Space MMORPG Eve Online's greatest feature is the freedom it gives to players to run the galaxy however they want. Sometimes, those players make us profoundly glad we don't play Eve seriously – though their exploits are fun to read about.
The infamous Goonswarm found a few holes in the newly revamped faction warfare in Eve, discovering ways to use throwaway alt accounts and manipulate markets to generate trillions of Eve's in-game currency for themselves. Developer CCP patched up the holes – which are more aptly described as "creative use of game mechanics" rather than "exploits" or "bugs" – as they became aware, but not before a few players earned enough in-game cash to buy $175,000 worth of game time codes (which CCP sells for in-game currency as well as real-life money).
"You have our condolences as we roll around in literal Scrooge McDuck towers full of your isk [in-game currency -Ed.]," Eve player Aryth writes. "Numerous publord superstars have taken massive losses as we slam buys to nothing, then erect gigantic, unassailable walls of sells at a price that ensures that any stock held by anyone is without value. This last part has mostly been done because we can."
Masterfully trolled, sir or madam. Masterfully trolled.
This is a story of what happens when the sandbox gets so complicated, it becomes possible for truly magical opportunities.
Greed IS Good
We went straight to plaid
When Eve Online: Inferno was released, most people were underwhelmed. Missile effects were pretty, but functionally useless; ship balancing was mediocre; the inventory revamp was a complete disaster, and most people were simply wondering what the point of the whole thing was. There was even a revamp to Faction Warfare, an oft-maligned, unfun feature of the game. Most people wrote it off as CCP throwing a bone to the few subscribers who stuck around for that sort of thing.
Most people are myopic.
But not the Snip. Don't use ethnic stereotype slurs. -Guard bal.
Occasionally you will see the odd forum poster that throws out wild conspiracy theories about shadowy figures controlling parts of the game, or in the case of the especially insane, Goons controlling the game. This has never been true...until now.
As we’ve said, in most ways, Inferno was a bust. But a throwaway blog about an obscure part of the upcoming faction warfare revamp was much more interesting than it seemed. A small group of market and game mechanics wizards sat in a channel, put their heads together and designed a theoretical exploit to game the system. It succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.
The revamp to Faction Warfare in Inferno was the single biggest mistake CCP has ever made. It was bigger than guidance systems, which merely made us a couple of trillion isk. It was certainly bigger than deleting boot.ini, which merely cost CCP some bad press. It was possibly even bigger than Incarna, a potentially game ruining ‘expansion’ *** cash grab. Simply put, Inferno was released with a way to destroy the value of missions.
Inferno’s big design mistake was that it was released with a literal currency fountain, very nearly without limit. Unbeknownst to themselves, CCP had accidentally delved into the world of forex, providing a way to exchange one currency (isk) for another (LP) with only a few checks and balances built into the system.
The original theory came about as many of the theories in the Snip. Don't use ethnic stereotype slurs. -Guard bal do: Aryth wondering what the implications of X may be if we did Y. Every theory in the collective is always vetted, and so, Mynnna went to work on a super spreadsheet. This sheet would end up breaking down every niche of FW into its components and checking them for leaks; much like everything in Spreadsheets Online, once created, the sheet had to be tested via running the numbers countless times. Luckily, they added up.
It was time to wreck some pubby wallets :commissar:
When CCP originally released their devblog on Inferno and revealed the formula they intended to use, we sat in shock. I immediately stated a phrase I would repeat many times: “/10000 will not save them”. CCP made the assumption that rewarding a player 1/10th of the value of the player’s kill at 1K ISK/LP, for a total of 10K ISK destroyed CCP Value/1 ISK reward, would prevent manipulation of the system. While this was an understandable mistake, it turned out to be several orders of magnitude off.
We laid in wait. Much of what we believed to be true could not be tested on SISI. Patch day came and we immediately moved into action, enrolling alts into Minmatar FW & Amarr FW and moving freighters full of delicious zydrine/nocxium/megacyte into position. Goons had been invested heavily in minerals pre-patch, and with the massive recession all of EVE went into post CCP changes, Burn Jita, and Hulkageddon, we wanted to give them a way to cash out as well as get rich ourselves. Therefore, the test would start with a simple, yet hilarious murder of several innocent freighters full of extremely valuable highends.
This also meant that we could cash out our hundreds of billions of ISK worth of minerals at prices far higher than on the market. For example, we cashed out Megacyte at 3300, Zydrine 1400, Nocxium at 900. So some of the very largest stockpiles of pre-drone nerf minerals no longer exists. Tying back into the mineral manipulation we have been engaging in.
The test quickly became even bigger than anticipated because upon release, FW turned out to have a bug that rewarded LP for both dropped and exploded cargo, doubling the rewards. So we went to work, sending hundreds of billions of ISK worth of highend minerals to Yulai to be blown up. Why Yulai? Anyone enlisted in faction warfare gets shot at by faction police of the opposing factions. Yulai and its entire constellation are owned by CONCORD, which is neutral territory. Thus, both FW alts could move through peacefully. Also, Yulai has an “Inner Circle” station, which was just plain funny. How fitting that Yulai, once the most important system in Eve, finally becomes relevant again.
CCP reacted quickly and patched this out, but the damage was done (not that it really mattered since it would merely have delayed the inevitable); the cabal had our “seed” LP. From here on out, the next step was to manipulate the outcome of Faction Warfare to dictate the tier level of the Minmatar faction. In order to cash out our illicit LP, Minmatar had to keep tier 4. We bought them into the tier over and over, rebuying each time they lost it and dropped into T3; eventually, 2 mega purchases launched them into T5.
It’s worth noting that the entire time, the :shobon: coalition of the terrible roleplayers and various other pubbies comprising the Minmatar faction thought they were doing this on their own. They were oblivious to the fact they would jump 50-70 points in a single hour. To the extent that anyone noticed at all, they attributed it to their own skill, clapping each other on the back in militia chat while the cabal laughed at them for being too stupid to notice what was literally under their noses. This also applied to Amarr. On a lark one of us went one morning and fully upgraded all 13 Amarr systems to level 5. The next day this was repeated along with the 2 systems they won from the day before, allowing the Amarr faction to finally hit T2. Of course they immediately lost it.
With the gloating out of the way, we can move on to describing the actual hole in detail. Note that because this document has been posted, the specific mechanism by which this all works has been patched.
In Inferno, a mechanic was added to award Loyalty Points (LP) based on the value of the ship that was killed. Implants, ship value, cargo, etc. The formula is as follows:
The “cost” in this equation was CCP’s own metric, which you can see by opening your cargo window or your station hangars and looking in the bottom right of the window. Therein lies the heart of the break -- CCP’s item value calculation was very vulnerable to manipulation. If you picked the right item, loaded hundreds of thousands of them into a Badger, then blew it up in the context of Faction Warfare, you could generate as much LP as you want for practically no cost. As long as you did the math right, the result was foolproof.
The trick was to control the process. We enlisted dummy characters in opposite factions, loaded up valuable items into a hauler, murdered the haulers with each other’s alts, scooped the wrecks, and kept exploding the dropped stacks until none remained. We then converted the LP we’d been rewarded back into items from the FW store. Needless to say, some of the items in the LP store rewarded enough isk when sold on the market that the haulers’ mass assisted euthanasia was a profitable enterprise.
The original babby step was to use hydromagnetic datacores. Hydrocores had a CCP Value of 317,000 ISK (pay attention to this number, because it’s important). When we bought Minmatar into Tier 4, we were rewarded with a 50% reduction in both LP and ISK cost of our purchases from their loyalty store, so one datacore from the LP store at Tier 4 cost 25 LP and 25,000 isk. When the hauler with the datacore inside was duly murdered by our Minmatar loyalist, it rewarded the murderer with 63.5 LP. Blowing up datacores in this manner grossed enough LP to cash out into implants (at 2000 ISK/LP) to cover the isk portion of the cost of the datacore, while still netting excess LP in the process. Essentially, we were able to convert ISK to LP at the rate of 1390 ISK per LP, then immediately sell the produced LP for 1.5 times what we paid. This process of turning LP items into more LP was given the terrible name of “dubstepping” by Mynnna.
We initially used this to liquidate all of our highend mineral holdings and start printing isk. We netted tens of millions of LP worth tens of billions of ISK. However, a crucial patch to Eve nerfed us by making cargo that dropped not net any LP, seemingly wrecking the plan by cutting our LP rewards in half and making it unprofitable. Not discouraged, we went back to the drawing board.
At this point, we had a problem: we still had not puzzled out CCP’s pricing update mechanics formula. Fortunately, we caught a break. A person tasked to figure out the CCP formula was able to come up with a fair guess at the CCP Price of a given item – a three month EVE wide moving average.
To confirm this, we ran several tests. We would manipulate the price of an item with a 90 day volume of roughly 5-10 items across Eve, meaning the Shinazzytiest, worst 5% bonus to electronic attack ship damage implant we could find.(this is not the actual item, the actual item was even more worthless) Specifically, we would cycle billions of ISK worth of orders to ourselves and create massive volume in said item. CCP duly confirmed their pricing update script’s existence by taking a couple of Fridays to launch the CCP Value of said implants to all time highs. The result was not perfect, but it was more than sufficient to do what was needed. (A special note for those MD scrubs who eventually read this after it is leaked and who don’t know how CCP pricing works: yes, we saw your dumb threads trying to puzzle it out. CCP uses an EVE wide average over 90 days updated via a manual run. It’s definitely not a recurring job. You’re welcome!)
From here, it was child’s play to locate a completely ******, unused item from the FW Loyalty store and jack up the CCP price by repeatedly buying the product at inflated prices in some untraveled galactic Shinazzyhole.
Once prices updated, we were able to purchase LP at 81 ISK / LP.
The effort required to convert items into LP through explosions also reduced drastically with this much more favorable multiplier, sending the whole process into overdrive. This ludicrous amount of LP not only promised us riches beyond our wildest expectations but allowed us to completely control Faction Warfare by donating our endlessly cheap LP back to the faction itself, invalidating hours of work spent to capture a system by the most despondent of Shinazzylords in a single stroke of the Enter key. While working on acquiring products, we joked that we had to limit ourselves to keeping the total amount on any one character under two billion LP for fears of the number wrapping around to a negative value! This was obviously never tested in earnest (way too much effort,) but to be safe we had to assume that the column for LP in the database is a signed 32-bit integer.
You can see evidence of our dark work throughout the economy in Eve. Open up the market graphs in Jita and take a look at any given implant. Every single one of them will be going off a cliff because we were routinely slamming thousands into buys. At 81 ISK per LP, practically any price is a profit. Of course, we didn’t stop at implants; if you’re holding Mechanical Engineering or Minmatar Starship Engineering datacores, you have our condolences as we roll around in literal Scrooge McDuck towers full of your isk. If we were just a little bit prone to hitting and running, everything related to FW LP would be in the gutter. Fortunately, we are patient and beatific overlords. Numerous publord superstars have taken massive losses as we slam buys to nothing, then erect gigantic, unassailable walls of sells at a price that ensures that any stock held by anyone is without value. This last part has mostly been done because we can.
Of course, one minor side effect of this whole thing is that anyone doing missions in June, 2012 was basically doing it at our sufferance, since we could nuke the value of their LP at will. Consider this our demonstration of how benevolent we are towards the rest of Eve Online; we could have annihilated the rewards received by every mission runner in the game. Instead, we’ve chosen to merely leave them with some light bruising and a walk of shame.
The goal was to make a bit of profit. and figure out how to fix it long term. CCP was informed and they moved quickly to address the issue. The party came to an immediate end after the T5 cashout occured. So this is over, and you will no longer be able to do this. If you somehow did find a way, CCP is watching and will probably take action against anyone doing it in the future. But it will still end up being the biggest - Snip. Don't use ethnic stereotype slurs. -Guard haul of a new game system since PI, and it beats PI hands down.
PS: A special note to FWeddit: I hope you enjoyed bashing your heads against the giant LP fortress of V’d systems purchased with our endless fountain of LP. Fortunately, now that this is nerfed, you can finally start winning the war (don’t worry, it’ll be easy - Minmatar reallysuck).
- this is the same group that laughed with their leader, the Mittani, who encouraged his thousands of allied members to go out and harass a player to push him to commit suicide, during a world-wide web cast being watched by most of the player base during the yearly Eve-Fest held by the gaming company as a party for all of its players. So many people in the Q&A session where telling the guy to shut up, but he just kept going and he went out of control. They didn't ban him from the game, they only suspended his accounts for 30-days. Pathetic.
Edited by Relaed, 04 August 2012 - 03:35 PM.