Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Rob a Virtual Bank, Save Your Real House?

NY Times:

Uh-oh! Another big bank is the subject of a depositor run amid charges its chairman has run off with customers’ money. Thankfully, this scandal is taking place in Eve Online, a space-age virtual reality created by CCP, a games developer and Iceland’s coolest company. But these troubles in the ether may offer some valuable lessons for earthly banking and regulation.

Eve is one of the more successful multiplayer online games. Some 300,000 people — as it happens, nearly equal to the population of Iceland — pay $15 a month to navigate characters that pilot intergalactic spaceships, manufacture and trade goods, mine resources and enter into big alliances, or bloody battles, with one another...

Enter Ebank, this virtual universe’s online bank. Because players often do not have the interstellar credits — abbreviated to ISK, also the official abbreviation of the Icelandic kroner — they need to expand their fleets, an enterprising player created a bank that would accept deposits and lend to players who would pledge assets, like their spacecraft, as collateral.

The bank was a success. According to its Web site (yes, it has one), Ebank accumulated about 8.9 trillion ISK in deposits in 13,000 accounts belonging to 6,000 users. That was far more than it was able to lend out — there were around 1 trillion ISK of loans.

Somewhere along the way Ebank’s top executive, who went by the online handle Ricdic, apparently got greedy. According to CCP, he made off with deposits, which he then sold for real cash to gamers on a sort of black-market exchange separate from Eve.

CCP kicked Ricdic out of the game. And Ebank has temporarily shut down while its board of directors (yes, it had one of those too) tries to sort out the mess. Depositors, meanwhile, appear to have pulled 5.5 trillion ISK of deposits.

Given the lawlessness of Eve, this was entirely inevitable. Reportedly, this amounts to about $5,000 in real money, which the thief claims to have used to prevent losing his real-world house:

Basically it was a bunch of morons bagging me out, showing just how much respect or how much people cared. So as a result I was in the mindset that most people don't give a damn about ones achievements in a spaceship game so why bother? Our financial situation occurred resulting in my having to decide whether we lose our new home (40,000 AUD deposit lost) or I lose whatever dignity I have left in a video game.


Tom said...

Tom - What do you think about the claims like this one that the losses are worth over $1,000,000? I'm guessing they're hype but wanted your opinion.

Tom Hoffman said...

James & Tom,

The link is to an earlier Eve bank scam, and I think you added a zero -- the article says $100000 (with no helpful commas). My back of the envelope calculation is that if he could have sold these "legally" through the official Eve RMT system, without depressing the market price, the 230 billion he claims to have stolen would be worth around $14,000. I don't know what the rates are for black market real money trading, but I can imagine that in the end he got significantly less than $14,000.

Just for reference, a Titan in Eve costs the equivalent of about $3,500, and iirc, over 20 Titans made a show of force in a hostile system last week.

Tom Hoffman said...

(my numbers above are for the current scam, not the older one)

Tom said...

Ah, sorry about that. I always get my virtual banks scams in Eve confused. :)

I appreciate the clarification.