage these sort of these sort of devilish in-game deeds as long as they didn't cross into out-game circumstances (for example: password hacking). But what happens when corruption takes place inside the very establishment that CCP setup to provide players with a voice?

Our story begins in early 2007, when a CCP developer, known in-game and on the forums as CCP t20 provided valuable blueprints to his player alliance, the aforementioned Band of Brothers. These blueprints were for the game's Tech 2 ships, which are more powerful than their Tech 1 counterparts. The number of these blueprints are severely limited, and most player manufactures who which to create these ships have to purchase blueprint copies. Therefore, possessing just one Tech 2 original blueprint is practically a license to print money.

When another player publicly revealed on the game's forums that a CCP developer had given a player alliance a significant advantage, the player base was outraged, as many called for t20's termination from EVE, and some threatened to leave the game. Despite the outcry, CCP only apologized to the fans in the form of a dev blog, and t20 remained a CCP developer for another two years.

In part because of the t20 controversy, CCP announced in March 2008 that a Council of Stellar Management would be created. Nine players would be elected to the Council and would be flown to CCP headquarters in Iceland and would hold court with CCP developers and be able to voice the concerns and suggestions of the games' player base.

Since the creation of the CSM in 2008, they have claimed several vital improvements in EVE as their doing. First and for most, being the skill training queue. For the uninitiated, skills in EVE are based on 'setting a skill to train' and then waiting for a timer, as opposed to a certain game with elves and mages where you kill butterflies for hours, grinding your way to a higher skill level. The timer on these skills range from just 30 minutes for some low level ones to 25 days for some higher level ones. Formerly, if you weren't online to change your skills when the previous one ran out, your character would stop skilling. The skill queue, which the CSM claims as a product of its existence, allows players to plan skills to train up to the next 24 hours.

EVE Online's wormholes, which are unique unexplored systems that allow players chances to explore the unknown and make lots of money, require a lot of probing (which is, the act of using probes to scan out things). The previous probing system was difficult, cumbersome and horrible to use. Roughly a month into the wormhole expansion's – Apocrypha – release, CCP added some useful features to the probe scanning system, like the ability to ignore scan results you didn't care about, or the ability to bookmark a location from the scanning screen. The CSM also claims that their concerns about the (horrible) original probing system lead to CCP introducing these changes.

The game's upcoming sovereignty capture and null sec improvement changes – a previously discussed in another feature – could potentially rock the EVE's player base to its very core, and in May of 2009 (four months before CCP announced these changes), the CCP dev named “CCP Xhagen” announced that the CSM had brought concerns about 0.0 space to their attention. Four months later, shattering changes to the way null sec runs is announced, and one can only assume that the CSM had a role to play in this.

Despite all the good deeds of the CSM, it hasn't been all smooth sailing for the player-filled committee. First, less than 10% of the players eligible to voted in the last CSM election (held in May 09), which begs the question, does the CSM really represent the entire player base? EVE is a diverse game, filled with many niches, including the game's bitter null sec alliance wars, to 'carebears' mining in high sec, to traders in Jita who never undock from the station. As some of the game's larger alliances could certainly pull their massive numbers together and get certain candidates elected, one can't help but wonder if the entire EVE player population feels represented by the CSM.

Unfortunately for the already controversial CSM, three weeks ago, it was covered in a scandal, one that rivals the t20 scandal that lead to its establishment. Player Adam Ridgway, playing character Larkonis Trassler, was elected to the CSM on a platform of representing the game's seeder player base, the ones who play pirates, scammers and mercenaries. Ironically enough, after a CSM meeting in Iceland, Ridgway purchased over 2.5 billion in undisclosed items. These items, following an upcoming change in EVE (that was revealed to him at the CSM meeting), would allow him to make a profit.

Not only would this 'insider trader' scandal be against the constitution of the CSM, but CSM members also signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) on their arrival to CCP headquarters in Iceland. However, unlike the t20 scandal, CCP acted quickly. In the aftermath of this event, it becomes apparent that CCP monitors the in-game ISK accounts of all members of the CSM, and Mr. Ridgway's purchase of these goods was quickly detected and his accounts were banned. When Ridgway was confronted by his fellow CSM members, he admitted his wrong doing, and resigned from the CSM.

Mr. Ridgway wrote an open letter to EVE's population, which was published on a developer blog. In his letter, Ridgway mocks the seriousness of the CSM, only before saying that CCP takes the voice of the CSM seriously. He adds that “Before attending [the CSM meeting in Iceland] the thought of using any information gained to aid my position in game never crossed my mind. However, we are all human and when presented with this information the urge to act on it was too great.” Ridgway closes his letter by stating that by resigning before his compatriots in the CSM could vote him out, he is keeping his eligibility to run in a future CSM election.

Whether or not you are a fan of the CSM or if you disapprove of it, the player-filled elective body has suffered its first major scandal, in a game that is filled with them and thrives on them. However, unlike the early t20 meta-game scandal, CCP comes out looking well in this one, as they were able to detect Mr. Ridgway's insider trading early and quickly ban him and inform the CSM of his actions.

The origin of the Ridgway scandal is possibly that a pirate – a seedy, almost universally despised player occupation - was elected to the CSM. If more miners, industrialists and mission runners had voted in the CSM, perhaps Mr. Ridgway wouldn't have achieved his position. When you don't read the EVE dev blogs or vote in the CSM, people like Ridgway are elected to be player representatives, and may use this information to their advantage. Or worse – they may voice opinions and suggestions to CCP that you don't agree with.


Kevin Schram