How a clever player with a “useless” item almost took down EVE Online’s entire economy

How a clever player with a “useless” item almost took down EVE Online’s entire economy

EVE Online is a game famous for its devious players attempting to either fight for power or to destabilize the game in some way. I spoke with the then-EVE Online executive producer John Lander at Fanfest in Iceland last week, and I asked about the player behavior that most surprised or delighted him.

This is why it’s so easy to love CCP: Lander went on to describe an exploit that could have sunk the entire game’s economy, and he did so with a big smile on his face.

What happened

“We did Inferno in the middle of last year, and we made some big changes to faction warfare,” Lander began. EVE Online is constantly being updated with new content and game play, and these updates are all given names. You can read more about Inferno on the official page.

“You would get rewarded for killing, or blowing up, opposing militia ships,” Lander continued. “We worked out this interesting algorithm where, depending on how expensive the ship was, you would get these loyalty points, and you could cash in loyalty points for special items.”

So it made sense to go after expensive ships, earn loyalty points, and then trade those in for better items. Suddenly there was a good incentive to take down powerful ships, or at least ships that were carrying expensive items.

One player went to work on gaming the system. 

“One of our players found an item on the market that cost 1 ISK [ISK is one of EVE Online’s virtual currencies], nobody used it, and he basically bought all of them, tons and tons of them,” Lander explained.

“He put them back on the market for a hundred ISK, or more, and then one on the market for a billion ISK. He then buys the item for a billion ISK. He’s now moved the average price of that item from one to around half a billion,” he continued. “That is now the average price of that item on the market. He then puts that completely worthless item on a ship, and gets his friend to blow him up.”

The ship contained that “useless” item, but the game thought it was worth half a billion ISK. “You get loads of loyalty points, and you cash those in for something good. He completely manipulated the market, and it started having this massive effect on our economy,” Lander said.

No one knew what was going on, but the market was obviously being manipulated in some way. They put their full-time economists on the job to try to figure out what the hell was going on. “So we’ve now had to go and fix that. Our players are devious, and they will find ways to mess with our systems, and we’ll often have no idea,” Lander said. They finally had to close the loophole, much to the dismay of the characters who were quickly getting rich by blowing up ships with nearly worthless items.

But the question remains: When do you step in and fix an issue, and when do you leave it alone? EVE Online is notorious for scams, long cons, and other social engineering that is allowed in-game.

“It’s a fuzzy line, and we have to be very, very careful,” Lander admitted. “This had the potential to fundamentally destabilize the game, and that’s bad for all the players. Because it was very obviously something wrong, whilst we didn’t take any action against the players who were doing it, we did fix the problem.”

This was an edge case: The players were being very clever, but it put the entire game at risk. “We said well done, you made a lot of money off this, but you’re done, we’re fixing this thing,” Lander told the Report.

It’s worth noting that nothing happened to those players, and they were allowed to keep the fortunes they had amassed while the exploit worked. “Oh, absolutely,” Lander said, laughing. “Good for them! Clever guys.”

Update: While CCP told me the players involved were allowed to keep the money, this devblog indicates otherwise.