Somer’s Come and Gone

 
By now you’ve probably heard the news – CCP permanently banned the founder of the popular eve site Somer Blink after another episode of attempting to skirt the rules of RMT. For those in-tune with the community, it isn’t any surprise this happened as last year similar accusations took place, ultimately leading to CCP closing a loophole within their rules for affiliated time card distributors. The RMT rule has always been in place; you cannot use assets within the EVE universe to gain a direct real world financial benefit. While traditional RMT in the past has been largely viewed as a direct transfer of cash for ISK, Somer’s schemes involved a complex series of transactions utilising a third party. There have been a number of great blog posts and articles explaining what happened previously, so I’m not even going to attempt to outdo the excellent work those writers put into their respective pieces. If you wish to read some of the commentary, I suggest you read blogs by CSM9 member Funky Bacon [1] [2], Nosy Gamer [1] [2] [3], a series of articles that appeared on TMDC [1] [2] [3], and an excellent piece by my colleague Tarek Raimo. Otherwise, to make a long story short, Somer Blink attempted a new scheme similar to the one that lead to the rule change last year and got caught in the process. This, along with a lot of raw feelings from the episode last year, predictably lead to a shitstorm within the community. As with any complicated issue, a lot of confusion has arisen. Somer stated that CCP had given permission to run the promotion; this is technically true as an employee of CCP did in fact give Somer permission to run it. However, the proposal Somer sent that CCP employee explicitly stated there would be no extra ISK given through it. Any legitimacy the promotion might have had died with the extra ISK bonus. When you combine it with him intentionally breaking the EULA by releasing the private communications with a staff member, CCP had just cause to permanently ban him from the game.
769777222_1024 Somerset Mahm – SOMER Blink founder

A Tale of Two Fuckups

The most pleasant surprise to come out of this was the quick and informative response from CCP. As long as I’ve been playing the game, one of the big issues with CCP has been their failure to adequately deal with situations with quick responses to the community. You don’t need a better example of last year and its various dramas, when the debate over the role CCP should play in supporting third party sites arose. By the time CCP addressed this last year, a lot of time had passed and concern had quickly grown into anger. CCP avoided that mess altogether by being very open and honest at the very beginning with the community. CCP would be the first to tell you that a lot of the credit for that should go to the members of CSM9, and indeed they do deserve recognition for that. The rapid response from CCP also shows the health of the relationship between CCP and the CSM, as well as the relationship between CCP and the community. CCP absolutely deserves credit for this, especially after being very inconsistent in the past in their dealings with us. Don’t get me wrong, CCP isn’t 100% clean in the mess, but the handling of the crisis of last year with this incident is like comparing night and day.

ISK for Services

In addition to the rule that you’re not allowed to exchange in-game assets for money, you’re also not allowed to exchange assets for services outside the game. The one exception to that rule, repeated by Falcon a few days ago, is that you’re allowed to trade ISK for services if they are related to EVE Online. So you’re allowed to trade ISK for things like artwork, killboard hosting, and various other projects. Sites such as TMDC, EN24, and CZ are allowed to pay their EVE writers in ISK in exchange for written EVE content. This process has been vetted and approved by CCP; and there are rules to what it does and does not cover. (Full disclosure: As a writer for Crossing Zebras, I have been paid ISK weekly for the articles I’ve written for the site.)

The Fallout

Part of the community seems to think Somer is the target of a witch hunt and have made numerous posts on EVE-O in support of him. Much of the criticism coming from the supporters in their eyes comes from the fact we’re attempting to dehumanize him and turn him into a pariah. My opinion on Somer has never been based off anything but the involvement of him and his complicated RMT scheme. I agree that many in the community dislike him for that very reason, and because of that he’s given his detractors ample reason to distrust him. The Ishukone Scoprion and Golden Magnate scandals last year were entirely CCP’s fault. Somer was involved; but CCP should have known better and I put the blame of that ordeal entirely on their doorstep. Purchasing PLEX from an affiliate for Blink credit was a loophole that needed to be closed for logical purposes. While I think Somer exercised very bad judgement, I was of the opinion that CCP needed to close that loophole to prevent wider ramifications to the game. CCP gave a deadline of a few days for PLEX affiliates to close that loophole, and during that time Somer proceeded to firesale a ridiculous amount of in-game assets to gain as much money as possible on the way out. So was I surprised he attempted to do the same thing in a new and even more convoluted way? Not in the least. Am I glad he’s banned? No. But Somer made his own bed and CCP had no choice but to react in the way they did.
Tags: csm9, rmt, somer

About the author

HVAC Repairman

LIKES: EVE Online, twitter, Payday 2, Marvel Heroes, trolling Xander
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  • I’d rather post as guest

    Fair piece.

    I don’t play games of chance. I never played any of Somer’s games and I’ve only really heard the site mentioned in controversy. Hard to be certain how many people are in this boat or what people think overall about the end of the site.

    However, one thing is more certain. This semi-repeat of last year’s drama blowing up in the first place is completely on CCP. It should have never have been allowed to happen or should been smacked down immediately without this “approval” malarky clouding the argument.

    It’s clear from corresponse that Somer was actively seeking endorsement for some kind of PLEX “buy back” model and did receive a go ahead. No matter how you try to be tricky with the wording or compare it to the eventual execution the tone and encouragement from CCP was very clear.

    This tells us one thing. Either the Community Team has established no relationship with internal teams that could have highlighted these issues in a timely manner or the Community Team is held in such a low regard by the rest of CCP they don’t even get consulted as a sounding board in matters where it’s manifestly clear they should be,

    Coming less than a year after CCP’s previous Somer RMT scandal simply boggles the mind. Sales teams are measured against sales numbers, not forum rage levels. Therefore, this internal failing in CCP can only rest at the feet of CCP Falcon.

    Given his statements about his dissatisfaction about the outcome last time out to be be blindsided like this does call into question his judgement and capability to prevent disaster or if he needs it to smack him in the face each time before it will register a response.

    This unsurprisingly is something CCP Falcon has not talked to, and given CCP’s track history of being very quiet on behind the scenes screw ups and their recent history of attack being the best defence in the community likely never will be.

    Though, to their credit given that the Community Team was caught completely flat footed the damage control by CCP here was quite effective. It was however coming from an extraordinarily low base. Playing to CCP Falcon’s strengths it was aggressive and came across as completely personal. Bárðarbunga was not the only thing rumbling in Iceland this week. An old score was to be settled with Somer.

    The helpful CSM fell into line with a curious defence along the lines of “CCP is not a monolithic company” and percolated this message through blogs and forums for a day or so seeming to suggest that its more that acceptable to have no idea how to run a company of a couple of hundred people. This argument was quickly deconstructed or simply disbelieved by the masses and was quickly replaced to create a social media legend of a hero who was moving mountains to fix a disaster largely of his own making.

    Back at EVE-O collateral damage was inflicted with the tiresome CCP forum bullying and threats to customers for not toeing the party line trotted out at regular intervals that has completely destroyed EVE-O as a source for anything constructive.

    All this time one thing that was not smart was the predetermined outcome tone in CCP Falcon’s updates of Somer’s guilt and impending doom. This could have been tricky to unpick if Somer had played his hand well.

    As we know, Somer brain faded – badly and handed CCP a handy and somewhat ludicrous reasons to ban him. Making public communications between CCP and a player. I think after all these years in business it’s time CCP grew a pair. It’s a nice little safety blanket, but It’s not a good reason to ban anyone and reeks of the secrecy CCP is allegedly trying to stamp out. Sad to see at least one CSM member having some smug moments over this when it’s clearly ridiculous.

    To hypothesise only for one moment. If CCP had in fact completely approved, authorised or whatever you want to call it a form of RMT for Somer and he kept mum while it all ended horribly with community outrage, ban hammers, lawyers etc. the only way you and I would know that CCP gave Somer the green light is if this ended up in court. Somehow I don’t think that would be healthy or look very transparent. Would the CSM be told? How would they react?

    Back to Somer.

    Somer tried to game the system one too many times and received a ban that was deserved. Ironically it was CCP’s failing that did him in because it should never have gone far enough to get to a ban unless Somer had gone completely YOLO and did it anyway.

    A little part of me would like to believe that CCP is Machiavellian enough to get rid of historical thorn in their side by feigning incompetence but I just don’t think they have it in them. They’re more B-grade lunch money thugs.

    Somer was stupid, he was greedy and obviously tried to worm his way through (for want of a better term) the CCP system.

    With near infinite ISK you would think that there would have been far less risky ways to get people to click that PLEX link on his site. Besides sponsorship of events above the line advertising, below the line advertising for ISK or even cash could have been ramped up. The database of players would have been a direct marketer’s wet dream. Somer and Markee Dragon were probably already doing this, but probably not well if they were relying on RMT again.

    If we were really talking insane amounts on ISK why didn’t they just start buying up PLEX. Just stockpile it, burn it on new players and sell them in the Bazaar. Anything to keep the price on a steady rise and keep people buying PLEX. Sure you wouldn’t get all the sales. but you would get bucket loads.

    And if you really did want to fly closer to the sun? Make PLEX purchases equal a slightly increase chance in the game, or create a new game style. I’d like to see CCP argue that they own the rules of chance. Better still, never tell anyone about it. Just get an association going with players that for some reason, the more PLEX I buy at Somer, the luckier I get. Plant a rumour then deny it completely. CCP will tell you how bad rumor-mongering is.

    As I said. Somer was stupid.

    Seeing as they they were like kids popping up everywhere trying to ‘help’ probably another mention of the CSM to be made.

    Yes, you will have to say the CSM was on the ball, though a little judgemental at times considering we were supposed to be having an investigation before acting in a knee-jerk, vindictive manner.

    Good to see a few questions being asked of CCP, but not really enough. The CPP Falcon hero worship was nauseating but that comes with an unpaid gig where you’re trying to get a seat at the adults table.

    Also, annoying has been the gloating. The CSM are voted to represent the customers. You might not like them all but you are supposed to represent them. You might have not liked Somer or his operation but nasty and snarky EVE-O posts towards people who don’t agree with you is pretty lame.

    OK, so what now?

    Hard to know who will make it on various Christmas card lists this years. Having a bit of a malicious streak the Community Team probably aren’t grateful for Lisa in sales to show them up as having no clue what is happening in CCP even though they did get the prized scalp of Somer for their pains.

    That being said, Sales have been to look like fools and I would argue without a shadow of a doubt that October/November last year was the most profitable time for GTC sales in CCP’s history. And now a major source of PLEX referrals is gone. Many people are foolishly arguing it’s not a loss at all as people will simply go elsewhere for PLEX. I don’t think Lisa’s business model or numbers would back that up.

    And while all the back-slapping and self-congratulation goes on not many people seem to be thinking that all CCP has done is ban one person’s accounts. Somer’s site may have been pulled for the moment but with existing competitors ramping up their presence and a massive hole in the market you have to wonder who may return or what will come next.

    • Kamar Raimo

      Quite the response.

      From all the things you say I would like to address one: The CSM are voted to represent the customers.

      Indeed they are, but Somerset Mahm was only one of them and mainly for the purpose of facilitating the SOMERBlink business. Whether Somerset would play EVE without that business is open for questioning.

      Opposite that one person stand all the others who do not benefit from the existence of SOMERBlink but could be negatively affected if SOMERBlink were allowed to continue.

      That being said, I agree with the gloating being unnecessary, but well, it came from someone in CFC leadership. Smugness seems to be second nature for those types.

    • JusticeStillWaiting

      I will most definitely agree with your basic premise that this should have been handled a year ago. Somer Blink was caught RMTing, yet instead of being met with the requisite immediate permaban that all other RMTers are given, they received a grace period during which they milked the system for all it was worth. If Somer Blink had been treated in a manner consistent with CCP’s policy towards other players, there would be no issue now.

      However, I have to point out a bit of a fallacy in some of your statements:

      “Coming less than a year after CCP’s previous Somer RMT scandal simply boggles the mind. Sales teams are measured against sales numbers, not forum rage levels. Therefore, this internal failing in CCP can only rest at the feet of CCP Falcon.

      Given his statements about his dissatisfaction about the outcome last time out to be be blindsided like this does call into question his judgement and capability to prevent disaster or if he needs it to smack him in the face each time before it will register a response.”
      How is what happened last year CCP Falcon’s fault? He was not the lead of the community team at that time. If I recall correctly, the person to hold that position was CCP Dolan, an individual who is no longer employed by CCP. As I see it, this is a matter of the last guy in charge screwing things up, but when given the opportunity his replacement has done exactly what should have been done the first time around.

  • Niko Lorenzio

    First reasonable article I’ve read on the matter. Thank you.

  • JusticeStillWaiting

    CCP’s banning of Somerset Mahm was a good start, but not nearly enough to resolve the problem. The issue here is not about an individual breaking a rule, but rather Somer Blink the organization operating in violation of the EULA. The in-game corporation “SOMER Blink” existed to facilitate the out-of-game business. Anyone involved in that corporation, and any other employees of Somer Blink (whether compensated through ISK, items, event tickets, real-world funds, or anything else) knew exactly what they were getting into. Especially after last year’s incident, how could they not?

    Therefore, if CCP is to prove that they will equally and fairly apply the EULA and enforce their stated policies, the in-game corporation’s assets need to be seized, and the corp shut down. All accounts of all Somer Blink employees need to receive the same treatment as Somerset Mahm, as they have also been involved in Income-seeking and RMT activities through their efforts to facilitate and run the business operations of Somer Blink. Do not give them the opportunity to launder ISK out to alts through this “refund” program.

    Nothing short of these measures will satisfy the demands of equal and fair treatment to all of CCP’s customers. These are the same actions they have taken towards anyone else caught in such activities; why should only one man be punished while the rest of the perpetrators go free?
    Aside from that though, I have to give props to the CSM and the CCP community team for an outstanding job in driving the rest of CCP to one of the quickest and most publicly transparent decisions I have ever seen them make. Well done. Let’s just hope that now that one piece of the problem has been resolved, the clean-up work is not dropped.

    • Kamar Raimo

      If they would seize all assets of SOMERBlink they would have to do the practically impossible work to find out who still had ISK tied up with them and refund it.

      Somerset has a database of that, CCP doesn’t.

      Also, to ban all SB corp members would also be extreme. Many of them were volunteers. Some of them did probably not quite understand the implications of the program. Trying to find out who was a conscious collaborator and who just got caught up in it would be an effort similar to preparing a major court case against a fraudulent corporation. I can see how CCP neither have the time nor the willingness to do that.

      Sure, some “bad guys” might “escape justice” this way, but I would rather see that happen than some innocent volunteers getting a permaban because they were working for someone who gamed the system.

      • JusticeStillWaiting

        CCP is under no obligation to give refunds, nor are they in the practice of doing so. Any other time that they close accounts and seize assets for RMT, there are no refunds given. Why should this time be any different? Those who chose to gamble lost, plain and simple.
        And it’s the “refunds” that I am directly suspicious of and feel should be frozen, at least until they can be fully investigated. There is too much of an opportunity here to launder a great deal of ISK to non-Somer related accounts.
        Those “volunteers” were paid, often in ISK. They knew what Somer Blink was. After last year’s debacle, it was clear Somer Blink had been participating in RMT. Any of these employees could have chosen to leave at that time. Those who stayed have no excuse for not being fully aware of their actions, and therefore fully responsible for the consequences.
        Somer Blink is not an individual, it is an organization and a business. Banning one individual does not solve the problem nor remove the offending entity. Somerset Mahm was not alone in “gaming the system;” what he did could not have been done without the complicit participation of his cohorts. The fact that Somer Blink still exists in this game with all its assets intact is a slap in the face to the idea of equal and fair treatment under the rules of EVE and CCP. Normally, when CCP bans someone guilty of RMT, they revoke all the ISK related to the transaction, regardless of how many hands it has gone through. Why is Somer Blink above this same penalty?

        • Kamar Raimo

          The thing is, in most – if not all – other cases the extent and amount of the RMT or botted ISK can be directly linked to one account. In this case I think it would be difficult because of the roundabout way how this worked.

          There could – for example – be a lot of ISK tied up in prepaid blink credits which never went through the scheme. Again, letting SOMER refund the players does mean that not all guilty parties will be punished to full extent but the innocent will also not be punished along with them.

          • JusticeStillWaiting

            Your first paragraph is exactly why all of the corp assets should have been locked down pending an investigation.
            As for “punishing the innocent,” people gave their ISK to another player organization. This is EVE, there is no obligation or expectation for any of that ISK to be returned. When someone gets scammed, CCP does not refund them, nor does the player base generally clamor for them to do so. Why is the response different now? They gambled on Somer Blink being legitimate and able to pay out, and they lost; in the end, it’s just like any other scam: no refunds.

    • Xmas

      You’re conflating two different things. The day-to-day operations people who were involved in the somer.blink gambling site and Somer himself who was involved in the EULA violations. The day-to-day operations are very similar to other isk-based gambling operations, like EveBet and Eve Online Hold’em. At this point there is no specific evidence against specific employees violating the EULA.

      You may disagree with this assessment, but then we’ll just be having the “Death Star Contractors” argument. http://youtu.be/iQdDRrcAOjA

      • JusticeStillWaiting

        Those participating in the day to day operations of Somer Blink were directly participating in the day to day operations of an out of game, income seeking, RMT-based business. The use of EVE accounts for such purposes is clearly against the EULA, and for anyone else would have resulted in an immediate ban. Failing to do so in this case is once again giving preferential treatment to Somer Blink. CCP has burned the figurehead, but left the organization intact.

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