Botters, Real-Money Transactions, and the 59B ISK Condor

JMoravia 2018-01-29

On Saturday, January 20, a bizarre entry appeared on zkillboard.  It showed a Condor, completely unfit, being ganked in Jita for a loss of nearly 59 billion ISK.

Fifty-nine billion ISK.

The cargo that made it so valuable was 73 Large Skill Injectors, at a market price of over 800 million apiece at the time.  After my laughter subsided, I was left with one question: who flies 73 Large Skill Injectors around in a totally naked tier-1 frigate?  It was probably not someone with extensive knowledge of the game or its mechanics, because a veteran would most likely have flown a ship better suited for high-value cargo.  So what could the answer be?

A week and a half ago, INN ran an article about a botter who had lost eight supercarriers in one night.  Could the mystery Condor have been connected to botting and real-money ISK selling?  I couldn’t think of any other explanation for the combination of extravagant wealth and seemingly total ineptitude.

Third-Party Activity

Before I go further, I want to issue the obvious reminder: the only CCP-approved method of exchanging your real money for in-game ISK and items involves going through CCP themselves.  Purchasing from a third party is an extremely bad idea that can result in your account being compromised or banned, so don’t do it.  The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only.  Okay?  Okay.

With that said, I went to a site earlier to see what was out there.  It turns out that the answer is “pretty much everything.”  One entry I found was for skill injectors.  The price for a single one is $5.45 (all figures USD), which makes the aforementioned Condor’s cargo worth a potential $397.85 in real-world currency.

The same seller had listings for PLEX, ISK, and even a Raitaru and Astrahus.  One thought-provoking piece of information I found was that the injectors from this seller had “936 sold.”  That figure was 933 when I first checked the listing eight hours ago.  Three sales of $5.45 would not be very impressive, but considering buyers can potentially be purchasing 100 injectors for $449.95, it’s not out of line to suggest that this one sellers account – and there are others –  may have taken in multiple hundreds of dollars today alone.

An Expert’s Perspective

At this point, I turned to Noizy Gamer, an expert in Eve-related botting, real-money transactions (RMT), and black market activity.  His expertise is well known around Eve; he was even invited to participate in the Security presentation at Fanfest 2015.  The first thing I learned is that real-money transactions can be extremely lucrative.

“I’ve got one seller who I tracked $110k in ISK and skill injector sales just in 2017,” he told me matter-of-factly.

“Now, these are sales figures,” he added as my jaw came up from the floor.  “There are a lot of things that cut into the profits.  Did you know ISK/SP/titan sellers have to pay taxes on some sites?  I saw someone in the UK selling a titan on a site.  He had to pay VAT on it.  That’s 20% off the top right there.”

Noizy Gamer also pointed out that, at current Jita prices, a Large Skill Injector is worth about $9.25 if purchased with ISK that was converted from CCP-purchased PLEX.  The $5.45 price available on the site I visited represents a significant discount from that, which means we’re talking about lots of money that CCP is losing to third parties.  Compared with a game like Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft, which does client-side scanning to detect bot programs running, why doesn’t CCP seem to be as aggressive at combating the practice?

Noizy gave three reasons.  “First, Blizzard has a lot more resources, including legal, to throw at the problem. Second, Blizzard don’t [care] about people getting their feelings hurt by them looking around your computer. CCP has been hesitant about that in the past. Third, CCP is more hesitant about banning people unless they are absolutely sure. Then again, CCP has tougher penalties. The part about resources is huge. If CCP does client-side detection looking for processes of bots running, that turns into a game of cat-and-mouse that they don’t have the resources to fight.”  You can check this excellent entry on his blog for more information about what CCP is actively doing to fight RMT.

As that blog entry shows, it is quite inaccurate to suggest that CCP are not concerned about botters.  After all, they’re acutely aware of the damage being done to their bottom line, as well as the numerous other ways that RMT and botters are bad for the game.  Noizy Gamer did show me a post on a Russian forum, which he requested that I not link to in this article, and which detailed 61 different botting-related accounts being reported as banned.  CCP are certainly not inactive; they’re merely overwhelmed by the scope of the problem.  One way that regular players can help is by keeping an eye out for what they consider to be botting activity.  Noizy explains: “If you think you have spotted a big [botting] ring, and you provide solid proof, there’s a program that CCP runs that gives out PLEX. It’s called PLEX for Snitches.” This could involve things like timestamps, to see if the same character reports to a site at the same time every day.  It could involve video evidence if you have a program like Fraps that can record what’s happening on your screen.  If you’re in lowsec or nullsec, do what comes naturally and blap the fool.  “If you gank a ship, and the bot comes back in a pod, that’s good evidence,” Noizy Gamer said.

So What About the Condor?

All of this brings us back to that naked Condor undocking in Jita with 59,000,000,000 worth of skill injectors.  What’s up with that thing?

“It’s almost certainly a botter,” said one source I’ve used in previous INN articles.  “A lot of those folks have zero understanding of the game’s mechanics.”  The person who loaded the ship may not even have known or understood why it was such a bad idea to transport valuable cargo in a fragile ship.

An INN editor I talked to wasn’t so sure.  “It could legit be someone moving stuff to a Perimeter citadel to sell.”  With sales tax being lower at player-owned stations, a substantial amount of money can be saved by selling an item somewhere other than the Jita trade hub.

Noizy Gamer, though, had his own perspective.  “What happens is that ISK sellers go to Jita because that’s where all the economic action is. FYI – that’s standard gold seller behavior in any game. They then make their trades out in space. When you see a kill like this, it’s either an ISK seller trying to deliver the product, or a buyer trying to get the product safely to a station. But yeah, odds are, it was an RMT sale gone bad.”

One Final Word

I want to close with one final observation: the black market only exists to fill a demand.  The people who buy ISK and Raitarus from these sites are the reason the botters exist.  Besides reporting botters when you find them, the most important thing you could do is refuse to buy from third parties, and tell all your friends in the game to do the same.  Create a corporation-wide and alliance-wide culture of zero tolerance for behavior that enables botters to thrive and profit.  I promise you I’m not saying this because I’m some sort of CCP corporate shill.  I’m saying it because I, like you, hate botters.  I’m saying it because I, like you, don’t want my ISK and my items to be worth less due to inflation from having the market flooded by bot-harvested ore and modules.  It doesn’t make any sense at all for us to say “I hate botters” and then turn around and give them our money.  Noizy Gamer agrees: “If people weren’t willing to go on the black market to buy cheap ISK, then there wouldn’t be so much botting to fulfil the demand. So don’t buy PLEX from anyone except CCP or an authorized PLEX reseller.”

In the meantime, if you see a Condor flying into Jita, go ahead and give it a scan.  Maybe, just maybe, you’ll end up 59 billion ISK richer.

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Comments

  • Wigitgetit

    Great article. Likely was some RMT garbage. You can find the places all over the internet. It is tempting, when you want to get that ship or train that skill, but in the end you will get caught and then you are banned. Then you don’t get to play this awesome game.

    January 29, 2018 at 7:55 pm
  • “PLEX for Snitches”

    I know they have to keep things simple and declarative, but “Riches for Snitches” flows so much more smoothly.

    January 29, 2018 at 9:51 pm
    • I reported a bot that got taken out, and never saw any riches, so this “Plex for snitches” thing may just be another fake news…

      January 30, 2018 at 9:00 pm
  • Alaric Faelen

    It just brings up- how many are they not catching? Because it seems like taking even the most basic precautions means slipping by undetected. We only hear about these because the botters are specifically bad. But given the tiniest amount of effort, it seems fairly easy to fool CCP.
    And once again, it’s really the players that are doing the catching. Good for them, but it does indicate that CCP’s methods are less effective than gankers on the jita undock getting lucky.
    That doesn’t bode well.

    January 29, 2018 at 9:55 pm
    • Kyeudo Alaric Faelen

      “How many did we miss?” is an unknowable number by definition. If you knew about them, you didn’t miss them.

      Also CCP doesn’t tell us how many bot accounts they shut down. Keeping details of how they fight bots quiet helps them fight bots better.

      January 29, 2018 at 11:42 pm
    • My favorite part about the Nyx botnet article from the other week was the guys saying that he’s been out there running those 8 Nyxes 24/7 for over a year.

      If CCP can’t catch someone like that, I’m not sure who they could catch…

      January 30, 2018 at 8:24 pm
  • Bill

    Botting has been going on since the game began. What hasn’t been going on since the game began is what you see in the MER. That’s the reason that the price of my Titan dropped 30%, not botters. If you want it to stop, worry less about botters, and kill more Rorquals and ratting supers.

    January 30, 2018 at 12:19 am
  • Jan Koxsos Kopecky

    Not even a single thought given that said looter of the wreck was the buyer and seller both provided the ship and the ganker to make sure buyer stays anonymous and “innocent” at the cost of loot chance?

    January 30, 2018 at 7:49 am
    • Gambling with the loot fairy seems an inefficient way of doing business, and it doesn’t look much less suspicious than just transferring the cargo.

      January 30, 2018 at 10:06 am
      • Rhivre phuzz

        The loot fairy is not the usual way of doing business, due to the loot fairy being not very co-operative at times.

        January 30, 2018 at 7:47 pm
  • Kravshera Kemma

    ok so some info. First blizzard cant or doesn’t stop all botting. i personal know of 2 people that run bots and continue to run bots form day one of there play time. Also, they have been a couple vendors that blizzard knew about and let continue to sale in game gold for real life cash. But more to the point all plex and skill extractors at some point had to be bought from the plex store so CCP did get there money for these items, or am I wrong about that?

    January 30, 2018 at 7:04 pm
  • Khan

    It seems like there is a concerted effort coming from somewhere to root out and destroy RMT, I love it!

    February 1, 2018 at 1:19 am