July 4, 2009

Selling Virtual Currency For Real Money

The manager of a virtual bank used to store credits for a popular online video game has admitting to stealing digital points from players and selling them for hard cash on the black market.

Every month, more than 300,000 gamers around the world dish out the $15 subscription fee to enter the digital world of EVE Online, an elaborate online role-playing game where players strategize, build alliances and battle for intergalactic dominance.

The cyber-scandal revolves around EBank, the largest player-operated digital bank, where thousands of gamers deposit their accumulated funds for safe keeping. 

EBank's CEO, a 27-year-old Australian gamer named Richard, recently confessed to embezzling billions of "insterstellar kredits," the universal currency used in the world of EVE Online.

"Basically this character [Richard] was one of the people that had been running EBank for a while. He took a bunch of [virtual] money out of the bank, and traded it away for real money," explained Ned Coker of Crowd Control Products (CCP), the Icelandic company which created the game.

Richard, married man and father of two, said that he had been in dire straits financially in the real world when he stumbled upon a spam e-mail offering to exchange cold hard cash for video game currency.

"It was a very on the spot decision," said the digital banker, who declined to give his last name.  "I saw that as an avenue that could be taken, and I decided to skim off the top, you could say, to overcome real life [hardships]."

Selling virtual currency for real money is strictly prohibited according to the game's rules.  Richard admits to stealing some 200 billion interstellar credits and selling them for $5,100 U.S. dollars, which he says he used to pay a deposit on his house as well as medical expenses for his young son.

News of the treachery spread quickly in the world of EVE, triggering an online bank run as players sought to withdraw their virtual fortunes in fear that the money would run out.

In an ironic twist, embezzling funds from the bank is not actually a violation of EVE rules, and Richard"”known in the gaming community as Ricdic"”could have kept playing the game had he not sold the digital funds for real money.  CCP has administrators have since shut down Ricdic's account.

"It unbalances the game," explained Coker.

Buying and selling virtual funds is a one-way street in the world of EVE:  Players are allowed to buy interstellar credits from the game's official host with real money, but exchanging accrued game money for real cash is strictly prohibited.

"We have never seen ourselves as gods who make the rules of social interaction," said CCP financial advisor Eyjolfur Gudmundsson. "You are able to lose the things you have created. That's what makes the world interesting."

When asked in an interview whether he was sorry for his perfidious double-dealings with fellow players, Richard expressed a trace of shame, but little regret.

"I'm not proud of it at all, that's why I didn't brag about it. But you know, if I had to do it again, I probably would've chosen the same path based on the same situation," he admitted.


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