It Happens While You Blink

 
Like the Weeping Angels of Dr. Who lore, SOMER Blink seems to change position and shape whenever you do not keep your eyes on them. Less than a year ago, cries about favoritism rose from the community when CCP gave them the Ishukone Watch Scorpions and proposed to make previously “lost” ships, like the Guardian Vexor, available as Blink prices. The scrutiny SOMER Blink received back then resulted in the uncovering of what looked like a real-money-trading (RMT) scheme that was going on in the background. SOMER Blink offered Blink Credits worth ISK to everyone who bought a Game Time Code through their affiliate Markee Dragon. Via that referral, SOMER Blink got a percentage cut of every GTC sold that way. Through this proxy, they received money and gave out ISK. In very simple terms that is the definition of RMT. While this might have been a first for SOMER Blink, Markee Dragon had previously been involved in RMT schemes as investigative journalist Noizy Gamer found out. The outcry from the community resulted in CCP taking action and ordering SOMER Blink to shut the system down. Back then SOMER Blink quietly conducted their business in a don’t-ask-don’t-tell manner with only an implied consent from CCP. After all, Reykjavik supported them as a trusted community lottery site, so what they did must have been alright. Even Noizy Gamer – a dedicated watcher of all things related to illicit RMT –  did not spot it right away. CCP clearly did not take the time either to examine what was going on until it became an issue of public debate. SOMER Blink has since suffered in popularity, but retained their position of CCP affiliate, along with Markee Dragon, and kept sponsoring many community sites and events. Now a new scheme has come to the attention of the ever watchful EVE community. For the clearest explanation on how that works, I would point to our esteemed colleagues at another news site. Nosy Gamer also revisited the issue with his usual diligence. somer2014 (image courtesy of Funky Bacon) The program does not stop there however: SOMER Blink are offering to buy PLEX at their markup price for old Blink Credits as you can see in this conversation from the public in-game channel SOMER Lotteries (Aisylia Park is a SOMER Blink member, emphasis is mine).
Torin Nazimar Jaynara > basically you buy plex in jita then contract it to blink? get money back?
Aisylia Park > Yes if you have old credits
Torin Nazimar Jaynara > i just got new credits trying to figure out the contract part
Aisylia Park > Otherwise you can sell the Plex you just bought through markee to Somer without sales taxes etc just contract fee
Aisylia Park > Well if you do it ingame, it opens a contract window for you
Macsadbro > Let me get this straight… People buy GTC from Markeedragon -> Blink gives you a credit -> Can use this credit to sell a plex to Blink?
Torin Nazimar Jaynara > so just to get this stratight
Torin Nazimar Jaynara > Buy plex -> buy plex off market -> sell to blink
Torin Nazimar Jaynara > so can you get double the isk by redeem and sellin to blink?
Torin Nazimar Jaynara > correct?
Aisylia Park > No not double
Aisylia Park > Just a bit more than market value atm
aniel > 50m more by plex
Torin Nazimar Jaynara > right but
Aisylia Park > And without the hassle of trying to sell it on market
 
Amid fervent speculations, CSM members Funky Bacon, Sugar Kyle, Sion Kumitomo and Xander Phoena released their own statements. So did CCP Falcon, head of the community team.

Unclear Signals

This time SOMER Blink stated they have written consent from CCP for their proposal. The wording of this new scheme is quite well designed to come across as harmless. It mentions that there will be no bonus credits unlike last time and no extra ISK. Simply a good price for buying ISK back. A reader who is not familiar with the ways how the EVE economy works could easily miss the implications.  When I tried to ask SOMER Blink about this, they refused to comment. Markee Dragon also declined to comment on anything related to the issue. Somerset Mahm, the in-game account of SOMER Blink’s main operator, was allegedly unreachable due to internet connection problems. Later they released an exchange of messages (this is the conversation as alleged and made public by SOMER Blink themselves, just to be perfectly clear) between them and an employee of CCP. Incidentally, this means a clear violation of the TOS because article 18 states:
You may not publish private communications from CCP, their agents or representatives or EVE Online volunteers without authorization.
 
According to CCP Falcon this authorization was not granted. BtAeyzR The message in the screenshot above appeared on SOMER Blink’s site while a large number of support requests came in from people who had used the service and were not receiving the promised ISK in return for their PLEX. Again, the alleged connection problems of Somerset Mahm were quoted as the reason for the problems, as can be seen in this excerpt of an exchange between a customer and SOMER Blink support from their public in-game channel SOMER Lotteries:
xxCEOxx > yea i did there plex thing thats back up ad still havent gotten any credit yet
Aisylia Park > Did you enter the reference code?
xxCEOxx > yea i entered the code
Aisylia Park > What did it tell you?
xxCEOxx > the green thing came up saying it was accepted
xxCEOxx > so i assumed it worked
Aisylia Park > Hm, but you are showing no Plex credits on that page?
xxCEOxx > but no credit
xxCEOxx > i have the recit and redeem code
Val Karan > ref code, at top left of the mail you got from markeee
Aisylia Park > So on the GTC page in step 4 you dont see any credits?
xxCEOxx > You’ve already claimed this GTC. If you buy your codes through Markee Dragon, we’ll auto-link your Blink account, so this may be what’s happening. Please contact support if you need help!
Aisylia Park > Ah, I can’t help you further atm, you’ll have to write a mail to Somerset Mahm and asked about it
Aisylia Park > I am sorry :s
Aisylia Park > Thats beyond my capability 🙁
Charlie Nonoke > Waiting for PLEX to be bought by SOMER
Aisylia Park > Like a lot of ppl, but Somer is having internet issues atm
Aisylia Park > And can’t connect to eve, hoping it gets fixed within the hour
 
It is not yet clear what exactly is going on here. CCP Falcon openly said in his statement that he is against the practice in effect. Probably others in the Reykjavik office share his opinion, but at least one other person inside CCP was aware and consented – Lisa Bell-Cabrera, Vice President of sales. According to their own statements, SOMER Blink are in the process of talking to the CCP legal team. Despite the announcement of Lisa Bell-Cabrera during her exchange with Somerset Mahm, that she will submit SOMER Blink’s proposal to the legal team, it looks like they have not been consulted about this by sales, or at least have not given explicit approval. According to CCP Falcon “This was not authorized by CCP’s legal department”. The statements of CCP Falcon indicate a probability that there is now a heated internal discussion taking place at CCP. It looks like they have already taken steps behind the scenes to stop the PLEX Credit program. According to CCP Falcon “some temporary action has been taken in order to keep a handle on the situation.” At the time of publication, the SOMER Blink website has been updated, announcing that the “GTC bonus is inactive, as per CCP request” While this drama is unfolding, some people wonder what it all means for them. Is there even a reason to be concerned about all this?

Why is this even wrong?

Assume someone is offering to buy a PLEX which I bought with real money, and they are willing to pay a higher price than the market. What is wrong with that? Well, let us look what the EULA, or more specifically the TOS have to say on the subject: Quoting the Terms Of Service:
10. You may not market, sell, advertise, promote, solicit or otherwise arrange for the exchange or transfer of items in the game or other game services unless it is for in-game sales of in-game services or items.
 
11. The advertisement or sale of out of game goods and services not directly related to EVE online is prohibited. The only out of game goods and services which can be advertised or sold are the following: EVE forum signature creation, website and third party voice communication server hosting or EVE Time Codes.
 
Basically what those two articles together mean is that you cannot trade in-game assets out of game. A reseller can make you an offer for a PLEX Activation Code (which replace GTCs), but they can not engage in further trade outside of the game with in-game assets. For example I could buy a few PACs out of game, redeem them for PLEX and trade those with you for a supercarrier in-game. I would not be allowed to make you an offer out-of-game to trade me that ship for my PACs before they were redeemed. Trading PACs for money is fine if you are a registered reseller, trading them for ISK is not, particularly not if you already made money selling them. SOMER Blink are taking things one step into another direction which could point at a EULA violation. Article A states:
Accounts may not be used for business purposes. Access to the System and playing EVE is intended for your personal entertainment, enjoyment and recreation, and not for corporate, business, commercial or income-seeking activities. Business entities and anyone who is acting for or on behalf of a business or for business purposes may not establish an Account, access the System or play EVE.  Accessing the System or using the Game for commercial, business or income-seeking purposes is strictly prohibited.
 
Somerset Mahm is the in-game account of the person running SOMER Blink however. In light of the quoted regulation, that could already be construed as a EULA violation.

How does that affect me?

Rules and regulations aside, you might think that everything is fine from a customer perspective. You can go to SOMER Blink, buy a PAC, sell it back and get some extra ISK to gamble. The problem is, however, that such a scheme is crowding out all other resellers if they do not come up with a similarly crafty scheme. Diana Dial of evetimecode.com had the following to say on the subject:

“Bottom line, If SB/MD continues as is, I will be out of business within a couple months. If I do something similar, but within my rules of what is right then I may be able to hang on until the next big idea comes into play.”

Some people are already speculating that CCP has become too dependent on resale revenue generated through the SOMER Blink/Markee Dragon scheme. The speculation is, that this is the reason why CCP have allowed it to happen in the first place. Right now, that is pure conjecture, but if other resellers were pushed out of the market, this scenario could become fact. A monopolist reseller would be in a position of too much power, and in the end that can not be beneficial for the customers or CCP. On top of that is the overarching issue of fairness and transparency. If CCP legal and sales are allowing SOMER Blink and Markee Dragon to conduct such trades, it would be appropriate that they make that option public through the conditions of their reseller and affiliate program. Other people who work as resellers or with affiliates could then make similar offers if they wanted. As long as only one business is given that permission without any further comment, the accusation of favoritism stands. Considering the fact that even within CCP there appears to be disagreement about that program, it is not quite fair to say that there is preferential treatment for SOMER Blink from the company as such. However, yet again there is evidence of lacking communication and unclear statements from CCP, and that causes vocal reactions from the community. This time the communication problem even affects relations within the company, as is evident by the statement of CCP Falcon that “the community team was not aware of this until I was contacted by the CSM in the middle of the night on Sunday.” The question has to be asked whether any lesson was learned at all from the last time SOMER Blink was at the centre of a scandal.   Update from the editor: SOMER Blink have released a statement today that they will be going on long, possibly infinite, hiatus. They maintain the position that they were acting within the directives given by CCP and that the company has “thrown them under the bus”, creating a “hostile environment” that they do not wish to work in. You can read the full statement on the SOMER Blink website.
Tags: ccp, rmt, somer blink, tarek

About the author

Tarek Raimo

Former nullsec spy (no not under that name of course) and current failure at lowsec solo PVP, Tarek spends his time not logging in to the game as much as he keeps thinking about its social and metagame nature and sharing some of those thoughts with the CZ readers.


  • Harri

    This is just like having children. If your child does something wrong and there are no consequences at all they do not learn. Somer faced no consequence the first time. Here we are again.

    Purely there is a money laundering thing going on. It looks like RMT’ing, which there is, but probably to launder dirty isk for real life cash. The whole thing stinks and I hope CCP puts the kibosh on it with perma bans and the dropping of MD as an authorized reseller.

  • Jester

    Good summation. There’s just a couple of editing glitches that should be fixed. First, the quote from Diana Dial should be indented and explained.

    Second, Falcon’s statement “This was not authorized by CCP’s legal department” is referenced in this piece twice, once regarding whether releasing a CCP employee communication was authorized and once regarding whether this whole scheme was authorized by Legal. It’s somewhat unclear which one Falcon meant from context but my guess is he meant the latter.

    • Kamar Raimo

      The thing with Falcons post is, he replied to different questions there. I reference the same post twice, correct, but once it is as a reference to him saying that CCP did not authorize SOMER to publish their exchange with Lisa Bell-Cabrera, the second time it is about him clarifying that the legal team never gave the green light on this.

      Sorry if that was unclear.

  • Dirk MacGirk

    Regarding the following: “Assume someone is offering to buy a PLEX which I bought with real money, and they are willing to pay a higher price than the market. What is wrong with that?”

    Was the transaction to buy the PLEX back from the original purchaser not made in the game? I’m trying to understand how these sections of TOS apply. Was this not done by in-game contract?

    • Kamar Raimo

      Technically that act in itself is not the problem, but the issue arises with the fact that there is a premium paid with in-game currency for buying an out-of-game service, the PAC.

      That is the thing being “advertised and promoted” as per the TOS regulations.

      • Dirk MacGirk

        right but they aren’t buying the code, they are buying the PLEX that gets redeemed from the code. Or really any PLEX. Once they have made their purchase Somer didn’t care where the PLEX came from.

        This really is the biggest issue with regard to every last scandal that has anything to do with the EULA/TOS/other random policy: terribly bad, vague or undefined wording and then the interpretation by all of us space lawyers as to what it really means.

        • Kamar Raimo

          Granted, it is all rather vague and difficult to follow. Hell I had to think it through three times before I even fully got what was going on.

          However, CCP ruled last time that there must not be any bonus for buying through SOMER’s resale affiliate, and this time they found an even more convoluted way to incentivize buyers anyway. Last but not least they formulated it quite vaguely themselves in their proposal and effectively did something which they claimed not to be doing.

          There are just too many dodgy aspects to it to be kosher.

          • Joe Mettai

            I feel like this is far worse then last time even, last time people were just given credit on the site, this time they were straight up given isk if they could prove that they bought a plex thought their link. I’m not even sure why Somer thought this shit would fly.

  • Kir

    Holy fuck… CCP Sales gives him an authorization, and then some weasel in CCP decides it “doesn’t count” because it didn’t go past legal. Whose fucking fault is that?

    God damn this company is incompetent.

    • xanderphoena

      It ‘doesn’t count’ because what Somer proposed to CCP and received authorisation on and what he actually then went and did were very different indeed. You can argue whether CCP are incompetent or not but in this case, they are bang on.

      • I’d rather post as guest

        Give the tick of a sales plan for maybe your largest referrer site less than a year after a massive alleged RMT scandal with same and then have absolutely no followup or governance to ensure what was proposed started or remained kosher?

        I think you are being wilfully blind here Xander. Your ‘Reykjavik syndrome’ is showing.

        They are not ‘bang on’ there are many failures of management evident here. What is really telling is that in such a small company that if the Community Team doesn’t even have the presence in the company that other teams would bounce this kind of thing off tells my in how much of a low regard they are held within CCP.

        Many people have been very fortunate that Somer has gone quietly into the night here. However, let’s see how many more fuck ups you and your CSM buddies are going to spin for in spite of the obvious problems.

      • A name

        Censorship of anything mildly critical? Really? You’ve fallen that fatso soon Xander?

        • A and

          *far so

  • Niko Lorenzio

    According to your own argument and the rules you quoted any website that has advertising on it and pays ISK for submitting articles to it should be banned. Where were your pitchforks and torches when Mittani quit his job to run TheMittani.com?
    This whole situation reminds me of US accusing Russia of warmongering and imperialism over Crimea when they themselves have the blood of countless innocent victims on their hands.
    Neither is right, and one is more guilty than the other but through bullshit propaganda only one of them is made to look like the demon.

    • Kamar Raimo

      Actually CCP addressed this. As long as there is EVE relevant content generated, placing ads for revenue is fine. In the case of TMC they were even more stringent. Since they also publish content which is not EVE related, all authors who write about such things also have to write EVE content or not be paid with ISK.

      There is also a slight difference between providing content with ads on the side and actively creating an incentive to use a specific service by offering ISK. If TMC – or any other news-site for that matter – would act like SOMER did, then they would offer you ISK for reading their articles and gain ad revenue in return.

      • Niko Lorenzio

        I agree, but my point is that they’re all shades of grey. Somer was not directly exchanging ISK for $. You had to buy PLEX from CCP through a retailers that they were promoting. They were not going outside the framework. That shit is just as grey as any other RMT that goes on, it’s more the sides of the grey area than crossing into the black one.
        There were some serious concerns raised about what such schemes could result in. Those concerns should have yielded discussions. They did not. They resulted in a mass hysteria with pitchforks & torches, and that’s the part that disgusts me about this whole ordeal. It was the result of mob mentality.

        That being said, Somer did fuck up by posting private communications, and that alone warrants a ban.

        • Kamar Raimo

          I read you. I am personally very critical of any mass hysteria. My first impulse upon being asked to write a piece about this was to try and show the other side. SOMER and Markee Dragon just stonewalled me though. If they had been willing to tell their story, I would have written about it.

          As to what such schemes could result in when left unchecked, well, Diana Dial’s comment is a short glimpse of that. Imagine what would have happened if SOMERBlink really became “too big to fail”.

          I wouldn’t want to operate under those conditions.

    • Joe Mettai

      Mittani doesn’t pay isk to the viewers of the site, he pays the writers. The writers are just like Somerblinks employees(which are all paid in isk, and CCP has no problem with that). For your argument to make sense at all…. I would need to be paid to view the site, and I personally have never been paid to view TMC, or EN24.

  • PixeLawyer

    All sources of betting lead to greed which in turn leads (or will do) to RMT. CPP and fellow capsuleers should always keep an eye out to cross check who’s doing what.

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