IWANTISK: Banking on Deniability

2016-10-20

With the EULA change in EVE Online that has led to CCP Games changing its policy on gambling and 3rd party gambling casinos like IWANTISK, a firestorm has erupted over the efficacy of the switch that many claim has denied trillions of ISK from innocent people due to their association with a service that has been used to enable real money trading or RMT. Many of the casinos’ defenders are proclaiming that the association of the two together is so wrong that it is even “dangerous.”

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While it is true that there are many people who enjoy gambling with in-game currency like EVE Online’s ISK, and can do it responsibly, critics of the practice are not wrong in suggesting that allowing gambling in a game like EVE has a number of harmful issues associated with it. Starting with the ways in which gambling breaks various laws, as witnessed by Valve’s fiasco, it also has serious impacts on the way players play the game. When player focus creeps towards how they can win more in-game advantages via gambling, balanced play in video games starts to go out the window. The purpose of this article is to break down the ease with which money trading for in-game items can be perpetrated while additionally laying out how the framework of IWANTISK specifically allowed this activity to happen. As such, we will not be going into the specifics on how and why the EULA change happened or more specifically, what event triggered the outright bans of the bankers involved with IWI.

 

The Structure of IWI

To begin with, let’s talk about structure of IWANTISK. With so many transactions and huge sums of game money going in and out of the website, hiding illicit transactions would be trivial. Indeed, it was. IWANTISK was not structured like a typical top-down corporate organization but rather more like a federation, where individuals come together to work towards a common goal but still retain a large degree of self-determination. As a result this structure allows for a natural amount of plausible deniability where the right hand doesn’t need to know what the left hand is doing so long as the casino’s balance sheets add up.

There is also an important distinction that needs to be made clear regarding the different fronts IWI operated. Most people think of the casino aspect of the business, which indeed is the most visible, but there was another aspect that had been around for almost just as long which is the banking aspect where players could use IWI bankers to store cash with a certain guarantee that IWI would keep it safe, a guarantee which until recently was a sure bet. The last aspect of IWI’s business was the citadel trade network, a behemoth that one of our fellow editors Rhivre has been following closely with her article detailing IWI’s offshoot, The New Eden Trade Network’s plan to make trade hubs in every region. Lastly, it should be mentioned that there were many other various “charity” aspects of the organization which existed and that IWI was very generous in giving money out to streamers who promoted EVE Online.  For the purpose of outlining how IWI was possibly engaging in real money trading, this article will focus primarily on how the casino and the bank provided the perfect cover for illicit transactions.

If someone were to ask who the leader of IWI is, you’d probably get more than one response. While EEP is certainly credited as the one who started and got things off the ground, much of the organization’s outreach and direction has been steered by Lenny Kravitz2 and 1ronbank. While 1ronbank certainly maintained a high level of visibility via his Twitch streaming and verbose personality, Lenny has been a more active participant in EVE Online’s meta-game, having steered a majority of the financing for what this site dubs “The Casino War,” which focused on destroying the Imperium and removing Goonswarm from Deklein with hopes that it would collapse.

iwi-structure

On the Imperium’s Radar

It’s important to note that this is where I have become a part of the story as a spymaster in the Imperium’s Black Hand intelligence service. Starting in late January, rumors and bits of information had been trickling back to us regarding Lenny Kravitz2 and his activities in hiring mercenaries to kill SMA over SMA’s involvement in getting some of IWI’s bankers banned on January 8th. For this reason, IWI and Lenny Kravitz2 were already a target of the Black Hand months before the Money Badger Coalition became a real thing. The Black Hand’s intel on IWI was aided greatly when a disgruntled IWI insiders leaked Lenny’s banker alt’s API info to handlers who used to it corroborate reports that a large coalition was starting to form, not just with the goal of removing SMA from Cloud Ring, but for attacking and waging a full scale war against the Imperium before the citadel changes happened in April.

The transactions just from January alone were substantial enough to hint at a larger threat starting to form, but it was unclear if all these “overpaid” mercs were going to have any real effect. We were wrong.

money-trail

Please note: the yellow highlight is for transactions being tracked as “war transactions” for mercs behing hired to fight The Imperium, reading in between those lines though, an entire forest of banker transfers emerge, some to known individuals who engaged in RMT like Goldie Foxx.

 

Plausible Deniability

Looking through those transaction records, it’s easy to see that there is a lot more business being handled than just strictly IWI casino payout business. The details in Nigerian Banker Prince’s API gave us more comprehensive insight into how IWI worked than any informant ever could.

This whole system was designed to protect certain individuals.

Again, it’s important to stress here that this was in no way a solid hierarchy but rather a collections of individuals playing to their strengths. However, the main three seem to be Lenny, 1ronbank, and Eep Eep. So long as the casino’s balance sheet remained clean and accurate, nobody seemed to take much interest in each other’s side dealings. And there were many side dealings. With each member of the C-level worth well into the multiple trillions of ISK, plenty of opportunities came and went both in-game and out for funding wars, paying streamers to advertise, controlling entire regions of space via market manipulation, and funding other “EVE news sites” to support their agenda.

Adding to the compartmentalization of the organization is the fact that there was no clear cut way for getting involved. While it is clear that there were different tiers of engagement, generally speaking, it seems players had to know other players who could vouch for their loyalty in order to get become a part of the group. What followed next was an individual paying somewhere in the area of 50-500 billion ISK and then being given responsibility for doing casino payouts based on their initial investment of whatever ISK they signed up for. Junior bankers were people who were more casually involved with the group and mainly focused on doing casino payouts, while more senior bankers tended to have more responsibilities, which – along with general payouts – also consisted of ISK holding and whatever else they wanted to get involved in. Again, independence with people in these positions is important for the other members of the group to have plausible deniability. As has been seen in the past, individual bankers might get busted for engaging in real money trading, but the structure of the organization provided nice padding in insulating everyone else from receiving the blame as well.

 

How Real Money Trading Works

google-search-results-for-rmt

Please note: this website does not advocate, support, or condone real money trading in any way or form.

  1. Have large sum of in-game currency that you want to cash out for real money.
  2. Use a search engine to find a service that can help you turn that in-game money into real world currency.
  3. Expect to not get much, $ 5-7 per billion of ISK paid via PayPal or Google Wallet.
  4. Follow the buyer’s instructions via Skype (usually) to make a public contract for an in-game item at a scam-worthy price, or other suggested method (direct ISK trades generally get flagged and caught).
  5. Enjoy the cash, but pray that you do not get caught and banned by CCP’s security team.

 

BANKABLE DENIABILITY

There are a number of accusations involving how IWANTISK engaged in RMT trading, but the main way is one in which IWANTISK structurally supports RMT trading by simply existing. In a court of law this is called “opportunity.” With nearly 20 trillion isk being cycled through IWI everyday and generating over 200 billion ISK in pure profit each day, the numbers alone are somewhat staggering. With the black market value of 100 billion ISK being around $500 USD, the temptation to engage even in a tiny amount of real money trading must have crossed everyone’s mind at least once during their tour as a banker. All it would take to engage in such an accessible form of money-making would be the right motive. With that in mind, it’s no surprise RMT happened but what is harder to get at is how it was carried out and who was involved.

 

Active RMT – This is the most commonly referred-to method in which IWI was supposedly engaging in RMT. Generally speaking, someone would pay money for ISK by donating to IWI’s (or someone’s) PayPal or other account. Using a code word that they would get from the admin, this then would be funneled back to the donor in the form of ISK via casino payouts thanks to a backdoor code that admins could use to advantage certain players over others. For this to work, at least some of the bankers and owners have to be “in the know,” hence it is a more active and direct form of RMT. This is also what was reported by SMA which garnered the first rounds of IWI bans back in January 2016. Again, Matterall’s article from January will serve as a good primer

 

Passive RMT – This form of RMT is one which the bankers themselves might not be aware that they are involved in, but due to IWI’s structure, works pretty well. Basically, by using IWI as a bank to store large sums of ISK, an individual can independently sell that ISK via any ISK selling website and arrange payment through an IWI banker who most likely doesn’t know they are paying an ISK buyer for the total sum of ISK. In their mind they could be transferring the money to an alt. Not only is the IWI banker being duped into participating in an RMT transaction, it’s almost as if the structure of IWI was setup to support it in the first place.

iwi-casino-graph

The most contentious issue is the question of whether or not bankers knew or were actively engaging in RMT. Most likely some of them were, as again, motive and opportunity were certainly there, but just as likely, some were not. Despite their intentions, what is clear is that given the organization’s structure it is possible that they were being used in RMT schemes by moving ISK around without even knowing they were making payouts to folks involved. This system is the simplest explanation with the fewest moving parts that outlines the easiest way to conduct RMT using the structure of IWI and is a big flashing warning sign that likely caused CCP to justifiably shut down the service.

 

The Potential for Money Laundering

One of the biggest problems for all real money trading activities is avoiding the gazing eye of law enforcement who may wish to look into their practices to discover how easily an individual can flip dirty money into clean money. Now, a problem with money laundering using in-game currency is that most people who need to launder money need to launder very large amounts of it. Moving tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars through a video game’s black market would not be a simple task, but that’s not to say it couldn’t be done. Millions though? Probably not.

An example of how someone could launder money using IWANTISK would be by using stolen credit cards to pay for the initial ISK purchase. Once the purchase is complete and the ISK is in the credit/debit card thief’s hands, they then need to get rid of it for clean money. So in this sense, $500 worth of stolen money can be assigned a real world value of in-game currency, 100 billion ISK, and then sold to another buyer for the same five hundred dollars. Using an IWI banker as an unknowing intermediary who then moves the money to the seller, this would then come to the thief an untouchable source of money via PayPal or Google Wallet.

 

Conclusion

If you are reading this and are still outraged that CCP changed their EULA agreements and cut a lot of people off using gambling sites, and even cut some off from their money supply, well, that’s business. Nothing this website or anyone else can say will assuage your feelings. It should be fairly clear now that RMT trading using a system like IWI’s, whether it was actively done or only done unknowingly as an intermediary, presents a huge problem for CCP Games. The legality issues that gambling in video games creates, while certainly enough to provoke outrage, do not pale in comparison to the time being spent playing whack-a-mole with RMT perpetrators. Dunk Dinkle at Crossing Zebras made a particularly observant post regarding this very issue, because indeed all of these investigations take time and money. At a certain point a company just has to say “enough.”  

There is also a point where  players must realize that they are being cheated out of playing a game the way it was meant to be played. Third-party casinos and out-of-game money making possibilities dwarf the ways and means in which players can get ahead by using in-game mechanics alone. While EVE Online receives loads of praise for allowing the schemes that players come up with to beguile and take advantage of other players, at times CCP Games needs to intervene, and this is exactly what they did. As those who are most affected by the EULA change continue to spout their doom and gloom, let us raise our glasses and toast a new era of shooting each other in space and may we never forget, the best ship is friendship.

 

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Comments

  • Ryan

    Third-party gambling is going down elsewhere. Valve was given a court order to crack down on it, and has started playing whack-a-mole with API offenders. It only makes sense for CCP to do this now before the influx of free players.

    October 20, 2016 at 10:34 AM
  • Caleb Ayrania

    Wonder if the people that are mad at these changes would be the same being mad if ccp added it as ingame gambling feature. 🙂

    October 21, 2016 at 3:26 AM
  • ynot-accor

    If GIA’s sigint tooling for XML APIs is really “jackknife and a spreadsheet”, I’m rather disappointed.

    October 22, 2016 at 4:15 AM