The ‘EVE Online’ ‘Jumpgate’ Scandal: Can a Developer Really ‘Cheat?’

Originally posted 2/12/07 on Avataritoria.

I’m often amazed by the strange, unexpected ways in which MMO virtual worlds mirror the real world, and incite people to exaggerated forms of the behavior we see IRL.

The ongoing(?) “Jumpgate” scandal in EVE Online illustrates the most common lesson of modern politics — the cover up is always worse than the crime.

Without going into the tedious details, it seems that at least one EVE Online developer was cheating, using his “powers” as a developer to provide serious advantages for his friends in-game. This, and other alleged misconduct, was discovered by a player who operated as a spy in-game, finding ways to get into private “corporate” and “alliance” message boards, and then selling the information he found to competing corporations.

From what I understand (I am still an EVE n00b), the spy player, who calls himself Kugutsumen after a villain from the tentacle-porn anime La Blue Girl, performed his espionage activities without cheating, through bribery and social engineering. But all of his accounts were permanently banned when he brought his evidence of cheating to the EVE community.

CCP, the Icelandic company that runs EVE, was reticent to take any action, but their hand was forced by outrage in the community. One core developer called t20 fell on his sword, and admitted to wrongdoing. Now some community members are calling for his firing.

I have a couple of thoughts on this situation.

1.) I don’t believe for a second that everyone at CCP didn’t know what everyone else was doing. When they got caught, the response should have been honest, straightforward, and immediate. Trying to cover up a scandal never, ever works; and people can be very forgiving when you step up and admit “my bad.”

Also, never shoot the messenger. CCP is mad at Kugutsumen because he went straight to the community, instead of privately reporting his suspicions to CCP. Kugutsumen got this email from lead GM Grimmi:

It can be said with some fairness that the posts you made have caused quite the uproar and created an atmosphere that makes all our lives that much more harder. CCP does not condone cheating, for sure, but dealing with matters such as this one is not made any easier with all the ruckus.

Yet it seems clear that without the “ruckus,” CCP would not have responded. Besides, Kugutsumen is not a CCP employee. He is a community member, and his loyalty is to the community. He pays (paid) for five different accounts — CCP works for him, not the other way around.

Banning Kugutsumen is based on two violations of the Terms of Service. He made CCP’s lives harder (seriously, that’s their claim); and he posted the IRL names of the game devs. On the first count, it’s not a player’s job to make the game creators’ lives easier. Clearly, players should not be allowed to interfere with the operation of the game; but this is to keep players from suffering, not devs. And Kugutsumen was trying to protect players, not inconvenience them. He seems to have correctly believed that inconveniencing the devs was not an issue.

On the second count, players should not try to access or disseminate the IRL info of other players. This is a serious issue. But Kugutsumen did not do this. He posted proof that certain characters were being played by devs. Devs are not private citizens — they are accountable to the community. Kugutsumen did not post their home addresses or anything like that, just their names. I fail to see the harm in this, except insofar as CCP devs prefer to play EVE anonymously.

2.) Did t20 and/or other CCP devs in fact do anything wrong? It seems that by the specific rules laid down by CCP, they did. EVE devs are supposed to play according to the same rules as everyone else.

But a dev is, for all intents and purposes, a game master. They design and run the game. It seems to me that anything a dev does is just “the game.” A dev may do something foolish that decreases the fun of the players, but I don’t see how it’s “cheating.” Maybe t20 actually improved game play through his activities, not just for his friends, but for everybody. I don’t know.

But I think if someone pointed out some egregious “injustice,” and I discovered that the offender was a dev or a GM, I would just say, “oh, it’s a GM,” and forget about it.

Maybe this just comes from decades of running tabletop role-playing games. But when I was a game master, I certainly didn’t like to be second-guessed.

Even if t20 broke company policy, I don’t think he should necessarily lose his job. That’s a very serious punishment. I certainly think that decision is up to CCP, and not a mob of angry community members.

MMO players spend a lot of time and money on their hobby, and they need to know that the game company is honest and responsive. CCP’s problem here was not the “crime,” but how they dealt with it. Players must never be treated like an annoyance (even if they are annoying).

4 Comments

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