The Ghost Isn’t Gone

Dirk MacGirk 2017-07-14

The term “ghost training” in EVE Online harkens back to a bug that allowed players to train any skills on a character after their subscription has died. Its origins date back to early EVE, a time before skill queues (of any length), neural remaps or PLEX even existed. It was a time the old players of EVE speak of nostalgically because they survived the hard times. Ghost training is one of those stories that were passed down from generation to generation as cautionary tales, much like the T20 scandal and the Summer of Rage. However, whereas the Late Spring of Mild Discontent was but a whisper compared to the actual Summer of Rage, the current manifestation known as ghost training is far more malevolent than its Casper-like predecessor. Ghost training circa 2008 was a minor haunting that caused little in the way of disturbance. It took a while, but it had little to no effect on the family who lived in New Eden, and was basically removed with a bit of holy code and a quick blessing. In comparison, the issue related to skill training today is more akin to a demonic infestation that is corrupting more than one small aspect of the game while also fighting back against CCP’s attempts to exorcise the entity.

As with any good ghost story, the tale tends to take on a life of its own. Reports now claim that the bug was known by players and CCP alike immediately following the Ascension expansion in November 2016. There are even some reports that a keen-eyed player or two were camping on the test server when they first caught a glimpse of the entity taking shape. There is ample evidence that CCP was aware in early 2017 by way of bug reports, then later rumblings on the EVE subreddit. The CSM are also reported to have raised the issue with CCP prior to FanFest in April. But without a doubt CCP was well aware of the bug and its exploitable nature by FanFest when numerous conversations were reported to have taken place between unnamed players and unnamed devs. Some blame CCP for willfully ignoring a known issue from the start, but there is little evidence to support the conspiracy that they did nothing while remaining publicly silent.

It should be noted that in spite of word getting around, the “EVE media” missed an opportunity to take up the issue by calling on CCP to publicly acknowledge the bug, declare it an exploit and warn the player base of its consequences. This was a story worthy of some pseudo-journalism, and the EVE media has rallied behind causes far less significant over the years. But that’s on us. The media gave reddit the exclusive, and to their credit I think those on reddit who spoke up, spoke up early, and continue to speak up even now need to take a damn bow for creating the pressure that eventually led to a public acknowledgement. So much for the mainstream media. How RL.

Ghost Stories are for Kids

From here on out I’m dispensing with any of the ghost story nonsense. It’s time to get real because the issue of ghost training is still with us. Yes, I’m well aware of the fact that on June 15th CCP publically acknowledged the existence of ghost training and declared its abuse an exploit. Prior to that on June 9th they unofficially acknowledged the existence of ghost training when they made a failed attempt to end the process. Public acknowledgement of the issue and the declaration of it as an exploit went a long way towards the kind of responsible disclosure some of us were seeking. For more on Responsible Disclosure I would have you read NoizyGamer’s recent blog. However, what we received was just partial disclosure. The solution was yet to be had. Many of us were under the impression that the issue was resolved in early July based on what some players were supposedly seeing. The CSM members I asked believed it to be fixed. Even as of July 10th GM Lelouch (EVE’s lead GM) indicated it was, to the best of his knowledge, resolved. Of course we know that CCP has begun going after those who exploited the bug or in some cases inadvertently benefited from it to some significant degree. We don’t really know to what degree, but word is they are cracking down and have offered a convoluted method of restitution. So if it’s all behind us now, why the hell am I rehashing all this?

Dirk Got Screwed and So Might You

Now I know that nobody listens to the terrible Open Comms Show at 9PM EST Fridays (01:00 UTC Saturday) on twitch.tv/imperium news. However, both of you who do listen know that as soon as I heard about ghost training in early May, I began to rail on the issue frequently. There is just something about players using a bug to gain advantage that begs to be called out; not to mention CCP’s silence on an issue of fundamental fairness within the sandbox they administer. This was not the ghost training of 2008. This had broader implications and CCP owed it to its customers to be transparent. But while ghost training and the silence from CCP were the big ticket topics, it was not the only thing going on.

One of the little side issues related to the Omega/Alpha training bug was hearsay that it worked in reverse. Meaning: this bug could also work against you. However, I never saw evidence i.e. pics or it didn’t happen. All I had was comments and speculation on reddit, or this comment following a June 26th story on INN. It was this one that caused me to raise the issue on Open Comms on June 30th.

What worries me more is the rumor that logging in as Alpha caused the current skill in training to be calculated at the Alpha rate (training time from last skill complete, calculated at 50%). I only train Specialization V skills these days, and that could mean a week or two for me. I have to audit my skill logs. In the meantime I’m afraid to log in to the couple accounts that are currently alpha status, which were training capital gunnery specializations.

– INN reader “Rain”

Oddly enough, after weeks of deliberation as to why I wasn’t getting in on this passive income stream from skill point farming, I decided to dip my toe in the proverbial pond. No, not into ghost training. I had some accounts laying around that could use +5 implants and train long skills, so why not play CCP’s new passive mini game that was all the rage with the kids. Anyway, I put 6 characters into the fields on June 12 and went about sipping lemonade on the front porch.

About midway through my 30-days of skill point sharecropping, I decided I wasn’t going to bother with it and would shut down all but 2 of the 6 on July 12 when the accounts lapsed. I’d bought some MCT certificates during the big Make Skill Injector Farming Great Again sale so I’d just burn them off over time on accounts that were already subbed. So on or about July 10 I re-upped the 2 characters on subbed accounts and let the others go. Then came July 12, lapse day; time to go and see what this whole extraction business is all about.

July 12 came and the clock passed the time when I know I PLEX’d or MCT’d the characters back in June. The 4 characters I was allowing to lapse were all on their own accounts, so they were PLEX’d and should have gone to Alpha state and paused. I took a look at EVEMon and it showed they were still training. I thought, that’s odd, maybe EVEMon is broken now that they removed the account status from the API. But now I was curious. Is it not fixed? Let’s wait a day and see if there is a grace period or if EVEMon catches up.

On July 13, the day this is being written, I started up EVEMon and it indicated that these characters were still training. So I logged in an account to see what the character selection screen shows. Sure enough, it showed the character training Capital Ships V with 14d 14h remaining. That’s about right for a skill that should take 45d 12h 45m to train at 2,700 SP per hour, plus it matched what EVEMon showed as remaining. Now I wish I took a screen grab of the character selection screen, but I didn’t. I selected the character and dove right in to see what was going on. That’s when I was met with the “Hey bro, you’re an Alpha. Do you want to upgrade?” I said, “No dummy, I want to check my skill queue because I heard there was some shady stuff that could happen to a skill in process.” And there it was, my skill queue, paused. Capital Ships V in yellow followed by Gallente Carrier 5 in yellow. OK, that’s as it should be, I’m a regressed Omega now. The only problem was: what’s up with those training times?

A review of the skill queue showed that instead of having 14d 14h left to train Capital Ships V, I now had 60d 3h. 60 friggin days? Alphas train at half the speed, therefore the 14d 14h should have converted to 29d 4h, so 60d 3h was obviously wrong. To confirm, I looked at Gallente Carrier V, which was also in the queue and it indicated a training time of 91d 1h 30m. For those of you doing the math that should equate to an Omega training time of twice that, or the 45d 12h 45m I mentioned earlier. So if the Gallente Carrier time was correct, how on earth did Capital Ships V end up having 60 days remaining after 30 days of training as a 2,700 SP/hour Omega? Ohhhhhh, the rumor was true. If your account lapses and you log into an Alpha account that was previously training an Omega skill, it recalculates the total amount of the skill in progress as though it were trained from the beginning at Alpha speed. Great, support ticket time.

Since there is no way to see how much SP remains to be trained for an Omega skill while you’re an Alpha, we can only use the time remaining as a determiner that something is horribly wrong. However, while I might have mistrusted dear, sweet EVEMon earlier I now knew that it was right all along. See the image below, which shows the amount of SP remaining for Capital Ships V prior to logging into the character: roughly 945,000 out of the original 2,950,432 required for level 5.

As we all know, EVEMon doesn’t operate in real time. It can’t just keep pinging the server so it checks the API every 60 minutes. Sometime after I snapped the previous image, which I was using for the support ticket I was in the process of filing, EVEMon chimes in to tell me: ‘This account has no characters in training.’ I should note that the other 3 accounts were still training as far as EVEMon was concerned, because I hadn’t done anything with them yet. I then checked the EVEMon skill plan and that had updated as well (see image below). This indicated that according to the API, Capital Ships V now required 1,948,049 skill points to complete. For the record, that equates to approximately 60 days of training time at half the rate of 2,700 SP/hour. Issue confirmed.

For the record, I filed a support ticket related to this account within one hour of realizing what was going on. I also communicated the fact that I had 3 other characters on 3 other accounts that I did not touch and would not touch until I received an answer related to this support ticket. After about 10 minutes I received an automated message that my support ticket was received, but no communication for a GM related to the ticket itself. However, in under an hour from the time I filed my support ticket I received a series of alerts from EVEMon indicating that all 3 of the other accounts were no longer training. My speculation is that in spite of receiving no communication from a GM, someone manually placed all 3 accounts into Alpha state and paused the skill queues, as should have happened systematically.

Nice Story, What’s the Point?

I have full confidence that CCP is going to make this right. The GM’s will work the ticket and make me whole. I’m also confident that they will eventually resolve the training bug associated with lapsing from Omega state to Alpha state. But as I said very early on in this piece, this isn’t your run of the mill ghost training haunting related to excess skill points that we need to worry about. This is an infestation that is creating problems on a number of levels compared to what happened in 2008.

Because of the introduction of skill extractors and injectors, ghost training affects the economy. It allowed for the creation of excess skill points, or at the very least allowed those exploiting the bug to undercut the market. Both of which serve to suppress the value of all skill points that were generated appropriately. And that is unlikely to be corrected given the restitution choices CCP has offered to those who benefited from the exploit. The skill points should have been removed from the economy to the greatest extent possible. If the SP was already extracted and the farmhands were sitting at 5m SP, then they should have burned those farms to the ground for the remaining SP, then accepted ISK and assets to make up the difference to avoid the hammer. But since CCP has already chosen its path, this won’t happen.

Further, the restitution process itself puts pressure on the GMs to manage a convoluted and potentially inequitable collection system. I say inequitable because there are stories floating around about differences in how GM’s are valuing the assets that can be used to make restitution in lieu of skill points or ISK. If Bobby Jo Skill Exploiter has the lien on his farm paid in assets that are valued at a different rate than Skill Plantation219’s are valued, that’s a problem. Neither should be getting off easier than the other because of discretion in valuation methodology. But that’s a story for another time and by another writer. The point is that CCP bit off quite a bit by being as lenient towards exploiters as they are and that makes the reconciliation process that much more difficult for them in the process.

Yes, I realize that CCP has fault in all of this. Perhaps a difficult process is part of their penance for not nipping this in the bud sooner. But the time being used by GM’s to manage the restitution process is time that is taking away from other issues they need to deal with. Namely, all of the other support tickets for issues not tied to this dumpster fire, as well as those related to lapsing accounts that result in a loss of skill points. This is likely a significant problem of its own. I would reckon that Omegas lapsing to Alphas happens fairly frequently, but I wonder how many players know about this issue. It was not a part of the public acknowledgement related to ghost training. Are players simply expected to figure it out on their own that they didn’t get what they paid for? No, and this brings us full circle to responsible disclosure. My ticket will be resolved. Your ticket will be resolved. But CCP: You need to make your customers aware of this situation until such time as you’ve let us know it is fixed. This isn’t about protecting an exploit; this is about making players aware that they won’t be exploited.

 

Update: My issue has been resolved and it only occurred on the account I logged in after the lapse time, but while it was still training. At that point it converted to Alpha state, checked skills at login, and that is when the defect occurred.

I was informed that Ghost Training as we knew it was indeed fixed on July 4th, and my other three accounts pausing on their own was not related to CCP manually intervening. The logs showed this occurred automatically within 5 minutes of a 24-hour grace period following the lapse date/time.

I will be writing a more detailed amendment to this article in the near future, but since CCP is still investigating the broader issue I want to wait until they have had an opportunity to nail this down and potentially comment publicly. For the record, the GM team was responsive and incredibly helpful in explaining what they believed to be the problem.

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Comments

  • Freelancer117

    When I sub for a year, I use evemon to fill in that year with a skill plan real tight for 3 alts with +5 implants. Do to work and not logging in, the plan ended 2 days after my sub ended, meaning an alt would lose two days of omega training time. Lo and behold to my suprise evemon said it still trained the skill after it could not train that skill because it should have lapsed to alpha. Alpha’s can not train all skills after all.
    Luckely I logged in after the skill was completed and did not lose sp like you had.
    Then my new eden trained suspicious mind knew this was a bug that could be used.
    However the drone sites came along and I had to log into an alpha with a VNI to compete, and ccp said it was an exploit to mis-use the bug right about that time.

    But I can understand capsuleers figuring this out way before it was known.
    And ccp could have seen a nice company cash cow by those that did use it.

    Regards, a Freelancer

    ps: best ghost story is a Chinese Ghost story, love those movies 🙂

    July 14, 2017 at 11:33 pm
    • Rhivre Freelancer117

      Luckily you werent too long without logging in either, otherwise you might have ended up handing over assets too.

      July 15, 2017 at 7:48 am
      • Freelancer117 Rhivre

        Wasnt the exploit Extracting sp you should not have gotten as an alpha and then Selling that for isk.

        If ccp should go after capsuleers who got omega sp after lapsing to alpha and they return one day non the wiser, but with a mail saying hand over your stuff. I think the summer of rage ’11 would be small compared to what will happen Rhivre.

        Anyways ccp business model is free 2 play and no doubt going after whales,
        the kind of (millennial) whales no doubt could have paid for using this exploit.

        Regards, a Freelancer

        ps: I will not sub for a new year and set evemon up, the company provides me atm with no incentive to do so, fanfest exclusive features were a joke, nothing about playerbuild stargates, the handling of free concord ships disaster, some hint about pve change in empire space but no prelimanary ideas about iterating on factional warfare, a job listing Still open for a Live (event) Producer and an extreme Lack of coders and game content designers.

        July 15, 2017 at 8:58 am
  • Ace

    Had heard rumours about an Omega state to Alpha state bug during the ghost training exploit talks. My account lapsed to alpha last month and checking my account looks like i was hit by the bug. Petitioned 5 days ago still nothing back. What a joke. Likely wont be re subbing anytime soon.

    July 16, 2017 at 7:56 am
  • Rhivre

    Dirk wrote the story as soon as it happened to him.

    July 16, 2017 at 8:22 am
  • Dirk MacGirk

    As Rhivre said, I wrote it as soon as I experienced it for myself. Prior to that I had commented about the possibility based on chatter on reddit and elsewhere, but I didn’t have the evidence to do more than that. This is not new, but it received a lot less attention than the exploit side of the bug; from both players and CCP.

    July 16, 2017 at 11:37 pm
  • Dirk MacGirk

    Update: My issue has been resolved and it only occurred on the account I logged in after the lapse time, but while it was still training. At that point it converted to Alpha state, checked skills at login, and that is when the defect occurred.

    I was informed that Ghost Training as we knew it was indeed fixed on July 4th, and my other three accounts pausing on their own was not related to CCP manually intervening. The logs showed this occurred automatically within 5 minutes of a 24-hour grace period following the lapse date/time.

    I will be writing a more detailed amendment to this article in the near future, but since CCP is still investigating the broader issue I want to wait until they have had an opportunity to nail this down and potentially comment publicly. For the record, the GM team was responsive and incredibly helpful in explaining what they believed to be the problem.

    July 17, 2017 at 7:42 pm
    • Rhivre Dirk MacGirk

      Thanks for the update Dirk, I will add it into the post

      July 17, 2017 at 7:44 pm
    • Skill Extracting is the Devil Dirk MacGirk

      What would happen if you :
      1. Start training Omega
      2. Let account lapse
      3. Evemon still reports account as training
      4. Donate PLEX from another account to turn it back to Omega before logging back in?

      July 19, 2017 at 2:27 pm