Monday, April 25, 2016

Bobmon, Team Security, And Pandora's Box

One of the interesting aspects of EVE Online is one never quite knows what will happen next. Not just inside the game world, but outside as well. Even in my chosen specialty of real money trading, conditions constantly change. Something as simple sounding as a PLEX sale or the introduction of a new item like skill injectors can cause major effects not only in the out of game secondary RMT markets, but in New Eden itself. In the world of RMT, even the results of the election for the eleventh Council of Stellar Management matter.

When I attended the Security roundtable on Saturday, I expected something unusual would occur. After all, someone always asks about a new tool or some situation that makes me think. What I didn't really expect was a newly elected member of the CSM, Bobmon, to appear. He strode confidently across the front of the room, taking a seat four or five chairs to my left.

As he sat down, I knew I needed to keep an eye on Bobmon. During his CSM Watch interview conducted in January, he bragged how he intervened when CCP, presumably the security team, blacklisted the gambling site I WANT ISK from EVE Online's in-game browser in the spring of 2015. I looked around and saw no sign of 1ronbank, the fabulously wealthy Twitch streamer who frequently serves as I WANT ISK's spokesman. Both I WANT ISK and 1ronbank are major advertisers on the EVE news site Eve News 24, of which Bobmon is editor-in-chief. Some who covered the CSM election this year even believed that Bobmon, if elected, would actively work to advancing the interests of his sponsors. Would I witness Bobmon prove his detractors correct less than 48 hours after the announcement of the voting results?

After a long discussion about the importance of account security in the age of skill injectors, CCP Bugartist called on the newly elected space politician. My attention perked up a little, as Bobmon had his hand raised for a lot less time than did a lot of others vying for the security chief's attention.

Reports from previous CSMs all indicate that Team Security under the leadership of CCP Bugartist is always well-prepared. From my own experience working with the team on its Fanfest 2015 presentation, I can confirm the observation. A lot of issues players want addressed are out of Team Security's control, but what they can control is usually handled well. When CCP Bugartist called on Bobmon, I knew shit was about to get real.

Bobmon began by introducing himself as the editor-in-chief of Eve News 24. He then went into his background of helping a gambling site when it lost access to the in-game browser. Trying to establish his bona fides as a champion of the people, Bobmon broadened out his argument to include everyone who receives either a temporary or permanent ban and appeals the ruling. The newly-minted CSM member concluded by asking what Team Security planned to do to not only prevent players from receiving undeserved bans, but to speed up investigation of those bans.

I admit my memory of CCP Bugartist's first few words are a bit hazy, because what came next is one of those moments many players, including myself, dream of. Most of the time, game companies do not disclose the details of incidents involving breaches of a game's terms of service. Every once in a while, however, a game company obliges if the complaining party does so loudly enough. Saturday marks one of those times.

Before continuing, I want to emphasize one point. I do not know CCP Bugartist's thought process for what occurred next. I do know that Team Security tries to keep up-to-date on the meta and current events. Also, Bobmon did introduce himself as someone who intervened on I WANT ISK's behalf in a previous security matter. Whatever the reason, CCP Bugartist chose to treat Bobmon as part of the I WANT ISK family and acted in the time-honored tradition of game companies everywhere when confronted by a rule breaker relying on the game company's usual reluctance to disclose details of disciplinary action.

CCP Bugartist cut right to the chase and pointed out that the incident Bobmon really addressed with his question involved the twelve I WANT ISK bankers banned for illicit RMT activity in late December/early January. Addressing the accusation that the banning of the bankers involved an inadequate investigation, CCP Bugartist revealed that two members of his staff looked into the matter before any bans occurred. The head of security also revealed that the activities the twelve engaged in were serious and if he had his way, they would still be banned. Furthermore, if any of the returned bankers stepped out of line in any way, he would receive a permanent ban.

I don't think Bobmon expected CCP Bugartist's response. In the space of 2-3 minutes, the entire narrative surrounding I WANT ISK changed. Up until Saturday, I WANT ISK and its defenders claimed that a single bad apple introduced dirty ISK into the system and that CCP was slowly clearing the other bankers of any wrongdoing. Bobmon, with his question, gave CCP Bugartist the opportunity to set the record straight and expose the false narrative pushed out by I WANT ISK to the player base over the past few months.

I do have to give the I WANT ISK team credit for developing such a good story. Everyone knows that the penalty for selling ISK, PLEX, skill point injectors, and other in-game objects in EVE is the termination of all of that player's accounts. Instead, for some unknown reason, CCP only temporarily suspended the accounts of the I WANT ISK bankers in question. Because they knew when the bans expired, they could establish a storyline in which bankers are unwittingly caught up in a huge RMT operation run by someone in SpaceMonkey's Alliance, with CCP slowly clearing all the "innocent" bankers.

I believe the story I laid out above is just the end state that played out at the end of March and beginning of April. Did the bankers initially receive permanent ban letters? At this time, I cannot determine either way. Did someone overrule CCP Bugartist? Given his statement in the roundtable session, I see that as a distinct possibility. But reducing a punishment is not the same as declaring someone innocent.

Normally, I would end the story here. But I wound up with one loose thread: Bobmon. Is he some sort of secret I WANT ISK insider whose connection to the gambling site was uncovered by CCP's internal affairs team when vetting Bobmon and that is why CCP Bugartist felt comfortable revealing the information he did? Seems too complex, right? After all, who would come up with the concept of "secret shareholders" anyway?

Time to apply Occam's Razor. What is the simplest explanation for Bobmon's behavior given his behavior over the past 12-18 months? Bobmon actually believed the story put out by the I WANT ISK community that CCP unjustly banned 11-12 player's and was extremely slow in clearing the players' names. Why did Bobmon believe the story? Because members of the I WANT ISK organization told him that CCP had cleared the involved players of any wrongdoing. Or, to express what occurred more indelicately, they misrepresented CCP's statements, a fact we only learned on Saturday.

Assuming I am correct about Bobmon lack of secret shareholder status, I know he is not the only one fooled by the story. If someone goes around telling everyone that CCP cleared them of an offense when his account was temporarily banned and the ban ended, a lot of people will believe what they heard. After all, CCP isn't contradicting the story right? Well, at least until Saturday they weren't.

One of the most important currencies for gambling websites, as in EVE, is trust. A site with a reputation for running crooked games will not last long. Neither will a site known as a hub for illicit RMT activity. Who wants to patronize a site that CCP may close at any time and thus lose all their ISK? At best, the extra level of risk limits the amount of players willing to visit the site. I WANT ISK recognizes that factor and in the past publicly declared an intolerance for illicit RMT. The operator of the site and his spokesmen even went so far as to state he would immediately remove anyone found engaged in practices like ISK selling.

In the past, I WANT ISK could easily maintain that position to the public. CCP immediately terminated the accounts of those caught selling ISK. But in the latest case, CCP only suspended the accounts of the bankers involved. I WANT ISK faced a dilemma. Follow through with its stated policy and permanently lose the services of eleven experienced bankers? Or misrepresent CCP’s enforcement actions, secure in the belief that the security team would never contradict them? The gambling site chose the latter course of action. After all, stating that CCP had investigated the operation and found no one currently involved had not engaged in any wrongdoing is a lot better for business that admitting that eleven bankers received temporary game bans for conducting illicit RMT and that some of them still served on staff.

I believe the latest information concludes the story of the I WANT ISK bankers temporarily removed from the game at the beginning of 2016. I know questions like whether the enforcement action began with information supplied by members of SpaceMonkey’s Alliance still exist. If the answers to those questions emerge I will blog about them at that time. As for the cover-up? I am too tired after travelling home from Fanfest to address the question fully. But from my understanding of the situation, I don’t believe I WANT ISK, in spreading the false story, violated any of the terms of the EVE Online EULA or Terms of Service. I will add that EVE Online is CCP’s game, not mine, and if they think differently and take public action, I will blog about that also.

UPDATE (26 April): I probably need to put in a clarification. When I refer to I WANT ISK making statements, I refer to the entire organization, including bankers. If I refer to a statement from the owner of I WANT ISK, Eep, I try to point that out.

In the comments, I believe Eep, posting as the user I WANT ISK, left the following comment that sheds a little light on Bobmon's involvement with IWI.

Hi!
On my phone right now and ran across this.

CCP never told us why the bankers were banned or unbanned. In our announcements we always included multiple possibilities and theories. The most believed theory was tainted ISK. How this came across as factual is simply the natural spin of things on the web. I mean, it is possible that somewhere down the line I mistakenly made it sound factual but I always tried to make sure I never revealed any information from CCP.

Bobmon is a banker but not a shareholder of IWantISK.com.

Hope that clears some stuff up at fanfest, CCP Bugartist was simply stating that they had multiple people conclude that these bankers deserved a ban. I don't know what caused them to decide to ban and unban these bankers but it definitely had to do with investigations into possible rmt. That was never denied.

Cheers

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