THE NEW TEAMSPEAK HARASSMENT POLICY

Submission 2014-09-25

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this op-ed are those of the author, and do not represent TMC as a whole.

Hi, I’m James 315, and I was permabanned from EVE.

Before you start uncorking the champagne, there’s a catch: I said I WAS permabanned, not that I currently am. You see, I was also un-permabanned. We’ll talk about that in a moment.

Today we’ll be covering a range of topics related to the banning of EVE players. This article was prompted by some significant changes recently made to the way CCP enforces the EULA/ToS. A number of players were permabanned for what CCP suspected they were doing on TeamSpeak. Formerly, CCP shied away from regulating EVE players’ behavior on third-party programs like TeamSpeak, Jabber, Mumble, and the like. Now that certain activities have been reclassified as “real-life harassment”, a player’s conduct on out-of-game comms can be punished more severely than in-game conduct. Thus, the policy toward TeamSpeak and other VOIP programs has been completely inverted. But that was only the beginning.

Players were permabanned for “involvement with a group” that broke a rule, rather than breaking the rule themselves. The bar for “involvement” could have been as low as idling in an in-game channel hosted by the guilty players. Additionally, permabans were issued for potential offenses, rather than actual, specific offenses with identifiable victims.

Somewhere between 50-100 accounts were permabanned under the new policy. (The number of individual players banned was less, since many owned multiple accounts.) You’re probably curious to hear more details about these bans and whether your own TeamSpeak activities may fall under the new policy. Those topics will be covered at great length. But since this is a James 315 article and not a cable TV news show, you’re going to get your veggies–history and context–along with your news analysis and commentary.

Before we get started, I’d like to address those who carry a particular attitude when it comes to rule enforcement. They’re the people who make comments like, “It’s CCP’s game, they can do whatever they want. If you don’t like it, you can leave.” This authoritarian-friendly mindset, I’ve found, is most common among the very young, the very old, and the very dull. I answer them this way: Yes, CCP has the right to do anything. They can ban every player in the game and change all the spaceships into marshmallows, if they choose. CCP also has the right to be rational and enforce the rules in a way that benefits their customers. I think they should exercise that right, don’t you?

Mistakes Were Made

My perspective on the GMs and the way they enforce the rules was colored by an experience I had early on in my EVE career. Six months into the game, I found myself permanently banned from EVE. The pop-up that appears when a banned player tries to log into the game read “permabanned” and listed the reason “trial abuse”. I was puzzled by this, since I had never used a trial account before–not even during my first two weeks of playing the game. I had paid my subscription fee right from the beginning–a decision I was beginning to re-evaluate.

If an EVE player protests his innocence and tells you he doesn’t know why he was banned, you’re probably going to be a bit skeptical. Yet that was the situation I had found myself in: permabanned for something I knew I didn’t do. I considered the length of the ban to be excessive. If they were going to ban me for no reason, I felt they ought to make it a 30-day ban instead of a permanent one. At least then I could learn my lesson and return to the game a reformed man.

I used the web-based petition system to appeal my permaban. I argued that since I’d never used a trial account, I must be innocent of trial abuse. Today this would be called “rules lawyering”. It’s considered a very dangerous thing, because a customer might turn out to be right.

After a few days, I received an e-mail from a GM telling me that the ban was lifted and a week had been added to my subscription. Being six months into the game, I would have preferred a week’s worth of skillpoints instead. (I always forget to set a long skill to train before I’m banned.) Nevertheless, I was grateful for a second chance at EVE. I haven’t been banned again since.

One thing about the experience that left a vivid impression on me was how blasé the GM was about unbanning me. It was done with a short, simple form e-mail. There was no explanation or comment from the GM. In other words, he didn’t say, “Wow, no one has ever been accidentally permabanned before. I can’t believe this happened. You won’t believe the extraordinary series of coincidences that led to this unprecedented failure in our otherwise perfect system!”

Occasionally I’ll hear an EVE player remark about how thoroughly and professionally the GMs investigate things before they ban someone. Or that there’s never been a case of an erroneous ban. Those kinds of comments make me smile. The GM’s form e-mail left me with a different impression, that banning players by mistake and unbanning them is a routine matter. Just another petition to answer.

I have also encountered excellent GMs who worked very hard to get their job done right. Some GMs undoubtedly are very good at what they do. Some prefer to use warnings instead of reaching for the banhammer at every available opportunity. There are GMs who investigate potential offenses very carefully to ensure they don’t make a mistake.

On the other hand, I played the game for half a year before some GM randomly permabanned me for no reason whatsoever. I concluded that the GM staff is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.

Bans Are For Everyone

The implementation of bans is important. CCP would say they only ban players in extreme cases. This is EVE; extreme is the norm for us. Bans aren’t reserved for a handful of obscure malcontents lurking in the shadows. Actually, it’s rather remarkable how many high-profile players have been banned at one point or another. From the perspective of hindsight, I also find it interesting how the pendulum swings, with representatives of every different group in EVE taking turns getting hit by the banhammer.

You can be permabanned for something as simple as a stray comment in local. Ginger Magician was once among the most well-known EVE players. His claim to fame was camping lowsec gates in a carrier, back when capital ships were much less common. He was permabanned for making a death threat after someone scammed him. If you ever promise to exact revenge on another player, make sure to add the words, “in game”. As in, “I’m going to kill you, in game.”

Ginger Magician’s many victims celebrated the news of his permaban. They believed he deserved it. However, the zero-tolerance policy on death threats is more squishy than it sounds. As CSM member DJ FunkyBacon observed, highsec miners and mission runners don’t always get banned for the real-life threats they make after getting ganked.

Sometimes bans come in waves. An RMT-related ban wave cost Red Alliance nearly its entire leadership all at once. It was so bad that someone had to petition CCP to get a non-banned player into a director position. Otherwise, the alliance would have been inoperable. Red Alliance’s enemies rejoiced, but many other nullsec alliances took their turn dealing with bans, especially if they had renters.

Kugutsumen is among the most celebrated members of the permaban club. After hacking the Band of Brothers alliance’s private forums, he revealed CCP devs cheating on BoB’s behalf. BoB had many CCP alts on its team (including devs in BoB leadership roles). BoB also just happened to be the most powerful alliance in the game. Kugutsumen is the reason CCP employees are no longer allowed to play in nullsec with their alts.

By stopping the corruption before its effects became irreversible, Kugutsumen extended EVE’s lifespan a fair amount. No one would’ve wanted to play EVE if they knew the game was rigged. In my humble opinion, everyone who plays EVE or gets a paycheck from CCP owes Kugutsumen an enormous debt of gratitude. He was rewarded with a permanent ban.

BoB members were ecstatic when they heard the news of Kugutsumen’s ban. But then, after Kugutsumen revealed the identities of several devs in BoB, CCP told all its employees they needed to leave nullsec for good. Their characters vanished, proving even CCP can be banned by CCP. BoB members were heartbroken and furious about the decision.

The Kugutsumen episode also prompted CCP to create the CSM. Eventually, players elected to the CSM also felt the sting of the permaban. Larkonis Trassler led the way. He was banned for playing the market in EVE using inside information gained through his CSM position.

Sometimes carebears think bans are something “griefers” get. They learned otherwise when their own champion on the CSM, Ankhesentapemkah, was banned. Ankh was known as the advocate for everyone who wanted a safe highsec for PvE players. (Think Mike Azariah, but much more pro-carebear.) Details weren’t made public, but CCP determined Ankh to be in violation of the CSM non-disclosure agreement. The carebear princess was kicked off the CSM and banned. Suicide gankers and other highsec PvP enthusiasts were thrilled.

The carebears were avenged when the banhammer struck Helicity Boson, the creator of Hulkageddon. Fortunately, the ban was temporary. Helicity, though not on the CSM, used creative means to acquire a copy of an internal CCP memo. It was the “Greed Is Good” memo that led to the Summer of Rage.

CSM Chairman The Mittani attended an emergency summit to deal with the crisis. Following the emergency summit, The Mittani was widely given credit for, basically, saving EVE. Months later, he was re-elected to the CSM an unprecedented 10,000 votes. But then came Fanfest, during which he told a joke about a highsec miner. A few days later, people started taking offense to the joke. By pure coincidence, the people most offended also happened to oppose the CFC and the Goons in game. The Mittani was banned, but only temporarily. One day he was a hero, the next day players were calling for his head. (Ironic note: The highsec miner in question later became a frequent audience member at Erotica 1’s Bonus Rounds.)

Not all leaks had a significant impact on the playerbase. In an attempt to pull a Kugutsumen, CSM member Darius III leaked the news that a dev cheated on behalf of the CFC and had been quietly terminated. Unlike when t20 was caught, CCP had chosen not to make this public, and did not disclose the identity of the cheater. (It wasn’t difficult for players to deduce the likely identity of the fired dev, but an official announcement was never made.) Like Kugutsumen, Darius III was banned–making at least four players who were banned while serving on the CSM. Darius III’s leak drew little attention, except from those who disliked him; they applauded the ban.

A frequent target for derision, Xenuria was banned from running for the CSM for one year due to his alleged affiliation with the LulzSec hacker group. As Xenuria was a very unpopular personality with many enemies, he was widely mocked when this news went public. But a year later, Xenuria’s haters were the ones on the receiving end of bans. Some players located Xenuria’s name on the EVE monument and scratched it out. After an investigation into the incident, they were permabanned.

Another example of the tables turning: EVE blogger Poetic Stanziel was furious about SOMER Blink’s RMT activities and CCP’s refusal to ban SOMER. Poetic protested by publicly doing some RMT himself. When Poetic was banned, his many critics were delighted. However, a year later, Poetic got what he wanted. The founder of SOMER, Somerset Mahm, was banned, reviled by all as an RMT’er.

The case of SOMER is especially illustrative of how quickly players can rise and fall. SOMER was given a Community Spotlight article by CCP. They also gave the organization a bunch of unique items and sang SOMER’s praises, claiming SOMER’s founder had always been “100% trustful”. CCP announced their intention to partner with and promote more content creators like SOMER. But when the torches and pitchforks crowd came out against SOMER’s RMT scheme in 2013, CCP turned against SOMER in an instant–from Community Spotlight to community scapegoat in the “blink” of an eye. CCP shut down the operation they had been so enthusiastic about only a few weeks earlier. SOMER languished for about a year and then got himself permabanned when he tried to resurrect his operation.

The lesson to be learned is that if you feel like you’re on top, watch out. CCP Falcon recently gave a passionate defense of the right to suicide gank haulers in highsec. Just days later, Falcon posted a thread about “real-life harassment”, alluding to the permabans handed out under a new policy. Among the banned were some of the most prominent suicide gankers in highsec.

The Bonus Round

To understand the new policy and how it developed, it’s essential to get a good grasp of the Bonus Round fiasco that took place earlier this year. That having been said, it’s important to note that the recent permabans weren’t a punishment for those involved with Erotica 1 or his scam. Contrary to what many assumed, the ban wave wasn’t a case of CCP catching up with and punishing the rest of Erotica’s crew. The bans were aimed at a new group of people (with some overlap) who performed a similar scam.

Erotica 1 was an ISK doubler in Jita. To add a twist on the usual ISK-doubling scam, Erotica put a series of rules in his bio and claimed his source of income was people who broke the rules. Some players thought that if they were clever enough, they could navigate the elaborate rules and win ISK. In practice, Erotica did double small contributions sent his way, hoping players would then send him larger amounts. Erotica raked in a surprising amount of ISK with this scam, but so far did little that all the other Jita scammers weren’t already doing.

At some point in 2013, Erotica came up with the Bonus Round game show. His idea was that if he hosted an in-game channel populated by a bunch of players, a potential BR “contestant” would believe it was legit. Each contestant was someone who had already given money to a Jita ISK doubler, so it wasn’t a stretch for them to believe in a game show. In fact, contestants were so convinced the game show as real that they were willing to transfer all of their assets to the scammer up front, in exchange for a chance to “win big”. Contestants even gave Erotica an API key so he could verify that all their assets were given away.

To keep the channel populated, Erotica continuously sent out invites to people. Erotica especially loved inviting well-known EVE players. A large population of idlers developed. To keep the channel somewhat active, Erotica spread the love. BR contestants were told to contract their assets to different audience members in the channel, who would “x up” to receive the goods. Once all assets were transferred, Erotica would invent a reason why the contestant failed the BR and all their assets were forfeit.

Word spread. To Erotica’s surprise, the news about people failing BRs didn’t hurt business. In fact, it helped tremendously. EVE players were more willing to play when they heard about a loser than a winner. EVE players wanted to succeed where someone else had failed.

The BR evolved as Erotica added more game show elements to keep the crew entertained. When Erotica learned about “singing ransoms”, he started asking contestants to join TeamSpeak to sing a song. Some contestants balked, saying they had a bad singing voice. Erotica let them read the lyrics instead. Eventually, singing songs and reading random Wikipedia pages would both become mandatory BR activities.

In the early stages, Erotica’s BRs were considered the equivalent of singing ransoms. Contestants were annoyed when told that they had lost, but the SoundCloud recordings of the BRs weren’t controversial. By the autumn of 2013, BR recordings were linked to the official EVE forums, and posters (including CSM members) commented on them. BRs were considered standard fare, nothing dangerous.

Erotica continued to push the envelope. Instead of terminating the BR after a few songs, it became his goal to keep BRs going as long as possible. Contestants would be asked to sing or read one thing after another until the contestant realized it was a scam. Then the contestant, not Erotica, would end the BR. This could take hours, because the contestants were totally convinced the game show was real. And they expected the game show to be challenging, even time-consuming. The ruse typically fell apart when a contestant had to log out to do something else. They would be asked to do “just one more song” over and over, which made it obvious that the BR host wasn’t acting in good faith.

A common misconception is that the BR participants were bullied or pushed to the breaking point, or that their assets were used as leverage to make them do things they didn’t want to. The reality is that there wasn’t a breaking point. Rather, players kept going as long as they believed the game show was real. After coming to the realization that they had been scammed, the BR ended. There was no leverage; once Erotica was revealed to be a scammer, they knew they weren’t going to get their stuff back–or “win big”. Granted, the high stakes made them want to believe the scam was real, but the “just one more song” treatment didn’t fool anyone for very long once it started.

Upon realizing they had been scammed, contestants weren’t happy. Not because they had been driven to a breaking point by singing–they would’ve been perfectly content if they’d won–but because they lost all their in-game assets. Their reactions were actually more subdued on TeamSpeak than in an in-game channel, where they might have unleashed a torrent of profanity. Over 100 BRs were hosted. According to the BR regulars, there were only two or three incidents where the contestant really blew up. Some contestants took it well, or at least pretended to. Those with a positive attitude were recruited by Erotica to join his crew. They became regulars in the in-game channel and “x’ed up” to receive the assets of future victims. Ah, the scammer circle of life.

The Explosion

Then there was the notorious Sohkar incident, one of the few BRs where a contestant truly raged on TeamSpeak. Those possessing only a vague familiarity with these events may be surprised to learn that Sohkar began as Erotica’s chief critic in Jita local. He accused Erotica of being a scammer and warned everyone not to give him any ISK. Sohkar hated ISK doublers.

Erotica always responded by politely inviting Sohkar to try getting his ISK doubled to see if it was real or not. Sohkar refused. Eventually, however, curiosity got the better of him. He sent Erotica a small amount of ISK, which was doubled. He sent him a little more, which was also doubled. Then he sent a bit more and was invited to a BR. Sohkar was impressed by how many people were milling around the in-game channel. Before he knew it, Sohkar was contracting all of his assets away. Next stop: TeamSpeak.

The Sohkar BR proceeded normally until, after around two hours, it was Sohkar’s bedtime. This was the point where a contestant would get the “just one more song” line over and over. Sohkar knew something was up, and his original suspicions about Erotica bubbled to the surface. Then he realized the magnitude of what he had done. He’d given all of his in-game possessions to someone that he’d told everyone in Jita never to trust.

Sohkar exploded with rage. He was angry about losing all of his stuff, about not getting the chance to “win big”, and about being tricked. However, I think the best explanation for why Sohkar was so much angrier than the other BR contestants comes from his earlier role as Erotica’s nemesis in Jita local. He was angry at himself.

Famously, Sohkar’s wife was alarmed by hearing his yells from the other room. She came to see what was going on, and she learned about the scam. She then took the microphone and yelled at the scammers for taking her husband’s ISK. Sohkar resumed yelling when his wife left the room. (Side note: In another BR, the client’s wife also came into the room toward the end. Rather than siding with her husband like Sohkar’s wife did, she blamed him for being scammed. She was heard asking in an annoyed tone, “What did you give that guy all your money for?” I invite the married readers to speculate which reaction their own spouse would have.)

After telling off the BR crew in TeamSpeak, Sohkar logged out. According to Sohkar, by the next day, he had already gotten over it. He spoke about the incident with other members of his corp. They gave him some ISK and helped him get back on his feet. Contrary to their suggestions, Sohkar chose not to petition the matter to CCP. He knew scamming was part of the game and that he’d made a huge mistake by trusting Erotica. With the assistance of his corpmates, Sohkar quickly recovered his lost spacebucks. Sohkar moved on, but the EVE community and CCP would have plenty more to say on the matter.

The Community Weighs In

As with other BRs, the recording of Sohkar’s failure to “win big” was passed around and linked on EVE-O. One of the listeners was CCP Falcon, a community liaison. He was disturbed by the anger Sohkar displayed. Falcon took the matter to the CSM and asked them if they felt Erotica should be banned for causing another player so much distress.

According to what CSM members said afterward, most initially felt such a ban would set a bad precedent. As a group, they had no love for Erotica, but they knew of other situations where players had been recorded raging on TeamSpeak. It wasn’t unheard of for nullsec fleet commanders to rage after a loss. Awox victims or singing ransoms gone wrong could also end in outbursts. CSM Malcanis played the trump card: Did CCP really want to regulate players’ conduct on TeamSpeak? It would be problematic, given CCP had no ability to monitor TeamSpeak channels. The logs would always show nothing. At first, Malcanis’ argument brought about something like a consensus. Yet there was nothing to stop Falcon from changing his mind in the future.

Ripard Teg was one of the CSM members who felt Erotica should be banned. He was appalled by the BR crew’s lack of sympathy for Sohkar. Ripard also had a radically different interpretation of events. He believed Sohkar had been “tortured” into having a mental breakdown. Ripard wrote a blog post about the torture, claiming, for example, that keeping Sohkar up past his bedtime constituted “sleep deprivation”. Ripard’s blog post inspired a lot of eye-rolling. However, as part of a deal with EveNews24, his blog posts were re-posted there, where they enjoyed a wider audience. Massively.com spotted the post on EveNews24 post and published an “article” lazily consisting of the headline “Here’s some of the cyberbullying that happens in EVE Online”, a link, and little else.

The Massively story didn’t gain any outside traction, but the possibility of bad press for EVE called for the Sohkar matter to be revisited. An EVE-O threadnought on the subject ballooned, largely thanks to the same characters arguing back and forth. Opinion was split, though most agreed torture was bad. A few days later, Erotica was permabanned.

Simultaneously, Falcon issued an announcement regarding “real life harassment”. He said that action would be taken in cases of “clear and extraordinary levels of real life harassment against our players in the outside world”. The implication was clear, though CCP wouldn’t say anything in public about Erotica or Sohkar specifically. The next time Erotica tried to log in, he was met by the dreaded “Banned” pop-up. The “reason” portion of the pop-up was left blank. Erotica used the web-based petition system to request clarification. According to Erotica, CCP chose not to reply.

The Aftermath

As with almost any ban, the EVE community approved. Players disliked Erotica personally, and they didn’t see his departure as any great loss. Supporters of the ban said that Erotica’s mistake was that he didn’t “keep it in game” or that the TeamSpeak portion of the BR was unnecessary to the scam. Most agreed that this was a unique case and wouldn’t set any precedent. Time would tell.

Just hours before Erotica was banned, Sohkar joined a Twitch stream with Erotica. Sohkar wanted to tell his side of the story. Viewers noticed that Sohkar was in a pleasant mood and was surprisingly chummy with Erotica, the guy who had supposedly tortured him weeks before. This led some viewers to develop conspiracy theories or to accuse Sohkar of having “Stockholm syndrome”. Actually, Sohkar didn’t identify with the scammers; he just didn’t think they had broken any rules. He’d been lured into the BR with promises of great things, was disappointed, and left in a huff. That’s not Stockholm syndrome–that’s Reykjavík syndrome.

The Twitch stream came to the attention of DJ FunkyBacon, who wanted to interview Sohkar and the now-banned Erotica. FunkyBacon felt it was particularly important for Sohkar, the victim, to be heard, since so many people had been speaking for him. Sohkar expressed his bewilderment that people were taking the BR incident so seriously. From his own perspective, he’d gotten angry, gotten over it, and that was that. He still didn’t like scammers, but believed they were a legitimate part of the game. Sohkar said he felt that no one should be blamed for another person losing their temper, and that Erotica shouldn’t be banned.

Sohkar went on to say that the only person he was annoyed with was Ripard Teg. He had attempted to contact Ripard, but Ripard gave him the cold shoulder and refused to respond to his EVEmail. If Sohkar’s viewpoint had become public early on, it would have torpedoed Ripard’s crusade. FunkyBacon published the interview on his blog and leaked the contents of a semi-private channel in which Ripard participated. During the chat, Ripard suggested that he didn’t care about–or even like–Sohkar, and was only interested in destroying Erotica. FunkyBacon felt this demonstrated extreme hypocrisy on Ripard’s part, since publicly Ripard portrayed himself as Sohkar’s champion and protector.

Ripard bristled at the leak. Nevertheless, Ripard was forced to admit that the victim’s feelings were not his concern, writing, “I’m not clear on how what the victim felt about what happened to him really matters in the overall scheme of things.” Strangely, in Ripard’s view, the feelings of the victim and the perpetrator were immaterial, but the feelings of a third-party blogger were of paramount importance. Ripard also suggested that Sohkar might have been bribed.

As is so often the case, the community pendulum swung back. Ripard was accused of deliberately ginning up negative publicity for EVE in order to service a personal vendetta. Players learned of Ripard’s true feelings about Sohkar, and how cynically he had used him. Ripard had accused Erotica of being a sociopath for mistreating Sohkar–and now Ripard’s own behavior drew condemnation. Ultimately, Ripard’s reputation became almost as toxic as the player he’d worked so hard to demonize. Several weeks later, Ripard retired from his three-and-a-half years of blogging. He cited, among other reasons, his discontent with the state of the EVE community.

Ripard retired, Erotica was gone, and the Sohkar fiasco was over. But the legacy of the Bonus Round had only just begun.

Ethical ISK Doubling

In the hysteria over the Sohkar BR, most people overlooked the underlying scam itself. Erotica’s BR was one of the most successful scams of all time. After all, it’s a rare scam that can get someone to transfer 100% of their assets. The BR scam did this regularly. The scam was tried and true, performed day in and day out. This wasn’t lost on the scammer community. The details of the BRs were publicized widely, so it was inevitable that copycats would pick up the pieces of the BR and use the scam to make money for themselves.

One such scammer was named Fighter Jets GuitarSolo. In the month after Erotica was banned, he started advertising “ethical ISK doubling” in Jita. Fighter Jets copied Erotica’s method of creating a list of rules in his bio. If someone sent FJ money to be doubled, they would be invited to play a new version of the BR.

Why would copycats borrow the elements of a scam that had gotten someone else permabanned? The answer was simple. CCP had made it abundantly clear that Erotica hadn’t been banned for scamming. EVE players were allowed to scam as much as they liked. What was forbidden was “clear and extraordinary levels of real life harassment against players in the outside world”. Copycat scammers naturally wanted to avoid anything that resembled the Sohkar incident, while still using the scam to make lots of money. Thus was born a kinder, gentler, sanitized version of the BR.

Anyone can offer to double ISK in Jita. The only part of the scam requiring effort is the creation of an in-game channel–and more importantly, keeping it populated. This is essential to the scam because the presence of an audience is what makes the BR game show convincing. To find his audience of channel-fillers, FJ drew upon what is politely termed the highsec “content creator” community. It is comprised of the gankers, miner bumpers, wardeccers, freighter killers, awoxers, scammers, and everyone else who enjoys doing things in highsec that don’t involve being AFK or shooting red crosses. Most players outside of highsec are unaware of or don’t understand this community. Its evolution into a cohesive group occurred only in the last two years.

In 2012, I wrote some essays criticizing CCP’s efforts to make highsec safer. I predicted CCP would continue to nerf highsec PvP, and that the carebears would nevertheless still beg CCP for additional safety. At the time, this was considered tin foil stuff by most. But the various “villains” of highsec already shared my concerns, and they took these arguments seriously. Then, over the course of the next few expansions, the predicted nerfs arrived: Massive barge buffs, nerfs to wardecs, the near-extinction of can-flipping, and “Crimewatch”, just to name a few. Afterward, the carebears’ main complaint about EVE was that highsec still wasn’t safe enough.

These developments were the catalyst necessary to draw the highsec “villains” together into communities like the New Order and the Belligerent Undesirables. The communities had substantial overlap. Awoxers, scammers, gankers, and wardeccers all shared resources, information, and personnel. Particularly attractive targets might be attacked by multiple groups at the same time: Infiltrated by awoxers, wardecced, and then bumped and suicide ganked when they dropped corp. In their hour of need, a kind stranger would offer the victims a good deal on safe, waterfront rental property in Deklein. The “content creators” became an unofficial coalition. A sort of highsec Legion of Doom, if you will.

Erotica himself eventually found his way into the New Order and CODEdot alliance. He sent billions of ISK from his scam to fund suicide gankers, and he added the Code to the list of mandatory BR reading material. FJ’s audience largely came from the same sources. It included some players who had attended the Erotica BRs, but also many who hadn’t. Fighter Jet’s first task was to remove the objectionable elements from the BR scam to ensure he wouldn’t end up banned like Erotica.

While Erotica’s focus was to make a game show last as long as possible and circulate the TeamSpeak recording of it, FJ’s focus was getting the money. To make the scam work, he still needed the pretense a game show. Rather than dragging things out, he terminated the game show as soon as he saw any signs of annoyance or reluctance on the part of the contestant. In the in-game channel and on TeamSpeak, the FJ crew periodically asked the contestant if he or she felt harassed, bullied, upset, tortured, etc. As you’d expect, the contestant always said “no”. Nobody feels harassed when they’re busy trying to win a game show.

Members of Erotica’s original BR crew were invited to FJ’s channel. Some chose to leave when they heard about all the new rules, feeling they were too strict. Watching EVE from exile, Erotica also became aware of the FJ BRs. Erotica liked having a legacy, but he disapprovingly called the anti-harassment safeguards “paranoid”.

According to the FJ team, their get-in-and-get-out strategy prevented them from encountering any explosive situations like the Sohkar incident. Though anyone in the TeamSpeak channel could have recorded the sanitized BRs, recordings weren’t openly circulated. When FJ doubled a player’s ISK, he would sometimes ask the player to advertise it by putting in a good word for him on the EVE forums. This occurred throughout April, the very month after Erotica was banned. The threads were locked, and CCP reportedly told FJ to stop doing this. He complied. CCP took no further action for 5 months.

FJ’s crew were confident that because they had avoided any mishaps, they couldn’t be accused of going beyond what scammers were allowed to do. The new rules might have been paranoid, but they weren’t paranoid enough.

The Ban Wave

On the morning of September 10th, CCP finally acted, issuing simultaneous permabans to those who had participated in FJ’s scam. CCP didn’t publicize any details, but Falcon did make a thread reminding players that “real-life harassment” is against the rules. Based on that, many people initially assumed that the ban wave was some kind of follow-up to the Erotica ban. The EVE community never met a ban they didn’t like, so there was a bit of celebration about the idea of Erotica’s crew finally being punished for the Sohkar incident. In fact, the Erotica BR participants were not targeted.

Despite the attention drawn by the ban wave, CCP remained silent. A few different CSM members were enlisted by multiple parties hoping to get more information. However, CCP decided it would be better to leave the CSM in the dark. They stonewalled the CSM, refusing to provide them with information of any kind. The only available source of information on the ban wave is the banned players themselves. I have spoken to many of the banned. As it became increasingly clear that their bans were not going to be reversed anyway, they opened up about what they had done–and what they hadn’t.

Although some in the EVE community jubilantly trumpeted the downfall of CODEdot, only three of the banned players were members of that alliance. Most of the banned, however, considered themselves members of the New Order or Belligerent Undesirables communities. Some other banned players were unaffiliated. Additional banned players have not been tracked down yet; they posted anonymously on various forums about being banned but none of the known banned players claimed ownership of the posts.

Based on the information I was able to gather, I estimate that around two dozen players were banned. (Possibly more, if other copycat BRs were targeted.) Those with multiple accounts were banned on all accounts. All players hit by the ban wave were given permanent bans, and all received identical notifications explaining why they were banned: “involvement with a group” engaged in real-life harassment.

Involvement With A Group

The decision to ban the FJ crew for “involvement with a group,” rather than for harassment itself, should catch your attention. The difference between the two offenses is important, and the precedent it set is therefore highly significant. What it means, in short, is that you can be banned for something that others did, rather than for something you did. If you were “involved” with them enough, that is. I’m sure you’re all curious where that line is drawn. CCP isn’t talking. So I posed a series of questions to the permabanned players to find out how far their involvement with FJ’s scam went.

To begin with, every banned player I spoke with admitted to having at least some connection to FJ’s BRs. Some, like FJ himself (obviously), were involved in each aspect of the scam. Some of the banned never joined the TeamSpeak channel. They only “x’ed up” to receive the contestants’ assets and perhaps spoke in the in-game channel. That’s important, because the rationale for banning Erotica was all about his out-of-game activity, not in-game scamming. Before, everyone assumed you were safe as long as you “kept it in game”. No more. A new precedent has been set: You can now be banned for someone else’s out-of-game offense, even if you never left the EVE client.

It goes further. Some of the banned did not join the TeamSpeak channel or participate in the in-game portion of the scam in any way. The most extreme case of this was Bob Starseeker, a Goon “recruitment director”. Bob was invited to the in-game channel by FJ and exchanged a few words with him. Bob went idle and never spoke in the channel again. But Bob didn’t close the channel window, so he was always a member. He was never on FJ’s TeamSpeak channel. FJ confirmed Bob’s story, but also told me that at some point he gave Bob moderator status in the in-game channel. This was done without Bob’s permission and possibly without Bob’s knowledge. (You can add any player you want as a moderator for a channel. They aren’t notified and don’t need to agree to it.) Apparently this is what led to Bob’s permaban.

I’m almost inclined to believe Bob was simply a case of “collateral bannage”. I hope CCP wouldn’t have banned him if they knew his connection to FJ’s bonus rounds was so limited. Yet this lack of knowledge is inherent to situations where players are banned for out-of-game activity, where the logs always show nothing. Whether or not CCP did it with full knowledge of the situation, the fact remains that they did ban him. Thus, the answer to the question of how “involved” you need to be is: not very involved at all. Needless to say, this is a big change to the way the ban system works.

Incidentally, several of the banned players appealed their bans using the web-based petition system. They all received the same response. They were not provided with any information; they were merely told that their bans were not up for discussion. The response was signed by same GM who banned them. In my view, this was a mistake. I’m of the opinion that an appeal should always be answered by a different GM than the one who took the original action, even if it doesn’t change the outcome. It never hurts to put an extra set of eyes on these things, especially a permaban. That’s kind of the point of letting people appeal stuff. People have been banned by mistake in the past, and they will in the future.

Real Real-Life Harassment

Let’s return to the issue of the core crime, what CCP Falcon referred to as “clear and extraordinary levels of real life harassment against our players in the outside world”. Can it be considered harassment when the victim is the one who goes to your TeamSpeak server? Is an EVE TeamSpeak channel considered “real life”, and does a TeamSpeak conversation take place “in the outside world”? Based on the bans, CCP’s answer to these questions is yes. I think the better answer is no, because in my opinion real-life harassment refers to something else entirely. The best way to see what real-life harassment isn’t, is to look at what real-life harassment is. Allow me to demonstrate with some examples from EVE’s history.

The Mittani is by far the most famous player in EVE, and he was required by CCP to publicly disclose his real-life identity to run for CSM. He’s as high-profile as EVE players get. Sadly, but unsurprisingly, this resulted in certain individuals making phone calls and sending threatening messages to his home. There must have been occasions when Mrs. Mittani doubted the perks of being married to a space emperor.

Most notorious of The Mittani’s admirers was a young lad from the UK who became zealous in his desire to interact with The Mittani in real life. The lad was banned. He tried unsuccessfully to evade the ban. Despite this unpromising start, he was eventually allowed back into the game under a new name. CCP can be forgiving, sometimes. It is generally believed that the lenience shown was due to the player’s young age at the time of his shenanigans.

A lesser-known example of a player targeted for real-life harassment was T3mp3s7, one of the creators of Eve Skunk. You might recall that Eve Skunk was an automated system designed to leak alliance EVEmails. Some alliances weren’t happy with her. She was booed and heckled at an EVE fan event by members of one such alliance. But that wasn’t enough to send the message, it seems. According to T3mp3s7, her critics also sent her a bunch of threatening phone calls.

The most outrageous campaign of real-life harassment targeted Kugutsumen. This was done in retaliation for his publishing of BoB’s forums. BoB officers, led by SirMolle, launched an effort to get Kugutsumen fired from his job. They openly spread his personal information, and encouraged people to call his workplace. During the campaign, they even used the official EVE forums. It was incredibly brazen. Luckily, Kugutsumen was the owner of the company, so he was the one who picked up the phone when BoB members called. He heard terrible things about what he’d done, but chose not to fire himself.

Amazingly, in this instance the zero-tolerance policy on real-life harassment became a zero-punishment policy. BoB escaped untouched. SirMolle didn’t even get a temporary forum ban, let alone an in-game ban of any kind. It should be noted that this took place before all the CCP devs were required to leave BoB. Later, after the great cleansing, SirMolle was temporarily banned for sharing his titan account. Add him to the list of famous players who experienced bans. (Before The Mittani’s rise to prominence, SirMolle was the most powerful and well-known player in EVE. He faded into obscurity after BoB was destroyed by, among others, Kugutsumen’s alliance Pandemic Legion.)

Is Teamspeak Real Life?

These examples of real-life harassment don’t look anything like the BRs, and not even the explosive Sohkar Bonus Round. The fact that the BRs (and other TeamSpeak activities) don’t resemble the named offense only makes the rules more vague.

The first missing piece is harassment. Using common sense, if you yell at me on my own TeamSpeak server, I’m not harassing you. For harassment, at a minimum, you need to pursue the victim, not the other way around. You don’t often hear about harassment occurring in-game, due to the handy “block” feature. If the person you don’t like is on TeamSpeak, don’t log into their server. Not even if they tell you they’ll double your ISK. Especially not then.

The second missing piece is the “real life” or “outside world” element. TeamSpeak is a substitute for in-game VOIP. It’s out-of-game, but not really real life. Using a TeamSpeak channel for EVE and talking to other players is not the equivalent of finding their phone number and calling them. Similarly, PM’ing someone on an alliance forum is not the same as sending them a letter in the mail.

TeamSpeak, alliance forums, and other third-party EVE tools are in a kind of gray area. They exist outside of the game, but they’re EVE activities, not real-life activities. Some might say CCP needs to step in and police the gray area in order to protect their players. I see the gray area as a feature rather than a bug. There’s value in having some EVE-related places/media in which CCP doesn’t interfere. Would you want the ISD moderating your alliance forum, even with the stated goal of preventing harassment of EVE players?

In the past, there wasn’t any regulation of TeamSpeak interactions. As Malcanis argued, it wasn’t a good idea because CCP can’t monitor, control, or log what goes on there. This meant you could get away with saying things on TeamSpeak that would get you gagged in an in-game channel. By elevating TeamSpeak interactions to “real life”, the standard of behavior is now more strict than an in-game channel. If you curse in local, you might be muted. If you curse in TeamSpeak–or if the other person curses at you because you made him angry–you can be permabanned for harassment. Don’t forget, the crime of the BRs wasn’t insulting players, it was asking them to sing “one more song”. You could do that in-game. Not on TeamSpeak now, because that’s real life. The standard of behavior has been turned upside down.

Punishing Crimes That Probably Happened, Maybe

Whether or not you agreed with Erotica’s ban, at least we knew what it was about. There was a victim, Sohkar. There was an incident, the explosive BR. There was a record, the TeamSpeak audio file. With the players banned for their connection to FJ’s scam, we don’t have any of those things.

Who was harassed? What happened? Who was involved? Where’s the evidence? The logs show nothing. We don’t have a TeamSpeak recording to work from. Judging by Bob Starseeker’s ban, there wasn’t a particular incident in mind. If there was a victim, Bob didn’t interact with him, because he never spoke in the in-game channel or joined TeamSpeak.

Most likely, CCP looked at the FJ scam and thought, “This is Erotica all over again, so there have probably been Sohkar-grade meltdowns, even if there’s no evidence for one. Every player we can connect to this scam should be banned.” A new kind of ban was born: Bans based on speculation about what could have occurred, based on the history of what someone else did, rather than what these players did. In my view, if you’re going to ban one player for harassment–much less permaban dozens of players for harassment–you need to have a harassment victim. It’s not enough to say there was probably a victim out there somewhere.

Here’s an example to illustrate the difference. Mynnna is a trillionaire who made most of his money through market speculation. That is, he tried to predict the changes CCP would make and how those changes would affect the EVE economy. He made his inferences based on devblogs and CCP forum posts, along with other sources. During the lead-up to the CSM8 election, it was announced that Mynnna would replace The Mittani as the official Goon candidate. The “Grr Goons” crowd immediately objected. They predicted Mynnna would follow in the footsteps of Larkonis Trassler, who was banned for gaining inside information via his CSM position and using it to play the market. Putting Mynnna on the CSM would be like inviting the fox into the henhouse, they said.

The critics assumed, based on Mynnna’s history, that he would do what Larkonis did. The idea was plausible. However, it was also plausible that Mynnna would follow the rules and put his market speculation hobby on ice while he was a CSM member. As long as there was no evidence of Mynnna pulling a Larkonis, there was no reason to ban him.

Similarly, it was plausible that FJ’s crew could have done to someone what Erotica did to Sohkar. On the other hand, it was also plausible that FJ simply used the scam to make money and hear a few people sing. True, you can protect players from harassment by preemptively banning FJ and everyone involved with him. But the same logic says you should protect the EVE economy by preemptively banning Mynnna, or prevent another t20 fiasco by preemptively firing any CCP employee who “might” cheat in the future.

The other issue with banning players based on what someone else did with a similar scam is that EVE players borrow ideas from each other. FJ’s scam was obviously adapted from Erotica’s BRs. But Erotica himself based the BRs on elements he borrowed from other scammers. The BR was inspired by singing ransoms that others had done. Erotica wasn’t the first ISK doubler, nor was he the first to run a fake game show. And he certainly wasn’t the first person to make someone mad on comms and share the recording.

The can is open and the worms are long gone. You can be permabanned–without warning or appeal–for idling in an in-game channel where someone else brought a contestant, went on TeamSpeak, and may or may not have gotten them angry. But only if CCP finds the situation similar enough to what Erotica did. Or what Fighter Jets did. Or maybe what some other people did. We won’t know for sure until the next permabans arrive. As it turns out, though, there are a lot of situations that bear more than a passing resemblance to the Sohkar meltdown.

Maybe Fine, Maybe Permabannable

Players can now be permabanned for what they say on TeamSpeak, or what groups of players they’re “involved with” say on TeamSpeak. This has implications for a surprisingly wide variety of players. Before you start shouting “slippery slope fallacy”, I invite you to remember that the real world doesn’t go by the rules they taught you in your freshman rhetoric class. Missions creep, precedents stack up, and organizations drift. For instance, how many who called for blood during the Erotica controversy expected it would lead to Bob Starseeker being permabanned for idling in the wrong in-game channel?

The following are just a few examples of today’s popular EVE-related activities that don’t “keep it in game”:

Singing Ransoms

The infamous singing ransoms, in which pirates ask their victim for a song on TeamSpeak instead of ISK, hold a special place of honor in EVE. They have been celebrated and virtually endorsed by CCP. Recordings of singing ransoms have been played at EVE fan events, with CCP’s approval (and probably more than a few laughs). As a dev, CCP Gargant even participated in one, singing “Barbie Girl” to save his pod during an in-game event.

Erotica originally got the idea for the TeamSpeak part of his BRs by listening to recordings of singing ransoms. For this reason, singing ransoms became a conceptual thorn in the side of everyone who argued for his ban. There are simply too many elements shared in common. Inviting a victim to TeamSpeak? Check. Using the promise of in-game assets to make someone sing? Check. A total absence of in-game incentive for the perpetrator? Check. Done for the sake of humiliating the victim? Check. Angering the victim by taking their stuff regardless of whether they sang? Check. Distributing the recording for everyone’s amusement? Check.

Some pirates do honor their ransoms, and everybody has a good time. Just like sometimes the BR contestant wins and everyone rides off into the sunset together. All I’ll say on that point is, let yourself get tackled by one of these pirates and pay the ransom–then tell me how it works out for you.

Honorable pirates aside, singing ransoms can end–and are usually intended to end–with a victim raging on comms, much to the delight of the pirates. The biggest difference between a BR and a typical singing ransom is the length. In a BR–as they were done by Erotica, anyway–the contestant keeps singing or reading until they realize it’s a scam, even if that takes hours. In a singing ransom, the pirates usually kill the victim after a few songs. They can only resist the killmail for so long.

However, there’s nothing to stop a pirate from doing to the victim what Bart Simpson did to Sideshow Bob in an old episode of The Simpsons: As Bob is about to kill him, Bart makes a last request, to hear Bob sing. Unable to resist this appeal to his vanity, Bob agrees. Bart says he wants to hear the entire score of the “H.M.S. Pinafore”. It takes Sideshow Bob hours to complete the task, just like the Sohkar Bonus Round. What would CCP do about a pirate who demanded to hear the entire score of the H.M.S. Pinafore? Careful, now. This is a very dangerous thought experiment. They say you can be permabanned just by thinking about it too much.

Awox Recordings

When people heard Sohkar yell and scream on the BR recording, they assumed it must have been because Erotica did something truly terrible to him: harassment, torture, etc. In fact, EVE players have outbursts for all sorts of reasons. Miners make death threats when they lose a Retriever. Pandemic Legion FCs rage when they lose a fleet battle. And players cry when they lose their blingy ships.

Fully aware of the treasures that await them, awoxers enjoy joining corps and recording the reaction in TeamSpeak when they open fire on their corpmates. Perhaps the most famous of these recordings is Gecko 136’s successful attack against a blingy (yet poorly fit) Typhoon Fleet Issue worth over 3 billion ISK. Gecko was removed from the corp’s TeamSpeak channel after he destroyed the ship, but he secretly had a second account in place, recording everything said afterward. The resulting SoundCloud has over 34,000 hits–more than the Sohkar BR.

The victim was more depressed than explosive, but his outburst was extraordinary, certainly on the level of a Sohkar. The ship was too expensive to lose. He lost it. The EVE community’s reaction to Gecko was uniformly positive. He inspired people to become awoxers. The user comments on the Eve-Kill.net page for the kill preserve the sentiment. Now for a little game. Guess which EVE player the following quote comes from:

“There’s a recording of this guy’s corp comms in the aftermath of the loss. Unfortunately, it’s the most pathetic display of whining that I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard a lot of it over the years. This poor guy almost literally emotionally comes apart. If you are a fan of tears, this is your Mecca… Sorry for your loss, Shade, but awoxing is part of EVE.”

Was it Erotica? FJ, perhaps? No, it was Ripard Teg himself, defender of the oppressed. He highlighted the kill in a blog post. How things have changed. There was no in-game advantage to be gained by creating the recording and disseminating it. Gecko did it solely to share the amusement of listening to a player freak out on TeamSpeak. Peering down from the moral high ground, it would be very easy to condemn Gecko for taking pleasure in the suffering of another human being. What was the difference between that recording and the Sohkar one? If a GM can’t come up with an answer, he might permaban the next Gecko.

See You In 319 Station!

During the summer of 2012, the CFC/HBC kicked Nulli Secunda out of nullsec and took all their space. In the final, desperate days of the war, Nulli ordered its members to rally at the NPC station in 319-3D. Realizing the tired, demoralized state of its troops, Nulli leadership came up with an unusual propaganda strategy. They hired a–how can I put this politely?–lady of the webcam. Reading Nulli’s script, she encouraged Nulli Secunda’s pilots, concluding with the famous words, “See you in 319 station! Woohoo!”

In another well-known incident, a player got a bunch of people into TeamSpeak and called a phone sex hotline, putting the phone on speaker so they could hear everything. The player tried to get some role-play going, using EVE terminology. The woman on the phone did her best to understand EVE’s confusing mechanics and mythology. At the end of the 8-minute call, the player finally revealed that 50 other people were listening in. The recording was uploaded to YouTube, where it racked up more than a quarter-million hits.

Some might say these stunts were a bit of harmless fun. Others may prefer instead to deliver a righteously indignant lecture about exploitation and standards of conduct. The latter group lacks a sense of humor, but they often carry banhammers.

Space Court

One of the newest additions to the TeamSpeak scene, “Space Court” harnesses the energy of the Goons’ victims and puts them to work entertaining the masses. In Space Court, a player who has been wronged in some way by a Goon (e.g. the victim of a recruitment scam) gets invited to TeamSpeak to make his case and possibly receive compensation. An elaborate kangaroo court awaits. You can probably imagine how things go from there. Naturally, it all ends with a recording of the trial being distributed to anyone who wants a laugh.

It’s not a new concept, inviting complainers to TeamSpeak on the pretense of helping them. However, Goons–despite their image–put extra work into everything they do. Listeners have already begun comparing Space Court to a “gentleman’s Bonus Round”. Hopefully GMs can see the distinction, or else another group of players will be disappearing at some convenient point in the future.

Makalu Cries

As I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of different situations where EVE players rage on comms. They don’t need to be prompted by scams (or extraordinary real-life harassment). It shouldn’t be presumed that someone who freaks on TeamSpeak is a mild-mannered fellow who broke down after being tortured. For some, yelling on comms is the first impulse rather than the last.

Spies routinely record comms during fleet battles. If the enemy forces are commanded by an emotional FC, spies distribute edited versions of the recordings to highlight the FC’s emotional outbursts. When -A- was losing its space, fleet commander Makalu Zarya lost his temper during battles and was mocked accordingly. EVE songstress Sindel Pellion went so far as to perform “Makalu Cries”, a parody song complete with audio clips of Makalu’s TeamSpeak rage.

Most people would see this as more harmless fun. The discerning EVE player would also recognize it as high-quality propaganda. Nevertheless, those looking down disapprovingly from the moral high ground can throw their tomatoes as always: “No in-game benefit”, “singling out a player for harassment and abuse”, “taking pleasure in someone else’s misery”, “not keeping it in game”, etc.

EVE Radio Contests

During the aftermath of the Erotica fiasco, DJ FunkyBacon reminisced about some of the wilder EVE Radio contests. EVE Radio regularly hosts events and rewards players with ISK for performing stunts in real life. Unlike the BRs, EVE Radio always delivers the ISK–if a task was successfully completed. However, their tasks can be considerably more challenging than singing songs or reading Wikipedia pages.

EVE Radio doesn’t always tell the contestants what to do; EVE players have plenty of imagination of their own. Back in 2007, EVE Radio invited its listeners to send videos of themselves performing the most outrageous stunts they could think of. EVE Radio would judge the submissions and give out prizes for the most impressive feats.

A listener named Sgt Torrent came up with an idea, recruited a friend with a video camera, and set about his mission. Things didn’t go according to plan. A horrific accident took place. It’s not necessary for me to paint a complete word picture, but the phrases “flesh ripped from bone” and “skinned alive” should point you in the right direction. Long story short, Sgt Torrent was confined to a hospital bed for at least two weeks.

Sgt Torrent’s friend, the one with the camera, was an EVE player, pure and true. After delivering his buddy to the hospital, he returned home, edited the video footage, and submitted it to EVE Radio on Sgt Torrent’s behalf. No sense in leaving good ISK on the table. Since contestants didn’t submit their ideas in advance–only the finished product–the EVE Radio hosts had no idea what they were about to see. They were mortified as they witnessed the gruesome spectacle, all of which was caught on film. Sgt Torrent was awarded the prize for second place.

When Sgt Torrent’s wife learned of her husband’s condition, she became possessed of an irresistible curiosity about the circumstances that had led to his ill-fated stunt. She was given an introduction to the exciting world of EVE Online, a game like no other. First impressions are everything. Having gotten off on the wrong foot, Mrs. Torrent could only see the negative aspects of EVE. She was eager to get in touch with the EVE Radio people so they could have a frank exchange of ideas. She expressed to them her honest opinions about their enterprise. They were impressed by her passion, but patiently explained to her that nothing was their own fault. Torrent’s wife wasn’t satisfied, but it was all they could do for her. She forced her husband quit EVE forever.

In relating the stories of Sohkar and Sgt Torrent, I don’t wish for the reader to get the wrong idea about EVE players’ wives. They’re not all a bunch of kill-joys like the wives of TV antihero characters. Some are just as enthusiastic about EVE as their husbands. In another memorable EVE Radio contest, a married couple mutually agreed that their best chance at winning the ISK was to offer to have sex on camera. As this matter was being thoughtfully considered live on air, CCP learned of the situation and quickly intervened to ensure it didn’t happen.

Singing songs and reading Wikipedia for a Bonus Round seems pretty tame by comparison. No one involved in EVE Radio was punished for these incidents; they simply went on with their business, merrily hosting countless contests over the years. It’s hard to imagine CCP doing away with EVE Radio, a beloved institution almost as old as the game itself. Individual DJs, on the other hand, would be considered perfectly expendable.

Drawing The Line

For 10 years, EVE was fine without regulating third-party comms. Now CCP has chosen to permaban players for what was said on TeamSpeak, and in the case of FJ’s scam, what CCP suspects might have been said on TeamSpeak. Players who were “involved” but not on TeamSpeak themselves have also been permabanned.

I believe this change in policy was a bad idea for all the reasons Malcanis pointed out when the issue was first raised this year. CCP has enough on its plate already. EVE itself is a complicated game. Even the GMs have difficulty keeping up with all the ins and outs. Is “POS bowling” against the rules? They’ve changed their minds at least half a dozen times over the years–each time with an attitude that says, “This has always been the rule!”

CCP is better off returning to its traditional policy of staying out of the third-party comms. EVE is big enough; GMs don’t need to police the rest of the world. I say they should leave that to America and its coalition partners. Once CCP has committed itself to undertaking this bold new mission, however, they need to set guidelines. Clear rules should be written. And yes, they should be declassified so EVE players can know what they are.

In the wake of the recent ban wave, CCP Falcon posted a thread on EVE-O to “remind” players of the rule against real-life harassment. Players asked Falcon to provide some clarification. In response, Falcon made two posts explaining why he felt it would be a bad idea to offer any specific guidelines. In the first, he said this:

“The bottom line is that it’s down to members of the community to know where the line crosses from common decency to harassment. We will not draw a line in the sand so that people can skirt on the edge of it and bend the rules as much as possible.”

When players still wanted to know what CCP considers harassment in practice, Falcon voiced his opinion that the players were asking in bad faith:

“Those people who’re saying that the lines are blurred and they don’t understand the definition of harassment are looking for clarification so that they know how much they can bend the rules and push the boundaries before we’ll take action, with a view to using any statement we make as ammunition for an appeal should they fall foul of the rules and be slapped with account action.”

Falcon’s concern is that players could go right up to the line without crossing it. In other words, they might come close to breaking the rules, but not break them. Personally, I don’t consider that a problem. When people don’t break a rule, that is normally seen as a victory for the rule. You know what you call someone who comes close to the line but never crosses it? A law-abiding citizen. Police don’t get upset when they see people driving exactly the speed limit.

Granted, the analogy isn’t perfect. Harassment is subjective and more difficult to quantify. That’s true of a lot of things, though, and people still manage to write rules about them. There are going to be gray areas, but those can be dealt with through the use of warnings and temporary bans for milder offenses. I honestly don’t understand the recent trend toward relying on permabans for everything.

The other issue Falcon identified is that players would use official guidelines as “ammunition for an appeal” if they get banned. Is this a problem? In the worst-case scenario, a banned player’s argument is persuasive and the ban gets lifted. Oh well. Sometimes the banned player is right and the GM is wrong. The truth is, some bans are made by mistake, and they should be reversed. CCP already does lift bans sometimes. The reason I’m allowed to play EVE is because a GM reversed the permaban that was accidentally given to me.

Realtalk: CCP and its GMs don’t have an aura of infallibility to protect. No one’s going to change religions because they heard CCP made a mistake. It doesn’t make CCP look bad when they lift a ban. They look worse if they dig in their heels when they’re wrong.

True, if no line is drawn in the sand, players can’t try to go up to the edge of the line. They’ll cross it by accident instead. The surest way to have players cross the line, is to make the line invisible. FJ didn’t set out to get himself permabanned. He thought a version of the BR scam where no one got upset on TeamSpeak would be within the rules. He was wrong.

Rather than setting guidelines, Falcon argued players can easily avoid trouble through the use of common sense. Falcon wrote:

“It isn’t our job to dictate to people how to maintain a base standard of human decency toward one another, and we’re not going to do so… It also seems that it’s very easy to whine about being banned rather than using a shred of common sense to maintain the most basic level of decency and etiquette when interacting with people in EVE.”

In theory, this is fine. In practice, Bob Starseeker got permabanned for idling in the wrong in-game channel. He had no idea this wasn’t allowed under a base standard of human decency. What’s common sense to one person isn’t common sense to another. Beyond that, you never know what GM you’re going to get. You might draw a good GM, or you might draw the one who permabanned me by accident.

Nor can you rely on the attitudes of a particular CCP dev. No one knows who’s going to be working for CCP six months or a year from now. In the future, the dev in charge might be someone who says “Singing ransoms? Space Court? Why do these people need to humiliate their victims on TeamSpeak? I thought we all agreed to ‘keep it in game’. Fetch me my banhammer.” Or the dev in charge might say, “This is hilarious. We need to show this at the next Fanfest.”

Isn’t it strange that we know more about the terms of the “B0tlrd Accords”, a treaty between the CFC and PL, than we know about the rules of the game we play?

Conclusion

A lot of EVE players would prefer to see their adversaries banned, rather than going to the trouble of fighting them in the game. History suggests this attitude is short-sighted: Bans are not something that happen only to “other” kinds of players, but are sprinkled upon a wide cross-section of EVE. No group is untouched. High-profile players are especially likely to find themselves in the path of an unforgiving banhammer.

Nor should players ignore the consequences of bans given to their enemies. When Erotica was removed from the game, the popular sentiment was that it was a one-time-only deal, that no precedent would be set. Things didn’t turn out that way. Erotica’s ban became the cornerstone for an even more sweeping set of policies: Players banned for guilt by (very limited) association, bans for behaviors presumed to take place but not actually witnessed on TeamSpeak, and bans for real-life harassment where the offenders never left the EVE client.

Upon reviewing EVE players’ popular TeamSpeak hobbies, it’s obvious that a multitude of scams and stunts fall under the shadow of the new policies. It’s not easy to cut a clean distinction between these activities and those which have already prompted bans. They share too many elements in common, in part because they inspired and borrowed from each other.

CCP’s decision to police a realm where they have no ability to monitor, log, or control was a mistake. GM decisions for EVE-related matters already grapple with inconsistency and confusion. CCP’s preference for secret, undefined rules, coupled with an apparently growing reliance on permabans instead of lesser punishments, can only lead to bad outcomes for everyone.

CCP’s desire to protect its players from legitimate threats is understandable, but the new policies don’t serve that objective. They should take their own advice and “keep it in game”. As for the players, they would do well to consider their own role in encouraging CCP to go down this path. Perhaps they should take a pause before cheering CCP every time they hear about a ban being issued to someone they don’t like.

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