Unwritten Laws

 
Last week CCP banned a number of accounts all on the same day. Except that the number of bans looks a bit high, that would not warrant special attention. After all, CCP bans players all the time for using bots or engaging in RMT. CCP Fanfest presentations on the subject clearly demonstrate that. The bans of last week, however, lead to extensive discussion on Reddit, forums and #tweetfleet because they differ in nature from business as usual. It appears that the charge is “real-life harassment” this time, and bans of that kind happen rarely, usually only in high-profile cases. Two such prominent examples are the temporary ban of The Mittani in the aftermath of the so-called “Wizard Hat Incident” and the permanent ban of Erotica 1 after Ripard Teg wrote about the practices going on in the “Bonus Room” scams. The most high-profile group ban happened when a few people scratched out another player’s name on the EVE monument. It appears that several of those who got banned now have been involved in the “Bonus Room” system and/or belong to CODE alliance. Then again, some other banned players seem to have neither a relation to CODE nor Erotica 1, or at least claim that they have not actively participated in the “Bonus Room”. Of course it is hard to verify what is exactly going on because CCP will clearly not discuss their decisions, the EULA forbids people from directly quoting messages they received from CCP, and some of the people who offer information on this are with CODE alliance and therefore not impartial. What we do know is, that CCP Falcon has released this statement, seemingly without context, on the day that the bans occurred. Later he followed it up with another forum post which in turn lead to a long blog post by CSM member DJ Funky Bacon. I would recommend reading it because he discusses the matter at length and I will not re-iterate his statements here. I do – however – intend to further discuss the circumstances and implications of CCP’s actions..

Harassment

Prosecuting people for harassment always raises the fundamental problem that what constitutes harassment is subjective. An example from another game nicely illustrates that: the chess master Aron Nimzowitsch – who hated the smell of tobacco smoke – once accused an opponent of deliberately provoking him by putting a box of cigars on the chess table. In his mind, the thought of a cigar being lit became so prominent that it affected his concentration. He complained about harassment to the arbiters. This story also prompts consideration of the other side. What if those who are accused of harassment do not even view their actions as malicious? Nimzowitsch’ opponent very likely did not see his placement of the box there as an issue. After all, he did not smoke during the game – as Nimzowitsch always requested – but only intended to do so during breaks. In EVE the same thing can happen. What one group of people might see as mostly harmless ribbing, hazing or trolling might be experienced as deeply humiliating by the subject. Furthermore, EVE is a game which includes the express permission to gank, camp, scam, and otherwise victimize other players. It can easily happen that someone “plays the villain” without actual malicious intent but the subject of such attacks may feel harassed nevertheless. cyberbullying_how_victims_felt_2007 Thus a back-and-forth argument ensues which has one side defending a playstyle based on causing trouble while the other side argues for the right of individuals to be left in peace. That argument inevitably gravitates to the core question where the equilibrium point between those divergent interests might be. When is harassment objectively going too far and where does the threshold lie at which EVE loses it’s sandbox character and becomes a regulated themepark? That argument is virtually as old as the game itself, but there is a certain consensus which reappears in the discussion each time: many players would draw the line where psychological or emotional harm is actually intended. In individual cases that criterium may work, but on a larger scale it becomes difficult to apply yet again. Whole campaigns of sov-warfare are built on the strategy to frustrate and demoralize the opponents until they lose the will to fight. Faction Warfare also has that aspect and so have all “asset denial” contracts done by mercenaries. In all of those cases, in-game actions are used to cause distress to an opposing group of players rather than achieving a purely in-game military victory. It can hardly be intended for EVE to regulate conflict to an extent where those methods of psychological warfare are no longer allowed. Maybe the answer lies with the instrumental phrase “opposing group of players”? In sov-warfare and in Faction Warfare those who join one side implicitly consent to being preyed upon by their enemies. They effectively forfeit their right to complain about demoralization tactics used methodically during a conflict. If that argument is taken to its most extreme conclusion, however, we end up with the often repeated statement “You consent to PVP once you undock”. Albeit that this is an exaggeration, it is true that one can not opt out of PVP in EVE. There are only ways to try and avoid it through caution and quick wits. Those who argue the case for the defending party (i.e. those who got banned) point out that all their victims had the opportunity to avoid their fate and only greed, laziness or carelessness got them into trouble. Their claim that anything they do is only the result of in-game action and reaction is open to discussion as long as there are no strict rules. Such rules are not established clearly, though.

Thin Lines And Grey Areas

The bottom line is that it’s down to members of the community to know where the line crosses from common decency to harassment. – CCP Falcon
CCP remain deliberately out of that whole discussion despite the fact that they are the final arbiter. If we look at the prominent cases of the past, then CCP always acted retroactively as a result of public outcry. The Mittani only got his reprimand for the “Wizard Hat Incident” after there was a major community upheaval about it. The same applies to the “Bonus Room” activities of Erotica 1. That those scams were going on was known, certainly CCP could have been aware of it because Erotica 1 published the Bonus Room recordings and boasted about them in public. Still, until Ripard Teg wrote about it and caused a broader response in the community, CCP did not act. Now it looks like there was an action undertaken by CCP which was not prompted by a major community outcry. I do reckon there was a response by the affected parties, otherwise the forum thread by CCP Falcon would have come completely out of the blue, but wider parts of the community also reacted. A Reddit post which is full of smirking sarcasm directed at the banned players got a lot of attention and a large amount of upvotes which aggregate to 78% at the time of me writing this. Without knowing exact numbers it is hard to say how representative the expressed sentiment of “good riddance” is for the whole playerbase, but at least on the EVE sub-reddit it appears to be a majority opinion. Despite the allegation that many banned players are from CODE, their alliance leader, James315, has not responded with a publication yet, but CODE members have participated actively in the public discourse. Their reactions often include surprise that CCP suddenly issues such bans proactively. SignsOfFaith The big questions about CCP’s decision revolve around consistency. CCP Falcon acts like CCP has a really definitive and uncompromising stance on the subject. While it is true that the EULA and TOS include clauses which would support that, CCP’s enforcement has been somewhat hesitant and arbitrary in the past. There were even cases of players reporting incidents that would be considered stalking or harassment according to the laws of many countries, but CCP would be reluctant to take any action exactly because those things occurred out of game. Definitely CCP’s handling of “real life harassment” was not strict enough to warrant CCP Falcon acting as if everyone should have known better. Especially in the light of his statement that CCP prefers the community would judge their own, it seems strange that they would suddenly ban people proactively. Maybe there is more at play here? I can not speculate on banned parties who were neither involved in the “Bonus Room” nor have any affiliation with CODE, but those who belong to that group are certainly a focus of CCP’s attention lately. During Alliance Tournament XII we saw something happen which is unprecedented: for not showing up to their first match, CODE got banned from ever participating in the tournament again. In the light of former transgressions in AT history, that looks excessive. CCP Gargant dropped a comment during one of the studio sessions in the match breaks that CCP takes it serious if someone breaks the rules of the tournament process. I might be wrong, but I took that as a hint that CCP is – colloquially speaking – pissed off at CODE. I would not accuse CCP to be so petty as to ban CODE players because they do not like them, but I would go so far to assume that CODE are under a magnifying glass. When such scrutiny is applied, it can easily happen that CCP finds more grounds to ban people than they usually would.

Change Of Policy?

It could be that we are witnessing a change of course by CCP. While they do not want to put specific rules in writing, they do seem to have become less reluctant to enforce the rules of the EULA and TOS which prohibit malicious behaviour that is intended to gravely offend, humiliate or harass players even outside of the game. Possibly they want to rid themselves of the negative image that EVE has in the general public; a game full of sociopaths and cyberbullies who are even encouraged by the game developers. It also appears that they take a much harder stance on Alliance Tournament transgressions. Their past reluctance and their current refusal to define the actual line which must not be crossed is understandable. As I have pointed out, applying and enforcing such rules is difficult when deviant behaviour and aggression are part of in-game interaction. It is not the worst of attempted solutions to let the community decide, but acting proactively under such conditions is dangerous. This time the bans have hit a rather prominent group of players, and therefore they became public knowledge, but what if CCP quietly bans others who they see as transgressors without consulting the community? People who are not well known and have no public spokespeople. Incidentally, CODE is not a popular group of players in EVE and in retrospect there is wide approval of CCP’s actions, but now that this door has been opened we should remain watchful and maintain our good judgement. The discussion about the subtle difference between playing a villain and actually doing amoral or unethical things to players has to remain active. It is a complex issue, and the unique nature of EVE is highly dependent on the ability of CCP and the community to deal with it in a responsible and mature way.
Tags: banning, bonus room, ccp, CODE, 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.


  • Varesk

    Nice graph, “Sample represents middle school students (grades 6th – 8th ) in a large school district in the US”.

    • Kamar Raimo

      So? It represents people who are mentally at the same development level as the average EVE player ;P

      TBH I just took a graph that shows how “cyberbullying” can be experienced very differently.

      • Dave

        I’d have to agree with Varesk, I ignored that completely when I saw how irrelevant it was due to the ages involved.

  • Dunk Dinkle

    tl:dr – Slippery Slope argument

    • Another Brick in the Wall

      the group polarization exhibited here is staggering to say the least, not one person has been able to provide evidence bar the anecdotal variety. logical fallacies apparent in every single counterargument, to the point they got their own discussion shut down on the forums for personal attacks.

      • Erotica 1

        “prove that you weren’t involved” is an impossible burden.

        • Kamar Raimo

          What I wonder about in the end: is it really worth getting banned for having a few carebears jump through hoops?

          Does that really provide so much more kick than fighting outnumbered and winning in lowsec does? Or winninig a major war in nullsec? Or being a spy in either place? Or holding a wormhole against invaders?

          I understand it is part of the game, but why risk so much for it?

          (P.S. No troll. just a serious question)

          • Erotica 1

            No perception of risk given history of accepted things in Eve. I’m sure later bonus rounds were same as there would be no proof beyond limited chat and asset transfers. Contrary to Ripard Teg’s characterization which has been oft repeated, no one came to Eve with some grand plan in mind. We all came to Eve wanting to do what was marketed and what we read about. We did missions, we mined, we joined corps etc. We all have a shared experience more or less. The only difference is one day I had an idea (a group game in chat only initially) that evolved to include all sorts of things accepted previously by the community. The only 2 differences are that I asked for more (always thinking, are we leaving something on the table?) and putting it all together into one thing. I asked for CCP clarification on the bonus rounds back in November and they ignored it, and seemed to encourage it. Keep in mind whenever I would log in, I would have a bunch of players clamoring for a bonus round because it paid more being escrow than just about anything else, and could be done while doing other things, plus entertainment. One day I’ll return discretely. being on the VIP ban list, I’ll need new ip, hardware sig, email, and fund via gtc or discrete drops. I’m far too cheap to buy a new computer just for eve and far too IT illiterate to tinker with the ones I have. I valued my account too highly to rmt or anything I felt would risk account. It’s tempting to go after a huge scam, launder the isk, then announce the connection. fuck it, why not now really. Since CCP can’t have the common courtesy to respond to my petitions, send an email, or even give me a reason, I have less regard for their rules now tbh.

  • Erotica 1

    A number of banned players asked for clarification regarding what specifically they supposedly did to deserve a ban. The response was boilerplate nonsense followed with a comment that CCP will ignore all future petitions.

    • Salman Rushdie

      Can you guys kick up a fuss for my RMT ban too? the guy could have just not bought my isk, don’t know why i’m in trouble for it at all.

    • bobsunclebob

      “I only harass people to the point of them having mental breakdowns, why am I banned???”
      Because you deserve it!

    • CapsulePrince

      Good. Now grow up.

  • post as anon to escape the ban

    We at code are all troubled by this. We have lost some fantastic pilots and friends and to add insult to injury there has been no active communication with the banned players as to what they were actually banned for CCP have stated simply “an activity deemed intolerable” and that there will be no further discussion on the matter.

    http://puu.sh/bzOEv/e092c50edb.png (CCP’s RESPONSE)

    This IMO is a pathetic response from any support team member, let alone a “lead GM” as it is too subjective. What is is intolerable? I have had real life death threats, constant abuse in local chat, constant mails in game constantly as a code member and no one has ever been banned, despite countless petitions.

    This harassment is intolerable by me, So why are these players not banned?

    In a response to CCP Falcon and the other CCP team members, How can players know where the line is, if it constantly shifts or is different for the various player groups?

    We ruffled some feathers in the AT and CCP were/are on the war path about having their sh!tty tournament disrupted, CODE. making light of it probably didn’t help either, thus putting us under the microscope, which has resulted in this

    The people saying good riddance, they deserved it etc, whilst open to have their opinion are still wrong in the fact that this has been another poorly handled exercise by CCP and im sure there will be more that comes out of this story in the coming weeks.

    .

    • who cares

      ok

      • Trying to be smart by commenting about someones comment on a story you don’t care about but they obviously do. You’re so edgy.

    • Kamar Raimo

      I’ve got to say, this is pretty heavy handed. While I generally find it a weak defence to point at insults and death threats issued by people you made deliberately angry I really find communication like that from CCP is going a bit too far. Makes me wonder what is really going on there.

    • NowGoPlayWow

      CODE tears = best tears

  • UnconcernedCitizen

    There’s a thread on reddit right now in which a banned player is basically admitting he x’d up for loot in the bonus room, and was therefore involved. It would not surprise me to know the other bans are a little less arbitrary than the banned parties claim, since CCP doesn’t disclose their thought process we have only the banned player’s word that they weren’t involved.

  • bobsunclebob

    After all they have done to people in-game, they come whine when they get banned. LOL
    You deserve it!

  • Bono

    I find it striking that now people who made other people mad just for fun, for their own giggles complain about being banned. That being said, there is a difference in being smacktalked in local or being ingame harrassed because you destroyed or bumped that miners ship or deliberately making people angry after the scam has been already completed with all assets and isk taken.
    Afterall, the biggest part of the community deemed your behavior unbearable – even in a sandbox like eve there is a limit. I am a big fan and supporter of the sandbox and will try to maintain it as good as I can with my voice/text yet you stepped over the line and used the game as leverage to continue your stupid nonsense.

  • Get Banhammered!

    Well deserved bans and delicious CODE. tears. EVE gets better each day!

  • speedy

    I would suggest that CCP are trying to take steps to repair Eve Online’s well earned toxic reputation in the wider gaming world.

    In better times CCP could afford to ignore Eve’s bad reputation, but with subs declining at an alarming rate. CCP doesn’t have that luxury any more.

    • Kamar Raimo

      The question then is, how would they gain new players at a rate that is sufficient to replace those who are leaving exactly because CCP are more aggressive with their enforcement?

      It also has to point out, that this toxic reputation does not only manifest itself in the form of highsec gankers. Some of the most prominent player-generated marketing vehicles of CCP – the great nullsec wars – are generated by people who are sometimes a lot more terrible than the Bonus Room ever was.

      • Erotica 1

        I strongly believe that stories of scams bring in far more players than leave. Eve bank and GHSC are great examples. Sure, people say they will leave but don’t. But people read these stories for years thinking “cool! i’m gonna try this game.”

        • Tisiphone Dira

          ^ that right there, I had the GHSC heist in mind from years ago, EvE got on my to-play list because of that story. Took a while for me to eventually give it a shot, but that story right there was what drew me to it.

          -Tisiphone Dira, Agent of the New order

  • I’d rather post as guest

    It’s pretty obvious that
    CODE. is now a real problem for CCP and they are effectively going to start
    pursuing players associated with them in any way, in-game and out of it.

    There are lines of taste/harassment/threats
    everywhere but many would argue CCP can’t claim to be the sole arbitrators of
    it when it comes to out of game activities. CCP Falcon’s vague, threatening and
    bullying posts are simply not enough. If CCP want to shape the behaviour of a
    player base it should try to educate – not just obliterate. More so if you are
    making a moral claim OUTSIDE THE GAME.

    People might not like
    CODE. and there may be lots of smug related to these bans but CCP isn’t taking the
    ethical points here. If you CCP have ended your EVE existence with a shady,
    sneaky and a seemingly malicious process you could find plenty of ways to
    materially impact CCP if you were so incentivised. CCP are simply inviting this
    kind of trouble.

    I would also like to know
    what an “extensive CCP investigation” is. Are they hacking Gmail or 3rd
    party forum accounts? Are they stalking people on Twitter or facebook? It all
    sounds either well out of bounds a beat up at best or a complete falsification
    at worst.

    All of this simply reeks
    of Alliance Tournament sour grapes and CCP staff whining internally about the millionth
    CODE. related petition they have had to handle.

    CCP Falcon’s true colors
    coming out here I’m afraid. He plans to destroy the village to save it if that’s
    what he thinks it takes.

  • I’d rather post as guest

    It’s pretty obvious that CODE. is now a real problem for CCP and they are effectively going to start pursuing players associated with them in any way, in-game and out of it.

    There are lines of taste/harassment/threats everywhere but many would argue CCP can’t claim to be the sole arbitrators of them when it comes to out of game activities. CCP Falcon’s vague, threatening and bullying posts are simply not enough. If CCP want to shape the behaviour of a player base it should try to educate – not just obliterate. More so if you are making a moral claim OUTSIDE THE GAME.

    People might not like CODE. and there may be lots of smug related to these bans but CCP isn’t taking the ethical points here. If you CCP have ended your EVE existence with a shady, sneaky and a seemingly malicious process you could find plenty of ways to materially impact CCP if you were so incentivised. CCP are simply inviting this kind of trouble.

    I would also like to know what an “extensive CCP investigation” is. Are they hacking Gmail or 3rd party forum accounts? Are they stalking people on Twitter or facebook? It all sounds either well out of bounds, conducting a beat up at best or crafting a complete falsification at worst.

    All of this simply reeks of Alliance Tournament sour grapes and CCP staff whining internally about the millionth CODE. related petition they have had to handle.

    CCP Falcon’s true colors coming out here I’m afraid. He plans to destroy the village to save it if that’s what he thinks it takes.

  • I’d rather post as guest

    It’s pretty obvious that CODE. is now a real problem for CCP and they are effectively going to start pursuing players associated with them in any way, in-game and out of it.

    There are lines of taste/harassment/threats everywhere but many would argue CCP can’t claim to be the sole arbitrators of them when it comes to out of game activities. CCP Falcon’s vague, threatening and bullying posts are simply not enough. If CCP want to shape the behaviour of a player base it should try to educate – not just obliterate. More so if you are making a moral claim OUTSIDE THE GAME.

    People might not like CODE. and there may be lots of smug related to these bans but CCP isn’t taking the ethical points here. If you CCP have ended your EVE existence with a shady, sneaky and a seemingly malicious process you could find plenty of ways to materially impact CCP if you were so incentivised. CCP are simply inviting this kind of trouble.

    I would also like to know what an “extensive CCP investigation” is. Are they hacking Gmail or 3rd party forum accounts? Are they stalking people on Twitter or facebook? It all sounds either well out of bounds, conducting a beat up at best or crafting a complete falsification at worst.

    All of this simply reeks of Alliance Tournament sour grapes and CCP staff whining internally about the millionth CODE. related petition they have had to handle.

    CCP Falcon’s true colors coming out here I’m afraid. He plans to destroy the village to save it if that’s what he thinks it takes.